Profiles of Indian tribes in Virginia

Native Americans in Virginia have historical roots that played a crucial role in the early formation of the commonwealth as well as the country. Here is a look at the 11 Indian tribes recognized by the state, according to the National Park Service and other sources.

By Janeal Downs and Cameron Vigliano | Capital News Service

Janeal Downs and Cameron Vigliano, VCU students and part of the Capital News Service, did a three-part special report on Native Americans in Virginia. We found it utterly fascinating and suggest you read the other two as companion pieces to this one. Feeling perplexed about what to call America’s indigenous tribes? You’ve got some options, and this will explain why they’re termed multiple things in the articles.

Native Americans in Virginia have historical roots that played a crucial role in the early formation of the commonwealth as well as the country. Here is a look at the 11 Indian tribes recognized by the state, according to the National Park Service and other sources.

Cheroenhaka (sometimes called Nottoway)

This is an Iroquoian-speaking tribe located in Courtland in Southampton County. Cheroenhaka means “People at the Fork of the Steam”; however, Algonquin-speaking Indians called the group Na-Da-Wa, and so the English settlers applied the name Nottoway.

The tribe historically lived on the coastal plains of Southeastern Virginia. The Cheroenhaka signed three treaties with British authorities – in 1646, 1677 and 1713. The last treaty had a “successor clause” that the tribal government still recognizes in its relationship with the commonwealth of Virginia.

The Cheroenhaka reorganized in 2002 and put a tribal government in place. In 2009, the tribe purchased 100 acres from its former 41,000-acre reservation. The tribe was recognized by the state in 2010.


Most members of the Chickahominy tribe reside in the Chickahominy Ridge area in Charles City County. During the early 17th century, the tribe had several villages scattered along the Chickahominy River.

The Chickahominy were among the first tribes to come in contact with English settlers at Jamestown. They traded food, which helped the Europeans survive their first few winters. The Chickahominy later taught the settlers how to grow and preserve food.

The English settlers eventually pushed the tribe out, forcing the Indians to migrate. A treaty signed in 1646 with the English Crown granted the Chickahominy a reservation in the Pamunkey Neck area, near the present-day Mattaponi reservation. Over time, the tribe lost its land.

The Chickahominy received state recognition in 1983.

Eastern Chickahominy

Its members reside primarily in New Kent County. The Eastern Chickahominy tribe shared its history with the Chickahominy up until the early 20th century, when the tribes split.

Some blame the split on the inconvenience of traveling to attend tribal meetings in Charles City County; others attribute it to disagreements over land use and religion. The Eastern Chickahominy tribe was recognized by the state in 1983.

Mattaponi Tribe

The Mattaponi have a reservation on the banks of the Mattaponi River in King William County. (The only other Virginia tribe with a reservation is the Pamunkey.) The reservation dates to treaties signed with the English Crown in the years 1646 and 1677.

The reservation includes living quarters, a small church, a museum, a few pottery shops, a fish hatchery and marine science facility, and a community tribal building that was once the reservation school.

The Mattaponi trace their roots to the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom, a political alliance of Algonquian-speaking tribes located primarily in Virginia’s Tidewater region. The tribe was recognized by the state in 1983.

Monacan Nation

Located today on Bear Mountain in Amherst County, the tribe and its allies once occupied nearly half of Virginia, including almost all of the Piedmont region and parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They are the only eastern Siouan people in the state.

The tribe historically buried its dead in sacred earthen mounds. Thirteen of these mounds have been found in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge regions. The tribe was recognized by the state in 1989.


This tribe historically lived in villages along the Nansemond River. As early as 1608, the English began to raid the Nansemond for their corn. This started hostilities between the two peoples until the tribe was forced to relocate. The Nansemond tribe’s last known reservation lands were lost by 1792.

Today, the Indiana United Methodist Church in the Bowers Hill community of Chesapeake serves as the central meeting place for the Nansemond. The church was founded in 1850 as a mission for the tribe. The Nansemond were recognized by the state in 1984.


The Nottoway tribe is located in the town of Capron in Southampton County and in parts of Surry County. The Nottoway and the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) tribes shared a history, but they split in 2002, and the Nottoway tribe now identifies itself separately from the Cheroenhaka.

The Nottoway historically lived in houses scattered within towns and communities. Today the tribe has a community house and interpretation center in Capron. The tribe was recognized by the state in 2010.


This tribe has a reservation on the banks of the Pamunkey River in King William County. Historians say the Pamunkey were the most powerful tribe in the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom.

The tribe’s reservation was established through treaties signed in 1646 and 1677 with the English Crown. The treaty signed in 1677, known as the Treaty of Middle Plantation, was signed by the head woman of the Pamunkey, Cockacoeske, on behalf of several Virginia Indian tribes.

The reservation houses a museum showcasing the tribe’s history. The Pamunkey were among the first Virginia Indian tribes to be recognized by the state in 1983.


The Patawomeck tribe, located in Stafford County, also was a member of the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom. The Patawomeck first encountered the English in 1608 when Capt. John Smith visited the tribe.

Capt. Samuel Argall traded with the Patawomeck to save his starving countrymen from Jamestown. In 1613, Pocahontas was residing with the Patawomeck. Argall kidnapped Pocahontas in order to negotiate with her father, the chief of the Powhatan Confederacy, to release English prisoners and stolen weapons.

In 1666, the English declared war, and the Patawomeck tribe disappeared from historical record. The tribe’s history was not uncovered again until the early 20th century. Recent documents connected the old Patawomeck tribe with present-day descendents, and efforts were made to revive the tribe’s language. The tribe was recognized by the state in 2010.


This is an Algonquin tribe in the Indian Neck area of King and Queen County. The tribe first encountered English explorers in 1603 on the Rappahannock River. The Rappahannock chief befriended the captain of the explorers but was later murdered by the same captain.

The English explorers then kidnapped a group of Rappahannock men and brought them to England. That year, the kidnapped Indians were seen giving a lesson on how to make dugout canoes on the Thames River in England.

In December 1607, the tribe met Capt. John Smith, who at the time was a captive of Powhatan Chief Opechancanough. The meeting was held because the Rappahannock wanted to see if it was the same captain who murdered their chief four years earlier.

In the 1640s, the English started to illegally settle in areas owned by the Rappahannock. The tribe received state recognition in 1983.

Upper Mattaponi

The Upper Mattaponi tribe is located in King William County. It was part of the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom when English settlers arrived. The ancestors of the Upper Mattaponi are the people who decided to stay put when the Chickahominy tribe moved back to its homeland in the 18th century.

The Upper Mattaponi were called the “Adamstown band,” since so many tribal members had the last name of Adams during the 18th and 19th centuries. The tribe owns the only public Indian school building in Virginia today–the Sharon Indian School in King William County The tribe was recognized by the state in 1983.

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