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Total population
Extinct as tribe
Regions with significant populations
Virginia, Charles City and James City counties
Related ethnic groups
Powhatan Confederacy
File:Paspahegh - historical marker, Oct. 2014.jpg
Paspahegh historical marker erected in Charles City County along Virginia State Route 5 by the Department of Historic Resources, 2005.

The Paspahegh tribe were tributaries to the Powhatan paramount chiefdom, incorporated into the chiefdom around 1596 or 1597.[1] The Paspahegh Indian tribe lived in present-day Charles City and James City counties, Virginia. The Powhatan tribes were a group of Native Americans who spoke a branch of Algonquian language.

The Paspehegh sub-tribe was among the earliest to have interaction with the English colonists, who established their first permanent settlement in the Virginia Colony at Jamestown in their territory, beginning on May 14, 1607. Because of conflict with the English and likely exposure to infectious diseases, they appear to have been destroyed as a tribe by early 1611 and disappeared from the historical record.

Powhatan's paramount chiefdom

It is noteworthy that the organization of Native Americans of the United States in the Tidewater Region of Virginia has often been mischaracterized by historians as the "Powhatan Confederacy." This group of allied Algonquian tribes was not, in fact, a confederacy, which is more or less a unification of entities which are superior in self-governance to the central point of power. Chief Powhatan's organization is more accurately described by anthropologists as a chiefdom, and he (as well as his several successors) were clearly the central ruler. During the period from 1607 until his death in 1618, these Native Americans are most correctly described as being of Powhatan's "paramount chiefdom."

Timeline of interaction with colonists


  • May 4 – While exploring the James River, the English party first make contact with the Paspahegh, enjoy a feast with them, and listen to, but are unable to understand, an oration by the Paspahegh weroance, Wowinchapuncke (Wowinchoppunck).
  • May 14 – The English begin their occupation of Jamestown Island, an island in Paspehegh territory where Indians sometimes camped, though they did not have permanent habitations. The English begin building a defensive fort on the island. A few Paspehegh braves paddled in on canoes around midnight to investigate what they were doing, but fled when the English watchman sounded the alarm.[2] A few days later, two well-dressed and highly decorated Paspehegh messengers arrive at the fort to announce that their weroance would soon be paying them a visit, and bringing a "fat Deare" with him.
  • May 18 – Wowinchapuncke and one hundred armed men visit Jamestown fort. According to George Percy's 1608 account, Wowinchapuncke indicated that he would grant the settlers "as much land as we would desire to take," although later historians contend that it is highly dubious that he would have said any such thing.[3] The Paspahegh leave in anger after a violent dispute over an English hatchet.
  • May 19 – Percy and three or four other settlers explore the woods on foot and discover a nearby Paspahegh village; they receive gifts of tobacco, but return to the fort quickly after they see an armed brave suddenly plunge into the woods, probably to notify Wowinchapuncke.
  • May 20 – Forty Paspahegh braves arrive at the fort with a deer for feasting; they engage in target practice for the English, demonstrating that their bows were capable of piercing wood, but not steel.
  • May 26 – While half of the English party is away with Christopher Newport exploring upriver in Weyanoke, Appomattoc, Arrohattoc and Powhatan territory, a combined force of 400 Paspahegh, Quiockahannock, Weyanoke, Appomattoc and Chiskiack assault the fort. They withdraw upon receiving English gunfire; at least 3 Indians and 1 colonist are killed, with several wounded on both sides. Indian raiding and harassment continues for a week or two as the English hasten to complete their fort.
  • June 15 – The paramount Chief Powhatan (Wahunsunacock) announces a ceasefire, causing Paspahegh raids to cease abruptly.
  • November – The Paspehegh return an English boy who had run away, confirming their intentions are no longer hostile. Faced with starvation, the settlers turn to the neighboring tribes, including the Paspehegh, for help, buying small amounts of corn from them on three occasions. However, John Smith wrote of one of these occasions in ungrateful terms, calling the Paspahegh a "churlish and treacherous nation."[4]
  • December – While exploring the Chickahominy country, Smith stumbles upon a huge communal hunting party of several Powhatan subtribes, including the Paspehegh, being led by Opechancanough, brother of the paramount chief Powhatan. Smith is captured and taken around Powhatan territory as an involuntary guest, eventually meeting the paramount chief, who orders the English to leave Paspahegh territory. He suggests they take up residence at Capahosic, a satellite village near his own capital Werowocomoco, where he would provide them food and security in exchange for metal tools. Smith promises to comply, and is released on January 1, 1608.


