The Manahoac Confederacy

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The Manahoac confederacy of Virginia consisted of perhaps a dozen tribes, of which the names of eight have been preserved. With the exception of the Stegarake, all that is known of these tribes was recorded by Smith, whose own acquaintance with them seems to have been limited to an encounter with a large hunting party in 1608. Smith, however, was a man who knew how to improve an opportunity; and having had the good fortune to make one of them a prisoner he managed to get from him a very fair idea of the tribes and territories of the confederacy, their alliances and warfare’s, their manner of living, and their cosmogony, and succeeded, before his departure, in arranging a precarious peace between them and their hereditary enemies, the Powhatan confederacy.

The Manahoac tiles occupied the upper waters of the Rappahannock above the falls near Fredericksburg. In this territory, comprising northern Virginia between tide water and the Blue ridge, the allied bands wandered about without any fixed location. Jefferson’s attempt at locating them by counties is evidently based on Smith’s map, which, however, as regards this region, is only intended to be a rough approximation, as Smith did not penetrate far beyond the falls. Smith tells us in one place that they lived at the head of the river, among the mountains; and in another place1 he gives more detailed information:

Upon the head of the river of Toppahanock is a people called Mannahoacks. To these are contributers the Tauxanias, the Shackaconias, the Ontponeas, the Tigninateos, the Whonkenteaes, the Stegarakes, the Hassinungaes, and divers others, all confederates with the Monacans, though many different in language, and be very barbarous, lining for the most part of the wild beasts and fruits.

The history of the Manahoac begins in 1608, and as usual the first encounter was a hostile one. In August of that year Captain Smith, with 12 men and an Indian guide, ascended the Rappahannock, touching at the Indian villages along its banks, and having gone as far as was possible in the boat they landed, probably about the present site of Fredericksburg, to set up crosses and cut their Dames on the trees in token of possession. This done, they scattered to examine the country, when one of the men suddenly noticed an arrow fall on the ground near him, and looking up they saw “about an hundred nimble Indians skipping from tree to tree, letting fly their arrowes so fast as they could”2 . Hastily getting behind trees, the whites met the attack, being greatly aided by their Indian guide, who jumped about in such lively fashion and kept up such a yelling, letting fly his arrows all the time, that their assailants evidently thought the English had a whole party of the Powhatan assisting them, and after a short skirmish vanished as suddenly as they had appeared. Pursuing them a short distance, the whites came upon a savage lying wounded on the ground and apparently dead. On picking him up, however, they found that he was still alive, and had great work to prevent their Indian guide from beating out his brains. The prisoner was taken to the boat, where his wound was dressed and he was given something to eat, when he became somewhat more cheerful. The English then began to question him through their Powhatan interpreter and learned that his name was Amoroleck and that he was the brother of the chief of the Hasinninga, who, with a large hunting party made up from several tribes of the confederacy, was camped at Mahaskahod, a hunting camp or headquarters not far off, on the border line between the Manahoac and their enemies the Powhatan. When asked why they had attacked the whites, who came to them in peace to seek their love, he replied that “they heard we were a people come from under the world, to take their world from them “- not altogether a bad guess for an Indian. “We asked him how many worlds he did know, he replyed, he knew no more but that which was vnder the skie that covered him, which were the Powhatans, with the Monacans and the Massawomeks, that. were higher vp in the mountains. Then we asked him what was beyond the mountains, he answered the Sunne: but of any thing els he knew nothing; because the woods were not burnt.” He further told them that the Monacan were their neighbors and friends, and dwelt like themselves in the hill country along the small streams, living partly on roots and fruits, but chiefly by hunting.

That night as they sailed down the river they were again attacked in the darkness by the Manahoac, who evidently believed that the whites had killed the brother of their chief. The English could hear their arrows dropping on every side of the boat, while the Indians on shore kept up a continual shouting and yelling. As it was impossible to take aim in the darkness, the whites had to content themselves with firing in the direction from which the most noise seemed to come. The Indians kept up the pursuit, however, until daylight, when the English, having come to a broad bay in the river, pulled the boat out of reach of the arrows and coolly proceeded to eat their breakfast. This done, they got their arms in order and then had their prisoner to open communication with his countrymen standing on the bank. The Indian gave the savages a glowing account of how the strangers had preserved his life, how well they had used him, how they wished to be friends, and how it was impossible to do them any harm, His speech had a very gratifying effect upon the Manahoac, who hung their bows and quivers upon the trees, while one came swimming out to the boat with a bow tied upon his head, and another with a quiver of arrows carried in the same way. These they delivered to Smith, it being evidently their ceremonial form of making peace. Smith received the envoys kindly and expressed his desire that the other chiefs in the party should go through the same ceremony, in order that the great king whose servant he was might be their friend.

