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The Powhatan LandscapeAn Archaeological History of the Algonquian Chesapeake$

Martin D. Gallivan

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062860

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062860.001.0001

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Persistent Places in Colonial Tsenacomacoh

Persistent Places in Colonial Tsenacomacoh

(p.179) Chapter 7 Persistent Places in Colonial Tsenacomacoh
The Powhatan Landscape

Martin D. Gallivan

Victor D. Thompson

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 7 addresses the enduring power of place in the Virginia Algonquian spatial imaginary. Resistance to colonists’ encroachment on traditional lands, burial grounds, and sacred spaces took the form of coordinated revolts in 1622 and 1644. These Powhatan uprisings resulted in English retaliation and further Native loss of life and land. And yet, archaeological evidence from this period indicates that Virginia Algonquians made pilgrimages to persistent places to bury ancestors, sacrifice animals, and inter objects, even after the residential population had departed. The continuation of such practices in colonial Tsenacomacoh contradicts a narrative of abandonment, acculturation, and disappearance.

Keywords:   pilgrimage, revolt, sacred space, persistent places, sacrifice, abandonment

A year after Wahunsenacawh’s departure from Werowocomoco, Jamestown’s governor, Thomas Gates, ordered the 60 surviving colonists to evacuate the fort.1 The Paspahegh and other Virginia Algonquians living near the fort had refused to trade with the colonists and sniped at anyone venturing beyond the disintegrating palisade.2 Unable to acquire badly needed provisions or to safely raise their own crops, the settlers suffered severe famine in the “starving time” of 1609 to 1610.3 At one point during this period 17 colonists slipped away from the fort, stole a boat, and made their way to Kecoughtan, never to return. Other colonists venturing beyond the fort were found slain, their mouths stuffed full of bread in an act read by the colonists as a sign of contempt and scorn, “thatt others mighte expectt the Lyke when they shold come to seeke for breade and reliefe amongste them.”4 With summer approaching, the colonists decided to give up, abandon the fort, and make their way down the James. While waiting for the tide to turn, the departing colonists met a new English supply fleet traveling up the river. The three ships carried 300 colonists, provisions, arms, and Thomas West, the newly appointed governor of the colony. Gates’ evacuation order was rescinded the next day.

Known today as Lord De La Warr (or Delaware), the new governor instituted a strict military regime and set about rebuilding James Fort’s triangular palisade, storehouse, and chapel.5 De La Warr also set in motion a brutal offensive against the Powhatan chiefdom, drawing on his experiences as a commander in Ireland.6 A third Englishman named Thomas—Thomas Dale—arrived the following year, and as deputy governor he issued (p.180) a set of regulations that became known as the “Lawes Divine, Morall, and Martiall.”7 Under the leadership of De La Warr, Gates, and Dale, the newly strengthened garrison began to assault Native towns near James Fort, killing residents, seizing food stores, and burning houses. During these attacks, heavily armored raiding parties from James Fort fired muskets en masse.

At Kecoughtan near the James River’s mouth, the governor’s men lured the town’s residents into the open with a performance of drumming before killing or wounding all those they could fire upon.8 De La Warr issued an ultimatum to Wahunsenacawh—return all English property and subjects or face war—delivered by a Paspahegh man whose hand had been cut off while a prisoner at James Fort. Wahunsenacawh replied with his own demand, insisting that the Tassantasses confine themselves to James Fort. The English governor ordered his men to attack the town of Paspahegh, where they once again burned houses, cut down the corn, and killed 65 to 75 residents. After capturing one of the Paspahegh weroance’s wives and her children, “a Cowncell beinge called itt was Agreed upon to putt the Children to deathe the wch was effected by Throweinge them overboard and shoteinge owtt their Braynes in the water.”9 The colonists later executed the weroance’s wife by the sword at Jamestown, over De La Warr’s objections. De La Warr had preferred to see her burned alive.10 On another occasion the colonists forced the Nansemond out of their island settlement, burned their houses, ransacked their temples, removed the corpses of their dead weroances from their tombs, and carried away the pearls and copper accompanying their bodies.11 Such violence and desecration ignited what scholars have termed the First Anglo-Powhatan War, a period of raids and counter-raids that lasted four years, until 1614.12