  • Spring, 1608 – An uneasy alliance concluded with chief Powhatan in the winter — during which time he saved the English from starvation by sending them regular supplies of corn — begins to fall apart, when the English are seen to be conducting military drills outside their fort in the Spring. Paspahegh harassment and filching tools at the fort then resumes, causing the English to take eight of them prisoner; the Paspahegh responded by taking two Englishmen who wandered outside the fort as their own prisoners. The same night, the colonists escalated hostilities, raiding and burning the nearby Paspahegh villages. At this, Wowinchopunk released the two Englishmen, but the English only released one Paspahegh, keeping the rest until chief Powhatan sent a gift of corn along with his own young daughter, Pocahontas, to plead for their return.
  • Fall, 1608 – Again faced with starvation, the English try to buy corn from their neighbours, but find them less willing to sell. They were antagonized by Captain Newport's mock coronation of paramount chief Wahunsunacock as a supposed "vassal" of King James I, and his leading a military expedition to the Monacan country, against the chief Powhatan's wishes. The Paspehegh and most other tribes along the James abandoned their villages and hid when the English came to buy corn that fall. Only a few natives were found whom they could force at gunpoint to sell their corn.


  • Spring, 1609 – Harassment by the Paspaheghs and other groups continues at the fort; in one skirmish, John Smith, then President of the colony, captured the weroance, Wowinchapuncke. However, he later escaped at which Smith raided his town, stealing two canoes, and killing six at another town. Wowinchapuncke (through his orator, Ocanindge) later makes peace, but states that if the English use further force against him, he will abandon them to starve. He tells Smith, "We perceive and well knowe you intend to destroy us, that are here to intreat and desire your friendship..."
  • Several colonists are boarded in Indian towns in the following truce, but relations remain strained. The truce again falls apart when Smith tries unsuccessfully in the summer to establish further English fortifications in the territory of the Nansemond tribe (who lived downriver) and at the location of the original Powhatan tribe, (who lived upriver near what is now Richmond, Virginia). Smith left Virginia in October 1609, but that same month the colonists built an English fort (Fort Algernon) in the territory of the Kecoughtan tribe (near modern Hampton, Virginia).


  • May – After a particularly harsh winter in which many English died of starvation, Sir Thomas Gates arrives with more colonists, provisions, and orders from King James to "christianize" the Indians. Gate's fleet, also widely known in later times as the Third Supply Mission, had left England a year earlier, but become lost in a hurricane. Gates instead decided to evacuate the colony, and their fort at Jamestown was abandoned.
  • The next day after Gates and the survivors set sail, as they were moving downstream on the James River, they encountered the remainder of yet another English supply fleet. This one was under a newly appointed governor, Lord De la Warr. He disagreed with the effort to abandon the colony, and his fleet joined theirs and returned to the fort at Jamestown under Lord De la Warr's command. Although abandoned only a single day, since the colonists leaving Jamestown had not yet picked up those at the outpost at Fort Algernon nearer to the Atlantic Ocean, the latter, now located in the City of Hampton, can lay claim to the longest "continuously occupied" English settlement in what later became the state of Virginia.
  • July – Lord De la Warr proved harsher and more warlike toward the Indians than any of his predecessors. He first sent Gates to drive off the Kecoughtan from their village on July 9, then gave chief Powhatan the ultimatum of either returning all English subjects and property, or facing war. Powhatan insisted that the English either stay in their fort or leave Virginia. Enraged, De la Warr had the hand of a Paspahegh captive cut off and sent him to the paramount chief with another ultimatum: Return all English subjects and property, or the neighboring villages would be burned. Chief Powhatan did not respond.
  • August 9, 1610 – Tired of waiting for a response from Powhatan, De la Warr sent Percy with 70 men to attack the Paspahegh capital; they burned houses and cut down the cornfields. They killed 65 to 75, and captured one of Wowinchapuncke's wives and her children. Returning downstream, the English threw the children overboard, and, in Percy's own words, shot out "their Braynes in the water". They stabbed the queen to death in Jamestown.
  • The Paspahegh never recovered from this attack, and abandoned their town. The attack, and the English killing of elite women and children, ignited the First Anglo-Powhatan War.


