Pamunkey Indians of Virginia

This article about the Pamunkey Indians was found at and was originally published by the Bureau of Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution in 1894. To the best of my knowledge it is in the public domain, so it is being reprinting it here. Note that this text is quite dated and contains some insulting stereotypes. The text is reproduced here exactly as the original appeared for historical and linguistic purposes. The spelling has not been standardized.

By W. J. McGee

The most conspicuous stock of American Indians in early history is the Algonquian. Not only was the area occupied by the Algonquian peoples larger than that of any other stock, but the tribes and confederacies were distributed along the Atlantic coast and the rivers, estuaries, and bays opening into this ocean from Newfoundland to Cape Hatteras. The Pilgrim Fathers of New England, the Dutch traders and merchants of Manhattan island and the Hudson, the Quaker colonists of Pennsylvania, the Jesuit missionaries and Cavalier grantees of Maryland and Virginia, all encountered the native tribes and confederacies of this great stock. Further northward and in the interior Champlain, le Sieur du Lhut, Pere la Salle, and other explorers, came chiefly in contact with related peoples speaking a similar tongue. So the American Indian of early history, of literature and story, is largely the tribesman of this great northeastern stock.

One of the most prominent among the confederacies of Indian tribes belonging to the Algonquian stock, in the history of the settlement of our country, was the Powhatan confederacy of tidewater Virginia and Maryland. The prominence of this confederacy in our early history is partly due to the fact that Capt. John Smith was writer as well as explorer, arid left permanent records of the primitive people whose domain he invaded; but these and other records indicate that Powhatan was a chief of exceptional valor and judgment, and that the confederacy organized through his savage genius was one of the most notable among the many unions of native American tribes; also that Powhatan’s successor, Opechancanough, was a native ruler of remarkable skill and ability, whose characteristics and primitive realm are well worthy of embalming in history. Capt. John Smith was followed by other historians, and England and the continent, as well as the growing white settlements of America, were long interested in following the fortunes of the great tribal confederacy as the red men were gradually driven from their favorite haunts and forced into forest fastnesses by the higher race; and in later years Thomas Jefferson and other leaders of thought recorded the movements and characteristics of the people, while John Esten Cooke and his kind kept their memory bright with the lamp of literature. So the native king Powhatan, the ill-starred princess Pocahontas, and the people and the land over which they ruled, are well known, and the Powhatan confederacy has ever been prominent in history and literature.

The leading tribe of the Powhatan confederacy was that from which Pamankey river in eastern Virginia takes its name. Strongest in numbers, this tribe has also proved strongest in vitality; a few trifling remnants and a few uncertain and feeble strains of blood only remain of the other tribes, but the Pamunkey Indians, albeit with modified manners, impoverished blood, and much-dimmed prestige, are still represented on the original hunting ground by a lineal remnant of the original tribe. The language of Powhatan and his contemporaries is lost among their descendants; the broad realm of early days is reduced to a few paltry acres; the very existence of the tribe is hardly known throughout the state and the country; yet in some degree the old pride of blood and savage aristocracy persist-and it is undoubtedly to these characteristics that the present existence of the Pamunkey tribe is to be ascribed.

By reason of the prominent and typical place of the Powhatan confederacy in history and literature, it seems especially desirable to ascertain and record the characteristics–physical, psychical, and social–of the surviving remnant of the men. It was with this view that John Garland Pollard, esq., of Richmond, a former attache’ of the Smithsonian Institution, was encouraged to make the investigation recorded in the following pages; and it is for this reason that the record is offered to the public.




The information here given to the public concerning the present condition of the Pamunkey Indians was obtained by the writer during recent visits to their reservation. He wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to the tribe for the kindness with which they have treated him, and to make special mention of Mr. Terrill Bradby, Mr. William Bradby, and Chief C. S. Bradby, who have made a willing response to all of his inquiries.

As to the past condition of the tribe, the authorities consulted were the following:

The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain John Smith: Richmond, 1819.
Notes on the State of Virginia, by Thomas Jefferson: Philadelphia, 1801.
Historical Recollections of Virginia, by Henry Howe: Charleston, 1849.
Virginia, by John Esten Cooke: Boston, 1883.

RICHMOND, Va., October 5, 1893.