Wahunsenacawh’s brother Opechancanough launched the Second Anglo-Powhatan War. In 1621, three years after Wahunsenacawh’s death, Opechancanough called Virginia Algonquians from across the coastal Chesapeake to gather for the “taking up of Powhatan’s bones.”13 This ceremony echoes other events recorded in the colonial archives whereby American Indians in the Chesapeake returned to burial grounds and collected human remains in order to reinter them, at times within new settlements removed from the original graves. The Nanticoke, Algonquian speakers from the Eastern Shore across the Chesapeake Bay, gathered bones of the deceased from ossuaries several times during the 1700s in order to bring (p.181) them to new settlement locations.14 Writing of the mid-eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson described a party of Monacan Indians who visited a burial mound in central Virginia: “They went through the woods directly to it, without any instructions or enquiry, and having staid about it some time, with expressions which were construed to be those of sorrow, they returned to the high road, which they had left about half a dozen miles to pay this visit, and pursued their journey.”15 As Jeffrey Hantman and his colleagues have pointed out, such journeys invoked memories of sacred spaces and of ancestors buried in nearby towns that were no longer occupied.16

The taking up of Powhatan’s bones occurred at a pivotal moment in Tsenacomacoh’s long history. The ceremony marked a change in Wahunsenacawh’s status: from paramount chief to ancestor. Opechancanough’s status had changed as well. Now the effective leader of the Powhatan polity, Opechancanough assumed a new name—Mangopeesomon.17 The taking up of Powhatan’s bones also marked a decisive shift in Virginia Algonquians’ collective response to the Tassantasses’ expanding settlement within the Chesapeake. On the morning of March 22, 1622, several hundred Virginia Algonquian men walked calmly into English settlements, unarmed in order to avoid raising alarm.18 By this time the colonists had established tobacco plantations on the prime lands along the James, from the river’s mouth to the fall line, in some cases taking over fields recently cleared and tended by Virginia Algonquians.19 The first commercial crop of Orinoco tobacco had shipped to England in 1613, ushering in an era when tobacco profits drew growing numbers of English planters and indentured servants to the Chesapeake.20 The Virginia Algonquian visitors seized iron tools and attacked colonists within plantations along the James River. Breaking with past Virginia Algonquian practices, they killed English women and children alongside the men. While the number of settlers in the region had been gradually increasing, the deaths of 347 of the 1,240 in Virginia came close to breaking the colony.

In the first thorough study of these events, historian Frederick Fausz recast the attacks, previously referred to as the 1622 “massacre,” as an “uprising.”21 The uprising, Fausz suggests, was triggered in part by the death of Nemattenew, a Virginia Algonquian warrior who led an early revitalization movement among the Virginia Algonquians.22 Ethnohistorian Frederic Gleach has also reexamined the 1622 attacks and the subsequent 1644 (p.182) uprising—led again by Opechancanough/Mangopeesomon.23 Seeking to understand the attacks from a Virginia Algonquian perspective, Gleach has suggested that both were in fact “coups”—blows struck by Mangopeesomon and other Powhatan leaders who understood their positions as morally superior to that of the Tassantasses.24 The attacks, in this reading, were essentially “military corrections” intended to reproach the interlopers and to prompt them to recognize the impropriety of their behavior.25 After the 1622 coup the Virginia Algonquians decided to retreat to their riverine towns rather than press the attack, even though the few remaining colonists were vulnerable to annihilation.

Viewed from the perspective of Tsenacomacoh’s deep history, the 1622 and 1644 assaults appear as efforts to regain access to critical pathways and persistent places in the Virginia Algonquian landscape. The expansion of English settlements along the James and lower York during the first two decades after 1607, then along the remainder of the York, Rappahannock, and Potomac from 1630 to 1650, forced Virginia Algonquians from towns centered on the same spaces, a process richly documented by ethnohistorian Helen Rountree.26 With the establishment of the “headright” system in 1618, wealthy colonists acquired vast tracts of land in return for covering the travel expenses of laborers and indentured servants brought to the Chesapeake.27 By establishing dispersed farms in locations with direct river access that facilitated waterborne trade, English colonists effectively mimicked Virginia Algonquian settlement patterns. In the process, the colonists usurped the central spaces of Tsenacomacoh and disrupted key waterborne links used for centuries.