It was no sooner demanded but performed, so upon a low Moorish poynt of Land we went to the shore, where those foure Kings came and receiued Amoroleck: nothing they had but Bowes, Arrowes, Tobacco-bags, and Pipes: what we desired, none refused to give vs, wondering at every thing we had, and heard we had done: our Pistols they tooke for pipes, which they much desired, but we did content them with other Commodities, and so we left foure or fiue hundred of our merry Maunahocks, singing, daunting, and making merry3 .

And so do we leaue them for a hundred years. With the exception of an uncertain reference by Lederer to the “Mahocks,” apparently a hostile tribe living in 1670 about the upper James, there seems to be nothing more concerning the Manahoac confederates for more than a century. In this year Lederer made a journey from Rappahannock falls due westward to the mountains, through the center of the old Manahoac country, but as he met no Indians it is probable that these tribes had already moved farther south, and that the Mahock found by him on the James in the same year were identical with the Manahoac of Smith. A wandering people, living remote from the white settlements along the coast and isolated from them by the intervening tribes of the Powhatan, they appear to have silently melted away before the attacks of their Iroquois enemies from the north, until in the beginning of the eighteenth century we find only the Stegarake remaining, the others having disappeared or consolidated with them. In 1711 Governor Spotswood, of Virginia, mentions the “Stukarocks” in connection with the Tutelo and Saponi4 . Again, in 1722, the “Stenkenocks” are mentioned in the same connection as one of the tribes living near Fort Christanna, in Virginia, and which the colonial government desired to secure from the further attacks of the Iroquois5 . In 1728 Byrd speaks of the “Steukenhocks ” as a remnant of a tribe living with the Saponi and others at the same fort6 . This seems to be their last appearance in history as a distinct tribe. The few survivors were merged with the Saponi and Tutelo, and thenceforward followed their wandering fortunes, as will be related in treating of the Monacan tribes.

After careful investigation, J. N. B. Hewitt makes the date of the formation of the Iroquois League about 1570. It was about forty years later when Smith learned of them from the Manahoac on the Rappahannock as making war on all the world. From this it would seem that within the brief space of half a lifetime they had made their name terrible throughout a wide area. At this period the whole interior of Pennsylvania was an unoccupied wilderness. The Delaware did not remove from Delaware river and the coast lands to settle upon the Susquehanna until driven by the pressure of the whites. a century later. The Conoy (Piscataway) did not move up the Potomac into Pennsylvania until about the same time, so that when Smith wrote, and for a long time thereafter, the Iroquois invaders met no opposition to their southward advance until they struck the Conestoga (Susquehanna) at the head of Chesapeake bay and the Manahoac themselves on the Rappahannock. The Conestoga, being a powerful people and protected by stockaded forts, were able to hold out until 1675, but the Manahoac, having no such defensive structures to which they could retreat, and probably also having less capacity for organization, were sooner overpowered and forced to abandon their country. Some fled to their kindred and friends, the Monacan, farther southward; but as these were exposed to the same invasion, it seems quite probable that the majority chose rather to cross the mountains to their westward and seek refuge in the unclaimed and untenanted region of the Big Sandy, afterward known as the river of the Totteroy, the generic Iroquois name for the eastern Siouan tribes, including the Catawba.

In regard to these southern conquests by the Iroquois, a speaker for the league, in a council at Lancaster in 1744, emphatically denied that the English had conquered any tribes in that direction excepting the Powhatan and the Tuskarora, and asserted that all the world knew that the Iroquois had conquered the tribes formerly living on the Susquehanna and Potomac and at the back of the Blue ridge, and that these tribes, or their remnants, were now a part of the Iroquois and their lands belonged to the Iroquois alone. Among these conquered tribes he named the Conoyuch-such-roonaw, Cohnowas-ronow (Conoy?), Tohoairough-roonaw (Tutelo?) and the Konnutskinough-roonaw. As these are not the Iroquois names for the Cherokee, Delaware, Shawano, Miami or any other of the important tribes afterward known in that region, it is possible that we have here, among others, the Manahoac and Monacan under other names.

