ETHNONYM: Pouhatan

The Powhatan are an American Indian group whose members live on the Mattoponi and Pamunkey state reservations in Virginia and in nearby communities. At the Beginning of the sixteenth century the Powhatan were a confederacy of thirty tribes numbering nine thousand people in two hundred villages located on the southeastern and southwestern sides of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and northEastern Virginia. Numbered among the Powhatan subgroups were the Appomattac, Chesapeake, Chickahominy, Mattapony, Pamunkey, Pianketank, Potomac, and Rappahannock.

The Powhatan were agriculturalists, growing maize, beans, pumpkins, and various fruits. They practiced an animistic religion and believed in the immortality of the soul. When a chief died his body was wrapped in skins, placed on a scaffold, and burned. The bodies of others were buried in the ground. The Powhatan confederacy ended in 1644 following a period of hostilities with English colonists resulting from Powhatan raids in 1622 that nearly wiped out the English settlements in Virginia. Subsequent English hostilities decimated the tribes, so that by 1705 the Powhatan were reduced to only twelve villages. The Powhatan languages belonged to the Algonkian family and were out of use by the end of the eighteenth century.


Sheehan, Bernard W. (1980). Savagism and Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Speck, Frank G. (1928). Chapters on the Ethnology of the Powhatan Tribes of Virginia. New York: Museum of the American Indian.

Stern, T. (1952). "Chickahominy." American Philosophical Society, Proceedings 96:176-225.

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