During the precolonial era, dwelling in the Chesapeake was framed by a riverine waterscape organized around horticultural towns along the bluffs and neck lands overlooking estuarine streams. Riverine corridors connected everyday taskscapes that included horticultural towns, wetland resources, and fishing grounds. Ritualized places—quioccosans, burial grounds, feasting locales, and chiefly towns—gathered residents from dispersed riverine communities for seasonal events vital to social life within Tsenacomacoh. The Treaty of 1646 and the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation formally limited Native settlement to areas north of the York River and west of the Blackwater, a tributary to Albemarle Sound south of the James.28 The resulting refugee communities of Virginia Algonquians no longer had access to centuries-old towns, gardens, fisheries, (p.183) and hunting grounds fundamental to the annual cycle. Barred from ancestral ossuaries, gathering places, and ceremonial spaces, Virginia Algonquians struggled to reconstitute events crucial to traditional institutions.

The Kiskiak, for example, left their town sometime before 1627, when Jamestown’s colonial council ordered Englishmen to occupy the location.29 In the wake of the 1622 revolt and English counter-raids, the Kiskiak first moved north of the York River, settling along the Piankatank River on land reserved for their use. Court records document colonists’ repeated harassment of the Kiskiak and efforts to force them from this new home.30 Though the Treaty of Middle Plantation sought to limit such tactics by prohibiting English settlement within three miles of a Native town, the Kiskiak’s Piankatank reservation lands were surveyed for an English patent by 1683. Starting near the old Kiskiak town on the lower York, the colonists constructed a palisade line that ran the entire width of the peninsula from the York to the James, in 1634.31 The James-York peninsula, an area that represented the core of Tsenacomacoh and the Powhatan tributary network, quickly became fortified English territory. More important than its role as a defensive feature was the way the 1634 palisade redefined social space for Virginia Algonquians and for the English. The James-York peninsula was increasingly recognized as English territory, a process that fractured pathways and interrupted the regional mobility that had been central to Tsenacomacoh. Rather than defining the boundaries of English colonial space as originally intended, the palisade line quickly became its center. In the words of historian Philip Levy, the palisade came to represent “the conceptual and cartographic spine of a rambling line of plantations—some of the colony’s most impressive—which began to grow along its length almost as soon as the wall went up.”32

This chapter draws the study to a conclusion by arguing for the enduring power of place in the spatial imaginary of Native communities in the colonial Chesapeake. Despite the violent ruptures and community displacements that followed English colonial expansion in the Chesapeake, Native groups returned to important places to bury ancestors, sacrifice animals, and inter objects of social importance, even after the residential population had departed. Coupled with the revolts of 1622 and 1644, the continuation of such practices into the colonial era contradicts a narrative of acculturation, abandonment, and disappearance.

(p.184) Making Pilgrimages and Memorializing Places

During the early colonial era, Virginia Algonquians returned to burial grounds and settlements that, on first glance, appear to have been abandoned. The archaeological record of these visits—brief, ephemeral, and episodic—offers only limited traces of these events. With the refined chronologies now available from the Potomac Creek, Werowocomoco, and Buck Farm sites, though, it seems that Native groups returned to important locations after residential populations were no longer present. Indeed, Smith and Strachey noted that Native groups visited places with deep histories, at times constructing memorials and offering sacrifices in these locations.33 Even in the face of formal treaties and English statutes that restricted Native movement in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake, Virginia Algonquians continued to travel to locations whose significance was remembered from the past. Writing early in the eighteenth century, Robert Beverley described Virginia Indians who returned to “celebrated places” to erect circles of posts, wooden pillars painted red and adorned with shell beads, and stones piled in a pyramid:

When they travel by any of these Altars, they take great care to instruct their Children and Young people in the particular occasion and time of their erection, and recommend the respect which they ought to have for them; so that their careful observance of these Traditions, proves as good a Memorial of such Antiquities, as any Written Records.34