At the time of the settlement of Jamestown, in 1607, that region lying in Virginia between Potomac and James rivers was occupied by three great Indian confederacies, each of which derived its name from one of its leading tribes. They were (1) the Mannahoac, who lived on the headwaters of Potomac and Rappahunnock rivers; (2) the Monocan, who occupied the banks of the upper James, and (3) the Powhatan, who inhabited all that portion of the tidewater region lying north of the James. The last-named powerful confederacy was composed of thirty warlike tribes, having 2,400 warriors, whose disastrous attacks on the early settlers of Virginia are well known to history. The largest of the tribes making up the Powhatan confederacy was the Pamunkey, their entire number of men, women, and children, in 1607 being estimated at about 1,000 or one-eighth of the population of the whole confederacy.

The original seat of the Pamunkey tribe was on the banks of the river which bears their name, and which flows somewhat parallel with James river, the Pamunkey being about 22 miles north of the James. This tribe, on account of its numerical strength, would probably front the beginning have been the leader of its sister tribes in warfare, had it not been for the superior ability of the noted chief Powhatan, who made his tribe the moving spirit of attack on the white settlers.

On the death of Powhatan, the acknowledged head of the confederacy which bore his name. he was succeeded in reality, though not nominally, by Opechancanough, chief of the Pamunkey. John Smith, in his history of Virginia (chapter 9, page 213), gives an interesting account of his contact with this chief whose leadership in the massacre of 1622 made him the most dreaded enemy which the colonists of that period ever had. In 1669, 50 persons, remnants of the Chickahominy and Mattapony tribes, having been driven from their homes, united with the Pamunkey. The history of these Pamunkey Indians, whose distinction it is to be the only Virginia tribe1 that has survived the encroachments of civilization, furnishes a tempting field of inquiry, but one aside from the writer’s present purpose, which is ethnologic rather than historical.


The Pamunkey Indians of to-day live at what is known as “Indian-town,” which is situated on and comprises the whole of a curiously-shaped neck of land, extending into Pamunkey river and adjoining King William county, Virginia, on the south. The “town” as it is somewhat improperly called, forms a very small part of their original territory. It is almost entirely surrounded by water, being connected with the mainland by a narrow strip of land. The peculiar protection which is afforded in time of war by its natural position in all probability accounts for the presence of these Indians in this particular spot; and, indeed, I doubt not that to this advantageous situation is due their very existence.

Indiantown is about 21 miles east of Richmond immediately on the line of the York river division of the Richmond and Danville railroad. It consists of about 800 acres, 250 of which are arable land, the remaining portion being woodland and low, marshy ground. This tract was secured to the Pamunkey Indians by act of the colonial assembly, and they are restrained from alienating the same.

From a census taken by the writer in 1893 there were found to be 90 Indians then actually present on the reservation. There are, however, about 20 others who spend a part of the year in service in the city or on some of the steamers which ply the Virginia waters. There are, therefore, about 110 Pamunkey Indians now living.

The population of the “town” has varied little in the last century. Jefferson, writing in 1781, estimated their number to be 100, and Howe, nearly seventy years later, placed it at the same figure.


No member of the Pamunkey tribe is of full Indian blood. While the copper-colored skin and the straight, coarse hair of the aboriginal American show decidedly in some individuals, there are others whose Indian origin would not be detected by the ordinary observer. There has been considerable intermixture of white blood in the tribe, and not a little of that of the negro, though the laws of the tribe now strictly prohibit marriage to persons of African descent.

No one who visits the Pamunkey could fail to notice their race pride. Though they would probably acknowledge the whites as their equals, they consider the blacks far beneath their social level. Their feeling toward the negro is well illustrated by their recent indignant refusal to accept a colored teacher, who was sent them by the superintendent of public instruction to conduct the free school which the State furnishes them. They are exceedingly anxious to keep their blood free from further intermixture with that of other races, and how to accomplish this purpose is a Serious problem with them, as there are few members of the tribe who are not closely related to every other person on the reservation. To obviate this difficulty the chief and councilmen have been attempting to devise a plan by which-they can induce immigration from the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina. The Indian blood in the Pamunkey tribe is estimated at from one-fifth to three-fourths.

