Powhatan II - History

Powhatan II  - History

Powhatan II

Powhatan, a wooden side-wheel gunboat transferred by the War Department to the Navy 21 April 1861, was renamed King Philip (q.v.) 4 November 1861.

Princess Nicketti Powhatan

When I was a newbie on Ancestry.com I was guilty, unknowingly, of contributing to one of the biggest headaches for genealogist, both amateur and professional, today. What was I doing that was so terrible. It was blindly copying names and dates from ancestry trees without bothering to see if the information was even remotely correct. I did this with all my ancestors. What, or rather who, brought that copy and pasting to an abrupt halt was a certain Princess Nicketti.

Princess Nicketti is in dozens of trees on Ancestry.com as well as websites and blogs like this. She was the niece of Pocohantas and married a "white man" named Trader Hughes. Some trees even include the names of her parents. When I told my husband that he was related to an Indian Princess he looked at me like I was a nut job, and in that moment I realized he was right. Now don't get me wrong, I would be happy to have some Indian genes, to help breakup my seemingly 100% European ancestry. So I decided to see what I could find out about the Princess.

I searched both literature and the web for proof of Nicketti's existence and guess what, I could not find one documented fact about her or her life. Is she only a figment of someone's, and now a lot of someones, imagination? The problem is that hundreds of people are happily passing on this undocumented ancestor and hundreds more are adding her to their trees everyday. Before long, fiction becomes fact and it becomes harder and harder to correct, hence the headache for those who really want an authentic tree.

Genealogy is a science, and like all sciences it is based on provable, documented facts. If you are interested in genealogy you cannot include Nicketti in your family tree because there is no possible way to verify her existence. If all you are interested in is family history and lore, that's another thing altogether. I think it is a great story. But the story has crossed over into a genre known as "faction". A bare bones legend is suddenly dressed up with unverifiable if not downright unproven facts. I guess I really take issue with all those people out there who have added specific dates and places to people who may or may not have existed.

Does this mean that the Cabells and the Floyds and all the other who claim her as their ancestor did not have a ancestor who was Native American, of course not. With so much oral history it would be hard to believe that they did not have a white/Native marriage in their tree. But, can they say for certain that the woman in question was the daughter of Opechancanough, not they cannot.

  • Princess Nicketti is the daughter of Opechanough
  • No mothers name is mentioned
  • Nicketti had to have been born prior to 1644, the year of her fathers death and the narrative says her father left a lovely young girl, not infant or baby, so many she was born even prior to 1634
  • Nicketti married a son of an old Cavalier family of Virginia, not Trader Hughes
  • The marriage results in the birth of one child a "half breed" daughter, unnamed
  • Unnamed daughter marries in 1680 a Welshman/Englishman named Nathaniel Davis, he is an Indian trader
  • Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel Davis have a daughter, b. 1685, named Mary Davis who marries Samuel Burkes.
  • Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel Davis have daughter Martha who married Abraham Venable
  • Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel have son Robert Davis who has a daughter Abadiah, she marries William Floyd
  • Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel also have sons Samuel and Phillip.
  • Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel have unnamed daughter or granddaughter who marries into the Shelby family.
  • William Floyd married Abadiah Davis, daughter of Welshman Nathaniel Davis. Her mother is 1/2 Indian. Her grandmother was Princess Nicketti the granddaughter of Powhatan, her unknown mother, married a minor chief of the Cayuga tribe.
  • Nicketti married a noted hunter trader of Scottish origin. They lived near Balcony Falls of James River, here Nathaniel Davis met and married a woman who was the daughter of Nicketti and Trader Hughes.
  • Many years later the family denies Indian ancestry. The cause of their denial was the Native American warrior Cornstalk who fought in the battle of Point Pleasant. Captives told the settlers that he, Cornstalk, was a descendant of Powhatan, thereby, apparently putting off their ancestry linked to said Powhatan and through him the dreadful Cornstalk.
  • The states that he found the petition from Thomas Rolfe to Cleopatra in the archives of the Maryland Historical Society. So it is finally in 1912 that a connection was made from Cleopatra to Nicketti and her father becomes Opechancanough.
  • The author makes up a story of how Cleopatra arrived at her name.

  • Welsh
  • Scottish
  • An English Cavalier
  • An Aztec Indian
  • A member of Virginia society
  • His first name was John, Rees, or Rice or William, or some combination of these
  • He was born in 1615 or 1635
  • he was born in Wales but was a Scotsman
  • He was an African indentured servant Convincing Blog with evidence that Trader Hughes was an African who married Nicketti
  • He and Nicketti had between one and twenty children
  • Trader Hughes is supposed to have established a Trading Post in Amherst County, Virginia. Traders began moving into this area of Virginia between 1710 and 1720. If Trader Hughes was born in as late as 1635 he would have been 85 years old when he set up shop. Nicketti would also be around 80-85. This seems highly unlikely in an time when life expectancy was less than 50 and closer to 40.
  • A sea captain who sailed his relief ship into Jamestown and promptly married Nicketti, whisked her off to the mountains thereby becoming American's first 'mountain man.'

