What Are Some Historical Facts About the Powhatan Tribe?

The Powhatan tribe was the dominant Native American group in Virginia that made contact with the English settlers at Jamestown, alternating between peaceful trade and all-out war before being fully conquered and driven out by the 1720s. The Powhatan nation was actually a confederacy of agricultural tribes self-named Tsenacommacah.

The Powhatan tribe got its better-known name because the name of its chief, Powhatan. Powhatan, whose actual name was Wahunsenacawhm, was the grand chieftain of the tribe who captured John Smith and was also the father of Pocahontas. Powhatan was able to maintain peaceful and mutually beneficial relations with the English, helping Jamestown survive its first few years. However, there were tensions relating to food supplies and authority over the land that led to some battles, though peace won out in 1614.

Powhatan died in 1618 and was replaced by his brother Opechancanough, who was firmly anti-white and conducted all-out war in 1622, killing about a quarter of the settlers. The English retaliated, and war was the norm for the next 20 years. By the 1640s, the numbers of the English settlers grew, and the Powhatan tribe was forced to go under the rule of England. Over time, their territory dwindled. Today, a few thousand survive on small reservations in Virginia.

The Powhatan Tribe lived in villages set up on hills and other high ground by rivers. They were fairly advanced in farming and were an agricultural society. Women did most of the farm work. Men would clear the land for growing crops, but were more focused on fishing and hunting.