The Pamunkey, as a tribe, are neither handsome nor homely, long nor short, stout nor slim; in fact, they differ among themselves in these respects to the same degree found among the members of a white community of the same size. They are not particularly strong and robust, and their average longevity is lower than that of their neighbors. These facts are perhaps in a measure attributable to the frequent marriages between near relatives.

The average intelligence of these Indians is higher than that of the Virginia negro. With a few exceptions the adults among them can read and write. In view of their limited advantages they are strikingly well informed. A copy of one of their State papers will serve to give an idea of the maximum intelligence of the tribe. It reads as follows:

King William County, Va., June 26, 1893.

We, the last descendants of the Powhatan tribe of Indians, now situated on a small reservation on the Raintinkey river, 24 miles from Richmond, Va.. and one mile east of the historic White House, where Gen. George Washington was married to his lovely bride in the St. Peter’s Church. We are now known as the Pamunkey tribe of Indians, following the customs of our forefathers, hunting and fishing, partly with our dugout canoes.

We hereby authorize Terrill Bradby to visit the Indian Bureau in Washington and in all other Departments and Indian tribes, and also to visit the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

We, the undersigned, request that whenever this petition is presented, the holder may meet with the favorable approbation of the public generally.

C. S. BRADEY, Chief
Town Clerk
Members of the Tribe

The Pamunkey Indians are temperate, moral, and peaceable. Ill feeling between the tribe and their neighbors is almost unknown. They are exceeding proud of their lineage, and love to tell how bravely and stubbornly their forefathers resisted the encroachment of the whites. Opechancanongh is their hero. They take special delight in relating the familiar story of how this noted chief; when old and infirm, was carried on a litter to battle, that his presence might inspire his well to deeds of bravery.

It may not be amiss to give here a tradition concerning this tribe, which is related as explanatory of the name of a certain ferry that crosses Pamunkey river about ten miles above the reservation. The name of the ferry is Pipe-in-tree, now spelled Pipingtree. The tradition runs thus: On one occasion the Pamunkey braves met a committee of white settlers at this place and negotiated a treaty. When all the terms had been agreed to, the consummation of the treaty was solemnized in usual Indian fashion by handing around the same pipe to the representatives of both nations, each taking a puff as indicative of friendship and good faith. The pipe was then deposited in a hollow tree near by, and ever afterward, when the colonists disregarded their agreement, the poor Indians would remind them of “pipe-in-tree.”

Aside from their mode of subsistence there is nothing peculiar in the manners and customs of these people, except, perhaps, an inclination to the excessive use or gaudy colors in their attire. Their homes are comfortable and well kept. The houses are weatherboarded, and are, as a rule, one-story-and-a-half high, and consist of from one to four rooms. The best structure on the reservation is their church building, where services are held every Sabbath. The church receives the hearty support of the whole tribe, the membership of the church and that of the tribe being almost coextensive. As to their creed, they are all of one mind in adhering to the tenets of the Baptist denomination.


One visiting Indiantown at the present day would not find a vestige of the Pamunkey language, even in the names of persons or things. In 1844 Rev. E. A. Dalrymple collected the following seventeen words,2 which, so far as the writer can ascertain, are all that remain of the language of the Pamunkey Indians proper:

Tonshee, son Nikkut, one.
Nueksee, daughter Orijak, two.
Petucka, cat Kiketock, three.
Kayyo, thankfulness Mitture, four.
O-ma-yah, O my Lord Nahnkitty, five.
Kenaanee, friendship. Vomtally, six.
Baskonee, thank you Talliko, seven.
Eeskut, go out, dog. Tingdum, eight.
Yantay, ten

The vocabulary recorded by Captain John Smith3 as that of the Powhatan people is of interest in this connection. This vocabulary, with its original title, is as follows:

Because many doe desire to know the manner of their Language, I have inserted these few words.

