Winanuske, Weroance of the Powhatan

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About Winanuske, Weroance of the Powhatan

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Roanoke's Achievement, a lecture about John White and the Roanoke colony delivered by Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a leading early American history scholar, at Jamestown Settlement on July 19, 2008.

Powhatan’s Deerskin Mantle with Shell Map,

ca. 1608<“Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke.”

As described on p. 47 of the catalog, Museum Tradescantianum (London, 1656). Original artifact (four pieces of tanned buckskin, measuring 2.33 meters long by 1.5 meters wide) preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Lithograph (1888) by P. W. M. Trap publishers, after a black-and-white photograph of the Ashmolean artifact, by E. T. Shelton. Plate XX in Edward B. Tylor, “Notes on Powhatan’s Mantle, Preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.” Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie 1 (1888): 215–7.

View an enlarged 1150 x 1701 pixel JPG image (530KB)

<Drawing of Powhatan’s Mantle, outlining the decorative shell bead patterns of the original, some of which have “fallen away, leaving only thread holes to mark the original locations of two roundlets and the hind legs and tails of the two animals.” (Waselkov 307)

Printed as Fig. 8 (p. 307) of Gregory A. Waselkov’s essay, “Indian Maps of the Colonial Southeast,” pp. 292–343 in Powhatan’s Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast, edited by Peter H. Wood, Gregory A. Waselkov, and M. Thomas Hatley.

<Alternate image of Powhatan’s Mantle.

Photograph by the author, reproduced as plate V in “Virginia — from Early Records” by David I. Bushnell, Jr. American Anthropologist 9.1 (Jan.–Mar. 1907): 31–44.

Bushnell felt that a more accurate image than that given by Tylor in 1888 was needed: “‘Pohatan’s habit’ ... has already been figured and described by Dr E. B. Tylor, but in the colored plate much of the detail is lost which shows to better advantage in a direct photograph.” (Bushnell 39).

View an enlarged 590 x 856 pixel JPG image (151KB)


POWHATAN’S MANTLE IS A LARGE, ornamental deerskin cloak, with shell beadwork symbolically mapping the balance of power among southeastern Indians of the Chesapeake tidewater region, circa 1608. Along with several other Algonquian Indian artifacts from early colonial Virginia (including a purse or bag embroidered with shells, and three fine bows), the deerskin mantle is part of the famed Tradescant Collection assembled in the first half of the 17th century, which passed in 1659 to Elias Ashmole, who then presented it to Oxford as the nucleus of his Ashmolean Museum some 20 years later.

Edward Tylor, who first figured and described the mantle in 1888, wrote that it measures

about 2.2 m. in length by 1.6 m. in width. The two deerskins forming it are joined down the middle; no hair remains. The ornamental design consists of an upright human figure in the middle, divided by the seam; a pair of animals; 32 spirally-formed rounds (2 in the lowest line have lost their shells); and the remains of some work in the right lower corner. The marks where shell-work has come away plainly show the hind-legs and tapering tails of both animals. It is uncertain whether the two quadrupeds represent, in the conventional manner of picture-writing, some real animal of the region, or some mythical composite creature such as other Algonquin tribes are apt to figure, (see the long-tailed bear and the man-headed panther in Schoolcraft, Indian Tribes, part I. p. 406, 416). The decorative shell-work is of a kind well known in North America. The shells used are Marginella; so far as Mr. Edgar A. Smith is able to identify them in their present weathered state, M. nivosa. They have been prepared for fastening on, in two different ways, which may be distinguished in the plate. In the animals and rounds, the shells have been perforated by grinding on one side, so that a sinew thread can be passed through the hole thus made and the mouth. In the man, the shells are ground away and rounded off at both ends, into beads looking roughly ball-like at a distance. Mr. W. H. Holmes, in his Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans, gives figures much like both forms, of a Marginella (M. conoidalis) side-perforated, and of an Olivella end-ground (Second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Washington 1883, pl. XXXII). A woollen jacket from North America, now in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, has the shells fastened on in the first manner, but with thin twine; here a Marginella is used, identified by M. Edgar Smith as M. labrosa. The habitat of all three species is the West Indies, but shells for such purposes were carried to great distances for native trade.

