Family Portraits: Virginia Indians at the Turn of the 20th Century

Exhibition of Photographs presented by Sweet Briar College

August 23, 2007 through January 13, 2008

About the Virginia Indian Tribes Featured


Chickahominy Tribe

The Chickahominy Indian Tribe, whose name has been translated as “course ground corn people,” was officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia General Assembly on March 25, 1983.  With approximately 875 Chickahominy people living in the vicinity of the Tribal Center, the Chickahominy are based in Charles City County near the many towns along the Chickahominy River where the tribe lived in 1600.  The Chickahominy had early contact with the English settlers because of their proximity to Jamestown, and they taught early colonists how to survive by growing and preserving their own food.  As the English prospered and claimed more land, the Chickahominy tribe was forced out of their homeland.  The treaty of 1646 awarded reservation land to the Chickahominy and other tribes in the “Pamunkey Neck” area of Virginia where the Mattaponi reservation exists todays.  After 1718, they were forced off this reservation, and over the ensuing years Chickahominy families moved to Chickahominy Ridge in present day Charles City County where they now reside.  Here the tribe purchased land and established the Samaria Baptist Church, which remains an important focal point for the community.

The Chickahominy Indian Eastern Division (CIED) also originated with the historic Chickahominy tribe.  This tribe, based in New Kent County, was established in the early 20th century and has approximately 130 members today. Their members established the Tsena Commocko Baptist Church, and in recent years have purchased approximately 40 acres as tribally held land.

Mattaponi Tribe

The Mattaponi Indian Tribe is based in King William County on the banks of the Mattaponi River where the tribe has its reservation.  This 150-acre reservation is part of land confirmed to the Indians in 1658. Today approximately 75 inhabitants live there, although there are 450 on the tribal register.  The Mattaponi mission is to maintain a sustainable community on the Mattaponi River. Toward this end, the tribe has built a Fish Hatchery and Marine Science facility funded through numerous grants from foundations and organizations.  The Mattaponi work with the shad, as this fish has always been an integral part of the Mattaponi diet and center of their culture.  The facility supports programs such as fish tagging, water quality monitoring, and developing education materials for schools and communities about protecting water resources.

The Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe in King William County was known as the Adamstown Indians until 1921. The 1673 August Hermann map shows a concentration of Indians living near a town identified earlier by John Smith as Passaunkack.  A reservation of Chickahominy and Mattaponi was established there in the late 17th century. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Upper Mattaponi were known as the Adamstown band because so many of them had the last name Adams.  In 1919, the tribe built a one-room schoolhouse called the Sharon Indian School. Its 1952 replacement, now on the National Register of Historic Places as the only remaining public Indian school building in the state, is used for tribal meetings and other gatherings.

Monacan Tribe

The Monacan Indian Nation, based in Amherst County, was state recognized on February 14, 1989. Native habitation in this region dates back more then 10,000 years. The original territory of the tribe and its allies comprised more than half of the state of Virginia, including almost all of the Piedmont and parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The only recognized tribe of Eastern Siouans in the state, the Monacan currently have about 1,600 members.  The Episcopal Church operated St. Paul’s Indian Mission at Bear Mountain from 1908 – 1995, and in 1995 returned 7.5 acres of land to the Monacan Nation. The tribe has since restored their log cabin schoolhouse built on the site in 1870. The Monacan School operated until 1964 when the Civil Rights Act enabled the Monacan children to enter Virginia public schools. Click here to visit the Monacan Indian Nation Ancestral Museum.

Nansemond Tribe

The Nansemond Indian Tribe had an estimated 1,200 tribal members at the time of the arrival of the English settlers in 1607.  The tribe’s location relatively near Jamestown enabled the English to raid their towns and lay claim to their lands, thereby relocating the tribal members and tribal lands several times.  In 1792, members of the western group of the Nansemond sold their last 300 acres of reservation lands.  In 1850, the Indiana United Methodist Church was founded near Bowers Hill as a mission, and the tribe still holds its monthly meetings in the church sanctuary.  Today, the Nansemond are comprised of approximately 300 members who are genealogically descended from the historic Nansemond Indians, most of whom live in or near the cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake.

Pamunkey Tribe

The Pamunkey tribe was one of the largest in the Powhatan paramount chiefdom . The tribe is now based in King William County on the Pamunkey Indian Reservation on the banks of the Pamunkey River. This 1,200-acre reservation is part of land awarded to the Pamunkey in the 17th century. The reservation lands were confirmed as part of the Articles of Peace, a 1677 treaty with the King of England which remains the most important existing document describing Virginia’s historic stance regarding Indian lands. Research on the reservation indicates evidence of Native occupation going back 10,000 – 12,000 years.  Pamunkey tribal members continue the traditions of pottery making, fishing, hunting, and trapping. Like the Mattaponi, the Pamunkey place an emphasis on the importance of the shad in the river adjacent to their reservation, and they maintain a shad hatchery to ensure the continuation of the healthy shad runs in the Pamunkey River. Click here to visit the Pamunkey Museum.

Rappahannock Tribe

The Rappahannock Indian Tribe’s original territory was the lower Rappahannock River, where John Smith mapped at least 14 Rappahannock towns.  English settlement of the Rappahannock River Valley began illegally in the 1640s. In 1683, the Rappahannock received 3,474 acres of land in present-day Indian Neck, where their descendents live today. A year later, the Virginia Colony forcibly removed tribal members to the town of Portobago to use them as a shield protecting the English from Iroquoian war parties. By 1706, the tribe had been removed from Portobago by the Essex County militian, and they returned to their current location of Caroline, Essex and King and Queen Counties within their ancestral territory. The Rappahannock Indian Tribe incorporated in 1921, and was officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia on March 25, 1983.