Kakatorawines yowo. What call you this
Nemarough, a man.
Crenepo, a woman
Marowanchesso, a boy
Yehawkans, Houses
Matchcores, Skins or garments
Mockasins, Shoes
Tussan, beds
Pokatawer, Fire
Attawp, A Bow
Attonce, Arrowes
Monacookes, Swords
Aumoughhowgh, A target
Pawcussacks, Gunnes
Tomahacks, Axes
Tockahacks, Pickaxes
Paesacks, Knives
Accowprets, Sheares
Pawpecones, Pipes
Mattassin, Cooper
Vssawassin, Iron, Brasse, Silver, any white mettall.
Musses, Woods
Attasskuss, Leaves, weeds, or grasse.
Chepsin, Land
Shacquohocan, A stone
Wepenter, A cookold
Suckahanna, Water
Noughmass, Fish
Copotone, Sturgeon
Weghshaughes, Flesh
Sawwehone, Bloud.
Netoppew, Friends
Marrapough, Enemies
Maskapow, the worst of enemies
Mawchick chammay, The best of friends
Casacunnakack, peya quagh acquintan vttasantasough, In how many daies will there come hither any more English Ships.
Their Numbers:

Necut, 1, Ningh 2., Nuss, 3, Yowgh 4. Paranske, 5. Comotinch, 6, Toppawoss, 7, Nusswash, 8, Kekatawgh, 9, Kaskeke, 10.
The count no more but by tennes as followeth

Case, how many.
Ninghsapooeksku, 20
Nussapooeksku, 30
Yowghapooeksku, 40
Parankestassapooeksku, 50
Comatinchtassapooeksku, 60
Nusswashtassapooeksku, 70
Keekataughtassapooeksku, 90
Necuttoughtysinough, 100
Necuttwevnquaogh, 1000.
Rawcosowghs, Dayes
Keskowghes, Sunnes
Toppquough, Nights
Pawpaxsoughes, Yeares.
Pummahumps, Starres
Osies, Heaves.
Okees, Gods
Ouiyougcosoughs, Pettie Gods and their affinities.
Righcomoughes, Deaths
Kekughes, Lives
Mowchick woyawgh tawgh noeragh kaqueremecher, I am very hungry? What shall I eate?
Tawnor nehiegh Powhatan, Where dwels Powhatan.
Mache, nehiegh yourowgh, Orapaks. Now he dwels a great way hence at Oropaks.
Vittapitchewayne anpechitchs nehawper Werowacomoco. You lie, he stayed ever at Werowacomoco.
Kator nehigh mattagh neer vttapitchewayne. Truely his is there I doe not lie.
Spaughtynere keragh werowancemawmarinough kekate wawgh peyguaugh. Run you then to the King Mawmarynough and bid him come hither.
Vtteke, e peya weyack wighwhip. Get you gone, and come again quickly.
Kekaten Pokahontas Patiaquagh niugh rawrencok audowgh, Bid Pokahontas bring hither two little Baskets, and I will give her white beads to make her a chaine.

For purposes of comparison the meager vocabulary of the Pamticough (Pamlico) Indians, collected by Lawson, may be introduced. The Pampitcough tribe were the southernmost tribe of the Algonquian stock in the middle Atlantic slope. The list4 (excluding the “Tuskeruro” [Iroquoian] and “Woccon” [Siouian]) is as follows:

One, Weembot.
Two, Neshinnauh.
Three, Nish-wonner.
Four, Yan-Ooner.
Five, Umperren
Six, Who-yeoc.
Seven, Top-po-osh
Eight, Nau-haush-shoo.
Nine, Pach-ic-conk.
Ten, Cosh.
Rum, Weesaccon.
Blankets, Mattosh.
White Wop-poshaninuth.
Red, Mish-Cosk.
Black or Blue, idem, Mow-cotto-wosh.
Gunpowder, Pungue.
Shot, Ar-rounser.
Ax, Tomma-hick.
Knife, Rig-cosq.
Tobacco, Hoolipan.
Hat, Mottan-quahan.
Fire, Tinda.
Water, Umpe.
Goat, Tans-won.
Awl or Needle, Moc-cose.
A Hoe, Rosh-shocquon.
Salt, Ohuwon.
Paint, Mis-kis-‘su.
Ronoak, Ronoak.
Peak, Gan hooptop.
Gun, Gun tock seike.
Gun-lock, Hinds.
Fbnts, Rappatoc.
A Flap, Maachone.
A Pine Tree, Onnossa.
Englishman, Tosh-shoute.
Indians, Nuppin.

The most extended known vocabulary of the. Indians of the Powhatan confederacy is that of Strachey, published in the Hakinyt collections; but, like that of Smith, it includes various dialects.