John Richard Hewing
I reference John Richard above, he according, to his descendants, was an African from the Portuguese colony in Angola. He was an indentured servant, brought to Virginia possibly to grow rice. He married Princess Nicketti.

From another reader's comment
Another reader told be that he and his family believe that the man who married Nicketti was possibly and Aztec Indian who traveled up from Mexico. He wore gold arm bracelets with emeralds. This story had been passed down in his family for generations.

Another family tree states that Nathaniel Davis was born 17 April 1665 in St. Michael's Parish perhaps in Devonshire. So here we are combining a very concrete date to a very indeterminate place, how the heck do you know his birthday? If he married Mary Hughes in 1680 then he would have been 15 on his wedding day. Another site says b. 1646 in Virginia, and other site even includes his middle name: Ambrose. This same site says that Nathaniel Davis' father was none other than Barnabus Davis who was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1610. Don't let the fact that Charlestown did not even exist until after 1630 stand in the way of your family tree. (FYI: there was a Barnabus Davis who immigrated to Charlestown, MA, and he did indeed have a son Nathaniel, but clearly, they are a separate family.)

What does Dr. Jay Hansford C. Vest, Professor of American Indian Studies, University of North Carolina say about Trader Hughes and Nicketti? Vest, who has studied these people extensively, calls the story of Nicketti and Trader Hughes, folklore which does not fit into the historical setting and available documentation. Nicketti, he says cannot be both the daughter of Opechancanough and the wife of a Indian Trader living in the 1720s. I suggest most sane people would not find fault with this reasoning.

He suggests instead, that the story of a princess daughter of Opechancanough who married a son of a Cavalier family fits neatly into the the life Cockacoeske. He writes that she was the daughter of his (Opechancanough) old age, and she was the woman who had a liaison with Calalierish Colonel John West. In about 1656 she gave birth to a son who was called called Captain John West. [3]



I just stopped by to say hi and welcome to genea-blogging. It's a wonderful community of researchers who are both helpful and inspirational. You'll find me at Moultrie Creek and if there's anything I can do to help, just yell.

The long and the short of what I am going to say is this, one has to use oral history with caution. Like a detective getting different eye witness accounts. Keeping the details that match while discarding the ones that don’t. In particular unrelated witnesses saying the same thing has extra weight. Through such detective work it looks likely someone real isat the heart of the Nicketti story and I have identified her in written records from the period.

The Powhatan / Pamunkey had aweroansqua known to written history as “Queen Betty”.(http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/jame1/moretti-langholtz/chap4.htm) This Betty is the most likely candidate for being the historical basis for Nicketti. The oral histories relating Trader Hughes, oras my family called him in our variation John Richard Hewing, andNicketti all point to this person. In particular her relationship to the Powhatan "royal" family. Certainly not a mistaken identity of Nectowance , as Rountree writes, who history knows was a man.

My case hinges on the recently published oral history of the Mattaponi tribe in the form of a book"The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History" by Linwood Custalow and Angela Daniel. It contradicts "facts" reported in books by the likes of the illustrious Rountree. For example it alleges that Thomas Rolfe was the child of rape by colonial gov Thomas Dale. That John Rolfe and others conspired to poison her on the trip home etc. Check it out.

The salient facts for a discussion of Nicketti are that in the book it says that:
Uttamattamakin and Mattachanna were married.
Mattachanna was the eldest full sisterof Pocahontas.

In the book they take time to explain the names people had. The syllable ‘mat’ or ‘matt’ appears in the names of those associated with the Mattaponi tribe. Names such as Matoka, or Mattachanna or Uttamattamakin. In that sense Nicke-tt-i is consistent with other Mattaponi names. Nicketti is probably a mispronunciation of a name. but not Nectowance. After all we knowthat Nectowance was a man! (lol)
If Nicketti was Pocahontas's niece then she would likely be the daughter of her only sister of any consequence. From that we have a good idea of who her parents were.
Furthermore we have one more curious fact. Powhatan’s successors include a woman called by the English in written period records as "Queen Betty". (http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/jame1/moretti-langholtz/chap4.htm) Betty was the sister or niece of her predecessor Cockacoeske thewife of chief Totopotamoi (who's name is on the 1677 treaty of middle plantation.) How easy would it be to call a Indian woman named Nicketti by the name Betty? Very easy indeed.

