The Powhatan Indians were a group of Eastern Woodland Indians who occupied the coastal plain of Virginia. They were sometimes referred to as Algonquians because of the Algonquian language they spoke and because of their common culture. Some words we use today, such as moccasin and tomahawk, came from this language.
Who Was Powhatan? Born sometime in the 1540s or 1550s, Chief Powhatan became the leader of more than 30 tribes and controlled the area where English colonists formed the Jamestown settlement in 1607. He initially traded with the colonists before clashing with them.
The Powhatan tribe, also spelled Powatan and Powhatan, are a Virginia Indian tribe that dominated eastern Virginia when the English settled Jamestown in 1607. They were also known as Virginia Algonquian, as they spoke an eastern-Algonquian language known as Powhatan.
At the time English colonists arrived in the spring of 1607, coastal Virginia was inhabited by the Powhatan Indians, an Algonquian-speaking people. The Powhatans were comprised of 30-some tribal groups, with a total population of about 14,000, under the control of Wahunsonacock, sometimes called “Powhatan.”
Powhatan, confederacy of at least 30 Algonquian-speaking North American Indian tribes that once occupied most of what is now tidewater Virginia, the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, and possibly southern Maryland.
Powhatan Indians worshipped a hierarchy of gods and spirits. They believed in two major gods, Ahone, the cre- ator and giver of good things, and Oke, the evil spirit, whom they tried to appease with offerings of tobacco, beads, furs and foods.
The Powhatans lived in eastern Virginia, where they famously encountered English settlers in the Jamestown colony. Here is a tribal map of Virginia showing the original location of the Powhatans and their neighbors in the state. Some Powhatan descendants still live in Virginia today.
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a mamanatowick (paramount chief) named Wahunsenacawh created an organization by affiliating 30 tributary peoples, whose territory was much of eastern Virginia. They called this area Tsenacommacah (“densely inhabited Land”).
The Powhatan people spoke a form of Eastern Algonquian, a family of languages used by various tribes along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Canada, and had no form of written communication.
The name Powhatan is a boy’s name of Native American origin meaning “powwow hill”. Powhatan is identified with the powerful chief and father of Pocahontas; not likely to be adopted by others.
The Powhatan Confederacy were a group of Algonquian speaking tribes including Powhatan, Potomac, Chesapeake, Secacawoni, Chickahominy, Mattapony, Nandsemond, Weanoc, Pamunkey, and Mattapony.
It is estimated that the paramount chief Powhatan (Wahunsonacock) had as many as one hundred wives during his lifetime. While a man’s first marriage was expected to last for life, additional marriages were likely negotiated for shorter terms.
Powhatan, also called Wahunsenacah or Wahunsenacawh, (died April 1618, Virginia [U.S.]), North American Indian leader, father of Pocahontas. He presided over the Powhatan empire at the time the English established the Jamestown Colony (1607).
Although other types of clothing could be made, typically Powhatan men and women wore an apron of deerskin around the waist. Men wore fur cloaks, loose sleeves and leggings. Moccasins were worn on trips into the forest.