The Pamunkey Indians make their living for the most part in true aboriginal style. Their chief occupations are hunting and fishing, and although they do not neglect their truck patches, they cherish a hearty dislike for manual labor and frequently hire negroes to come in and work their little farms. The deer, the raccoon, the otter, the muskrat, and the mink are captured on the reservation. As many as sixteen deer have been killed in this small area in one season. The skins of all these animals are a good source of income, and the flesh, except of the mink and otter, is used for food. Perch, herring, bass, chub, rock, shad, and sturgeon are caught in large numbers by means of seines Sora (reedbirds), wild geese, ducks, and turkeys are abundant.

In the autumn sora are found in the marshes in great numbers, and the Indian method of capturing them is most interesting: They have what they strangely call a “sora horse,” strongly resembling a peach basket in size and shape, and made of strips of iron, though they were formerly molded oat of clay. The “horse” is mounted on a pole which is stuck in the marsh or placed upright in a foot-boat. A fire is then kindled in the “horse.” The light attracts the sora and they fly around it in large numbers, while the Indians knock them down with long paddles. This method is, of course, used only at night. Every year, many white hunters visit the reservation and employ the Indians as their guides in hunting this same toothsome bird. They, however, use the slower but more sportsmanlike method of shooting them on the wing.

One of the clay “sora horses” above referred to may be found in the National Museum as part of a collection which the writer made from the Pamunkey in behalf of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Pamunkey farm on a very small scale. They do little more than furnish their own tables. They also raise a few horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs.

A general merchandise store is conducted on the reservation by a joint stock company, composed of members of the tribe. Their fish, game, flits, and the few farm products not consumed at home, find market in Richmond and Baltimore.


In government the tribe is a true democracy, over which, however, the State of Virginia5 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 flay an annual tribute to the State by presenting through their chief to the governor of Virginia a number of wild ducks or other game.

As regards the internal government of the Pamunkey, the executive power is vested in a chief; while the legislative and judicial functions are performed by the chief together with a council composed of four men. The chief was formerly elected for life, but now both chief and council are elected every four years by vote of the male citizens. Their method of balloting for their executive officer is unique. The council names two candidates to be voted for. Those favoring the election of candidate number 1 must indicate their choice by depositing a grain of corn in the ballot-box at the schoolhouse, while those who favor the election of candidate number 2 must deposit a bean in the same place. The former or the latter candidate is declared chosen according as the grains of corn or the beans predominate.

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 efficiently dealt with by their own courts, provided such difficulty arose from a breach of a State law. The writer does not know on what this claim is based. As may be seen from the printed transcript (verbatim et literatim) of the written laws of the Pamunkey which follows, they impose only fine or banishment as penalties. There is no corporal punishment either by chastisement or incarceration.


The Laws of the Pamunkey Indian Town written here in Sept. 25 1887

The following Laws made and approved by chief and council men Feb. 18th 1886. For the Rauling of the Pamunkey Tribe of Indians.

1st Res. No Member of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe shall intermarry with anny Nation except White or Indian under penalty of forfeiting their rights in Town.

2nd No non-resident shall be allowed to be hired or sheltered more than 3 months and if anny person are known to hire or shelter anny sutch persons shall pay 50c pr. day for every day over the above mentioned time. Amendment. Should sutch person persons be quiet and agrecable they may be hire 30 or 60 day under good behavior.

3rd Anny person slandering another without suficient evidence shall be fined in the 1st offence $5 Second $10 and in the 3rd they are to be removed from the place by the Trustees chief and councle men.

4th No non-resident shall be taught in our free school except the concen of chief counclmen or any other Indian Tribe.

5th Anny party or person found guilty of stealing anny thing belonging to anny one else they shall pay the party for the amt. that are stolen from them and also shall be fined from $1 to $5. 3rd time they are to be removed from the place.

6th If anny person shall depridate or Trespass on another ons premises and shall break down gates or destroy fences or anny other property shall be made to pay or replace all damages and if any miner are engaged in sutch, their parent shall be responsible for their acts and each and anny that are found guilty Shall be fined from $1 to $5.

7th be it known that each road of Indian Town shall be 30 ft. wide and all person that has moved their fence in the road shall have 30 days to move them out and if they are not moved they are to be moved by the chief and the council men and the expence paid by the Trespasser.

