Native American Tribes in Virginia Since Contact

areas dominated by different language groups in 1600
areas dominated by different language groups in 1600
Source: Virginia Geographic Alliance, An Atlas of Virginia (Map 26)

The social and political organization of the Native Americans in Virginia have evolved since the first humans arrived perhaps 15,000 years ago. Anthropologists use primarily archeological evidence to speculate on the settlement patterns and seasonal cycles of hunting and gathering by family groups and bands of different sizes, from the Paleo to the Woodland periods.

The arrival of Spanish and then English settlers provides more information, though the written records reflect the perspective of just the military/colonial officials on one side of the interaction between cultures.

Warfare is most clearly documented. It is obvious when Native Americans perceived the intrusion of the colonists to be unacceptable or when the colonist seized land through force, and highway markers were erected across Virginia after the 1920's do mark locations of "massacres" and "outrages."

Peaceful negotiations and adjustments are harder to comprehend. Even the basis statistics on Native American population levels prior to contact, and the impact of war and disease on reducing those population levels, involves a wide margin of error. Understanding how Native American societies evolved and adjusted to colonization, outside of hostilities, requires interpretation of conflicting data and intuition, and occasionally speculation beyond clear evidence.

The Virginia colonists engaged with a wide range of Native American groups, known as tribes or nations. Colonists seized control of land along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers first, and interaction with the tribes in that region were recorded in the greatest detail. Long-distance trading impacted Native American groups who lived in the watersheds of the Roanoke, New, Cape Fear, and Yadkin/PeeDee rivers long before explorers and colonists arrived in person, and how trading/disease transformed communities south of the James River is less well understood.

trading south and west of the James River altered Native American communities along the Occaneechi Path from modern-day Petersburg to Charlotte, long before settlers occupied lands in the Roanoke, New, Cape Fear, and Yadkin/PeeDee watersheds
trading south and west of the James River altered Native American communities along the Occaneechi Path from modern-day Petersburg to Charlotte, long before settlers occupied lands in the Roanoke, New, Cape Fear, and Yadkin/PeeDee watersheds
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Some Native American groups who lived outside the boundaries claimed by Virginia officials, especially the Susquehanna, Iroquois, and Shawnee, had a substantial impact on the "borderlands" as settlers moved west from the Atlantic Ocean. The interaction with Powhatan's paramount chiefdom dominates the history books, especially tales of Pocahontas. However, the competition between the Virginia colonists and tribes outside of Powhatan's control was just as intense.

It took 150 years before Virginia's competition with traders/governments based in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Carolinas eliminated the buffers separating the French based on the St. Lawrence River, leading to the French and Indian War in 1754-1763 to resolve control over the Ohio River valley.

It took over 30 more years after the 1763 Treaty of Paris before the Native American tribes in the Northwest Territory submitted to American military force with the 1795 Treaty of Greenville. By that time, Virginia had ceded its claims to the lands west of the Ohio River and Kentucky had become a separate state, but the leader of the United States was a Virginian (George Washington) with a long history of using force to establish domination over Native American communities.

Some Native American groups affected by colonial settlement in Virginia are now tribes officially recognized by Virginia and living within the state's boundaries. One, the Pamunkey, was officially recognized by the Federal government in 2015. Other groups who once affected settlement in Virginia have reservations in other state and even in Canada. In addition, a variety of unrecognized groups based in Virginia or in surrounding states claim Native American heritage back to colonial and pre-colonial times.

ethnologists such as Frank Speck studied Native American societies in the early 1900's, spurring groups to incorporate and establish a public identity as tribes
ethnologists such as Frank Speck studied Native American societies in the early 1900's, spurring groups to incorporate and establish a public identity as tribes
Source: Frank Speck, Chapters on the Ethnology of the Powhatan Tribes of Virginia (1928)

Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) in Virginia
Cherokee in Virginia
Chesapeake in Virginia
Chickahominy in Virginia
Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division in Virginia
Dogue in Virginia
Iroquois in Virginia
Manahoac in Virginia
Massawomeck in Virginia
Mattaponi in Virginia
Meherrin in Virginia
Monacan in Virginia
Nansemond in Virginia
Nottoway in Virginia
Pamunkey in Virginia
Patawomeck in Virginia
Piscataway/Conoy in Virginia
Rappahannock in Virginia
Tutelo/Saponi/Occaneechi in Virginia
Shawnee in Virginia
Susquehannock in Virginia
Upper Mattaponi in Virginia
Weyanoke in Virginia

Links


"Indians" of Virginia - the Real First Families of Virginia
Exploring Land, Settling Frontiers
Virginia Places