(Tylor, “Notes on Powhatan’s Mantle” 217)

David Bushnell, who next figured and described the cloak in 1907, gave slightly different measurements and construction information (e.g., made from four, not two, skins):

It is formed of four pieces of tanned buckskin, having an extreme length of 2.33 meters and a width of 1.5 meters.... The decoration — the signification of which is not known — is formed of small sea-shells (Marginella nivosa perforated and attached by means of a fine thread of sinew. The shells forming the human figures in the center were first ground at one end, reducing them to scarcely half their natural size.

(Bushnell, “Virginia — from Early Records” 39)

Gregory Waselkov, the most recent scholar to publish on Powhatan’s Mantle (in 1989), follows Bushnell’s measurements, sizing the garment at 233 cm x 150 cm, and describing it as

four tanned deerskins pieced together with sinew to form a cloak or mantle and decorated with thirty-seven figures made from numerous small marine shell [“identified as Marginella nivosa by Tylor ... They are probably Prunum apicinum.” (336n21)] beads sewn onto the garment. The figures include a centrally placed human in front view flanked by two animals shown in profile. The animal on the right, which probably represents a white-tailed deer, has cloven hooves, a short, thin tail, and large ears, while the other animal has claws, a long tail, and relatively small ears — perhaps it is a wolf or mountain lion. The remaining thirty-four design elements are spirally formed roundlets placed in approximate symmetry on either side of the midline. Many of the shell beads have fallen away, leaving only thread holes to mark the original locations of two roundlets and the hind legs and tails of the two animals.

(Waselkov, “Indian Maps of the Colonial Southeast” 306–7)


Exactly how Powhatan’s “habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke,” as cataloged in 1656, came to be part of the Tradescant Collection remains something of a mystery.

Edward Tylor first made the connection with Captain John Smith, suggesting that “this barbaric robe” was

a relic of the expedition fraught with world-wide consequences, which sailed to colonize Virginia in 1606. In this expedition the famous Captain John Smith had a conspicuous part, and it is in great measure from his picturesque writings that its details have been preserved.

    In the district between James River and Chesapeake Bay, in the present State of North Carolina, the colonists found the group of Algonquin tribes who were known to them as Powhatans, the same name being given to their Chief or Weroance. On consulting, as the most convenient authority, the modern collection of Captain John Smith’s writings, we find several passages relating to the kinds of cloaks used by these Indians.
    “For their apparell, they are some time covered with the skinnes of wilde beasts, which in Winter are dressed with the hayre, but in Sommer without. The better sort use large Mantels of Deare Skins not much differing in fashion from the Irish mantels. Some imbrodered with white beads, some with Copper, other painted after their manner .... We have seene some use mantels made of Turky feathers, so prettily wrought and woven with threads that nothing could be discerned but the feathers.” (p. 361). On the occasion when Captain Smith was to have been put to death, but was saved by Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas, it is related that “Before a fire upon a seat like a bedsted, he [Powhatan] sat covered with a great robe, made of Rarowcun skinnes, and all the tayles hanging by.” (p. 400). At another time, when the Englishmen put on Powhatan a scarlet cloak and apparel and crowned him, it is mentioned that “he gave his old shoes and his mantle to Captain Newport.” (p. 124).
    From these passages it appears that there were in use among the Powhatans three kinds of mantles, viz. of dressed skins embroidered with beads (the term would be used of shell-work)[,] of furs, and of feather-work. Tradescant’s original catalogue (printed in 1656) of his collection, shows that he had specimens of all three kinds. He enters (p. 47) “A Virginian habit of Beares skin”; “A Match-coat from Virginia of Feathers”; “Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke; A Match-coat of Virginia made of Racoune-skins”. Here it is to be noticed that match-coat is a not unusual corrupt form of the native Virginian word written matchcore (= skin or garment, Vocab. in Smith’s Works, p. 381; = stags skin, Vocab. in Strachey’s Virginia): roanoke (apparently the same word as in Roanoke Island, &c.) was a term commonly used for worked shell, especially strung shell-beads or wampum, or a particular variety of such (“Ronoak or Porcelan, which is a sort of Beads they make of the Conk-shells” Lawson’s Hist. of Carolina, p. 191–3). How these specimens reached Tradescant is not known. That they came from Smith is suggested by the fact that in his Will (Works, p. 970) he bequeaths books to Tradescant “and the other halfe parte of the bookes I give unto Master John Tredeskyn”. On the other hand, his name cannot be clearly identified in the list of donors at the end of Tradescant’s catalogue, which contains a “Sir John Smith” and a “Mr. Smith” but no “Captain John Smith”. Of the group of Virginian mantles in Tradescant’s collection, there only now remains the shell-embroidered one. It is entered as follows in the M.S. Catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum, in the handwriting of the Keeper, Dr. Plot the well-known antiquary, about 1685: “205 Basilica Pohatan Regis Virginiani vestis, duabus cervorum cutibus consuta, et nummis indicis vulgò cori’s dictis splendidè exornata.” He had at first written “Roanoke”, but struck his pen through this word, and wrote “cori’s” (i.e[.] cowries) above, thus by no means improving the accuracy of his description.