8th if anny citizen are notifide to attend anny meeting and fails to do so with without sufficient excuse shall be fined from $1 to $1.50.

9th be it known that all the citizens age 16 to 60 of Indian Town shall work on the road as far as red hill and anny member refuse to work shall be fined 75c and Jacob Miles to be Road Master and he to be paid $1 pr. year.

l0th Be it known that no person be allowed to swear on the high way of Indian Town and if so they are to be fined from $1 to $2. (Amendment) 1st offence 25 2nd 75 3rd 100.

11th. Be it known that anny person or persons seen or known to be fighting upon the highways or else where of Indian Town in the Town the one found guilty of first breaking the peace shall be fined not less than $3. nor more than $5 dollars.

12th. Resolve that each male citizen of Indian Town owning a piece of land shall pay $1.00 pr. year or the value in produce to the Treasurer of Indian Town yearly for her benefits.

13th Be it known that the Hall Sein Shore of Indian Town shall be rented out yearly for the benefit of the Treasury of Indian Town and if anny person are known to set anny obstruction in the way shall be fined $5 in each offence.

14th If anny person owning a piece of land and do not build and live upon it in 18 m it shall be considered as town property and the person shall be allowed 20 days to move what they has thereon off; then it shall be considered as Town Property and the Town can allow any one else the same privelege under the obligations.

15th Anny person that become rude and corrupt and refuse to be submissive to the Laws of Indian Town shall be removed by the Trustees, chief and councilmen.

16th Anny person that are in debt to the town and refuse to pay the amt, enoug of their property shall be sold to satisfy the claim.

17th be it known that we shall have a fence law and it shall be 4ft. high on a ditch Bank and 5 ft. high on a levil and the holes are to be 1 foot 4 in hole 2 ft 6 in holes 3 ft 8 in hole and Remainder to the judgement of the fencer.

l8th An amendment to Resolution all male citizens of Indian from 18 year upward shall pay $1.00 pr. year and until the amt is paid they will not be given no land.

Besides these written laws, there are others which have not been committed to writing, the most important of which relate to the tenure of land. The reservation belongs to the tribe as a whole. There is no individual ownership of land. The chief and council allot a parcel or cleared ground of about 8 acres to the head of each family. The occupant is generally allowed to keep the land for life, and at his death it goes back to the tribe to be realloted, unless the deceased should leave helpless dependents, in which case the land is rented for their benefit. The houses on the reservation are individual property and can be bought and sold at pleasure.


In 1891 the writer was sent by the Smithsonian Institution to visit the Pamunkey Indians and make a collection of specimens of their arts. Few articles could be found which were distinctively Indian productions. Of their aboriginal arts none are now retained by them except that of making earthenware and “dugout” canoes.

Until recent years they engaged quite extensively in the making of pottery, which they sold to their white neighbors, but since earthenware has become so cheap they have abandoned its manufacture, so that now only the oldest of the tribe retain the art, and even these can not be said to be skillful. The clay used is of a dirty white color, and is found about 6 feet beneath the surface. It is taken from the Potomac formation of the geologic series, which yields valuable pottery clays at different localities in Virginia and Maryland, and particularly in New Jersey. Mr. Terrill Bradby, one of the best informed members of the tribe, furnished, in substance, the following account of the processes followed and the materials used in the manufacture of this pottery.

