Book Reviews -- Powhatan Foreign Relations, 1500-1722 Edited by Helen C. Rountree
Tanner, Helen Hornbeck, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Powhatan Foreign Relations, 1500-1722. Edited by HELEN C. ROUNTREE. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1993. xi, 310 pp. $29.95.
INTERDISTRICT Indian activities around the Chesapeake Bay are competently covered in this thought-provoking volume, the third produced by Helen C. Rountree concerning the Powhatan paramount chiefdom. The picture that emerges from these nine essays reveals the relationships existing in the mid-Atlantic region among some fifty separate Algonquian communities on the shores, a half dozen Iroquoian groups of the Piedmont, and a dozen Siouan-speaking highlanders of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Although language is a common way of identifying Indian communities, Rountree concludes that language is not a culturally differentiating factor, inasmuch as all these people were agriculturalists living in longhouse dwellings and following similar customs and religious beliefs.
At the outset, Rountree calls attention to the ample opportunities the Powhatans had for building up foreign contacts on communal hunts, trading ventures, far-ranging diplomatic missions, and regular war expeditions that incorporated captive women and children into the victor's society. Emissaries were even dispatched to get news of distant events taking place from Newfoundland to the Caribbean. Significant Powhatan interaction with the Nottaways and other Piedmont Iroquoians occurred through trade, with an emphasis on high-status items such as copper, a red pigment called "puccoon" native to the Monacan country, and shell beads called "roanoke" from ocean shore communities. Large shipments of corn also crossed the Chesapeake, for these people had canoes up to fifty feet long that carried forty traders--or warriors.
Concentrating on the "core area" of the Powhatan chiefdom, E. Randolph Turner points out that Powhatan inherited only between six and nine districts, but by 1607, through warfare or threat of hostilities, he had increased the number to thirty-one, stretching from the southern bank of the Potomac to the southern bank of the James River. Turner contends that the Powhatan paramountcy, expanding to a population of 14,000, was a completely indigenous development well under way before the arrival of Europeans.
Surveying the Maryland mainland area, Wayne E. Clark and Helen Rountree conclude that the Powhatans had alternating peaceful and hostile relationships with the petty chiefdoms of the Patuxent alliance as well as those affiliated with the Piscataway (Conoy), whose paramountcy dated from about 1400 and thus preceded the Powhatan consolidation. …