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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 small 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 the territory that 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
which were united by an early 17-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 his daughter 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 and their society in the past and present.
Powhatan Indian School Information
Our answers to frequently asked questions about the Powhatan Indians, their language and culture.
Introduction to Powhatan Indian mythology.
Our Online Powhatan Language Materials
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, with their translations.
Powhatan Animal Words:
Picture glossary of animal words in the Powhatan Indian language.
Powhatan Dictionaries, Audio Tapes and Language Resources
Dictionary of Powhatan:
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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
Definition of Powhatan words taken from historical sources, with some pronunciation information.
The Pamunkey Indians of Virginia:
This 19th-century history of the Pamunkey tribe contains both Pamunkey and Powhatan Indian vocabulary lists.
(Be warned, 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.
Additional Resources, Links, and References
La Lengua Powhatan:
Article on the Powhatan language in Spanish. With a language map.
Powhatan Indian books.
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