C: Smith taketh the King of Pamaunkee prisoner

Princess Nicketti

Princess Nicketti is the name given to a Virginia Indian woman believed by some to have been the daughter of Opechancanough, a leader of the Powhatan Indians and the brother of the paramount chief Powhatan. While the name has been referenced almost exclusively on twenty-first-century genealogy websites by people claiming family relationship, no scholarly evidence exists that Princess Nicketti ever lived. A careful search of seventeenth-century records in Virginia yields no one by that name, male or female. And no name of a child of Opechancanough was ever recorded in that century. The writings about her stem from a single published source: Alexander Brown's genealogy The Cabells and Their Kin (1939). Significantly, Brown calls Nicketti's story only a "very interesting tradition" and adds, "I cannot vouch for it[s accuracy]," but he had heard about her from several prominent Piedmont Virginia families. Subsequent writers have quoted Brown's text as fact. MORE...

 

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.

Despite the evidence against Princess Nicketti's existence, she remains a popular figure, especially among those interested in family history. As evidenced by the numerous claims of relation to Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas, and to the privileges granted those alleged relations in the Racial Integrity Acts, Virginians have long valued connections, real or mythological, to Indian "royalty." Those connections have most often been made through women, who likely are seen as less threatening than males like Opechancanough, for instance, who led Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-1632). Claims of ancestry through the Powhatan Indians are more common, as well, probably because it was an especially well-known tribe.

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.

Further Reading
Brown, Alexander. The Cabells and Their Kin. Richmond, Va.: Garrett and Massie, Inc., 1939.
Rountree, Helen C. The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.
Cite This Entry
APA Citation:
Rountree, H. C. Princess Nicketti. (2014, February 21). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Nicketti_Princess.

MLA Citation:
Rountree, H. C. "Princess Nicketti." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: November 3, 2010 | Last modified: February 21, 2014


Contributed by Helen C. Rountree, Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Old Dominion University, and author of Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries (1990) and Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown (2005).