It is much more likely that Nicketti is a more faithful pronunciation of the Powhatan successor known to history as “Queen Betty” than Nectowance. At least then their genders match up.

As your blog posting is about Nicketti I will post a longer version that addresses Trader Hughes / John Richard Hewing aspect of this ( http://www.science20.com/comments/96312/reply_blog )

The long and short of that is simply this. A family of white people and a family of free colored people told essentially the same story for generations. The odds of that happening by chance are billions to one.

Thank you Hontas for your reply. I will certainly look for the book "The True Story of Pocohantas". I am sure at the heart of the legend there was a man and an Indian gal who had a daughter. But, were they Nicketti and Trader Hughes/Hewing, I'm not convinced, yet.

Yeah that book is really something. It differs from the English account in certain details. Yet it is the same about the broad brushstrokes. While they will not always get details right, they are rarely made up out of whole cloth.

As for 100% trusting written history and historians about this. Check into the controversy over Virginia extending recognition to the Nottoway indian bands. Rountree, the same one who writes that Nicketti couldn't exsit, wrote that the whole tribe was extinct. Yet they are back as a state recognized tribe in significant part because of their oral family traditions. (http://www.nottowayindians.org/petitioncoverletter.html) I am not associated with them their just a good example.

something to consider- tho it happened several centuries later- but evidences how the non Natives could confuse names- during the Dawes enrollment,(Cherokee/Oklahoma ab 1907) a relative on my (now deceased) husband David Chuculate was enrolled as John Roastingear- his real name was Popcorn Chuculate-and all the Chuculates knew that was his name, but the non Native enrollment person didn't quite get that. also, everyone is so hung up on this "Princess" title- perhaps that might be the way the non Natives might entitle her as they were used to that in their culture- is everyone getting all riled up over King Phillip as in King Phillip's War-alias/real name Metacom. just some "food for thought"- if you ever watch Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, you'll see how the non natives took the Native name away and substituted a "Christian" name myself, I just want to believe the story because it makes me happy! Terry Chuculate

Just a note on Nathaniel Hughes from a DNA and genealogical stand point. I don't believe the father and mother relationship from him is credible either. There are numerous DNA relationships showing up consistently in a DNA case I am working on that strongly suggest connection between Lewis Davis, Nathaniel Davis, Elizabeth Davis B. 1714 (mar. Ragland) and James Davis B1714. All born in New Hanover with many different parents - none from New Hanover, none with proof (or at least any credible proof.) I would deem highly probable these families are all from the same family group (not necessarily siblings.) More research should be done since all said they were born there to find someone that ACTUALLY lived in the are at the time of birth.

It can be helpful to take a step back and consider why writings were done at all in colonial times. It certainly was not to record Pamunkey genealogy, but often, using scarce paper, ink, and someone who could spell or read, in order: to record mundane matters necessary within the life of any English settlement, to record conflicts that might linger as a warning, and to send embellished reports to England to justify funds desired and acknowledge receipt or good use. Pamunkey and other tribes of the so-called Powhatan Confederacy already had experienced the Spanish presence years before and likely had Spanish names at some point, too.

Accordingly, written accounts were in English for the English and often contradict themselves. I, too, have questioned what to call the one known as "Nicketti," especially since other relatives had obvious European monikers, like "Cleopatra." None of the shortcomings in record keeping categorically dismiss the existence of someone known as "Nicketti" or her relationships to others. Nor does the lack of a Pamunkey-English translators to specify names in an orderly, English way.

If the same criteria to dismiss applied to me, I would be fictional, too, since my name is not originally English and my mother's name has never been confirmed, due to a problem with her birth certificate that remained unresolved until her death. We don't exist, either, but are certainly non-fiction.

"Can't prove to someone's criteria" does not equal "does not exist"

One thing that you didn't mention which is worth mentioning is that, even if she is entirely myth, Nicketti was a known figure among her proposed descendants at least as early as 1819, when then-Congressman and future Virginia Governor John Floyd named a daughter Nicketti.

So while she may be a myth and certainly her details can't be verified, she's at the very least a much older myth than the mentioned 20th century books, in one form or another. Further, since Floyd's father (the namesake of Floyd County, KY and possibly also Indiana) had been killed by Indians, you wouldn't think he'd go out of his way to give his daughter a presumed Native American name without a good reason. If my calculations are correct, the legendary Nikketti would John Floyd Jr.'s 3x great grandmother. That's on the fringe of living memory, potentially. I mean I'm in my mid-30s, and my grandma is still alive and can tell me stories about 2 or 3 of my 3x great grandparents. As a prominent family, one would think they probably were literate and had a family bible, as well.