(Tylor 216–7)

Bushnell, writing in 1907, found Tylor’s argument that Powhatan’s Mantle passed to Tradescant by way of Smith persuasive. However, Gregory Waselkov has offered two alternative explanations which I find more persuasive than Tylor’s assumption concerning Smith’s more central role.

Waselkov first surmises that the Tradescants, elder and younger, both of whom visited Virginia, may well have acquired the cloak themselves, without Smith serving as intermediary.

John Tradescant, Sr. (ca. 1570–1638), was a member of the Virginia Company (he owned at least two shares of stock) and a partner in Samuel Argall’s project to transport twenty-four persons to Virginia in 1615, and in Argall’s Virginia plantation of February, 1617. Reputed to have been of Flemish origin, John Tradescant the Elder traveled extensively through Europe and in the East (including Russia), collecting natural curiosities as he went, before settling in England. He continued to travel, and his passion for “rarities” knew few bounds: in 1620, for example, the elder Tradescant went on the expedition of Mansell and Argall against the Algerine corsairs, in order to obtain a specimen of the Algier apricot.

He was in the service of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and July 31, 1625, he wrote to Edward Nicholas that it was the duke’s pleasure for him to deal with all merchants from all places; but especially from Virginia, Bermudas, Newfoundland, Guinea, Binney, the Amazon, East Indies, etc., for all manner of rare beasts, fowls and birds, shells, stones, etc.; afterwards [he was] in the service of Charles I....

(from the biography given in Alexander Brown,

Genesis of the United States ii:1032)

Together with his son, John the Younger (1608–1662), also a botanist of international renown, the elder Tradescant introduced dozens of plant species into English cultivation, and established a “physic garden” wherein he cultivated herbs from abroad for their unique medicinal properties. The elder Tradescant’s collection of rare creatures, shells, and minerals from around the world inevitably developed into a celebrated botanical museum, located at his residence in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames. The Tradescant natural history museum, formally cataloged by John the Younger in 1656, was widely visited by scholars and tourists alike, and was known to contain the finest collection of American flora and fauna anywhere in England (most likely Europe, as well).

Tradescant’s growing international reputation led Charles I to designate John the Elder royal gardener in 1630, placing him in charge of the gardens and silkworks at Oatlands Palace. Housed in a building designed by Inigo Jones, the royal silkworks dated from 1616, when the Hugeunot, John Bonoeil, was appointed silk master to James I. The strong connection of silk and silk-making with colonial Virginia dates from this Stuart’s reign, although there were hints made by Hariot about the benefits of developing such “natural goods of the land” as “grasse Silke” and “Worme Silke” into social goods or “marchantable commodities” as early as 1588:

There is a kind of grasse in the countrey uppon the blades where of there groweth very good silke in forme of a thin glittering skin to bee stript of. It groweth two foote and a halfe high or better: the blades are about two foot in length, and half inch broad. The like groweth in Persia, which is in the selfe same climate as Virginia, of which very many of the silke workes that come from thence into Europe are made. Here of if it be planted and ordered as in Persia, it cannot in reason be otherwise, but that there will rise in shorte time great profite to the dealers therein; seeing there is so great use and vent [i.e., sales] thereof as well in our countrey as els where. And by the meanes of sowing & pla[n]ting in good ground, it will be farre greater, better, and more plentifull then it is. Although notwithstanding there is great store thereof in many places of the countrey growing naturally and wilde. Which also by proof here in England, in making a piece of silke Grogran, we found to be excellent good.

