(Powhatan's Territory in 1607)
1607: Powhatan Land and Water Areas = Approximately 16,000 square miles
[Note: A Washington Post map by Gene Thorpe dated December 13, 2006, showed that the above land
and water areas were between 18,700 to 19,250 square miles.]
The Powhatan territory was within the boundaries of today's following states:
(1) North Carolina [now, 53,818.51 square miles]
(2) Virginia [now, 42,774.20 square miles]
(3) Maryland [now, 12,406.68 square miles]
(4) Washington, D.C. [now, 68.34 square miles]
The book, Fairfax County, Virginia A History, stated that the Algonquian-speaking Nacotchtank, also "Nacostin"
or "Anacostin" Indians of Washington, D.C., like the Tauxenent/Dogue on both sides of the Potomac River,
were originally part of the Powhatan Confederacy. By the time of the arrival of Captain John Smith in 1607,
they began to ally themselves with the Iroquoians. In 1607,Wahunsenacawh or Powhatan II was the paramount
chief of the largest territory under the leadership of one man in North America. His sway over such a large
territory caused the English to call him a king. Although not all contemporary scholars agree on the territorial
boundary of Powhatan’s domain, this map depicts the most commonly held consensus of the Powhatan
Confederacy boundary area. Here it is shown to be larger than the ten contemporary states of Connecticut
[5,543.33 sq. mi.], Delaware [2,489.27 sq. mi.], Hawaii [10,930.98 sq. mi.], Maryland [12,406.68 sq. mi.],
Massachusetts [10,554.57 sq. mi.], New Hampshire [9,349.94 sq. mi.], New Jersey [8,721.30] sq. mi.], Rhode
Island [1,545.05 sq. mi.], Vermont [9,614.26 sq. mi.], and the District of Columbia [68.34 sq. mi.]. The
information about the size of his territory came from Powhatan himself, corroborated by people within his
jurisdiction and recorded by the English. His recorded travels took him to caucuses on Capitol Hill in
Washington, D.C., and across the Potomac River into southern Maryland. During his lifetime an English
observer stated that "Powhatan never left his territory".
The map shows one version of the area that scholars refer to as a “confederacy”, a “chiefdom” or an “empire”.
The English referred to Powhatan as a king and one of his minor Pamunkey daughters as Princess
Pocahontas. Whatever the opinion that contemporary writers may have, it was evident to the English that
Powhatan was a formidable force in North America in 1607. He had inherited governance over eight
Algonquian-speaking “tribes” from his father, *Powhatan 1, and had, by the time that he was 60 years old,
steadily forged an alliance of thirty-odd chiefdoms. A testament to Powhatan’s political abilities was the fact that
groups within his territory had varying degrees of political affiliation within his “chiefdom”.
Native Americans at the time during Powhatan’s lifetime were cosmopolitan travelers who used well-worn trails
and rivers to traverse expansive areas within the continent. Far reaching trade, alliances and conflict were the
norm. Native Americans traveled for months or years over hundreds of miles for political, social and
commercial purposes. Rivers were rarely boundaries but were highways, a source of food, and a means of
interaction. The introduction of horses to the Eastern Woodlands people did not impress the Powhatans who
continued to efficiently use their canoes after the European contact period.
The Europeans, unaccustomed to the nuances of Native American politics, did not fully understand Powhatan’s
power as a leader. Although chiefs sometimes seemed to have had absolute power of life and death over
people, a deliberative process by way of “caucus” bound them to the council of the priests and the advisors.
This English inability to understand Powhatan policies caused a number of conflicts between both powers.
Additionally, English encroachment into Powhatan territory and its surrounding area became the critical
disruptive force that deterred further growth of this major Algonquian “empire”.
*According to early chroniclers, Powhatan's father may have come to Virginia from either Florida or Maya
territory in Central America. The Maya word "Pohotun" refers to ancient ones. Their civilization had a history of
conquest and tribal consolidation.
ADDITIONAL POINTS OF INTEREST:
The disruptive nature of English encroachment.
• The Pamunkey Reservation in King William County Virginia is the oldest reservation in the United States.
Pamunkey means "Place of the Sweat", and may have been the sacred site of a Powhatan temple village. In
Captain John Smith’s map of Powhatan’s Confederacy the Pamunkey were located where the reservation now
stands. In a map by Nancy Kurtz of Maryland Indian and English settlements after 1634 , some Pamunkey
Indian Villages on “Pamunkey Indian Lands” also appear on the Maryland side of the Potomac River near
Piscataway Creek. Helen C. Rountree wrote about Powhatan’s domain in her book The Powhatan Indians of
Virginia: Their Traditional Culture, in which she stated on page 12:
“Opiscopank (or Opiscatumek; anglicized to Piscataway [ph-scat-a-way]; originally the
accent was probably on the second syllable): on the southwestern side of the
Rappahannock River, east of Lagrange Creek (Middlesex County [Virginia]); no warrior
count—the group appears on Smith’s map and Strachey’s text in passing.”
• The Rappahannock River area near the Nandtaughtachund territory in Virginia became the new home for
Maryland’s Portobaccos. Some Portobaccos fled the pressures of the expanding English encroachment in
Maryland while others remained until 1668.
of Indigenous Arts and Culture
Copyrighted 2007 by Auld/Powhatan