I do think there is decent evidence to support, if not exactly prove, that the Floyds had an Indian ancestress likely named Nicketti or some variation. Whether she was a close relative of Pocahontas and her immediate family, I would say, is less certain.

I am not a known descendant of any of the families whose historians have written about her, but I do have a theory that might suggest descent from Rice Hughes. Howard Hughes, the famous billionaire, descends from a 18th-century Virginian by that name (that's where my potential connection comes from, as I am a likely distant cousin of Howard Hughes), and with such an uncommon name, you would think he might have been a namesake. But that's just my theory.

Regarding the above. the same thing was apart of my family story of my Virginia ancestors. These included Veneables, Reads, Davis, Dryden, Craig, Berry, Singleton and others. The story comes from my 5th great grandmother Barbara Berry Dryden 1746-1811 to my 4th great grandmother, Margaret Craig Dryden 1793-1878. passed to her grand-daughter, Mary Singleton Hogue 1841-1932 to her granddaughter, my mother Jacqueline Kerkhoff McCurdy 1923-1999. However, I haven’t a drop of Native American DNA in me. As an anthropologist, I believe in the tradition of family stories and on the rank of believability depends on the initial story. I believe my ancestors sat around and discussed genealogy quite a bit in the evening, as was told to me by my grandmother. There was little else to do in the early colonies. They could recite each cousin, each great uncle and aunt and maybe even that there was an “Indian” Princess in the family. and with each generation, that story maybe got bigger and bigger. We have a bit of a mystery. Maybe science will be able to be solve the mystery of Nicketti.

In my line, it's the phantasmagorical "Hattie Nickerson", ghost wife of William Lord (1616 England-1678 Connecticut). She pops up on Ancestry and on the internet faster than mold in an abandoned building! Even with my list of proofs of her non-existence, people who have put her into their tree are reluctant to cut her loose. So, she proliferates.

Not saying Nicketti was real or unreal, but another source reports her as 'the daughter of Powhatan and sister of Pocahontas'
The Encyclopedia Americana: A Library of Universal Knowledge, Volume 22
Page 724 "PRYOR, Nathaniel, American soldier, trader and explorer: b. (probably) Amherst County, VA about 1785 d. Los Angeles, CA, 1850. He was a great grandson of Nicketti, daughter of Powhatan and sister of Pocahontas.."

Hi, my name is Doug Powers, and I've been doing genealogy for over forty years. And my family had the many stories of Natives in the family line. The DNA tests of Ancestry, 23andme, LivingDNA, and FamilyTreeDNA showed none on mine, a miniscule amount on my father's . GEDMatch did show a very small amount.
I descend from the mysterious Trader Hughes and "Nicketti" through their daughter's marriage to Nathaniel Davis and that daughter's marriage to a Robert Pollard.
I absolutely do not believe there was a person named Nicketti and that she was some kind of "royalty" related to Pocahontas. I think, quite honestly, that is absurd.
BUT . I do believe there was a Powhatan woman in this line. One thing I've discovered in my genealogy research (I've even taken a course from Boston University) is that family lore is like playing a game of telephone. The story starts out one way and ends up another. The thing I've discovered in working with Native lines, especially for those of us who go back to the Colonies, is that the Native ancestry is much farther back than the stories go. I've discovered that in the only real line of Native ancestry I've discovered. I was told my g grandfather was 1/4 Cherokee, he was actually something like 1/64 Tuscarora. But thanks for this article, and thank you for fighting for accuracy. OH, and BTW, I'm very intrigued by the theory that Trader Hughes might have been African.

Hello, what about her marrying Gabriel Arthur? That's in my tree. It shows her name as Hannah Rebecca Nikitie.

I have stumbled into the Nicketti hit as well, through the Davis family and the mysterious “Trader Hughes” . While looking through all the profiles and searching online, my first thought was, these people were of African orgins and wanting to keep their land made this story up of being Native American as well as possibly creating this Hughes guy.so I’m glad I’m not the only one that has had this thought. I mean even the names Cleopatra and Nicketti what seems a lot like Nefertiti. Also as far as life expectancy’s, I though all the people back in the day didn’t live long but damn! all of my ancestors, who were multi generational mountain people, lived to be Old. in their 70s and 80s as a norm.

Jean, I could read your posts all day. I love the amount of effort you have brought to the research and that you are sharing this with us. As some of the prior commenters have stated you have clearly demonstrated the advantages and disadvantages of oral tradition and the need, when one wishes to trace one's ancestry, of being skeptical of every turn and dig for actual documents. Thank you.

Powhatan's People

Keep the focus on the history and culture of the Powhatan Indians as students explore the re-created Powhatan Indian Village to figure out their technology, visit the river to learn how they used the waterways and examine artifacts in the gallery to discover what happened to the Powhatan Indian lands after the English arrival in 1607. For kindergarten to 1 st grade.