In former times the opening of a clay mine was a great feast day with the Pamunkey. The whole tribe, men, women, and children, were present, and each familv took home a share of the clay. The first steps in preparing the clay are to dry it, beat it up, pass it through a sieve, and pound it in a mortar. Fresh-water mussels, flesh as well as shell, having been burnt and ground up, are mixed with the clay prepared as above, and the two are then saturated with water and kneaded together. This substance is then shaped with a mussel shell to the form of the article desired and placed in the sun and dried; then shaped with a mussel shell and rubbed with a stone for the purpose of producing a gloss. The dishes, bowls, jars, etc., as the case maybe, are then placed in a circle and tempered with a slow fire; then placed in the kiln and covered with dry pine bark and burnt until the smoke comes out in a clear volume. This is taken as an indication that the ware has been burnt sufficiently. It is then taken out and is ready for use. The reasons for the successive steps in this process, even the Indians are unable to explain satisfactorily. The collection above referred to as having been made for the Smithsonian Institution was put on exhibition at the World’s Columbian Exposition. It consists almost altogether of earthenware. Besides the various articles for table and kitchen use, there are in the collection (1) a “sora horse” made of clay, and already described under the head of mode of subsistence, and (2) a “pipe-for-joy,” also made of clay. In the bowl of this pipe are five holes made for the insertion of five stems, one for the chief and one each for the four council men.  Before the days of peace these leaders used to ‘celebrate their victories by arranging themselves in a circle and together smoking the “pipe-for-joy.”  [Photo at right, on display at the National Museum of the American Indian.] The collection comprised also a “dugout” canoe, made of a log of wood, hollowed out with metal tools of white man’s manufacture. Such canoes were formerly dug out by burning, and chopping with a stone axe.

A mortar, used in pounding dry clay as above referred to, could not be obtained for the collection. They are, however, made of short gum logs, in one end of which the basin of the mortar is burnt out. The pestle accompanying it is made of stone.

Of the arts of the white man the Pamunkey Indians have not been ready imitators. There is hardly a skilled artisan among them.


1. There are a few Indians (Dr. Albert S. Gatschet found 30 or 35 in 1891) 1iving on a small reservation of some 60 or 70 acres on Mattapony river, about 12 miles north of the Pamunkey reservation. They are thought by some to be the remnant of the Mattapony tribe, but the writer is of a different opinion. He believes that the territory of the Pamunkey once extended from the Mattapony to Pamunkey river, and that the land between gradually passed into the possession of the white man, thus dividing the tribe, leaving to each part a small tract on each of the above named rivers.
2. Historical Magazine (New York), first series, 1858, Vol. II, p. 182
3. Travels, etc., Richmond, 16, 1819, Vol. 1, pp. 147, 148.
4. Lawson. History of North Carolina, reprint by Strother and Marcom, Raleigh, 1860, pp. 366- 369.
5. The writer has been unable to find any statute or judicial decision, fixing the relation of the tribe to the State. What is here stated on this subject is the view taken by the chief and council men of the tribe.

You can download the original booklet here.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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6 Responses to Pamunkey Indians of Virginia

  1. Hannah Robinson says:

    Powhatan took his children and tribe and left Virginia. His Minister of War Opecanocaugh was left to fight. The English made careful search and could not locate the PAWMUNKEY TRIBE that was the tribe of Powhatan. Left behind was the smaller villages called by other names that became the slaves to the English and were put to work to grow the tobacco and corn to feed the English. There are thousands of Pawmunkey spread out all over WV and Kentucky. How do I know? My grandfather is Thomas Rolfe son of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. So documented I am the grandchild of Powhatan too.

  2. Hannah Robinson says:

    You like many others wrote this without making a diligent search for the heirs of Thomas Rolfe the son of Princess Pocahontas and John Rolfe, heir to THE Powhatan , Chief of the Pawmunkey Tribe. Even the State of Virginia just forgot about us. We are alive and well and want to guide our families history.

  3. Hannah Robinson says:

    That old Pawmunkey carried on a litter at age 104, who was unable to open his eyes, that they are so proud of ,was following the instructions of Powhatan. He stayed behind to organize the raids because his job was to run the raids.That man would be my great several times Uncle and this Tribe calling themselves Pawmunkey refused to even speak to his however many great, great nieces and nephews of this man they supposedly hold in such esteem. The Pawmunkey Tribe left Virginia to preserve it and the children of Powhatan that were born of women from all the sub-tribes. How intelligent was that move, a bug out plan in 1602 !

  4. Hannah Robinson says:

    Since Thomas Rolfe is my grandfather grandson of Powhatan, do you think there will be any calling themselves Pawmunkey that match my haplo group? Or has this just been taken down the garden path as well?

  5. Hannah Robinson says:

    Let’s really do this. If the Rolfe family in Britain are willing then our haplo group should match and now you actually have proof from two countries. Lets get some DNA embedded on that Bible given my grandmother , there will be oil from her hands preserved in those pages and those shell earrings will also have her DNA very possibly. Others may have handled and worn them , but the earliest groove closest to the wall of the setting may have her DNA still.

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