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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.

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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.

Powhatan Language Resources
Powhatan language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Powhatan Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Powhatan tribe past and present.

Powhatan Indians Fact Sheet
Our answers to frequently asked questions about the Powhatan Indians, their language and culture.

Powhatan Legends
Introduction to Powhatan Indian mythology.

Powhatan Language Resources

Our Online Powhatan Language Materials

Powhatan Vocabulary:
    List of vocabulary words in the Powhatan language, with comparison to words in other Algonquian languages.
Powhatan Words in 'Pocahontas':
    Explanation of the origins of the Algonquian words used in the Disney movie.
Powhatan Animal Words:
    Picture glossary of animal words in the Powhatan Indian language.

Powhatan Dictionaries, Audio Tapes and Language Resources

Dictionary of Powhatan:
    William Strachey's Powhatan dictionary for sale.
A Vocabulary of Powhatan:
    John Smith's recordings of the Powhatan language.
Native American Dictionaries:
    Powhatan and other American Indian dictionaries and language materials.

Powhatan Language Lessons and Linguistic Descriptions

Powhatan Dictionary:
    List of Powhatan words taken from historical sources.
The Pamunkey Indians of Virginia:
    This 19th-century history of the Pamunkey tribe contains both Pamunkey and Powhatan Indian vocabulary lists.
    (Be aware that there are some rather racist remarks in the ethnographic section.)
Powhatan Indian Locations:
    Original names of the various tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy.
    Demographic information about Powhatan from the Ethnologue of Languages.
Virginia Algonquian Language Tree:
    Theories about Virginia Algonkian language relationships compiled by Linguist List.
Powhatan Language Structures:
    Powhatan linguistic profile and academic bibliography.

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Additional Resources, Links, and References

   La Lengua Powhatan:
   Article on the Powhatan language in Spanish. With a language map.
   Powhatan Language:
   Powhatan links.
  Powhatan Tribe:
  Powhatan Indian books.

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