Program complies with VA Social Studies Standards of Learning.

“Jamestown Settlement keeps getting better and better! I am so impressed with all the guides, exhibits and hands-on items! Thank you!” – 2nd Grade Teacher, Williamsburg-James City County Public School

Program length: 1.5 hours Rate: A

To book a tour or program, contact reservations:

Groups of 15 or more require advance reservations.

Guided tour reservations required at least three business days in advance and are subject to availability. We recommend making tour reservations at least two months in advance for fall and winter trips, and up to four months in advance for trips in the spring.

Pocahontas and the Powhatans of Virginia

From John Smith’s Map of Virginia, published in 1612.

The Powhatan Indians

At the time English colonists arrived in the spring of 1607, coastal Virginia was inhabited by the Powhatan Indians, an Algonquian-speaking people. The Powhatans were comprised of 30-some tribal groups, with a total population of about 14,000, under the control of Wahunsonacock, sometimes called “Powhatan.”

The Powhatans lived in towns with houses built of sapling frames covered by reed mats or bark. Villages within the same area belonged to one tribe. Each tribe had its own “werowance” or chief, who was subject to Wahunsonacock. Although the chiefs were usually men, they inherited their positions of power through the female side of the family.

Agricultural products – corn, beans and squash – contributed about half of the Powhatan diet. Men hunted deer and fished, while women farmed and gathered wild plant foods. Women prepared foods and made clothes from deerskins. Tools and equipment were made from stone, bone and wood.

The Powhatans participated in an extensive trade network with Indian groups within and outside the chiefdom. With the English, the Powhatans traded foodstuffs and furs in exchange for metal tools, European copper, European glass beads, and trinkets.

In a ranked society of rulers, great warriors, priests and commoners, status was determined by achievement, often in warfare, and by the inheritance of luxury goods like copper, shell beads and furs. Those of higher status had larger homes, more wives and elaborate dress. The Powhatans worshipped a hierarchy of gods and spirits. They offered gifts to Oke to prevent him from sending them harm. Ahone was the creator and giver of good things.

As English settlement spread in Virginia during the 1600s, the Powhatans were forced to move inland away from the fertile river valleys that had long been their home. As their territory dwindled, so did the Indian population, falling victim to English diseases, food shortages and warfare. The Powhatan people persisted, however, adopting new lifestyles while maintaining their cultural pride and leaving a legacy for today, through their descendants still living in Virginia.


This modern painting is based on a 17th-
century engraving of Pocahontas attired in English clothing.

The renowned Indian maiden who befriended English colonists in Virginia in the early 1600s has been immortalized in art, song and story.

Born about 1596, Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, chief of over 30 tribes in coastal Virginia. Pocahontas was a nickname meaning “playful one.” Her formal names were Amonute and Matoaka. Pocahontas was Powhatan’s “most deare and wel-beloved daughter,” according to Captain John Smith, an English colonial leader who wrote extensively about his experiences in Virginia. Powhatan had numerous wives, and Pocahontas had many half-brothers and half-sisters. Her mother’s name is not mentioned by any 17th-century writers.

As a child, Pocahontas probably helped her mother with daily chores, learning what was expected of her as a woman in Powhatan society. Even the daughter of a chief would be required to work when she reached maturity.

In late 1607 Pocahontas, then about age 11, met John Smith in an event he described years later. Smith wrote that he had been captured by Indians and brought before Powhatan at Werowocomoco, the chief’s capital town on the York River. After the Indians gave Smith a feast, they laid his head on two stones as if to “beate out his braines,” when Pocahontas “got his head in her armes, and laid her owne upon his to save him from death.”

Some scholars today believe the incident was a ritual in which Powhatan sought to assert his sovereignty over Smith and the English in Virginia. In 1608 Pocahontas assisted in taking food to the English settlement at Jamestown to persuade Smith to free some Indian prisoners. The following year, according to Smith, she warned him of an Indian plot to take his life.

A 17th-century engraving depicting the abduction of Pocahontas.

Smith left Virginia in 1609, and Pocahontas was told by other colonists that he was dead. Sometime later, she married an Indian named Kocoum. In 1613, while searching for corn to feed hungry colonists, Samuel Argall found her in the Virginia Indian town of the Patawomekes in the northern part of the Powhatan chiefdom and kidnapped her for ransom. Powhatan waited three months after learning of his daughter’s capture to return seven English prisoners and some stolen guns. He refused other demands, however, and relinquished his daughter to the English, agreeing to a tenuous peace.

