Powhatans

The Powhatan is the name of a Virginia Indian confederation of tribes. It is estimated that there were about 14,000-21,000 of these native Powhatan people in eastern Virginia when the English settled Jamestown in 1607. They were also known as Virginia Algonquians, as they spoke an eastern-Algonquian language known as Powhatan or Virginia Algonquin.

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a mamanatowick (paramount chief) named Wahunsunacawh created a powerful organization by affiliating 30 tributary peoples, whose territory was much of eastern Virginia, called Tsenacommacah ("densely-inhabited Land"), Wahunsunacawh came to be known by the English as "Chief Powhatan." Each of the tribes within this organization had its own weroance (chief), but all paid tribute to Chief Powhatan.

After Chief Powhatan's death in 1618, hostilities with colonists escalated under the chiefdom of his brother, Opechancanough, who sought in vain to drive off the encroaching English. His large-scale attacks in 1622 and

1644 met strong reprisals by the English, resulting in the near elimination of the tribe. By 1646 what is called the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom by modern historians had been largely destroyed. In addition to the ongoing conflicts with the ever-expanding English settlements and their inhabitants, the Powhatan suffered a high death rate due to infectious diseases, maladies introducted to North America by the Europeans to which the Native Americans of the United States had developed no natural immunities.
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