Such memorials provided a linkage to and record of the past for Virginia Algonquian communities. While centuries of intensive agricultural practices in the region have erased these stone altars and wooden posts, hints of Virginia Algonquian memory work may still be seen in the colonial Chesapeake’s archaeological record. The Potomac Creek site in the Potomac River drainage, for example, appears as a persistent place in the region’s cultural landscape, with evidence of Native activities there from the fourteenth through the seventeenth century. As discussed in chapter 3, the site represented a large, fortified town during the fourteenth century, when a substantial population lived at the location. Several ossuaries at the site date to between AD 1400 and 1560, when the settlement served as a palisaded mortuary center arranged around a large structure, likely (p.185) a charnel house.35 The Patawomeck subsequently established a new settlement close to the Potomac Creek site at Indian Point (site 44ST1) late in the sixteenth century. The old Patawomeck town remained in use, though, as a collective burial ground through the early seventeenth century. Ossuaries I and IV contained European trade goods—including copper and glass objects, scissors, hand-wrought iron nails, scrap iron, and glazed tile, materials that postdate the arrival of English colonists in the Chesapeake. The Potomac Creek site, transformed by Native communities several times from AD 1300 through the early 1600s, documents the continuing memories of a place with a deep history in the Chesapeake.

Werowocomoco has a similarly lengthy history of placemaking and remaking, though here this process has continued even after Native communities no longer resided in the vicinity of Purtan Bay. Documentary references suggest that at least some of Werowocomoco’s residents remained at the location for a brief period after Wahunsenacawh’s departure in 1609, greeting a raiding party of colonists with threats and hostility.36 The archaeological record indicates that this population did not remain at Werowocomoco long. The site includes almost no evidence of Native settlement dating after 1609. The earliest English settlement on lands in this portion of the York River drainage began during the late 1630s, a process that intensified a decade later. By 1650 colonists patented thousands of acres every year, and numerous settlers began to construct houses and to plant tobacco fields. The first written record of the Werowocomoco site’s location after 1609 comes from 1652, when William Roberts secured a patent for the land.37 The land records, tax history, and archaeological survey results, though, suggest that the initial English occupation along Purtan Bay began somewhat later, during the final decades of the seventeenth century.

A seventeenth-century burial represents an exception to the overall absence of Native activity at Werowocomoco after 1609 and provides a poignant reminder of the enduring power of place in the memories of Virginia Algonquians. The human remains and associated objects are important elements of the site’s history and powerful symbols for contemporary Native communities in Virginia.38 The burial included the poorly preserved bones and teeth of a Native American child aged two to four years, though materials associated with this child included European-produced metal objects and glass beads. While the precise chronology of the interment is unclear, there are indications in the associated materials that the burial occurred after (p.186) 1609, during a period when neither Native residents nor English settlers lived at Werowocomoco.39

Objects associated with the burial included an iron lathing hammer, a copper-alloy skillet, a copper-alloy spoon, copper-alloy beads, two copperalloy “King’s Touch” tokens, and several thousand white and blue glass beads.40 These include materials central to early colonial exchange relations in the Chesapeake—copper, glass, and iron—as well as objects that embody the red, white, and blue/black colors that recur throughout Powhatan ceremonial practices. The two copper-alloy tokens were stamped on one side with a crown above an entwined rose and thistle, identical to the motif used on the halfpenny acknowledging the union of England and Scotland during the reign of James I. The copper tokens were originally produced for an English royal ceremony that imbued the monarch with healing powers.41 The tokens found at Werowocomoco are pierced in the middle with two holes, suggesting they were modified to be used on a necklace. Copper-alloy beads in the form of short tubes were also part of the associated grave goods.42 Given the proximity of the copper beads, tokens, and glass beads, the objects were probably strung together on a complex necklace.

The greatest number of artifacts associated with the burial, just under 4,000, consisted of small white and blue glass beads and one large chevron bead.43 The white and blue bead varieties found at Werowocomoco have been recovered from early to middle seventeenth-century sites in the Middle Atlantic and Northeast. The white bead varieties found with the burial at Werowocomoco constitute only 1 percent of the Early Fort period (1607–1623) assemblage at Jamestown, and 4 percent of the Post-Fort period (1624–1660) assemblage.44 The large, spherical chevron bead recovered with the Werowocomoco burial has a starlike pattern, apparent when viewed from the ends. Chevron beads associated with Dutch-supplied Polychrome Horizon assemblages dating to AD 1609–1624 are found within Iroquois sites in New York dating circa AD 1620–1650.45

These glass bead varieties offer some indications of the Werowocomoco burial’s date. The chevron bead has been recovered from contexts ranging from 1609 to 1650. The small white bead variety (IVa11) recovered from Werowocomoco appears within Early Fort period contexts at Jamestown in small numbers but is more prevalent during the later Post-Fort period (AD 1624–1660). The beads associated with the burial point toward a post-1609 date for the interment. The materials included with the burial came (p.187)

Table 7.1. Beads recovered from Werowocomoco site burial

Kidd Variety


Estimated Count


Mean Diameter (mm)

Mean Length (mm)


Very small–small, circular, 3-layer white beads (C/W/C)






Very small–small, circular, 3-layer white beads (W/C/W)






Very small–small, circular, translucent dark blue beads






Large, spherical, 3-layer translucent dark blue beads (B/W/B)





(*) Variant on the bead category represented by the alphanumeric.