Thereafter, Pocahontas lived among the settlers. The Reverend Alexander Whitaker, living up the James River near Henrico (Henricus), taught her Christian principles, and she learned to act and dress like an English woman. In 1614 she was baptized and given the name Rebecca. Soon after her conversion, Pocahontas married John Rolfe, a planter who had introduced tobacco as a cash crop in the Virginia colony.

In 1616 the Rolfes and their young son Thomas traveled to England to help recruit new settlers for Virginia. While there, Pocahontas had a brief meeting with John Smith, whom she had not known was alive, and told him that she would be “for ever and ever your Countrieman.” As the Rolfes began their return trip to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill and died at Gravesend, England, in March 1617. John Rolfe sailed for Virginia, where he had been appointed secretary of the colony, but left Thomas in England with relatives. Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia in the 1630s. By that time, Powhatan and John Rolfe were dead, and peace with the Indians had been broken in 1622 by a bloody uprising led by Pocahontas’s uncle, Opechancanough.

Although Pocahontas was one of Powhatan’s favorite children, she probably had little influence over her father’s actions toward the English colonists. However, after she married and traveled to England, she was able to bring the Virginia colony to the attention of prominent English men and women.


Gleach, Frederic W. Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Rountree, Helen C. The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.

———. Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Speck, Frank G. Chapters on the Ethnology of the Powhatan Tribes of Virginia. New York: Heye Foundation, 1928.


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Powhatan (Lawrence County)

Powhatan was the Lawrence County seat of government for almost ninety-five years. Founded in the early nineteenth century on the banks of the Black River, the town became the county’s most important port on the Black River. When bypassed by the railroad in the 1880s, the town began a steady decline and is best known today as the site of a historic state park.

Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood
White settlers established themselves in the area at about the same time as the creation of the Missouri Territory county of Lawrence. One of the earliest, John Ficklin, settled on the west bank of the Black River and, by 1820, began operating a ferry. Within a few years, the crossing and landing became an important shipping point with the first steamboat, Laurel, docking there in 1829. Though a small settlement began to develop, no town was platted until John A. Lindsay did so in 1849, approximately six years after the establishment of a post office.

Increased river traffic and area road construction contributed to steady growth. In the 1830s, a road known as the Military Road connected Pocahontas (Randolph County) and Jacksonport (Jackson County). In 1836, Powhatan was connected with this road at Smithville (Lawrence County) with the completion of the Powhatan-Smithville Road. By 1853, what was known as the Old Plank Road, said to be the first improved road in northeast Arkansas, was connected with the town’s main street by the Ficklin Ferry. When the town became the first in the county to incorporate, on January 12, 1853, it boasted a population of approximately 500.

Civil War through Reconstruction
With the approaching Civil War, many area men enlisted in units that eventually were mustered into Confederate service. Just as with many other Arkansas river port towns, the war had a negative impact on the development of Powhatan. A slowly developing zinc industry, which had begun about 1857, had all but disappeared by the outbreak of the war. Commercial traffic on the river almost ceased with the advance of Union forces into Arkansas. Military forces from both sides marched through the area, and the Skirmish at Smithville was fought some four miles to the east on June 17, 1862.

With the return of the river commerce after the war, the town began to make a slow recovery. Soon the businesses that lined both sides of Main Street were once more in operation. An important change came in 1869 when a county commission and subsequent election relocated the seat of government from nearby Clover Bend (Lawrence County) to the better-located Powhatan. Two years later, a building commission purchased land on a rise overlooking the town for the site of a county courthouse. At a cost of $16,723.38, the courthouse was completed on June 17, 1873. That same year, a limestone jail was also constructed.

Post Reconstruction through the Gilded Age
In 1885, the courthouse burned, and a new building was constructed on the same site in 1888. Both the courthouse and jail still stand and were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and 1989, respectively.

In 1887, Andrew Springer, a white man, was lynched after being accused of the crime of rape. A mob of about twenty-five hanged him from a tree just outside of town.

During its heyday, before the turn of the twentieth century, the town was described as “a profitable center,” especially when court was in session. Among its several businesses were four general stores, a drugstore, a wagon wheel spoke factory, two hotels, and mills for wool, flour, and lumber. The town had a Presbyterian church and a Methodist church, whose members constructed a wood frame meeting house in 1874. Education was available at the Powhatan Male and Female Academy, which was founded in 1854. A telephone exchange, which was established in 1887, remained in operation until about 1902. The restored building, which over the years has been used for various purposes, still stands as of 2019.

The continued location of the county seat at Powhatan was a contentious issue. A county population shift and increasing importance of Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County) as a shipping center on the railroad caused many residents to promote the relocation of the county offices. Several relocation measures were defeated by the county electorate. In 1887, the county was divided into two judicial districts, with the second district headquartered in Walnut Ridge. While the county office remained in Powhatan, court sessions would be conducted in both communities. The division was in part designed to appease citizens who lived on the opposite side of the Black River, which flooded regularly each spring. In previous years, the court had even halved the ferry toll in an attempt to defuse tensions.

