Friday, May 23, 2008

Virginia's First People

Virginia Indians Today

Upper Mattaponi

For centuries the ancestors of the Upper Mattaponi People have lived in villages along the waterways of Virginia, the land known as Tsenacomocco. They lived in union with the land, the first farmers of America, harvesting corn, beans and squash and hunting deer in ways still employed today. Like their neighboring tribes, they spoke the Angonquian language and when the British came in 1607 they were prosperous people under the leadership of Chief Powhatan, the Paramount Chief of over 30 neighboring tribes. The first recognized map of the region, Captain John Smith’s map of 1612, indicates the present location of the Upper Mattaponi corresponds correctly with a village marked on his map as Passaunkack.

When the British landed at Jamestown in 1607 the people of the Mattaponi River were soon to go through a major transformation. By the mid 1600s the upper reaches of the Mattaponi River was still frontier land and other tribes had been forced by the British into the area. A 1673 map drawn by August Hermann indicates the largest concentration of Indians near the village of Passaunkack, home of the Upper Mattaponi People. Bacon’s rebellion of 1676 led to the Peace Treaty of 1677, signed on behalf of the Mattaponi by Werowansqua Cockacoeske, Queen of the Pamunkey, and a reservation of Chickahominy Indians and some of the Mattaponi Indians was established near the village site of Passaunkack. During the 1700s the Chickahominy migrated back to their homeland close to the Chickahominy River. Those people that remained at Passaunkack were the ancestors of the modern Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe.

Through the 18th and 19th centuries the Upper Mattaponi were known as the Adamstown Band, with so many of their tribal citizens having the last name Adams, possibly named for the last British interpreter in the area, James Adams. By 1850 large nucleuses of at least 10 Adamstown families continued to live in the same area and were still farmers and hunters just as their ancestors had been. A Civil War map of 1863 continued to designate the area as Indian Land, and by the 1880s the Adamstown band had built their own school. Because of the racial climate of the times, the Adamstown people had few rights and found it very difficult to prosper financially. Even so, they valued an education and the first federal funds were requested in 1892 to help support education of the Adamstown Indians.

In the early 20th century, a revival of culture spread throughout the Indian Tribes of tidewater, Virginia and the Adamstown Band officially changed it’s name to the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe, incorporating under the laws of Virginia and properly reflecting their long history on the upper reaches of the Mattaponi River.

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