Source: Lapham 2004.

from sources beyond the known Virginia Algonquian world, and possibly beyond the world of English colonists, given the enigmatic origins of the chevron bead. This variety of burial goods, unusual for the Chesapeake, marks the death of a person of considerable importance, and a child with ties to Werowocomoco. The burial also appears to have marked a return to Werowocomoco after the residential population left the location. No other burials have been identified at Werowocomoco, despite a systematic survey and extensive testing of the site, raising the question of whether the residents collected the bones of ancestors following Wahunsenacawh’s departure from the town. Even with the departure of Wahunsenacawh and Werowocomoco’s other residents circa 1609, the town’s spaces retained an importance in the memories of Virginia Algonquians.

The archaeological record of at least one additional location in the Chesapeake suggests that Native communities returned to ancestral places for commemorative events. The Buck Farm site included a small palisaded enclosure with a single human interment and eleven animal burials. As discussed in chapter 5, the site may have represented a quioccosan destroyed late in the sixteenth century. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, after the palisade had burned to the ground, the site was no longer occupied. The site’s archaeological record does not offer any indications of an English colonial residence or farmstead in the vicinity. A radiocarbon (p.188) assay from one of the animal burials at the site, though, produced a historic-period result, suggesting that the pig burial (Burial 3) postdates the seventeenth century.46

Burial 3 was but one of three pigs, seven dogs, and one bird buried within the palisaded enclosure at the Buck Farm site. All of these burials contained the complete, articulated skeletal remains of an animal. Associated with Native pottery and lithic debitage, the dogs were all buried during the precontact era. In fact, Native communities in the Chesapeake often buried dogs within settlements and near burial grounds during the Late Woodland period. In her study of dog burials within Native sites in the Chesapeake, Jennifer Fitzgerald identified archaeological patterning suggesting that dog burials within Native sites linked to human mortuary ceremonies, public feasts, and boundary spaces that included the entrances to houses and palisaded enclosures.47 Colonial accounts and ethnographic studies suggest that Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands sacrificed dogs to accompany deceased humans, serve as proxy victims, or otherwise act as messengers to the spirit world.48

Burial 3’s radiocarbon results indicate that the pig interment dates to the period after the Chickahominy had been forced from their homeland along the river bearing their name. Sixteenth-century Spanish colonists introduced pigs to the southeastern landscape, and English settlers later allowed pigs to roam the forests of the Chesapeake region. After the introduction of pigs, some American Indian groups in the Eastern Woodlands, including the Lenape, regularly incorporated the animals into their subsistence practices, at times substituting pigs for dogs during ceremonial occasions.49 The pig burials at Buck Farm may, of course, relate to English settlement that began along the Chickahominy during the mid-seventeenth century. However, the absence of a historic-period component at the site from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century points in other directions.

Chickahominy Indians who returned to the site in the colonial era may have sacrificed and buried the pigs. Colonial-era accounts reference Virginia Algonquian sacrifices on several occasions, with offerings that included animals, pearls, shell beads, tobacco, puccoon, copper, and human life.50 At times stones were tossed into rivers in order to “Sacrifice to Running Streams, which by the perpetuity of their Motion, typifie the Eternity of God.”51 Perhaps the most prominent reference to a sacrifice in the early colonial accounts may be found in the origin story, excerpted (p.189)

Persistent Places in Colonial Tsenacomacoh

Figure 7.1. Buck Farm site plan.

in chapter 3, whereby the killing of the first deer brought both fertility and social order to the region. Virginia Algonquians offered sacrifices to give thanks and to avoid divine punishments.52 By the colonial era, documentary sources indicate that Native groups made such sacrifices on memorial altars and within places associated with past events.53 Historical accounts of the Nanticoke and Monacan provide additional references (p.190) confirming that Native communities in the region returned to former settlements to perform ceremonies and to retrieve ancestors’ remains.54 Chickahominy Indians may have likewise revisited a place with a deep history on the Virginia Algonquian landscape to renew connections to an important place.

