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Powhatan Fishing Customs

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.”1 The Virginia explorers noted the great abundance of sturgeon, and we may imagine that the fish contributed largely to the abundance of food of the early Indians. The method employed in the construction of the fish-pond or “bush-net” is described by several of the men at Pamunkey and Mattaponi. At the entrance of the smaller creeks, or guts, branching off from the main streams there was built a barrier of poles several feet apart driven upright into the ever-present mud at low tide when the water is out of the place. The “bush-nets” or “hedges” are well remembered by John Langston as having been worked by his father some seventy-five years ago. They were known and described among the neighboring Delawares and Nanticoke in early colonial times. The “hedges” were made low enough in some instances so that the fish could pass over their tops at high tide. Then, as the water went out on the ebb, they would be barred from returning to the river (fig. 65). In the enclosures where the water might be from six to eight feet deep the hunters could shoot the impounded fish with arrows or spear...

Pamunkey Hunting Grounds

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.

Powhatan Hunting Customs

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 or four miles following the windings of the river, and reach from a quarter of a mile to a mile and a half back toward the higher ground. The swamps provide cover for consider-able game, and it is in these fastnesses that the Pamunkey of today, as they did of old, pass much of the time in gaining a livelihood. The marsh flats provide feeding and roosting grounds for hosts of wild fowl which engage the attention of the Indians during the migration periods. The Virginia deer have survived as the last of the big game on the Pamunkey river, and some old deer-hunting practices have continued to the present time. The passing of the bear and beaver, however, dates back earlier than the memory of the living generations. Yet the bear lingers with surprising persistence in the Great Dismal Swamp on the line dividing Virginia from North Carolina. This imposing wilderness, however, is too far from the haunts of the Pamunkey for them to know much about it...

Life and travels of Colonel James Smith – Indian Captivities

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.

Legal Status of the Pamunkey Tribe

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.1 In government the tribe is a true democracy, over which, however, the State of Virginia2 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. 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...

Chronology of European Occupancy in the Southern Highlands

The following is a chronological outline of archival and physical evidence that Europeans were living in the Southern Appalachians long before the region was officially settled by Anglo-Americans: 1564 – Captain René de Laundonnière named the mountains in Georgia and western North Carolina, Les Apalachiens in honor of the Apalache Indians after an exploration team returned with glowing reports of the Apalache’s friendliness and advanced culture.1 For the next 130 years French maps claimed the Appalachian Mountains and stated that gold could be found there in abundance. 1565 – Several Frenchmen, who were away when Fort Caroline was massacred, were given sanctuary by the Apalache.2 They lived near the capital and married Native women. According to Rochefort, they eventually converted the king of Apalache to Christianity.  However, very few commoners became Christians.  Rochefort stated that as public observance of the elite’s sun worship religion declined, the commoners fell back on their traditional religious practices 1567 – Captain Juan Pardo built five forts to protect the route between Santa Elena, SC on the coast and the gold and silver deposits in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina.3 Most of the enlisted men were either Basques, Moriscos or Conversos (converted Muslims and Jews.)  Pardo was a Spanish ethnic term in the 1400s and 1500s.4 It could be roughly translated as “half-breed,”  a term to describe the offspring of marriages between lighter skinned Christians and dark-skinned North Africans. 1568 – Spain allowed it to be generally known that all but one of the soldiers died in massacres of the five Pardo forts.5 Strangely, Santa Elena stayed on good terms for the...

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