As part of Tsenacomoco, the Pamunkey were involved in the periods of hostility between the English and Indian communities that are now known as the First (1609–1614), Second (1622–1632), and Third (1644–1646) Anglo-Powhatan Wars. Opechancanough, who by 1630 had become the paramount chief of Tsenacomoco, launched the attacks that initiated the second and third conflicts. The 1646 peace treaty that ended the Third Anglo-Powhatan War set aside land for Virginia Indians, including the Pamunkey, in the Pamunkey Neck area of present-day King William County. This is the same land on which the Pamunkey reside today. The treaty also established a tradition of paying yearly tribute to the Virginia governor—a tradition that continued into the early twenty-first century. (The fourth Wednesday of November is set aside for presentations of fish and game at the Virginia State Capitol or Executive Mansion in Richmond.)
Like other Virginia Indians, the Pamunkey struggled to preserve their identity and culture early in the twentieth century. The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and subsequent legislation banned interracial marriage in Virginia and asked for voluntary racial identifications on birth and marriage certificates. "White" was defined as having no trace of African ancestry, while all other people, including Indians, were defined as "colored." To accommodate elite Virginians who claimed Pocahontas and John Rolfe as ancestors, the law allowed for those who had "one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood [to] be deemed to be white persons." The laws essentially erased Virginia Indians as a category of people under the law. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Racial Integrity Act unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia (1967).
In 2009, the U.S. government opened the petition process from the Pamunkey tribe for federal recognition. After an investigation into tribal laws and practices—including a law the tribe removed in 2012 that banned interracial marriage—the U.S. Department of Interior granted the Pamunkey Indian tribe federal recognition on July 2, 2015, stating, "The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has occupied a land base in southeastern King William County, Virginia—shown on a 1770 map as 'Indian Town'—since the Colonial Era in the 1600s." Federally recognized Indian tribes receive access to services from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, including medical, housing, and educational benefits.
The Pamunkey tribe maintains its own laws and its own governing body, which consists of a chief and seven council members. The positions are elected, but voluntary; councilors are not paid. Elections for the chief and council are held every four years. Votes are cast in the traditional manner, using a basket, peas, and corn kernels. On election night, the basket is passed for each candidate; every voter places in it either a pea, indicating a vote against the candidate, or a corn kernel, indicating a vote in favor. The peas and corn kernels are tallied for each candidate; the person with the most corn is elected. The chief is elected first, followed by the seven councilors.
March–April 1614 - Samuel Argall assists Sir Thomas Dale, the deputy governor of Virginia, in negotiating a peace with the Pamunkey and Chickahominy tribes of Virginia Indians.
October 1646 - The General Assembly confirms a peace treaty ending the Third Anglo-Powhatan War.
1656 - After her husband, Totopotomoy, is killed while assisting the colonists in frontier defense against Indian foes, Cockacoeske succeeds him and becomes chief of the Pamunkey.
Summer 1676 - Cockacoeske appears before a committee of burgesses and Council members in Jamestown to discuss how many warriors she could provide to defend the colony against frontier tribes. She gives a speech describing the deaths of Pamunkey warriors killed fighting alongside the colonists.
August 4, 1676 - Thirty additional Virginia men endorse a more radical declaration of grievance from Nathaniel Bacon, who demands a new assembly be chosen under his authority rather than recalling the one that met in June. Bacon then marches to the lower Rappahannock River and attacks the friendly Pamunkey Indians.
February 1677 - Cockacoeske asks the General Assembly for the release of Pamunkey who had been taken captive and for the restoration of Pamunkey property. The royal commissioners conclude that Cockacoeske should be rewarded for her notable loyalty to the English.
May 29, 1677 - Cockacoeske signs the Treaty of Middle Plantation, and at her request several tribes are reunited under her authority. But having been free of Powhatan domination since 1646, the Chickahominy and Rappahannock stubbornly refuse to become subservient to her or to pay tribute.
October 22, 1701 - A petition requesting the confirmation of a sale of Pamunkey land to English subjects is submitted to the General Court bearing the mark and the name "Mrs. Betty, the Queen." It is thought that Mrs. Betty and Ann, the niece who succeeded the Pamunkey chief Cockacoeske, are the same person.
March 20, 1924 - Governor E. Lee Trinkle signs "An act to Preserve Racial Integrity," a law aimed at protecting whiteness on the state level. It prohibits interracial marriage, defines a white person as someone who has no discernible non-white ancestry, and requires that birth and marriage certificates indicate people's races.
March 4, 1930 - Governor John Garland Pollard signs into law a bill that would redefine a "colored person" as having any "negro blood."
1979 - The Pamunkey Indian Museum opens. It is located on the Pamunkey Reservation in King William County.
March 25, 1983 - Virginia Joint Resolution 54 extends official state recognition to the Chickahominy tribe, the Eastern Chickahominy tribe, the United Rappahannock tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi tribe. Although Virginia had recognized the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes since colonial times, that past recognition was acknowledged by this resolution.
July 2, 2015 - The U.S. Department of the Interior grants official federal recognition to the Pamunkey tribe.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Encyclopedia Virginia staff Pamunkey Tribe. (2015, August 24). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Pamunkey_Tribe.
- MLA Citation:
Encyclopedia Virginia staff. "Pamunkey Tribe." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 24 Aug. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: March 28, 2013 | Last modified: August 24, 2015
Contributed by Encyclopedia Virginia staff.