During the early seventeenth century, the Patawomeke returned to a centuries-old burial ground at the Potomac Creek site. Located near their principal town, the Potomac Creek site continued to represent a place where the Patawomeck completed ossuary mortuary rituals that now included trade goods acquired from the English. At Werowocomoco, a Native child was buried with glass beads, copper, and iron objects during the seventeenth century. By this time, though, no one lived at Werowocomoco. Later still, the Chickahominy seem to have returned to a formerly palisaded compound to bury several animals, events that echoed practices of the precolonial era. Much like the Monacans’ travel to a mound in central Virginia and the Nanticoke’s return to Eastern Shore ossuaries, such visits appear to have involved pilgrimages—special journeys to a sacred place—and performances of commemoration.55 The documentary references and evidence from Potomac Creek, Werowocomoco, and Buck Farm hint that Virginia Algonquians returned to persistent places for pilgrimages, performances, and sacrifices, asserting enduring attachments to “celebrated places” during the early colonial era.56

Dwelling in Tsenacomacoh

This study has examined Tsenacomacoh’s deep history from the spread of forager-fishers who used shell-tempered pottery to the commemoration of persistent places during the colonial era. I have framed the changes over time evident in the archaeological record in terms of representations of social space in the Chesapeake, Native spatial practices within the James and York River valleys, and the meaningful dimension of space within Werowocomoco and other Virginia Algonquian towns. English chroniclers’ representations of colonized landscapes in maps and in narrative accounts dominate contemporary understandings of the Native societies in the Chesapeake. Still, we catch glimpses of Virginia Algonquian representations of space in the divination ceremony performed by Pamunkey priests and in Powhatan’s Mantle. The resulting maps offer complementary Native (p.191) representations of Tsenacomacoh, framed by priests on the one hand and by the chiefly elite on the other.

Other Virginia Algonquian representations of social space appear in the names of places lining the waterways of the Chesapeake estuary. Most Algonquian place-names in the Chesapeake accentuate a riverine or estuarine perspective that references the configuration of waterways and their relationship to land. Place-names that depart from this prevailing practice, from the “Hill of priestly divination” (Powhatan) to the “Place of the antler wearers” (Werowocomoco) echo histories of placemaking in the Algonquian Chesapeake. The names of places and people outside Tsenacomacoh diverged sharply from those of the Virginia Algonquian waterscape, highlighting a Virginia Algonquian sense of place centered on estuarine settings, waterborne travel, and the interface between land and water.

A history of Algonquian spatial practices within Tsenacomacoh seems to begin during the Middle Woodland period with forager-fishers who created persistent places during seasonal aggregations focused on fishing and shellfish harvesting. Circa AD 200 the archaeological record features a different set of materials, settlement practices, and subsistence orientations across the coastal Chesapeake, pointing toward a new mode of dwelling more closely oriented to the estuarine system. Historical linguistic studies trace the arrival and spread of Algonquian speech communities in the Chesapeake to this period, though this evidence is not without ambiguity. On the lower James and York Rivers, foragers and fishers produced ceramics tied to distinct communities of practice, highlighting interaction and social diversity at Tsenacomacoh’s origins. Seasonal gatherings in riverfront settings produced middens with deep accumulations of shell, faunal remains, and (in some locations) decorated ceramics used in large-scale feasts.

The Chickahominy River’s archaeological record traces the development of a riverine landscape of connected places from the sixth through the sixteenth centuries AD. Starting circa AD 500, mortuary ceremonies created ossuaries in the drainage interior. Downstream, in the central portion of the river valley, dispersed residential settlements appeared after AD 1300 along the riverfront bluffs and neck lands overlooking the river. Horticulture assumed a modest importance in subsistence patterns at the same time, as forager-fishers augmented their diets with maize. From AD 1300 through the early seventeenth century, residents of the Chickahominy (p.192) drainage shifted their subsistence practices away from reliance on wild plants and fish toward domesticated plants and terrestrial fauna.

