Who are the Indigenous Washingtonians?
painting below was done by a Washington Pamunkey artist who was descended from
a family of 21 siblings. She was one of many family members with deep roots in
One of the most overlooked stories of our Nation's Capital is about its Indigenous Washingtonians. The assumption is that the city is a barren plum only sought after by outside tribes or other newcomers. DC is often thought of as having no real history of its own before the arrival of Europeans. On the contrary, there is a vast underground of local Native Americans who never left the DMV area. Their roots go back over 10,000 years.
Most documentarians of DC’s Indigenous people are not linked to the Powhatan Paramountcy. However, there are five writers who are Pamunkey and/or Tauxenent. They include Georgia Mills Jessup’s, “We're Still Here", her daughter Rose Powhatan’s “Surviving Document Genocide", and Rose’s sons, Alexei Auld’s "Tonto Canto Pocahontas: A Review," Kiros Auld’s "Pocahontas:Patron Saint of Colonial Miscegenation?", and their cousin's, "Pocahontas' First Marriage: The Powhatan Side of the Story" by Dr. Phoebe Mills Farris. They all have roots in DC and have written about their city's tribal nations while the Indigenous DC history is mostly written by non-Natives.
DC's Indigenous story is often interpreted by newly arrived Euro-American
historians who mostly don't have a clue about who our living Indigenous
Amerindians are as well as the international impact of the city's Indigenous
Washingtonians. Some seem unable to connect the dots. One case in point is the
portrayal of Pocahontas as a 17th century Virginia Indian first
married to widower John Rolfe. His newly introduced Christian religion forced
her into a bigamous marriage (see the "Various romanticized
versions" of Pocahontas below). To the
contrary, Pocahontas was
already married to Kocoum, a young war captain with whom she is believed to
have had a son. Indigenous men usually moved to their wife's village, so It was
from his village where she had moved for safety that she was lured into
abduction with the help of a Patawomeck sub-chief and his wife in
Powhatan’s territory was the largest Indigenous political organization met by the English in North America. However the main similarity to the pyramid builders of Central America was that Powhatan was buried in a pyramid inspired mound on the Pamunkey Reservation. Their original men were stated as "coming from the south." Some believe they came from the direction of the Yucatec "Pauhatun." An old set of Bacabs, or four part deity or deities of the four directions and four colors who are also four pillars which hold up the world. This possible Powhatan origin story could be that in addition to similar political acumen in Meso-American politics, Powhatan's burial site may have been a part of Central American pyramid inspired mound building tradition which had spread north to Ohio's 70 mounds. The travel of Mexico's botanical invention of maize, had already reached north to Canada centuries before.
Powhatan's power left an indelible impact on the expanding British Empire. The DMV has an unmatched record with published information on one of its Indigenous historic Amerindian groups, the Powhatan Paramountcy (See below). However, the city of Washington, DC was built on ancient Indigenous Amerindian ground. It is seen by newcomers to DC with no general knowledge of its ancient Indigenous past, as a transient area. Yet some of its Indigenous citizens have deep unbroken Native American roots in the Metropolitan area. They are proudly "Still here."
Over 100,000 people claim descent from one woman, Pocahontas. Her father, Powhatan had 100 wives, mostly from villages within his domain. Two examples of his lineage are Taux Powhatan whose mother was Tauxenent or Dogue. He was a half brother to Pocahontas. Keziah Powhatan, an 18th century Tauxenent leader in Fairfax County has many blood relatives in the DMV area. Additionally, many contemporary Indigenous nations from the Carolinas to Washington, DC, once within the Powhatan Paramountcy, have descendants from the unions between Powhatan and his wives from those nations. This common international practice among leaders was to create loyalty to the Paramountcy.