  • February 9 – In a skirmish near the Jamestown fort, Wowinchapuncke is mortally wounded.[5] Soon thereafter, his followers avenge his death by luring several colonists out of the fort and killing them. However, the bulk of the broken tribe appear to have merged with the other chiefdoms, and they disappear from the historical record at this point. Subsequent use of the word Paspahegh in documents is mainly in reference to their former territory.
  • May 21 – Sir Thomas Dale, Lord de la Warr's new replacement, visits the site of the former Paspehegh capital and finds it overgrown with weeds.[6]


The original capital of the Paspahegh Indians, present-day Sandy Point in Charles City County, was settled by the English in 1617, who called it Smith's Hundred. After 1619, they renamed it Southampton Hundred. St. Mary's Anglican Church was established there prior to the Powhatan Uprising of 1622. The English later called this series of surprise attacks the Indian Massacre of 1622.

Modern archaeological site

An archaeological site, known as Paspahegh or Site 44JC308, is under study near Jamestown, Virginia. First identified in 1983 by surveyors from the College of William and Mary, it is one of only a few archeological sites in the state that date to the Early Contact Period.[7] It is located 6 miles (9.7 km) above the English fort at Jamestown. The James River Institute for Archeology (JRIA) conducted collections from a 31-acre (130,000 m2) site when it was threatened with development. More concentrated work was done in an area of 2.1 acres (8,500 m2). The site has remains of houses, mortuary structures, kings houses, and other elements of the village, including ceramics and copper items.[8]

Analysis of the site showed the rise in copper exchange and then its decline. The English quickly realized how highly the Powhatan peoples valued copper. As the English brought more copper into the colony over a nearly 20-year period, its value declined, and it never recovered what it had been at the time of English arrival. Copper was the most important metal in the Powhatan Confederacy, where it was a mark in life and death of the social hierarchy. The elite were buried with copper items to secure them passage in the spiritual world.[9]

The fact that the English would trade copper enabled Chief Powhatan to free his people from relations with hostile Monacan and other tribes to the west. Similarly, the English hoped to use their colony to free themselves of dependence on other European nations for certain goods. The rapid abundance of the metal, however, led to its devaluation.[9]

Other Paspahegh villages were located on the south bank of the Chickahominy River and on the north bank of the James River in Charles City County.


  1. Charles M. Hudson; Carmen Chaves Tesser (1994). The Forgotten Centuries: Indians and Europeans in the American South, 1521–1704. University of Georgia Press. p. 359. ISBN 978-0-8203-1654-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990, p. 30, citing Percy [1608]
  3. Rountree, p. 30, n. 16
  4. Smith, John. A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Hath Hapned in Virginia Since the First Planting of that Colony, London, 1608
  5. Rountree, p. 55, 57, citing Strachey and Percy
  6. Rountree, p. 55 n., citing Dale 1611
  7. "Paspahegh", Virtual Jamestown, accessed 19 Apr 2010
  8. "Paspahegh Archaeology: Data Recovery Investigations of Site 44JC308 at the Governor's Land at Two Rivers, James City County, Virginia," ed. Mary Ellen Hodges and Charles Hodges, JRIA, 1994
  9. 9.0 9.1 Seth Mallios and Shane Emmett, "Demand, Supply, and Elasticity in the Copper Trade at Early Jamestown", The Journal of the Jamestown Rediscovery Center, Vol. 2, Jan. 2004, Historic Jamestowne, accessed 19 Apr 2010