During these centuries the lower portion of the Chickahominy drainage saw the construction of a small, palisaded enclosure—possibly a priest’s compound—surrounding a series of animal burials. Downstream, residents of the Chickahominy drainage feasted around massive pits used for food consumption events that they celebrated on an impressive scale. Chickahominy coalescence was channeled by these subsistence and settlement changes and by a linked network of locations for social gatherings within the drainage.

Werowocomoco’s archaeology reveals a biography of place that began with the clearing of forests and the building of a horticultural town during the thirteenth century AD. Residents expanded a small earthwork enclosure in the settlement’s interior circa AD 1350 with the construction of two much longer trenches. The trenches delineated an area that represents the closest thing in the Algonquian Chesapeake to monumental space. Werowocomoco’s residents constructed a large structure behind these trenches by 1607, quite likely Wahunsenacawh’s residence, based on its size, location, configuration, chronology, and associated copper from James Fort. Werowocomoco enters the documentary record as a settlement that, like other Virginia Algonquian towns, oriented the annual calendar and anchored seasonal movement. Werowocomoco, though, stood apart as the place with ritualized spaces where Wahunsenacawh became paramount chief, where John Smith became a weroance, and where antler-wearing wise men hosted ceremonies. As the hub of the Powhatan tributary network, Werowocomoco represented both a Native political center and a place of colonial entanglements during the early seventeenth century.

Across the James and York River valleys, spatial practices and temporal rhythms were keyed to such riverine locations used for centuries. These persistent places oriented the ways Virginia Algonquians dwelled in Tidewater Virginia, initially around shell middens and prime fishing grounds used seasonally, and later within horticultural towns occupied for much of the year. Ritualized spaces, including ossuaries and trench enclosures, gathered people for events that oriented the annual cycle and that allowed Virginia Algonquian communities to persist. From the ossuary burials along the Chickahominy arranged around a fire, to the trenches at Werowocomoco, Kiskiak, and Buck Farm, circular and concentric forms frequently (p.193) appeared in these spaces. The Pamunkey priests’ divination ceremony likewise generated concentric circles, using maize-based imagery to represent Tsenacomacoh and to encompass the Tassantasses. Powhatan’s Mantle also drew upon circular imagery, though here it appears as a claim to regional sovereignty and a statement of chiefly power. At Werowocomoco, spaces marked by concentric earthworks played a role in the origins of the Powhatan chiefdom and in events that incorporated the Tassantasses and their materials. Unlike English maps of the region, Virginia Algonquian representations of social space emphasized centers attached to exterior rings, each with a distinct relationship to the core.

Tsenacomacoh incorporated outside elements throughout the Algonquian history of the Chesapeake, starting well before colonist John Smith or any other “stranger” reached Werowocomoco. Tsenacomacoh’s archaeological record points to an eventful past framed by the arrival of Algonquian-speaking fishers circa AD 100 and their interactions with indigenous foragers. As Native communities established horticultural towns in riverine settings from the thirteenth through the sixteenth century AD, valued objects from Tsenacomacoh’s periphery, including shell beads, began to flow into these settlements.57 During the sixteenth century, exchange relations brought copper objects mined from the Blue Ridge Mountains or from the Great Lakes region into the Chesapeake and its political networks.58 By the end of the 1500s, Wahunsenacawh’s rise to paramount status culminated with his relocation from the edges of Tsenacomacoh to Werowocomoco, a ceremonial center and “Place of the antler wearers.” Even after their displacement from riverine settlements in Tsenacomacoh, Virginia Algonquians returned to burial grounds, residential towns, and ceremonial spaces, signaling the enduring memories of place in the Virginia Algonquian spatial imaginary. These colonial-era pilgrimages and performances incorporated materials—copper objects, glass beads, iron implements, and animals—brought from outside Tsenacomacoh.

Viewed through a long lens, the Virginia Algonquian past brings into focus a history of emplacement and displacement stretching across more than 1,500 years. This record highlights the enduring power of place throughout a deep history of dwelling along the Chesapeake’s waterways.


(22.) Ibid., 353–59.

(24.) Ibid., 4.

(28.) Rountree 1990:87–89, 100. An exhibit at the Pamunkey Museum and Cultural Center interprets the ramifications of these treaties in more detail.

(30.) Ibid., 117.

(32.) Ibid., 229.

