History of Pamunkey Indian Tribe


Tribal members will agree that the history of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe dates back to even before the English settlers first landed on Virginia’s shores, perhaps even ten to twelve thousand years, but written history begins around that time in 1607.

At that time, the Pamunkey were a large and powerful tribe at the core of Powhatan’s paramount chiefdom.  When Powhatan moved East to Werowocomoco in 1607, his three brothers remained within the Pamunkey District, which was believed to be the center among the chief’s core districts.

The Pamunkey lands have been historically established as a place where Powhatan’s leaders gathered to rest and restore their spirits.

After Powhatan’s death in 1618, Pamunkey Indian tradition accords that he was buried in a mount on the Reservation located on 1,200 acres on the shores of the Pamunkey River in King William County.

The Pamunkey leader, Necotowance, signed the treaty of 1646, which established the Indian tribes of Virginia as subjects of the English and placed then under English protection.

Another leader, Cockacoeske, signed the Articles of Peace, or Treaty of 1677, establishing a peace agreement and land base of the tribe in the form of a reservation.  These treaties between the Crown of England and the tribes are still recognized today by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the tribe. As evidence, the tribe still participates in an annual tax tribute of wild game to the Governor in Richmond each November.

The life of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe was documented over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries by famous writers, statesmen, business leaders, and even soldiers during the Civil War.

Many writers in the 20th century captured details of the Pamunkey life, including the tribe’s most durable traditions of pottery, fishing, hunting, trapping, and gardening.

Pottery making has been practiced by the Indian tribe for centuries, and traditionally used clay from the Pamunkey River shore. The Pamunkey Indian Museum displays many of the pottery traditions.

One of the staples of the Pamunkey’s diet for at least the past 150 years has been fish, namely shad and herring, and over the years, the Pamunkey maintained the philosophy that if you took fish from the water you have to put it back.

The tribe started an indoor fish hatchery in 1918 where newly hatched shad are fed back into the Pamunkey River.

In 1992, the Virginia Marine Resource Commission helped upgrade the facilities, and in 1998, with the help of a $90,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Protection Agency and matching funds from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the tribe began tagging shad to document life history characteristics.

During the year 2000, the tribe reported returning 3.2 million fingerling to the river.

Today’s Pamunkey Tribe consists of 208 tribal members nationwide, 48 of which reside on the reservation.

The tribe maintains its own governing body consisting of a Chief, currently Kevin Brown, and seven council members elected every four years.