Another problem with the Princess Nicketti legend is that North American Indian tribes did not have princesses in the European sense. Most tribes were relatively egalitarian, and egalitarian societies do not produce aristocracies. Even the more hierarchical Indian cultures, such as the Powhatan, did not have European-style royalty. For one thing, there was not that great a distance between a paramount chief like Powhatan and the ordinary people, which is why anthropologists have traditionally referred to Powhatan as a chief, not as a king. For another, most Woodland Indian cultures (including the Powhatan one) practiced matrilineal inheritance, at least for ruling positions. That meant that a male chief's sons were not his heirs, and his daughters' social prominence would last only until he died. The real heirs were the children of a female chief, or the elder sister of a male one.
The American Indian author Vine Deloria has argued that Americans seek family connections to Indians in order to relate in a more personal way to the frontier and, perhaps, to expiate guilt related to the treatment of American Indians. Others have pointed out that during parts of the twentieth century claims of Indian ancestry sometimes exempted people from laws that segregated whites from nonwhites. For instance, in Virginia the Racial Integrity Acts, passed in the 1920s, outlawed marriage between whites and nonwhites (the latter classification included Virginia Indians, who state officials believed to be black) and required that people's racial statuses be recorded at birth; elite Virginians who claimed ancestry to Pocahontas, however, could still register as white.
"Nicketti" is not an identifiable Indian name, and is probably a corruption of some other name. It could be derived from "Necotowance," the former name of a creek in King William County, taken in turn from the personal name of Opechancanough's male successor. Nothing is known about that man except that he signed the Treaty of 1646 on behalf of many of the Powhatan tribes. He disappeared from the English records after 1649.
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First published: November 3, 2010 | Last modified: May 30, 2014