The division into two judicial districts seems to have been no immediate threat to the decline of the town. A greater concern was the bypassing of the town by the railroad in the early 1880s and the founding of a new town on the tracks, Black Rock (Lawrence County). As rail commerce grew, Powhatan’s importance as a trade center declined.

Early Twentieth Century through the Modern Era
The negative impact of the Great Depression on local farmers and businessmen further threatened the town’s future, as did the closing of the Black River ferry in about 1935. Workers under the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) did some work on the courthouse grounds, building a native stone fence around the structure.

The population averaged approximately 129 during the 1940s and 1950s. The construction of U.S. Highway 63, some two miles away, was a major factor in routing travelers away from Powhatan. The town faced additional problems when the swinging bridge was dismantled in 1957.

Still another attempt to remove the county seat was defeated in 1956. However, given the town’s continued isolation, the issue would not go away. On August 27, 1963, the popular vote finally fell in favor of removal of the county seat to Walnut Ridge. Adding to the controversy, citizens who voted in the election had their names entered into a $500 cash prize drawing. By the time of the election, which drew more than 4,500 people to the polls, the town consisted of only a couple dozen buildings, including two businesses.

With the removal of the seat of government, the town lost much of its importance. If not for a restoration movement in the 1960s, the town probably would have disappeared. In cooperation with the Lawrence County Development Council, the Lawrence County Historical Society headed a drive to preserve the courthouse and collection of historic documents stored there. By 1973, a partial restoration of the courthouse was complete. In 1979, the property was transferred to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, creating Powhatan Historic State Park. Other structures restored in the park include the jail, the Powhatan Male and Female Academy, the telephone exchange, and the Ficklin-Imboden Log House. In the spring of 2011, the Arkansas State Archives opened a new facility housing the NorthEast Arkansas Regional Archives, an important repository of many of the earliest documents recording the history of the state.

On the heels of the revitalization of an interest in the history of the area, the town has seventy-two residents as of the 2010 census. The significant role of the town in the state’s history and the restoration of its structures have made the historic town a popular tourist attraction.

For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Chicago, IL: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

Donald, Leroy. “Loss of Courthouse Seals Death Notice of Powhatan.” Arkansas Gazette, September 1, 1963, p. 10A.

Lawrence County, Arkansas: 1815–2001. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 2001.

Spillman, Brenda. “Powhatan’s Historical Courthouse Gets New Life.” Arkansas Gazette, September 23, 1973, p. 4E.

Paspahegh Town

Explore the Powhatan way of life in a re-creation of Paspahegh Town, based on the archaeological findings at a nearby site along the James River once inhabited by Paspahegh Indians, the Powhatan tribal group closest to Jamestown, and descriptions and illustrations recorded by English colonists in the 17th century.

Among a wooded clearing of reed-covered houses dotted with cooking circles, crops and a ceremonial circle of carved wooden posts, discover the world of Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, powerful leader of 30-some Algonquian-speaking tribes in coastal Virginia and their culture.

Costumed historical interpreters discuss and demonstrate how the Powhatan culture grew and prepared food, processed animal hides, made tools and pottery, and wove natural fibers into cordage. You might even learn some common Algonquian words, like raccoon, moccasin and opossum.

See indoors: Don’t miss the scale model of Paspahegh inside Jamestown Settlement’s exhibition galleries, along with a collection of artifacts donated by the Governor’s Land Association.

Thank you!

By the end of the 19th century, the remnants of the state&rsquos Powhatan people began to push back against the state-sanctioned reclassification of their identity with a dogged resolve. In order to do so, they embraced an identity not based on who they were, but rather on who they were not: black.

While complicated definitions of racial categories were not unique to Virginia, the state&rsquos residents had another factor to deal with. Among the state&rsquos most elite families were many that claimed descent from John Rolfe and Pocahontas. They were proud of their Native American heritage, but they were also adamant that they were white, and had to reconcile that idea with the widespread desire among the Virginia elite for the Commonwealth to be the nation&rsquos leading example of racial purity. So when the state enacted its Racial Integrity Act in 1924, it defined whiteness using the &ldquoPocahontas Exception,&rdquo which spared those families from being forced to identify as colored, and thus subjected to Jim Crow.

But this raised the specter for the act&rsquos backers that the Virginia Indian community would subvert the law to marry white people and &ldquocontaminate&rdquo the white gene pool. So, in the aftermath of the law&rsquos passage, Walter Plecker, Virginia&rsquos Vital Statistics Registrar, declared war on the Virginia Indian community. Plecker, who called Indians &ldquoNegroes in feathers,&rdquo sought to obliterate the Virginia Indians using what many have called &ldquopencil genocide,&rdquo disallowing the use of the term Indian as a racial designation on government documents.