(34.) Beverley 1947:213. Italics added.

(38.) After consultation with the Werowocomoco Research Group and property owners, the project’s Virginia Indian Advisory Board recommended an inventory of the remains and associated grave goods, to be followed by reburial.

(39.) Though the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAG-PRA) did not yet apply to Virginia’s tribes, the research team’s policy on human remains operated as if it did. The burial was excavated prior to the Werowocomoco Research Group’s involvement at the site. Our goal has been to implement a plan for the human remains and associated material that balances respect for the Virginia Indian community’s wishes regarding an ancestor while also meeting our obligations as stewards of archaeological information from the site. The Virginia Indian advisors to the project have expressed a strong sense that the objects represent items sacred to Powhatan descendants. Under NAGPRA, the materials would likely be accorded the status of associated funerary objects. Given the strong convictions of the representatives from contemporary Native communities, it is also possible that the materials would today be considered objects of cultural patrimony. Objects of cultural patrimony have ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to a tribe, rather than being the property of an individual tribal member. Upon completion of an inventory, the Werowocomoco Research Group and landowners delegated decisions pertaining to the reinterment of the remains and associated objects to the Virginia Indian Advisory Board.

(41.) Excavations at James Fort have recovered similar tokens (Straube 2004). A similar set of 18 tokens, pierced and constituting a necklace, was excavated from a seventeenth-century ossuary on the banks of Piscataway Creek in Maryland (Ferguson 1940).

(42.) The beads were made of thin pieces of rolled copper. Several of the beads have a (p.216) fibrous thread inside them, which suggests that they were held together in a necklace. An analysis of the thread from several of the beads indicates the fibers are linen flax of probable European origin (Williams 2005).

(46.) Beta-249895, conventional date: 110 bp ±40, two-sigma range: 1677–1954.

(50.) Williamson 2003:234. Puccoon is an Algonquian term for dye and refers to several plants from which Native communities produced a red dye.

(54.) Bushnell 1920, 1930.

(55.) Pilgrimage is a challenging process to study, in part because of the very mobility that it entails. In their classic treatise of Christian pilgrimage, Victor and Edith Turner (1978) framed pilgrimage as a rite of passage that allows people to move from their everyday lives and spaces to places and states of heightened spirituality. In the process, Christian travelers encounter others on pilgrimage and lose their individual identity to a feeling of collective unity or “communitas.” In colonized settings, places of revisitation and ceremony may be viewed by indigenous communities in a shifting way as once sacred, now desacralized, and later resacralized in a new way (Scott and Simpson-Housley 2001). Some Native American pilgrimages seek to access cosmological or sacred power in order to contest colonial hegemony, albeit through distinctly different cultural and historical frames (e.g., Astor-Aguilera and Jarvenpa 2008). Recently, studies of pilgrimage in the postcolonial world have emphasized the often-contested quality of pilgrimage sites from Stonehenge to Wounded Knee that figure in debates about boundaries, identities, and sovereignty (for example, Badone and Roseman 2004).

(56.) Archaeological studies of pilgrimage in Native North America have identified evidence of pilgrimage in the deep past, typically focusing on the monumental spaces of spectacular sites such as Poverty Point, Cahokia, and Chaco Canyon. Pilgrims evidently traveled considerable distances to acquire materials, including basalt and red cedar, to bring back to Cahokia as tokens of pilgrimages or vision quests (Kelley and Brown 2012). In Chaco Canyon the great houses of Ancestral Pueblo societies may have attracted thousands of individuals from the surrounding region for seasonal fairs and ceremonies. This scenario has not, however, stood up well to detailed scrutiny of the expected accumulations of ceramic and faunal debris, which points instead toward smaller-scale events and feasting on a household scale (Plog and Watson 2012). Another recent study examined pathways to ritual sites in Mexico, illustrating a landscape that included places of pilgrimage with short-term, ephemeral use and others used persistently over long durations (Claassen 2011). Finally, a recent archaeological study comparing evidence from Chaco Canyon and Cahuachi in the Nasca region of Peru (p.217) argues that pilgrimages provided an opportunity for pilgrims to transmit a “costly signal” of their commitment to a religious system and its associated values (Kantner and Vaughn 2012). On the whole, pilgrimage appears to be of considerable importance in the study of cultural landscapes, though it is also difficult to assess archaeologically.