Collection: Native Americans of the Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

Native Americans of the Shenandoah Valley

An Exclusive to AccessGenealogy: The following series of articles takes a look at the early Native Americans of the Shenandoah Valley region. Who peopled the area before European contact? How did these Native American’s influence the early events of American history? What archeological evidence remains of these people’s? Part one looks at a couple of unusual clues to the identity of early Shenandoah Valley residents. In part two the history of the Shenandoah Valley after the arrival of Europeans is summarized in order to understand why the Native American history has been largely forgotten. Part three explores the pre-European past of the Shenandoah Valley. Part four looks at many of the early European eyewitness accounts of the Shenandoah Valley and it’s peoples. Part five reviews the professional archaeological studies carried out in the Shenandoah Valley in recent years.

The Archaeological Evidence in Shenandoah Valley

Native American artifacts are frequently found in the Seven Bends area of the Shenandoah River between Woodstock and Strasburg, VA.  However, mounds and earthworks are mostly concentrated in the bends near the outlet of Toms Brook at Maurertown, VA.  The mounds were fairly prominent when settlers first arrived, but after 250 years of plowing, they generally can only be found in aerial photographs. Paleo-Indian Period Warren County During the 1990s, the Thunderbird Archaeological District was surveyed and partially excavated. Thunderbird consists of three sites that were occupied or utilized during the Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Periods. It was the first

Rudes Hill Mound

Eyewitness Accounts to Early Indian Settlements in Shenandoah Valley

According to English maps and books of the late 1500s, Sir Francis Drake landed on the coast of Virginia, near the mouth of the James River in 1577. He named the region Virginia in honor of Queen Elizabeth I then explored the Chesapeake Bay for a few weeks. He then led a part of his fleet’s crewmen on horseback and foot along the James River for 10 days until they reached the summit of a mountain, where they could see a vast valley, covered in grasslands and fields. Drake’s memoir states that this valley was densely populated by agricultural Indians,

Muskogean Mound Builders

Along the North Fork of the Shenandoah are the fertile bottomlands that made the valley famous. Between Strasburg, Woodstock and New Market, VA the river snakes its way through rich alluvial soils. Here, there is archival and unstudied archaeological evidence that an advanced Native American culture once existed in the Shenandoah Valley. Because of the lack of archaeological studies of Mississippian type sites in the Shenandoah Valley, the discussion on this period must remain highly speculative. Native American platform mounds still exist in Virginia. They will be discussed within Part Four. It should be noted that the Shenandoah Valley is

Archaic Period

Archaic Period (7,000 BC – 1000 BC) The early part of this cultural period was characterized by warm, dry conditions. Sandy deserts existing in the coastal plain of the Carolinas, but probably, the landscape in the Shenandoah Valley would have been similar to that of eastern Colorado today. Ocean levels were continually rising because of melting glaciers and ice caps in the northern latitudes. By around 5000 BC, western Virginia’s climate was fairly close to what occurs today. After the concurrent die-off of many large mammals and warming of western Virginia, herds of three ruminant species, deer, bison and elk,

Woodland Period

Early Woodland Period (1000 BC – 200 BC) In the Mid-Atlantic region, the Early Woodland Period is believed to have been a continuation of Late Archaic traditions. Native peoples slowly became more sophisticated in adapting to their environment. Population slowly increased. There were steadily more trade contacts between regions. An important trade route connecting the North Georgia Mountains and Tennessee River Valley with the Potomac River Valley passed through the Shenandoah Valley. It intersected major east-west trade routes at Harpers Ferry, WV and Roanoke, VA, where the James River passes through the Blue Ridge Mountains. At least as early as

Paleo-Indian Period

Most of the Shenandoah Valley is part of the Ridge and Valley Province that extends from southeastern New York to northwest of Atlanta, GA. The eastern flank of the valley is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains that extend from eastern Pennsylvania to northern suburbs of Atlanta, GA. The Blue Ridge Mountains are composed of igneous and metamorphic rocks. The southern end of the Shenandoah Valley contains also igneous rock outcrops, known as “mow hills” that are the remnants of ancient volcanoes. Most of the valley is underlain by sedimentary or metamorphic rocks that were originally sedimentary. Early Paleo-Indian Period

Exploration and Settlement of the Shenandoah Valley

The first recorded exploration of the Shenandoah Valley was by German immigrant, Johann Lederer, and several associates in 1670. They went as far west as present day Strasburg, VA, then turned around. His journey came on the heels of a decade of ethnic cleansing by the Rickohockens. Colonel Cadwallader Jones explored the central part of the valley in 1673. Colonial records do not document any more expeditions until 1705, when George Ritter, from Bern, Switzerland, led a party into the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, then decide to settle east of the valley. In 1719, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord of

The Rickohockens’ Role in Native American Slavery

During the Third Powhatan War (1644-1646) warriors of the Rickohocken tribe, living near the headwaters of the James River, formed an alliance with Powhatan. They massacred all whites that they encountered as they marched down the James Valley. Over 500 white settlers were killed by the Native alliance. The Rickohockens probably would have destroyed the capital in Jamestown had not they run out of arrows. The colonists counter-attacked with firearms and steel weapons. The Rickohockens sued for peace. In order to keep the Rickohockens from attacking the English colonists again, Royal Governor William Berkeley, began making trade contracts with them

The Fort Loudon Skeletons

When Fort Loudon was being built in 1755 a reported Indian Cemetery was unearthed with adult skeletons of 7 feet in height. Who were these skeletons of?