The means provided by the Powhatan tribes for transporting themselves about in their marshy wastes was the dugout canoe. This article describes these canoes, their method of manufacture, and provides pictures of them and their paddles.
The Powhatan tribes still adhere to some fishing practices worth mentioning. Until not long ago fish fences were employed. These were chiefly for sturgeon, but now this splendid fish is so scarce that whereas thirty years ago from three to six a day during July and August would be taken, now the record is three a season by six boats fishing the same period. Captain John Smith mentions 52 and 68 being taken ”at a draught.” 1Smith’s account of Virginia in Tyler, L. G., Narratives of Early Virginia, New York, 1907, p. 85. The Virginia explorers noted the great abundance
A scene from the work of a day of one of the hunters (Paul Miles) will convey a picture of life at Pamunkey and help to give a background for an understanding of living conditions.
Perhaps the most striking feature of all in the natural history of the modern Pamunkey comes before us in the survival of the controlled hunting and trapping rights: the custom by which each hunter in the band controls an assigned and definitely bounded area within which he enjoys the exclusive privilege of setting his traps for fur-bearing animals.
The marsh and swamp area of tidewater Virginia is extensive. For many miles both banks of the rivers are bordered by lowlands, which are inundated by the tides. In nearly all the rivers this occurs as far as 60 to 70 miles from Chesapeake Bay. Some of these tracts are marshy flats covered with a growth of dock, rushes, and cattails. Others are overgrown with virgin forests of cypress, swamp oak, swamp gum, maple, and red birch. In the picturesque vernacular of the region such are called “low grounds.” In some places the swamps extend continuously from one to three
James Smith, pioneer, was born in Franklin county, Pennsylvania, in 1737. When he was eighteen years of age he was captured by the Indians, was adopted into one of their tribes, and lived with them as one of themselves until his escape in 1759. He became a lieutenant under General Bouquet during the expedition against the Ohio Indians in 1764, and was captain of a company of rangers in Lord Dunmore’s War. In 1775 he was promoted to major of militia. He served in the Pennsylvania convention in 1776, and in the assembly in 1776-77. In the latter year he was commissioned colonel in command on the frontiers, and performed distinguished services. Smith moved to Kentucky in 1788. He was a member of the Danville convention, and represented Bourbon county for many years in the legislature. He died in Washington county, Kentucky, in 1812. The following narrative of his experience as member of an Indian tribe is from his own book entitled “Remarkable Adventures in the Life and Travels of Colonel James Smith,” printed at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1799. It affords a striking contrast to the terrible experiences of the other captives whose stories are republished in this book; for he was well treated, and stayed so long with his red captors that he acquired expert knowledge of their arts and customs, and deep insight into their character.
The Pamunkey, with a resident population of little more than a hundred, still preserve their national independence under the privileges accorded them by the State of Virginia almost two and a half centuries ago. They enjoy the unique distinction of being in all likelihood the smallest independent nation in the world. Pollard’s synopsis of the political circumstances leaves nothing to be added. 1Pollard, J. G., The Pamunkey Indians of Virginia, Bull. 17, Bur. Amer. Ethnol., Washington, 1894, pp. 15-17. In government the tribe is a true democracy, over which, however, the State of Virginia 2Pollard adds in a footnote: ”The
The tribal laws of the Pamunkey Indian Town written on September 25, 1887.
Speck argues against the question of a possible maternal clan in the Powhatan Confederacy, based upon some form of social grouping determined on the mother’s side.
An overlook of the Powhatan government system in historical times including a list of tribal chiefs in the 19th and 20th Century.