All that we have of the language of the Manahoac is comprised in the eight tribal names given by Smith, with the name of the hunting camp, Mahaskahod, and the single personal name Amoroleck. Even these are open to suspicion, as they were obtained through an interpreter of a different linguistic stock. The names Manahoac and Stegarake look very much like Algonquian words, or foreign words with an Algonquian suffix. The prefix mo or ma seems to be the same that appears in all the Monacan tribal names, and is perhaps the Siouan locative root mo or ma, signifying place, earth, or country. Smith in one place includes both Manahoac and Monacan in a list of tribes which could not understand one another except through interpreters, and again states rather indefinitely that among the Manahoac tribes were “many different in language”7 . But although Smith was intimately acquainted with the Powhatan tribes on the coast, and to some extent with the Monacan, into whose territories he once conducted an exploring party, his knowledge of the Manahoac was extremely limited, since, as we have shown, he never went beyond the border of their country, and met with them on but one occasion, when he conversed with them through a Powhatan interpreter. The fact that the Monacan and Manahoac were so closely allied, lived in the same fashion and in practically the same country, renders it probable that the linguistic difference was only dialectic. Byrd, a most competent authority, who knew the remnants of these tribes a century later, tells us positively that each was formerly a distinct nation, or rather a different canton of the same nation, speaking the same language and having the same customs8 . Knowing the Saponi and Tutelo, whom he includes in this statement, to be Siouan, we are thus enabled upon his authority to assign the Stegarake and the other Manahoac tribes to the same family.

Synonymy of the name Monohoac

Mahoc.-Lederer, Discoveries, 1672, p. 2 (same?).
Mahock.-Ibid., p. 10 (same?).
Managog.-Ibid., p. 2 (misprint).
Manahoacs.-Jefferson (1781), Notes on Virginia, 1794, p. 134.
Manahocks.-Smith (1629), Virginia, reprint of 1819, vol. i, p. 188.
Mannahannocks.-Kingsley, Standard Natural Library, 1883, part 6, p. 151 (misprint).
Mannahoacks.-Smith, Virginia, 1819, op. cit., vol. i, p. 134.
Mannahocks.-Ibid., p. 186,
Mannahokes.-Ibid., p. 120.

Stegara.-Smith, Virginia, vol. i, map.
Stegarakes.-Ibid., p. 134.
Stegarakies.-Jefferson, op. cit., p. 134.
Stegora.-Smith, op. cit., p. 186.
Stenkenoaks.-Hale in Proc. Am. Philosoph. Soc., 1883-’84, vol. xxi, p. 7.
Stenkenocks.-Albany Conference (1722) in New York Colonial Documents, 1855, vol. v, p. 673 (misprint).
Steukenhocks.-Byrd (1728), History of the Dividing Line, 1866, vol. i, p. 188,
Stukarocks.-Spotswood. (1711), in Burk, Virginia, 1805, vol. iii, p. 89.

Shackaconias.-Smith, op. cit., p. 134.
Shackakonies.-Jefferson, op. cit., p. 134.
Shakahonea.-Smith, op. cit., p. 186 (misprint).

Tanxsnitania.-Smith, Virginia, vol. i, map.
Tauxanias.-Ibid., p. 134.
Tauxitanians.-Jefferson, op. cit., p. 134.
Tauxsintania.-Smith, op. cit., p.187.
Tauxuntania.-lbid., p. 186.

Ontponeas.-Ibid., p. 134.
Ontponies.-Jefferson, op. cit., p. 134.

Tegninaties.-Ibid., p. 134.
Tigninateos. -Smith, op. cit., p. 134.

Whonkenteaes.–Smith, op. cit., p. 134.
Whonkenties . -Jefferson , op. cit., p. 134.

Hasinninga. -Smith, op. cit., p. 186.
Hassinuga. -Smith, op. cit., map.
Hassinungaes. -Smith, op. cit., p.134.


  1. Smith, John. The true travels, adventures and observations of Captaine John Smith, etc. From the London edition of 1629, vol. i, p. 134. 2 volumes. Richmond, 1819. 

  2. Ibid, vol. i, p. 186. 

  3. Ibid, vol. i, p. 188. 

  4. Burk, John D. The history of Virginia from its first settlement to the present day. Spotswood, 1711, vol. iii, opposite page 89. Petersburg, Va., 1804-1816. 4 volumes. 

  5. New York. Documents relative to the colonial history of the state of New York. Procured in Holland, England, and France, by John Romeyn Brodhead, etc. Edited by E. B. O’Callaghan, Albany conference of 1722, vol. v, p. 673. Albany, 1856-’77. 12 vols. 

  6. Byrd, William. History of the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina, as run in 1728-’29, vol. i, pp. 120, 188. Richmond, 1866. 2 volumes. 

  7. Smith, John. op. cit., vol. i, pp. 120, 134. 

  8. Byrd, William, op. cit. 

MLA Source Citation:

Mooney, James. Siouan Tribes of the East. Bulletin 22. Washington: Bureau of Ethnology. 1894. Web. 11 December 2014. - Last updated on Aug 17th, 2014

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