Pamunkey Government and Tribal Laws

In government the tribe is a true democracy over which however the State of Virginia exercises a kindly supervision. The State appoints five trustees to look after the interest of the Indians. No reports of these trustees could be found on file at the office of the governor of Virginia and their only function that could be ascertained to have been performed was the disapproval of certain sections in the Indian code of laws. Laws thus disapproved are expunged from the statute book. The tribe is not taxed but they pay an annual tribute to the State by presenting through their chief to the governor of Virginia a number of wild ducks or other game.

As regards the internal government of the Pamunkey the executive power is vested in a chief while the legislative and judicial functions are performed by the chief together with a council composed of four men. The chief was formerly elected for life but now both chief and council are elected every four years by vote of the male citizens. Their method of balloting for their executive officer is unique. The council names two candidates to be voted for. Those favoring the election of candidate number 1 must indicate their choice by depositing a grain of corn in the ballot-box at the schoolhouse while those who favor the election of candidate number 2 must deposit a bean in the same place. The former or the latter candidate is declared chosen according as the grains of corn or the beans predominate.

The chief and council are the judge and jury to try all who break the law and to settle disputes between citizens. Their jurisdiction is supposed to extend to all cases arising on the reservation and which concern only the residents thereon with the exception of trial for homicide in which case the offender would be arraigned before the county court of King William County. The Indians claim however that it would be their privilege to use the courts of the commonwealth of Virginia to settle such difficulties as could not be efficiently dealt with by their own courts provided such difficulty arose from a breach of a State law. The writer does not know on what this claim is based. As may be seen from the printed transcript (verbatim et literatim) of the written laws of the Pamunkey which follows they impose only line or banishment as penalties. There is no corporal punishment either by chastisement or incarceration.

Pamunkey Tribal Laws

The Laws of the Pamunkey Indian Town written here in Sept. 25 1887.

The following Laws made and approved by chief and council men Feb. 18th 1886, for the Ruling of the Pamunky Tribe of Indians.

1st Res. No Member of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe shall intermarry with any Nation except White or Indian under penalty of forfeiting their rights in Town.

2nd No non-resident shall be allowed to be hired or sheltered more than 3 mouths and if any person are known to hire or shelter any sutch persons shall pay 50c pr. day for every day over the above mentioned time. Amendment. Should sutch person persons be quiet and agreeable they may be hire 30 or 60 day under good behavior.

3rd Any person slandering another without sufficient evidence shall be fined in the 1st offence $5 Second $10 and in the 3rd they are to be removed from the place by the Trustees chief and councle men.

4th No non-resident shall be taught in our free school except the concen of chief counclmen or any other Indian Tribe.

5th Any party or person found guilty of stealing anything belonging to anyone else they shall pay the party for the amt. that are stolen from them and also shall be fined from $1 to $5. 3rd time they are to be removed from the place.

6th If any person shall depridate or Trespass on another ones premises and shall break down gates or destroy fences or any other property shall be made to pay or replace till damages and if any miner are engaged in sutch their parent shall be responsible for their acts and each and any that are found guilty Shall be lined from $1 to $5.

7th Be it known that each road of Indian Town shall be 30 ft. wide and all person that has moved their fence in the road shall have 30 days to move them out and if they are not moved they are to be moved by the chief and the councle men and the expense paid by the Trespasser.

8th If any citizen are notified to attend any meeting and fails to do so with without sufficient excuse shall be fined from $1 to $1.50.

9th Be it known that all the citizens age 16 to GO of Indian Town shall work on the road as far as red hill and any member refuse to work shall be fined 75c and Jacob Miles to be Road Master and he to be paid $1 pr. year.

10th Be it known that no person be allowed to swear on the high way of Indian Town and if so they are to be fined from $1 to $2. (Amendment) 1st offence 25 2nd 75 3rd 100.

11th Be it known that any person or persons seen or known to be fighting upon the highways or elsewhere of Indian Town in the Town the one found guilty of first breaking the peace shall be fined not less than $3. nor more than $5 dollars.

12th Resolve that each male citizen of Indian Town owning a piece of land shall pay $1 pr. year or the value in produce to the Treasurer of Indian Town yearly for her benefits.

13th Be it known that the Hall Sein Shore of Indian Town shall be rented out yearly for the benefit of the Treasury of Indian Town and if any person are known to set army obstruction in the way shall be fined $5 in each offence.

14th If any person owning a piece of land and do not build and live upon it in 18m it shall be considered as town property and the person shall be allowed 20 days to move what they has thereon off; then it shall be considered as Town Property and the Town can allow an y one else the same privilege under the above obligations.

15th Any person that become rude and corrupt and refuse to be submissive to the Laws of Indian Town shall be removed by the Trustees chief and counclmen.

16th Anny person that are in debt to the town and refuse to pay the amt. enough of their property shall be sold to satisfy the claim.

17th Be it known that we shall have a fence law and it shall be 4 ft. high on a ditch Bank and 5 ft. high on a levil and the holes are to be 1 foot 4 in hole 2 ft 6 in holes 3 ft 8 in hole and Remainder to the judgment of the fencer.

18th An amendment to Resolution all male citizens of Indian from 18 year upward shall pay $1.00 pr. year and until the amt is paid they will not be given no land.

Besides these written laws there are others which have not been committed to writing the most important of which relate to the tenure of land. The reservation belongs to the tribe as a whole. There is no individual ownership of land. The chief and council allot a parcel of cleared ground of about 8 acres to the head of each family. The occupant is generally allowed to keep the land for life and at his death it goes back to the tribe to be realloted unless the deceased should leave helpless dependents in which case the land is rented for their benefit. The houses on the reservation are individual property and can be bought and sold at pleasure.


Pollard, Jno. Garland. Pamunkey Indians of Virginia. Bureau of Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1894.

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