(Thomas Hariot, section on “Silke of grasse or grasse Silke” — the first category “Of Marchantable Commodities” in A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, as rpt. by Theodore de Bry [Frankfurt, 1590], p. 7)

In manie of our journeyes [ca. 1585] we found silke wormes fayre and great; as bigge as our ordinary walnuttes. Although it hath not beene our happe to have found such plentie as elsewhere to be in the cou[n]trey we have heard of; yet seeing that the countrey doth naturally breede and nourish them, there is no doubt but if art be added in planti[n]g of mulbery trees and others fitte for them in commodious places, for their feeding and nourishing; and some of them carefully gathered and husbanded in that sort as by men of skill is knowne to be necessarie: there will rise as great profite in time to the Virginians, as there of doth now to the Persians, Turkes, Italians and Spaniards.

(Thomas Hariot, section on “Worme Silke” — the second category “Of Marchantable Commodities” in A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, as rpt. by Theodore de Bry [Frankfurt, 1590], pp. 7–8)

After establishing the first permanent English colony in America at Jamestown in 1607, policy makers continued to promote sericulture as a promising new industry for Virginia planters. Not only Tradescant the Elder, but also the Virginia Company’s Virginia Ferrar, public policy analysts such as Samuel Hartlib, and English scientists such as Robert Hooke, would publicize and pursue its “improvement” throughout the century.

Trained by, and working closely with, his father, John Tradescant the Younger visited Virginia in 1637 to collect varieties of flowers, plants, shells, minerals, and Indian artifacts of ethnological interest. He had just returned from this collecting trip when his father died in 1638, at which point he succeeded John the Elder as royal gardener to Charles I. When civil war broke out, John the Younger left England in 1642, returning yet again to Virginia, for a brief sojourn which overlapped with Sir William Berkeley’s (another enthusiast of Virginian sericulture) first years as Governor (1641–1652). It was John the Younger who in 1656 published the list of Virginian bear-, deer-, and raccoon-skin robes in the family collection, including “Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke.”

Given the close and continuing connection of both Tradescants with the Virginia enterprise, and their hands-on activities as collectors of natural and artificial rarities from Virginia, it is entirely possible that one of them procured Powhatan’s cloak either during or subsequent to their travels in that country.


Waselkov’s second, “perhaps more plausible” explanation of how the deerskin mantle first came into England points to Captain Christopher Newport to whom, as Smith reported, Powhatan “gave his old shoes and his mantle” in October 1608, all part of a farcical ceremonial exchange between “royals” stage-managed by the Virginia Company. (As directed, Newport gave to Powhatan a copper crown and scarlet robe, symbolizing the putative status that came with subjection to James I as overlord, and Powhatan reciprocated in kind.)

Whether Newport brought Powhatan’s cloak with him when he returned to England in December of that year is not known. Newport arrived in England mid-January 1609, and about 6 weeks later,

On March 5 of that year the Spanish ambassador, Don Pedro de Zúñiga, wrote to King Philip III that Powhatan “has sent a gift to this king,” meaning James I of England. This unspecified gift could have included the mantle presented to Newport, which might then have found its way to the Tradescants.

(Waselkov 308)

In this same letter, Zuñiga refers to the important exchange of “sons” which preceded the imperial pageantry enacted in October 1608. Thomas Savage, “an English boy” whom the Indians were told was a son of James I, was left by Newport with Powhatan in exchange for Powhatan’s son, Namontack. Namontack sailed from Virginia with Captain Newport on 10 April 1608, arriving in England on 21 May. In June of 1608, Zuñiga reported on Namontack’s presence to Philip III, writing that

it has amused me to see how they [the English] esteem him, thinking it much more certain that he must be a very ordinary person.

(qtd. in Brown i:172)

Zuñiga couldn’t have been more wrong.

Namontack returned to Virginia with Newport in July, arriving there towards the end of September, 1608, shortly before the coronation ceremony staged by Newport for Powhatan, for which Namontack’s brief sojourn in England surely paved the way.

In his Report on Virginia made to the Spanish council of state in July 1610, the Irishman Francis Maguel confirms Zuñiga’s account of the strategic esteem with which Namontack met while in England, and tells of the copper crown and silk robes that figured so prominently in the mock coronation:

The English have some boys there among these people to learn their language, which they already know, at least some of them, perfectly. The Emperor [Powhatan] sent one of his sons to England, where they treated him well and returned him once more to his own country, from which the said Emperor and his people derived great contentment thro’ the account which he gave of the kind reception and treatment he received in England. The English sent the Emperor a crown of shining Copper and many copper-vessels and silk dresses for himself and for his wives and children. This narrator [Maguel’s informant] returned to England in the same vessel with the said son of the Emperor [Namontack].

