Friday, April 30, 2021

Indigenous DC, A Hidden History

from Michael Auld at the

Who are the Indigenous Washingtonians?

The 1970 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 the Washington, DC Metropolitan area. In keeping with Native American tradition, one must be familiar with their identifying tribal surnames. In the “DMV” area, Indigenous names are mainly those associated with Powhatan Paramountcy affiliation. Indigenous Washingtonians live among the city's populations but have just not yet been "discovered" by the mainstream. They are literally “hidden in plain sight." 

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.

 Unfortunately, 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 Stafford CountyVA.  Also, it was within her father, Powhatan's domain that the boundary stones of the Federal City were included.

"Urban Renewal" (1970) by Washingtonian artist, Georgia Mills Jessup (Pamunkey). In the darkened center of the painting it shows her, an Indigenous Washingtonian surrounded by the city's residential majority at that time. This collage painting is a statement about her city's unseen people of color in their home "under the Capitol," where they have become invisible. The city's Indigenous descendants also became “extinct”, due to racial politics. --Photo by the author.


Some contemporary Eurocentric skeptics, underestimated Amerindian genius, and had little faith in the cultural impact of Powhatan’s immense Indigenous territory with its unique form of Amerindian freedoms within a political group. Although political unions like his had been present in the Americas for thousands of years, one glaring mistake is that some writers believed that Native Americans never ventured out of their immediate tribal areas. On the contrary, Amerindians traveled extensively and left their homes on long distance trading expeditions. Models of Amerindian empires abound and their populace included cosmopolitan adventurers. For example, the seafaring Taínos of the Caribbean traveled around the time of the birth of the Jewish Christ. They originated from the Orinoco River Basin in South America, going island by island up into Florida, creating a large civilization with stratified leaderships. Elsewhere in Central and South America, the Spanish had encountered extensive Amerindian political ventures. Archeologists discovered that this type of political process was common in the Americas' vast, highly sophisticated empires.

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.

(DC, MD, and VA's tri-state area)

John White's 1585 watercolor of a Secotan woman and child from the Chesapeake Bay. Both probably died almost immediately after contact from an English disease when this watercolor was made.


During the 17th century over 32 local tribes, mainly from Maryland’s Indigenous people, were forced out of their area by the aggressive land hungry English working class people (mostly called serfs). This antagonistic class set of English men and women sought first time land ownership and riches away from their densely populated European homelands, not similarly endowed with precious reserves. They conveniently believed that their God had given their race domain over the land, animals and the Americas’ Indigenous human beings. The term was “Manifest Destiny.”

 The newly formed Virginia Territory's dominant Powhatan Paramountcy who fought three major homeland security Anglo-Powhatan Wars, remained in their area which had been settled by their ancestors 3,000 to 10,000 years before. Known as formidable warriors of a growing empire of Attan Akamik, or “Our Fertile Country,” its capital was called “Tsenacommacah,” or "densely inhabited land." From this location, the Powhatan "Indians" who had developed a complex culture, had a centralized political system of 32-34 Algonquian nations governed by a second Powhatan or “Dreamer” named Wahunsenachaw, who had succeeded his father's eight nations Confederacy.

 Also, in the 17th century, many remaining Indigenous people intermarried with arriving foreigners, some, especially those of the Powhatan Paramountcy, never abandoned their ancestral territories. This retention of Indigenous culture was attributed to descent from matrilineal groups, and was especially true of those whose mothers who were Native.

 “One of the largest tribes in the Powhatan [Paramountcy], the Pamunkey tribe was centered in [Tidewater] Virginia, with villages in next door Prince Georges, Charles and St. Mary's counties of Maryland.” The presence of the unincorporated community of Pomonkey of Charles County, MD and the assignment by the National Park Service as one of Washington, DC's Indigenous tribes, attest to the extent of Powhatan's northern location of his Paramountcy. Virginia’s Tauxenent families also remained in Washington, DC proper. Many of these survivors lived in DC or daily crossed the Potomac River for educational opportunities as well as for Federal and local governmental jobs. 

By 1711, most Maryland tribes south and north of Washington, DC's border either became extinct as identifiable tribal entities within that state’s boundaries, or migrated north or west of Washington, DC. This pattern was not true of those who were a part of the 19,250 square mile Powhatan Paramountcy’s territory whose Accohannock firmly remained in Southern Maryland. Some Powhatan families such as the Tauxenent/Dogue and Pamunkey either remained in Virginia within the Federal City’s original boundary, lived in the city, or moved back and forth across the Potomac River for schooling and job opportunities into the redefined 1847 District of Columbia border. The Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock on the northern border of the city retreated north to Pennsylvania and New York.

 In Virginia two of its Indigenous nations, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, remained a part of eleven state recognized tribes. Seven of whom became federally recognized. Maryland’s state tribal recognition only began in 2012 with three tribes, one of which (the Accohannock) was a part of the original Powhatan Paramountcy.

 Descendants of the Powhatan Paramountcy have continued life in the tri-state Metropolitan Area as, among other things, 19th century stone quarry miners and masons who were responsible for the construction of iconic DC structures such as the Washington Monument, portions of the Capitol Rotunda, the Smithsonian Castle, the "Exorcist Stairs" in Georgetown, canals, bridges and other outstanding DC structures. Their accomplishments also included a variety of professions. Many excelled in the arts.

Powhatan Paramountcy descendants fought in or contributed to war efforts from the American Revolution to today’s conflicts. Stories, many books, statues, paintings and movies have chronicled their history, nationally and internationally. The Powhatan Paramountcy is the only Indigenous entity which has continued to have one of the greatest impacts on North American nations. The following photographs tell it all.


Powhatan and Pocahontas’ Descendants

Powhatan with some of his wives, by Captain John Smith (1607).

Powhatan had 100 wives and many descendants scattered throughout the areas of his Paramountcy and beyond. For example, there are over 100,000 people who claim decadency from his daughter, Pocahontas. This DNA phenomenon compares to Europe's “30% of all [its] people” who are descendants of Charlemagne and his ten children. In Asia, one study discovered that Genghis Khan has 16 million descendants, while Mohammad is the Middle East’s most famous ancestor.

Images of Pocahontas and Her People

One of two statues of Pocahontas with DC Native, Rose Powhatan (Pamunkey/Tauxenent), in Gravesend, Kent, England (1995). A replica of the statue is at Jamestown, Virginia. The town of Gravesend's main claim to fame is that Pocahontas is burried there. Rose tecnically assisted the local St. Georges Church high school teacher, Di Colman in that year's annual production of the travelling play, "The Pocahontas Story." The minister, Reverend Wiley, told her that they believe that Pocahonas' grave was located under the churche's alter. The second St. Georges Church was built there after the great fire of Gravesend.-- Photo by the author

"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



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