Powhatan Confederacy

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Powhatan Confederacy,

group of Native North Americans belonging to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languagesNative American languages,
languages of the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere and their descendants. A number of the Native American languages that were spoken at the time of the European arrival in the New World in the late 15th cent.
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). Their area embraced most of tidewater Virginia and the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Wahunsonacock, or Powhatan, as the English called him, was the leader of the confederacy when Jamestown was settled in 1607. The Powhatan are said to have been driven N to Virginia by the Spanish, where their chief, Powhatan's father, subjugated five other Virginia tribes. With Powhatan's own conquests, the empire included, among some 30 peoples, the Pamunkey, Mattaponi (or Mattapony), Rappahannock, Nansemond, and others likewise commemorated in the names of the streams and rivers of E Virginia. They were a sedentary people, with some 200 settlements, many of them protected by palisades when the English arrived. They cultivated corn, fished, and hunted. Of his many capitals, Powhatan favored Werowocomoco, on the left bank of the York River near modern Purtan Bay, where Capt. John Smith first met him in 1608. The English soon seized the best lands, and Powhatan quickly retaliated. To appease him, he was given a crown, and a coronation ceremony was formally performed by Christopher Newport in 1609. Peace with Powhatan was secured when his daughter Pocahontas married (1614) John Rolfe.

On Powhatan's death in 1618, Opechancanough, chief of the Pamunkey, became the central power in the confederacy, and he organized the general attack (1622) in which some 350 settlers were killed. English reprisals were equally violent, but there was no further fighting on a large scale until 1644, when Opechancanough led the last uprising, in which he was captured and murdered at Jamestown. In 1646 the confederacy yielded much of its territory, and beginning in 1665 its chiefs were appointed by the governor of Virginia. After the IroquoisIroquois Confederacy
or Iroquois League
, North American confederation of indigenous peoples, initially comprising the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca.
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, traditional enemies of the confederacy, agreed to cease their attacks in the Treaty of Albany (1722), the tribes scattered, mixed with the settlers, and all semblance of the confederacy disappeared. A number of the tribes in the confederacy have survived and won federal recognition in the early 21st cent.; most of their members live in E Virginia.


See F. G. Speck, Chapters on the Ethnology of the Powhatan Tribes of Virginia (1928).

References in periodicals archive ?
I, at 322-326 (1823) 4, 5 including the tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy; The Treaty at Middle Plantation with Tributary Indians After Bacon's Rebellion, May 29, 1677, reprinted in Early American Indian Documents, 1607-1789, Virginia Treaties, 1607-1722, at 82-87 (Alden T.
(7) Unfortunately, by 1677 only five percent of the population of the great Powhatan Confederacy of the lower Chesapeake remained, due primarily to exposure to the European powers, which brought the ravages of disease, depletion of game, and increased warfare to North America.
(13) This period of peace came to a close, however, as the British expanded beyond the pale of the Jamestown peninsula and once again made contact with the tribes of the former Powhatan Confederacy. (14)
The Treaty of Middle Plantation, executed on behalf of King Charles II with the remaining tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy, resulted from this attempt to bring order back to the colonies and restore peace with the Native Americans.