The Rappahannock probably first encountered the English in 1603, when an English captain, likely Samuel Mace, sailed up the Rappahannock River and was befriended by the Rappahannock chief. The captain killed the chief and took a group of Rappahannock men back to England. In December 1603, those men were documented giving dugout canoe demonstrations on the Thames River.
Smith came to the Rappahannock capital as a prisoner of Powhatan's brother or cousin, Opechancanough, who asked the Indians whether Smith was the Englishman who had murdered their chief and kidnapped some of their people four years earlier. (They confirmed he was not.) Smith returned to the Rappahannock tribal lands in the summer of 1608, when he mapped fourteen of the tribe's towns along the banks of the river.
English settlements began to expand into the Rappahannock River Valley in the 1640s. After being attacked by settlers and other hostile tribes, the Rappahannock consolidated into one fortified village in 1676. A year later, the Pamunkey chief Cockacoeske signed a treaty with the English that united several tribes under her authority, but the Rappahannock Indians, joined by the Chickahominy, refused to be subservient to her or to pay her tribute.
In November 1682 an order of the governor's Council laid out 3,474 acres for the Rappahannock tribe in Indian Neck, "about the town where they dwelt," but the General Assembly forced the tribal members from their homes one year later in response to increasing attacks by the Iroquois of New York. Faced with the choice of merging with the nearby Nanzatico tribe or relocating altogether, the Rappahannock chose to move about thirty-five miles upriver, at Portobago Indian Town in present-day Essex County. The tribe remained there until 1706, when, by order of Essex County, they were forced to leave Portobago. The Rappahannock Indians then returned to their ancestral lands, located in King and Queen County, where their descendants live today.
By late in the century, the tribes had reasserted their identities. In 1964, members of the Rappahannock tribe founded the Rappahannock Indian Baptist Church. On March 25, 1983, the Rappahannock tribe was formally recognized by a joint resolution of the General Assembly. The tribe continues to work on federal acknowledgment. In 1998 the Rappahannock tribe elected as its chief G. Anne Richardson, the first woman chief to lead a tribe in Virginia since the 1700s. That same year, the tribe purchased 119.5 acres and established a land trust on which to build a housing development. The development's first home was built and sold in 2001.
As of 2013 the Rappahannock tribe hosted a traditional Harvest Festival and Powwow annually on the second Saturday in October at its Cultural Center in Indian Neck. The tribe's Rappahannock Native American Dancers (a traditional dance group) and Maskapow Drum Group (Maskapow means "Little Beaver" in the Powhatan language) perform locally and abroad in their efforts to educate the public about Rappahannock history and tradition.
July 24, 1608 - John Smith embarks on the second of his two major Chesapeake Bay explorations. He and his party explore the Susquehanna, Patuxent, and Rappahannock rivers and negotiate peace between the Rappahannock and Moraughtacund Indians.
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.
November 1682 - An order of the governor's Council directs that 3,474 acres of land should be laid out for the Rappahannock Indians "about the town where they dwelt."
1683–1684 - The General Assembly forces the Rappahannock Indians to leave their fortified village and move upriver, to Portobago Indian Town.
1706 - By order of Essex County, the Rappahannock tribe is forced to leave Portobago Indian Town. Tribal members settle downriver, in King and Queen County, the location of their ancestral homelands.
March 20, 1924 - The General Assembly passes "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 nonwhite ancestry, and requires that birth and marriage certificates indicate people's races.
March 25, 1983 - Virginia Joint Resolution 54 extends official state recognition to the Chickahominy tribe, the Eastern Chickahominy tribe, the Mattaponi tribe, the Pamunkey tribe, the United Rappahannock tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi tribe, although the Pamunkey and Mattaponi had maintained official relationships with Virginia since colonial times.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Encyclopedia Virginia staff Rappahannock Tribe. (2014, May 30). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Rappahannock_Tribe.
- MLA Citation:
Encyclopedia Virginia staff. "Rappahannock Tribe." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 30 May. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: March 28, 2013 | Last modified: May 30, 2014
Contributed by Encyclopedia Virginia staff.