Native Languages of the Americas: Powhatan (Powatan, Powhattan, Powhatan Confederacy)
Language: The Powhatan language was an Algonkian tongue, also known as
Virginia Algonkian, once spoken by dozens of tribes in tidewater Virginia. None of the Powhatan dialects have been spoken natively for nearly 300 years,
though 3000 Powhatan people remain in Virginia and New England.
People: The name "Powhatan" has caused a lot of confusion. Originally it was the name of the town
the chief Wahunsunacock came from. This chief later united and/or conquered much of what is now Virginia,
and called his lands the Powhatan Empire and himself Chief Powhatan (English lords did the
same thing, if you think about it.) Modern-day Powhatans trace their roots to this powerful
but short-lived empire.
History: The Powhatan Confederacy--more of an empire or a fiefdom, really--was made up of several Algonquian tribes united by an
early seventeenth-century ruler, Wahunsunacock, better-known as Chief Powhatan. Though Powhatan is known today primarily as the father
of the highly romanticized heroine Pocahontas, in fact he was a powerful leader who controlled most of eastern Virginia. The marriage of Pocohontas to
a prominent Jamestown settler was meant to ensure peace between the Powhatan and British Empires, but she and her father both died prematurely, and
after a few ill-fated attempts at rebellion, the Powhatan Confederacy was destroyed by the British in 1644. Several of the original member
tribes of the old Powhatan Confederacy, including the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and Chickahominy tribes, still make their homes on their ancestral
land in Virginia. Other Powhatan survivors fled northward, to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and took refuge with survivors of the similarly
decimated Lenape Nation. Their descendants live there together today to this day.