Indian chief Powhatan’s 17th-century village found on Virginia farm

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Archaeologists have identified the location of a 17th-century American Indian settlement on Virginia’s York River that may represent the village of Werowocomoco, the principal residence of the Virginia Algonquin chief Powhatan from 1607-1609.

Powhatan, father of Pocahontas, presided over the Powhatan chiefdom that encompassed coastal Virginia from the James to the Potomac rivers during the early 1600s.

The Powhatan chiefdom represented one of the most complex political entities in eastern North America during this period.

First findings. Preliminary investigations of the Gloucester County site on Purton Bay have recovered Native American and European artifacts in numbers that correspond with a substantial village settlement dating to the early colonial period.

These archaeological deposits, combined with descriptions of Werowocomoco by several Jamestown colonists, lead the archaeologists to hypothesize that this site is the central village of the Powhatan chiefdom.

The Werowocomoco Research Group, a team composed of researchers from William and Mary and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, will be advising landowners Bob and Lynn Ripley on the investigation of the site.

As its first act, the group presented its preliminary findings to representatives of Virginia’s eight state-recognized Indian tribes and the Virginia Council on Indians, inviting these organizations to join the Werowocomoco Research Group as partners in efforts to interpret the site.

Early documents. “Early colonial documentary sources, including John Smith’s 1612 map of Virginia, have long offered key indications of where this important settlement might have been located,” said Randolph Turner, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ Portsmouth Regional Office.

“The recent archaeological fieldwork provides convincing evidence that we have indeed found the village.”

“The early colonial documentary histories offer a glimpse of Werowocomoco as a place of power, the ‘king’s house’ in one translation of the village’s name,” said Martin Gallivan, a William and Mary anthropologist.

“The planned archaeological research offers the potential to expand our knowledge of Werowocomoco as the center of authority among the Powhatans.”

Found on farm. The crucial identification of artifacts by Lynn Ripley on her Gloucester County family farm brought the property to the attention of local archaeologists.

Subsequent archaeological surveys of the property were conducted by Gloucester-based archaeologists David Brown and Thane Harpole and funded by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the landowners.

“After meeting the landowners and learning of the remarkable array of Native American and early colonial artifacts present at the site, we recognized its historic significance,” Brown said.

The descendant communities of the site’s original residents have been invited to join in the effort to understand the site and its significance.

Community outreach. Deanna Beacham, a member of the Nansemond tribe, will assist in these efforts by serving as outreach coordinator to the Virginia Indian community.

“As you walk the land of this site, there is a wonderful sense of power and greatness amidst the pristine beauty of the York River.

The investigation of Werowocomoco will be a significant event to coincide with the 2007 commemoration and the Virginia Indians are very fortunate to be part of this endeavor,” said Reeva Tilley of the Virginia Council on Indians and a member of the Rappahannock Tribe.

Summer plans. This summer, the College of William and Mary and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will conduct archaeological research at the site.

The goals of this fieldwork are centered on determining the extent to which the site -including evidence of houses and activity areas – remains intact.

The field project also aims to develop a detailed site chronology for Werowocomoco.

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