Picturing the Pamunkey

Julia Dean_01_2009

The Pamunkey Indians were the leading tribe of the Powhatan Confederacy, led by Chief Powhattan, father of Pocahontas, at the time of first contact with English colonists at Jamestown, in 1607. Estimates are that the confederacy then numbered between 14,000-21,000, with the Pamunkey numbering about 1000. Powhatan died in 1618, after which his brother and successor, Opechancanough, attempted in vain to stave off increased English expansion into Powhatan territory. By 1646, as a consequence of war with the colonists and disease, the confederacy was largely destroyed. Many Pamunkey were enslaved to work alongside African slaves and indentured whites. Today, thirty-eight households occupy the oldest Indian reservation in the United States, established by treaty with the English in 1646 and reaffirmed in 1677. Powhatan’s burial mound is still maintained beside the Pamunkey River.

Chief Kevin Brown
Chief Kevin Brown

There are approximately 200 tribal members reside at least part time on remaining reservation land of 1200 acres. Though there is no tribe with a greater documented history of contact with Europeans farther back in time than the Pamunkey – it was the Pamunkey who captured John Smith, who extensively recorded his relations with them – the tribe has had to struggle at great cost, over a million dollars, in its twenty-year effort to gain federal recognition. (The tribe is state recognized by Virginia.) A contributing factor to the difficulties with federal requirements, including established genealogies, is the legacy of white supremacist and eugenics advocate Walter Plecker, Virginia’s first registrar of Bureau of Vital Statistics, who from 1924-1946, on the basis of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, reclassified, it is believed, thousands of Virginia Indians as “colored,” thus interrupting and obscuring genealogical lines.

Some Pamunkey design bowls and baskets from gourds.
Some Pamunkey design bowls and baskets from gourds.
Jeanette Bush works is a gourd crafter and quilter.
Jeanette Bush is a gourd crafter and quilter.
The Pamunkey River.
The Pamunkey River.
Walter Hill is an electrician.
Walter Hill is an electrician.
A rock band plays at a party on the shore of the Pamunkey River.
A rock band plays at a party at river’s edge on the Pamunkey Reservation.
Isabelle Brown, mother of Chief Kevin Brown.
Isabelle Brown, mother of Chief Kevin Brown.
The Pamunkey are known for their black pottery.
The Pamunkey are known for their blackware pottery.


Photography by Julia Dean


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

David Benner May 23, 2014 at 12:23 pm

If your family line traces back to Rebecca Rolfe (a.k.a.:Matoaka Amonute and Pocahontas) and her father, Powhatan (a.k.a.: Wahunsenacawh), can that be used to become recognized as a member of the Pamunkey and/or Matiponi people? After the American Revolution our our direct lineal Virginia side left the Commonwealth and moved on West. We came back to live in the mid-1960′s and are here to stay. I am now a retired firefighter living in the Shenandoah Valley.


Debora May 12, 2014 at 9:04 am

The hands holding the pot in the last photo belong to my mother , Elder Mildred Miles Moore, Master Pamunkey Potter. Give credit where credit is due please!


Shawn Sweat May 1, 2014 at 8:41 am

I think its time to retire now and return to the Pamunkey and confederate tribes…


Teresa Hedgpeth April 18, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I am looking for the connection to the Pamunkey tribe and my family, names Salmons, Chatham, as stated by my grandmother. We came to this country in 1630, by way of England.


gina Michael September 11, 2013 at 4:46 am

also on my uncles photo taken in the early 1900′s from richmond they wrote “dark” along side his complexion …was it common practice to write dark as well as,colored for those whom had Native ancestors


gina Michael September 11, 2013 at 4:40 am

if anyone has any information on Charles Green with Pamunkey ancestry please email me…he was one of my ancestors and i am trying to connect the dots ..also the surname Michael thanks,


Cody Johnson July 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm

My name is Cody Johnson and my grandma Elsie Collins, was born on the reservation. I had the opportunity to visit the reservation in 2010 and really enjoyed the opportunity to see where part of my family came from. She hid the fact that she was native until my dad was 13 and she returned to the reservation after the death of her sister. My father, aunt, and cousins are all on the scrolls but unfortunately they were closed before my brother and I were added. I just moved from KC, where my grandma still resides, down to Houston Texas.


Mia July 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Cockacoeske mother of John West is my Great 8th grandmother I am a verified descendant of The West family that was born from the Pamunkey Tribe. After my mother kept this secret hidden in our family and my grandfather deceased I am now trying to save my lineage. Is there anyone else out there related to Her or John West??


