Lee Major, Mattaponi, wearing native hat made of duck skins

Mattaponi Tribe History

For good reasons the Mattaponi 1 may be classified definitely as a branch of the Pamunkey. They have not only an absolutely identical cultural foundation, but are a member of the same original political body divided from the main body by a distance of ten miles, and occupying land which was evidently a portion of the original tract reserved under the name of Pamunkey reservation. Their present reservation of almost 75 acres is on the south bank of the Mattaponi River, near the hamlet of Wakema. Their own settlement is called Indian Town (fig. 25). It is a compact picturesque village of whitewashed houses on a high bluff above the river and commands a fine view.

There is a tradition at Pamunkey that the land intervening between the two reservations was sold for a barrel of rum. Mrs. Page, who in 1920 was 83 years of age, said that this was the understanding among the people of her generation. She was born at Mattaponi and asserts that Billy Major, her mother’s father, who died about 1845, could speak Indian. At Pamunkey there were at the time several in the families of Mush and Gunns who, it is claimed, knew the language.

The Mattaponi records in existence comprise a deed, according to Chief Custalow, referred to in a letter from L. C. Garnett, Assistant Attorney General, June 26, 1916. Through this instrument the Mattaponi lands were confirmed to the Indians in 1658, it is stated in the letter, by the Governor, Assembly of Virginia, Indian, Colonial and State Laws.

Thomas Jefferson made several remarks concerning the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi, one being that there were none of pure blood living in his time, 1781, and that the language had disappeared. His records, however, bear indication of being neither extremely accurate nor carefully considered, even from the historical point of view. It is doubtful whether he had an opportunity to do more than observe some of the natives at long range.

The Mattaponi have not been conspicuous in literature. Pollard 2 in 1894 quoted Dr. A. S. Gatschet as saying there were 35 or 40 Indians there. He also believed that they were a branch of the Pamunkey. In 1907 Mooney 3 took a census of the members of the band in his Powhatan survey, enumerating 40 souls and the following family names: Allmond, Collins, Custello (Costello), Langston, Major, Ried, and Tuppins. But now by birth and migration they have increased to about 75. Mooney’s remarks concerning their condition and their occupations hold true today as well as then. The community is less in touch with the outside world than the Pamunkey, and so exhibits a somewhat more rural aspect of culture than the other groups, excepting perhaps that at Adamstown. There is much intercourse between the Mattaponi and Pamunkey, several of the families having a common origin.

The question of priority is rather interesting here. The original families, that is to say those Mattaponi whose members have not resided off the reservation, have dwindled to two individuals according to the assertion of these two themselves, namely, Nanny Tuppins and Powhatan Major (figs. 17, b; 20, b). The assertion is validated by tradition, for it seems that the population consists for the rest of descendants of the adopted Pamunkey families and, what is more interesting, several Indians from the Powhatan groups lower down toward the bay. Among them, for instance, the ancestor of the Allmonds is known to have been a native of the band of Powhatan in Gloucester County. The grandfather of this family came from near Gloucester Point on York River, nearly opposite Yorktown. Descendants of this band are said to be still on the spot and to have a separate school. I have not, however, visited them to verify the statement.

Mattaponi Photo Gallery

Speck, Frank Gouldsmith. Chapters on the ethnology of the Powhatan tribes of Virginia. Indian Notes and Monographs, vol. 1, num. 5, pp. 225-455. Editor: Hodge, F. W. Heye Foundation, Museum of the American Indian. 1928.

Search Military Records - Fold3
  1. The accent is on the i, pronounced as ai in aisle.[]
  2. Pollard, J. G., The Pamunkey Indians of Virginia, Bull. 17, Bur. Amer. Ethnol., Washington, 1894.[]
  3. Mooney, James, The Powhatan Confederacy Past and Present, American Anthropologist, vol. ix, no. 1, 1907.[]

9 thoughts on “Mattaponi Tribe History”

  1. dNA search has confirmed that my 3rd and 4th great grandmothers , through my paternal grandfather’s maternal side were Mattaponi, Sarah Viney born 1730 and Bess Veney, Sarah’s mother, born 1700 on reservation land when America was still colonies.