(qtd. in Brown i:396)

By the time of the mock crowning of Powhatan in October 1608, the grounds of reciprocal ceremonial exchange between putative heads of state were well-established. I think it very likely that Powhatan gave his mantle to Newport as part of what he took to be an expected gesture within the strange ritual of kingship being enacted around him.

Whatever the “ultimate origin” of the deerskin cloak in the Tradescant collection, its authenticity is not in question, argues Waselkov. The robe “is undoubtedly a southern Algonquian artifact of the type described by John Smith” (Waselkov 308) early in the century, and by Jesuit missionaries in 1639:

The Jesuit missionaries in Maryland wrote in their annual letter of 1639, “The only peculiarity by which you can distinguish a chief from the common people is some badge; either a collar made of a rude jewel, or a belt, or a cloak, oftentimes ornamented with shells in circular rows.” Anonymous, “Extracts from the Annual Letters of the English Province of the Society of Jesus,” in Clayton C. Hall, ed., Narratives of Early Maryland, 1633–1684 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 125.

(Waselkov 337n25)


In 1907, David Bushnell wrote that “the signification” of the robe’s shells embroidered in circular rows “is not known” (39). Since then, scholars have determined that the mantle’s ornamentation is a symbolic map portraying social and political relationships within the Powhatan chiefdom — a graphic depiction of Indians’ organization of their social environment and how they perceived their world at a particular moment in time (Waselkov 301).

Waselkov reads in the decoration a topological representation of the expanding Powhatan confederacy, and the paramount chief’s domination over the Indians of the Virginia coastal plain.

In addition to their aesthetic function, the decorative shell bead patterns may carry considerable symbolic import, particularly if the mantle is attributable to Powhatan. Randolph Turner has suggested that the thirty-four roundlets perhaps represented the districts under Powhatan’s control. He based his supposition on a 1612 reference by William Strachey, who noted that Powhatan’s “petty Weroances in all, may be in nomber, about three or fower and thirty, all which have their precincts, and bowndes, proper.” Strachey went on to enumerate thirty-two werowances from the area of the James and York rivers. This list, however, includes both greater and lesser werowances, corresponding to about twenty-four districts. This limited area seems to have been the core of the chiefdom, the extent of Powhatan’s absolute control. But there is considerable evidence that as many as thirty-six districts were claimed by Powhatan and were subject, in some degree, to his influence. Considered in this light, Smith’s map of 1612 and Strachey’s descriptions of the geographic limits of Powhatan’s power closely coincide, and the mantle attributed to that chief can be interpreted not as a statement of absolute control over a circumscribed region, but as a claim to broader hegemony over a core area plus an incompletely consolidated periphery.

(Waselkov 308)

An ms. written by Thomas Martin (an “Adventurer for Virginia”), dated 15 December 1622, gives similar numbers (“32 Kingdomes under him”) for the Powhatan confederacy:

That parte of Virginia wthin wch we are seated and fitt to bee settled on for many hundred yards. It is within ye Territories of Opiehakano, it lyeth on the west side of Chesapiocke baye, which comandeth from the southermost parte of ye fourth river called Potomeck wch lyeth north next hand to ye River some 50 leagues in Latitude. In longitude it extendeth to the Monakins countrie next hand west and west and by North of equall length with the latitude. his owne principall state is in ye seacond River called Pamunkey in the heart of his own inhabited territories. This revolted Indian King with his squaw comaundeth 32 Kingdomes under him. Everye Kingdome contayneinge ye quantitie of one of ye shires here in England. Eavery such Kingdome hath one speciall Towne seated upon one of ye three greate Rivers with sufficience of cleared ground for ye plowe & bravely accomadated for fishing ...

(ms. signed “Tho. Martin”; qtd. in Bushnell 32)

Bushnell speculates that

The “one speciall towne” of “eavery such Kingdome” was probably similar to either Pomeiock or Secoton as they were some twenty years before Jamestown was settled.

aka Chief Running Stream

Chief Powhatan (c. June 17, 1547 – c. 1618), whose proper name was Wahunsenacawh or (in seventeenth century English spelling) Wahunsunacock, was the leader of the Powhatan (also spelled Powatan and Powhaten), a powerful tribe of Native Americans, speaking an Algonquian language, who lived in Tenakomakah— which is now Tidewater Virginia—at the time of the first English-Native encounters. Wahunsenacawh was the father of Pocahontas.