Deborah Pope November 12, 2013 at 12:53 pm

are you kin to Austin “Overtin” West from Va. ?He was my 3nd Great Grandfather. He was born in Richmond ,Va.
What is the date(s) of John West?I can look on my Ancestry.com to see if that west in my tree.


Mikion king January 31, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I am a descendant of cockacoeske to so I guess we are related.


Ivy April 2, 2014 at 9:09 am

Hi Mia,
I have been doing genealogical work on the West family line for a little while and it seems like I keep hitting a brick wall when I try to research Major John West (b. 1652, d 1715). I find this odd since Virginia was colonized by the English as a commercial venture, and subsequently there is a lot of documentation about individual travel (ships passenger lists), land grants (Henning’s) and legal proceedings (Virginia Memory project). I am now turning to the proposition that my West ancestors were descended from Capt John West, son of Cockacoeske. The research is made more difficult due to the cultural differences between the two groups regarding names, marriage, etc. I have some documentation that I would gladly send to you if you contact me via e-mail.


susan wall January 6, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I have been told several stories about my family . my grandmother was
pamunkey. in our family we have alot of pride on who we are and were we came from. ny grandmother was the best . cora ann hall(nash) we love and miss you .


Mark September 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm

My father told me before he died that I am 12.5% Pamunkey indian. His mother’s maiden name is Whiteside. Can anyone help me figure out the lineage of Whiteside and the Pamunkey Tribe?


Nancy Langston November 11, 2011 at 3:09 am

Am researching John Langston and his place in the Pamunkey Indian nation.Have done research on John Langston who came to Virginia from England.Does anyone have information about the father of John Langston who was part of Lucy Langston’s family?


Toni Haynes November 4, 2011 at 5:16 am

Does anyone have any info about Cococoeskie, daughter of Opechancanough


lucy March 29, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I recently read an article regarding Cockacoeske, written by Ethan Schmidt. If you go to jstor.com you can pull up the article: Cockacoeske, Weroansqua of the Pamunkeys, and Indian resistance in 17th century Virginia.(2012)


Susan Osburn Jaggers August 22, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I am related to Chief Eagle Plume, am looking for any infor I can get. I live in Oregon. some of the famly names Roberts, Osburn Dods , Belcher, Filder.


Tara murrell October 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm

I am in VA on business and finally made it to Jamestown yesterday. I spoke with one of the guides and she gave me many resources to try.
1. Visit the local pamunkey tribe located near Jamestown.
2. Research chief EP at the Williamsburg regional library
3. Contact the Museum of the American Indian in D.C.
4. If all fails above, then contact Helen Roundtree, an expert in Jamestown Indians.

I plan on going to the library at my next visit. My relative is John Dod, Dods, Dodsen, Dodson. I have always searched Powhatan, but should probably search Pamunkey too. Actually, the Pamunkey were more friendly with John smith than the Powhatan were…it’s more likely that Jane Eagle Plume was a Pamunkey. What research have you done?


Connie Moen August 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Does anybody on the rez know if Chief Opechancanough had a daughter that might have been named “Jane” who supposedly married John Dods/Dodson?
I have heard alot of rumours and would like to put it to all to rest. Also, was Opechancanough ever called “Chief Eagle Plume” by whites? Thank you for any help you can be.


Melissa Bryan October 4, 2011 at 9:58 pm

This is Truth.
My 15th Gr. Grandfather is John Dods and Elder Opecancanough Powhatan, he is my 16th Gr. Grandfather.
Jane “Princess Nicketti” is my 15th Gr. Grandmother.
I live in NM.


Tara murrell October 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I have been following your comments through the years on this subject and have been trying to contact you via old email addresses shown on your postings. This is the most information I’ve seen posted on the Chief and Jane. Where did you get this information? I’d love to hear more about John’s wife and father in law. How does the most vicious chief (according to books I’ve read) have a daughter who marries a white man? I hope you read this-I’m very interested on how I can find more info!


Isopel October 20, 2011 at 10:39 am

Tara, I’ve been following Melissa’s comments too, if “following” means stumbling upon them on an incredible number of genealogy and western history boards. In my opinion, her *data* is inaccurate, to say the least. She changes names and dates around, and has professed herself to be related to just about every historical figure imaginable, including Jesus. My advice is to do your own research with reputable sources.


Velma E Roberts July 31, 2010 at 7:16 am

Hi Kevin,
I have been searching for your Mom and pulled this info up. I sent picture of your sculpture to Mitchell.
We are in Florida now and I hope your Mom will E-Mail me at this address. Didn’t know she went back to reservation. Lost contact when Christmas card came back years ago.
Happy you are doing so well with your art work. Hope to hear from you and Mom.
Velma Roberts


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