    1. Susan Duffy Schwall

      Hi, I show Sarah Hammond Viney (Vene, Venners…) as my 6th great grandmother. I am interested to know how you were linked through DNA to the Mattaponi people.
      Through other people’s ancestry trees, it shows that Bess married William Venners, who’s mother was an indentured servant and father was an unknown African slave.
      I am listed on Ancestry.com and think we may be related through the DNA database. (Susan Duffy)
      I would really appreciate any additional information or family stories you might have regarding Bess, Sarah…
      Please contact me, either through Ancestry or email
      Thank you

  2. Jennifer Lynn Smith

    I am the granddaughter of Bernard Adams of the Upper Mattaponi tribe in King William County, VA. As a child, I spent my summers there with Aunt Rose, Aunt Edna, Edith and Roland, Aunt Sissy(Mariah) and Aunt Bert. Aunt Rose was the school bus driver and we went to all the homecomings and Pow Wows. Every Sunday we went to church at the Indian View Baptist Church, conveniently located at the bottom of the hill where my grandfather lived. I hope to reinstate my family relationships as an adult as the family lost contact through the years. I’m 39 now and haven’t seen anyone from VA since I was 16 when my grandfather passed away.

  3. My Great Grandmother Maria Major and her brother John Major left the reservation in the middle of the 1800’s. They are both buried in a cemetery on Barlow Road. Any chance I can get help with their official linkage to the Tribe of Mattaponi?

  4. Karen Bauer-Adams

    My husbands Grandmother is Mollie Adams (Fig. 20) above. She was married to Jasper Adams who was the Chief of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe over 50 Years. How I wished I’d had the honor of meeting Her in person. She was an amazing Woman, so I have been told. A modern-day pharmacist back in the day, using natural herbs and things that were readily available. She was Honored at the Richmond Library a few Years ago as a “Woman of Virginia”.

  5. I Went to school (Oak Hill Academy) a Missionary Baptist school ,with a group of Mattaponi kids in the late 1950′. Howard and Tommy Custelo were among this group. There was also Phillip and two girls. They were not there long.

  6. Jennifer Moore-babb

    I too have been lead to believe that I have family members that are/were native. I have searched my family for names, dates and places but have not found any solid documentation of indian heritage. I have been told that my grandmother was Mattaponi and I have found a woman named Goodman listed as Powhatan. I would like to know more. I am involved with organizing an inter tribal powwow in Southeastern Ohio and would like to know more definite information on my own heritage. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. I would also like to invite anyone interested to visit our powwow. July 2 and 3, 2016 in Sardis, Ohio. Look for Monroe Powwow on Facebook for more information. Thank you.

  7. I am of the Mattaponi tribe, the seed of Chief Otha T. Custalow .
    #https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mattaponi-Pamunkey-Monacan/143218579058369?pnref=lhc The denial of our people, is the denial of our strength. ‪#‎Cheroenhaka‬ ‪#‎Nottoway‬
    ‪#‎Chickahominy‬ Tribe
    ‪#‎Eastern‬ #Chickahominy ‪#‎Tribe‬
    ‪#‎Monacan‬ Nation
    #Nottoway of ‪#‎Virginia‬
    ‪#‎Upper‬ #Mattaponi Tribe ‪#‎Twitter‬ ‪#‎Facebook‬
    I am of the Mattaponi tribe, the seed of Chief Otha T. Custalow https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/…/10819053_102055702… #Facebook #Twitter ‪#‎WhiteFeather‬ ‪#‎Native‬ ‪#‎American‬ #Mattaponi ‪#‎Indian‬ ‪#‎Blogger‬.

    1. I am in search of my tribe….i have been lead to Mattaponi from other family members…I believe I am a decendent of Costello…I have very little information due to my family never dicussed our roots. There is a lady in one of the photos on this site Mary Langston, I favor her very much. I dont have money to trace my roots or much information but if someone would please help me I would be much grateful. Thank you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top