Powhatan was originally the name of one of the towns where he lived, a location now in the east end of the city of Richmond, Virginia, as well as the name of the adjacent river (today called the James River). When he created a powerful empire by conquering most of tidewater Virginia, he called himself the Powhatan, often taken as his given name, but actually a title. Another chief village was established at Werowocomoco on the north bank of the York River about 25 miles (40 km) from where "the river divides" at West Point, Virginia, according to Smith.


Little is known of Powhatan's life before the arrival of English colonists in 1607. He apparently inherited the chiefdom of about 4-5 tribes, with the base at the fall line near Richmond, and through diplomacy and/or force, had assembled a total of about 30 into the Powhatan Confederacy by the early 17th century.

In December 1607, English soldier and pioneer John Smith, one of the colony's leaders, was fighting Opechancanough, the younger brother of Chief Powhatan and was taken to town. According to Smith's account (which in the late 1800s was considered to be fabricated, but since is believed to be mostly accurate—although several highly romanticized popular versions cloud the matter), Pocahontas, Powhatan's younger daughter, is said to have prevented her father from executing Smith. However, it is also believed by some that this was a ritual intended to adopt Smith into the tribe.[1]

After Smith left Virginia because of an injury sustained in a gunpowder accident in 1609, the nervous tribe attacked and killed many of the Jamestown residents. The residents fought back, killing over twenty members of the tribe.

Although on the opposite side of the York River, Werowocomoco was only 20 miles (32 km) as the crow flies from Jamestown. For security reasons[citation needed], around 1609, Wahunsunacock shifted his principal capital from Werowocomoco to Orapakes, located about 50 miles (80 km) west in a swamp at the head of the Chickahominy River, near the modern-day interchange of Interstate 64 and Interstate 295. Sometime between 1611 and 1614, he moved further north to Matchut, in present-day King William County on the north bank of the Pamunkey River, near where his younger brother Opechancanough ruled at Youghtanund.

However, within a few years both Chief Powhatan and Pocahontas were dead from disease. The Chief died in Virginia, but Pocahontas died in England, having been captured and married to colonist John Rolfe, a leading tobacco planter. Meanwhile, the English continued to encroach on Powhatan territory. After the death of Wahunsunacock in 1618, his younger brother Opchanacanough became chief, and in 1622 and 1644 he attempted to force the English from Virginia. These attempts invited strong reprisals from the English, ultimately resulting in the near destruction of the tribe.

Through his daughter Pocahontas (and her marriage to the English colonist John Rolfe), he was the grandfather of Thomas Rolfe. As a result of Thomas Rolfe's birth, and his descendants, the Rolfe family is considered one of the First Families of Virginia, one with both English and Native American roots.


In A True Relation of such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Happened in Virginia (1608), Smith described Powhatan thus: "...their Emperor proudly [lay] upon a bedstead a foot high upon ten or twelve mats, richly hung with many chains of great pearls about his neck, and covered with a great covering of Rahaughcums [raccoon skins]. At his head sat a woman, at his feet another, on each side, sitting upon a mat upon the ground, were ranged his chief men on each side [of] the fire, ten in a rank, and behind them as many young women, each a great chain of white beads over their shoulders, their heads painted in red, and [he] with such a grave a majestical countenance as drove me into admiration to see such state in a naked savage."

Powatan's Mantle is a cloak made of deerskin and decorated with shell patterns and figures in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. It allegedly belonged to Chief Powhatan although the evidence is questionable. The Mantle is, however, certainly one of the earliest North American artefacts to have survived in a European collection, and must have originally belonged to a Native American of high social status, given its manufacture from large numbers of valuable native shell beads.

In his 1906 work Lives of Famous Chiefs, Norman Wood also offered a description of the chief at the time the Englishmen were encountered. He was said to be a "tall, well-proportioned man with a sower looke, his head somewhat gray, his beard so thinne that it seemeth none at all, his age neare sixtie, of a very able and hardy body, to endure any labor."


Notes for Great Chief Powhatan: Chief Powhatan ruled over all the tribes living on the Virginia tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. This is the unknown man who was the Chief of the Powhatans before his son Powhatan. Powhatan's two half-brothers, Opitchapan and Opechancanough succeeded him...

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Winanuske, Weroance of the Powhatan's Timeline

Virginia, United States
June 17, 1545
Werowocomoco, Pamunkey River, Virginia
Powhatan, Powhatan County, Current Virginia
Powhatan, Powhatan County, Now Virginia