In the same period, the Virginia Indians found a steadfast ally in anthropologist Frank Speck of the University of Pennsylvania. Speck spent three decades among the Powhatan Tribes and became a fierce advocate for their formal recognition. In his monographs about the Powhatan Tribes, he significantly downplayed the historical kinship ties between blacks and Indians. In this view, these tribes were distinct from other Indian tribes and the state&rsquos black population, because they had only intermarried with whites for nearly two centuries. Hence, Speck certified that the Powhatan Indians were racially pure.

During the 1930s and &lsquo40s, Speck lobbied the Federal Census Bureau to classify members of the Powhatan Tribes as Indian, despite Plecker&rsquos strong opposition. The 1940 battle was a draw, as the bureau decided that the designation would be permitted, but with an asterisk to indicate racial uncertainly. Also at this time, prominent citizens began lobbying state and federal officials with petitions that certified that the Powhatan Tribes were of white-Indian only ancestry.

The resistance continued during World War II as three Caroline County residents were jailed for refusing to enlist in the Military as colored. One draftee of the Rappahannock Tribe expressed that he would rather go to jail than &ldquogo down in history as a negro.&rdquo Resistance to the &ldquocolored&rdquo classification also affected Powhatan Indian education Indian schools only went to eighth grade. Because Virginia Indian children could not attend white schools and Powhatan parents refused to send them to colored schools, many Powhatan children did not attend high school. (Others, after Speck&rsquos lobbying, completed high school at Federal Indian residential schools in North Carolina, Kansas and Oklahoma).

Even after Virginia&rsquos schools were &ldquointegrated&rdquo after the Brown Supreme Court decision, the fallout from Speck&rsquos campaign continued.

First, during the 1980s the Virginia Council on Indians (VCI) was established and eight tribes, seven of which were descendants of the former Powhatan Confederacy, received state recognition by a special act of the Virginia General Assembly. Second, tribal leaders and their anthropologist advocate Helen Rountree were appointed to the council to oversee Indian Affairs throughout the Commonwealth and to make recommendations to the VGA for tribes seeking state recognition. Third, in 1998, six of the eight state-recognized tribes began their efforts toward seeking federal recognition.

Yet, by 1990, the VCI established state recognition criteria based on the same BIA criteria for which tribal leaders sought and have now received exemption: the idea of continuous existence as a purely Indian entity. Hence, once the standard was adopted, the VCI did not grant a single Virginia Tribe a favorable recommendation for state recognition.

Even after last week&rsquos historic signing, Plecker&rsquos and Speck&rsquos legacies are alive and well, in the idea that intimacy with blacks invalidates Indian identity. Broken friendships, disrupted kinship relations, and deep-seated animosities testify to the damage wrought by these men. Yet, as Lynette Allston, Chief of the Nottoway Tribe, told me just prior to submitting the tribe&rsquos petition for state recognition, &rdquoWe are Indian people of white and black ancestry, and we won&rsquot deny any part of who we are.&rdquo

Historians explain how the past informs the present

Arica L. Coleman is the author of That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia and chair of the Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories at the Organization of American Historians.

Native Languages of the Americas: Powhatan Indian Legends

This is our collection of links to Powhatan Indian myths, folktales, and traditional stories that can be read online. We have indexed our Native American legends section by tribe to make them easier to locate however, variants on the same story are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to each other. In particular, though these legends come from the Algonquian tribes of Virginia, the traditional stories of neighboring tribes like the Catawba and Tuscarora tribes are very similar.

Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Powhatan legend for this page or think one of the ones on here should be removed, please let us know.

Click on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Powhatan mythology.

Ahone (also known as Rawottonemd): The great creator god of the Powhatan tribe, sometimes known as the Great Spirit or Creator in English. Like most Algonquian high deities, Ahone appears to have been an abstract, benevolent creating spirit who was not personified in Powhatan myths (and probably did not have a gender.) Christian missionaries arrived early to the Powhatan tribe and had a large influence on their culture, causing Ahone to become equated with the Christian God and take on the masculine English pronoun "he."

Okeus (also known as Oke, Oki, Okee, etc): Another of the principal gods of the Powhatan Confederacy. Little is known about him except that he was often associated with war and that unlike Ahone, offerings and supplications were frequently made to him. Some contemporary Virginia Algonquian people believe that Ahone and Okeus were one and the same, and that there was simply a difference in names and worship styles because of the many different small tribes that belonged to the Powhatan Confederacy.

Watch the video: Americas Great Indian Nations - Full Length Documentary