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Monacan Indians

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Monacan Tribe: Possibly from an Algonquian word signifying “digging stick,” or “spade,” but more likely from their own language. Also called:

  • Rahowacah, by Archer, 1607, in Smith (1884).

Monacan Connections. The Monacan belonged to the Siouan linguistic stock. Their nearest connections were the Manahoac, Tutelo, and Saponi.

Monacan Location. On the upper waters of James River above the falls at Richmond.

Monacan Villages

(Locations as determined by D. I. Bushnell, Jr.)

  • Massinacack, on the right bank of James River about the mouth of Mohawk Creek, and a mile or more south of Goochland.
  • Mohemencho, later called Monacan Town, on the south bank of James River and probably covering some of “the level area bordering the stream in the extreme eastern part of the present Powhatan County, between Bernards Creek on the east and Jones Creek on the west.”
  • Rassawek, at the confluence of the James and Rivanna Rivers and probably “on the right bank of the Rivanna, within the angle formed by the two streams.”

Two other towns are sometimes added but as they afterward appeared as wholly independent tribes, the Saponi and the Tutelo, it is probable that their connection with the Monacan was never very intimate. They seem to have been classed as Monacan largely on the evidence furnished by Smith’s map, in which they appear in the country of the “Monacans” but Smith’s topography, as Bushnell has shown, was very much foreshortened toward the mountains and the Saponi and Tutelo towns were farther away than he supposed. Again, while Massinacack and Mohemencho are specifically referred to as Monacan towns and Smith calls Rassawek “the chief habitation” of the Monacan, there is no such characterization of either of the others.

Monacan History. Capt. John Smith learned of the Monacan in the course of an exploratory trip which he made up James River in May 1607. The people themselves were visited by Captain Newport the year following, who discovered the two lower towns. The population gradually declined and in 1699 some Huguenots took possession of the land of Mowhemencho. The greater part of the Monacan had been driven away some years before this by Colonel Bornn (Byrd?). Those who escaped continued to camp in the region until after 1702, as we learn from a Swiss traveler named F. L. Michel (1916). It is probable that the remnant finally united with their relatives the Saponi and Tutelo when they were at Fort Christanna and followed their fortunes, but we have no further information as to their fate.

Monacan Population. The number of the Monacan was estimated by Mooney (1928) at 1,200 in 1600 including part of the Saponi and Tutelo, but they can hardly have comprised over half as many. In 1669 there were still about 100 true Monacan as they were credited with 30 bowmen.

Connection in which they have become noted. The name Monacan is perpetuated by a small place called Manakin on the north bank of James River, in Goochland County, Va.


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