DC's Federal City was carved out of at least three Indigenous Algonquian territories of the Nocotchtank (DC proper), the Pamunkey (MD, DC & VA) and the Tauxenent or Dogue (VA & DC) and inaugurated on July 16, 1790. Although at the time of Captain John Smith's arrival in 1608, the now extinct Nocotchtank had been recorded to have at one time been a part of the Powhatan Paramountcy. The Pamunkey was the leading nation in the Paramountcy to whose governing family Powhatan (or Wahunsenacawh) and Pocahontas belonged. According to historians, these three DC Algonquian tribes were part of the Indigenous group whose residency went back 3,000 to 10,000 years prior to the Little Ice Age which suddenly began in 1275 AD and petered out by 1700 AD.
One example of tribal movement during that cooling of the Earth was Maryland’s Piscataway who in 1300 AD came from the freezing north into the Chesapeake shoreline to live among the original Algonquians who were already there thousands of years before. They were considered enemies of the Powhatan Paramountcy. This move ended in 1711 when they were forced out by the unbridled emigration of their English Catholic “friends,” with whom they had no wars. They dispersed and some moved back north to the Iroquois while others went west into the powerful warrior territory of the Powhatan Paramountcy.
As for Anacostia’s Nocotchtank, after their town was bombarded and destroyed by Jamestown residents intent on grabbing the beaver pelt trade, with the help of their Patawomeck allies (who were responsible in the luring and kidnapping of Pocahontas), some surviving Nocotchtank remnants moved to the Tauxenent's Roosevelt Island for a time, then left the area in 1685 to go north to Ohio.
The 1600's were especially violent times in the Americas. To the south, the Spanish extended the American branch of their empire into areas not yet conquered. In the north, Englishmen and women began to move into the Chesapeake area following the enslaving Spanish who had first moved into the Caribbean in 1493, beginning with the arrival of Christopher Columbus’ 17 to19 invading ships. These Iberians euphemistically considered themselves “settlers” of territories already settled thousands of years before them. They found it more self-aggrandizing to call themselves “conquistadors,” who were actually pandemic bearers, church and royal sanctioned Amerindian enslavers, murderers and rapists, as seen in the diary written by Columbus’ Italian friend and lieutenant, Michele da Cuneo. He chronicled the first rape of a Caribbean woman. Using his rope whipping followed by the raping of a young Carib (Kalinago) woman off the coast of St. Croix in 1493.
The DMV(DC, MD, and VA's tri-state area)
|"Pocahontas Unmasked" is a print by Rose Powhatan showing her interpretation of the unmasked English version. She used the image of a 100% Native American woman, based on the John White watercolors. -- Photo by the author|
Various romanticized versions with cartoons and actresses who played the role of Pocahontas. -- Composite by the author
The "Baptism of Pocahontas" is a large painting of her located in the Capitol Rotunda with Roman-like setting and participants. The original event took place in a more rustic Jamestown. Here the Powhatan attendees sit on the ground as secondary individuals or "savages," as they were sometimes called.
A statue of Cockacoeske, the Queen of Pamunkey who points to the 1677 Treaty, as a Virginia Women's Monument in Capitol Square, Richmond.
Artist, Georgia Mills Jessup (Pamunkey) with her grandson, Kiros Auld (Pamunkey/Tauxenent) standing next to their family's Powhatan totem depicting the Mantle of Powhatan, at a yearly Chickahominy festival/powwow. -- Photo by the author
Bronze statue of Powhatan, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Powhatan's Mantle on display from Oxford's Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology, with a school group in London, England.
One of the many books on the Powhatan Paramountcy.
|A movie made about a fictional love story between a little 10 year old girl (Pocahontas) and the 24 year old Captain John Smith.|
Two young Washingtonian descendants of the Powhatan Paramountcy and Diné Nation, who are wearing the sacred colors of the Four Directions (red, black, yellow and white). On their backs are signs which their Diné (Navajo) mother and Pamunkey/Tauxenent father made, stating "Still Indigenous. Still strong. Still here." They are standing on one of their ancestral territories at the Reflecting Pool with the Washington Monument in the background, giving the salute of defiance. Their 19th century Pamunkey and Tauxenent ancestors mined the stones from ancient Indigenous quarries, used for the interior structure of the Washington Monument in the distance. -- Photo by the parents