Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of the Western
or, more precisely, the West Indies, he believed he had found
a new trade route to Asia.
Thinking he had landed in India, he called the native
The coastal groups in Virginia first encountered
European explorers in the 1520s.
During this early period, the natives likely traded with
the Europeans to give them fresh water, fruit, and meat.
first English colonists arrived in North America in 1584 at
Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina.
The next year, a group of these settlers explored southeastern
The Roanoke colony found it difficult to survive and ran out of food and supplies.
In 1590, when the colony's leader, John White, returned
from England, he found the settlement deserted.
What happened to the "lost colony" remains
a mystery to this day.
first English colony in North America that managed to survive
began at Jamestown in 1607.
Although this settlement also ran out of supplies and
nearly perished, it grew as increasing numbers of colonists
by Captain John Smith, the settlers immediately explored the surrounding
country, traveling up the James, York, Rappahannock, and Potomac
Rivers as far as the fall line.
They observed and wrote about the many villages and natives
Smith published an accurate map of the Coastal Plain
of Virginia, marking the villages the scouting party discovered.
Smith wrote of the Indians, "The men bestowe their
times in fishing, hunting, wars and such manlike exercises...The
women and children to the rest of the worke.
They make mats, baskets, pots, morters, pound their corne,
make their bread, prepare their victuals, plant their corn,
gather their corn, beare al kind of burdens and such like."
their dress, he wrote, "[The Powhatans are] generally tall
and straight, of a comely proportion, and of a colour browne...Their
haire is generally black, but few have any beards.
The men weare halfe their heads shaven, the other halfe
long...The [Women's hair] are cut in many fashions agreeable
to their years, but ever some part remaineth long.
They are very strong, of an able body and full of agilitie,
able to endure to lie in the woods under a tree by the fire,
in the worst of winter."
was the paramount chief, or "Powhatan," of the chiefdom when
the colonists first arrived.
His title and the name of the chiefdom were one and the
By 1607, many of the villages of the Algonquian-speaking
people were brought under one rule by Wahunsunacock and formed
the Powhatan paramount chiefdom.
Wahunsunacock ruled more than 32 subchiefdoms in more
villages of various sizes, which he controlled through inheritance
In war, the districts fought for him; in peace, they
paid taxes on their produce.
The chief, in return, aided them in times of need. Wahunsunacock
died in 1618.
of Wahunsunacock's daughters from one of his many wives, the
famous Pocahontas, was kidnapped by the colonists.
Pocahontas was the first Indian woman to marry an English
colonist when she took John Rolfe for her husband in 1614.
Rolfe introduced a mild West Indies strain of tobacco
to Jamestown, which soon became the settlers' main crop.
new settlers brought with them different tools, clothing, lifestyles,
and a need for land.
During the first decade, encounters between colonists
and Indians were often hostile.
In 1622, Wahunsunacock's brother, Opechancanough, launched
the first coordinated attack to expel the settlers, leading
to a decade of intermittent warfare.
The Indians tried a second attack in 1644, but by then they were fewer in number and faced 15,000 colonists.
After Opechancanough's death in 1646, the Powhatan chiefdom
basically ceased to exist.
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in Virginia at the time of European contact
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coastal Indians developed a variety of ways to catch fish; night
fires in dugout canoes attracted fish to the surface for spearing;
fish weirs and nets also served to harvest big catches. (Credit:
De Bry's engraving)
image to enlarge
shaved the right side of their heads for precision shooting
with bow and arrow. Hair on the left side was often tied
and adorned with feathers or tails of animals. Elaborate
body painting was for decoration. The necklace and bracelets
were of pearls or copper beads. (Credit: De Bry's engraving)