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Chickahominy Tribe

History of the Chickahominy

  • The Chickahominy tribe is a state-recognized Indian tribe located on 110 acres in Charles City County, midway between Richmond and Williamsburg. Early in the twenty-first century its population numbered about 875 people living within a five-mile radius of the tribal center, with several hundred more residing in other parts of the United States.
  • In 1607, when English colonists established the settlement at Jamestown, the Chickahominy Indians lived in towns and villages along the Chickahominy River, from the fall line of the river to its mouth. They spoke a dialect of Algonquian and practiced a culture similar to the other Algonquian-speaking Indians of Tsenacomoco, a paramount chiefdom ruled in 1607 by Powhatan. Although they lived in the heart of Tsenacomoco, the Chickahominy did not send a representative to the alliance's council until around the year 1616. And rather than be ruled by a single weroance, or chief, they governed themselves through a council of elders.
  • Because of their proximity to Jamestown, the Chickahominy Indians had early contact with the English, trading with John Smith on his several voyages up the Chickahominy River in 1607 and teaching the colonists how to grow and preserve their own food. After the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609-1614), the Chickahominy Indians negotiated an independent treaty with the English leader Samuel Argall, becoming tributary allies of the Virginia colonists, providing 300 bowmen in case of war with the Spanish, and paying a yearly tribute of two bushels of corn for every fighting man.
  • In 1644, the Chickahominy joined the paramount chief Opechancanough in his attacks against the English. The peace concluding that war, in 1646, set aside land for Virginia Indians, including the Chickahominy, in the Pamunkey Neck area of present-day King William County. In 1677, the Pamunkey chief Cockacoeske signed a new treaty with the English on behalf of several Indian groups, but the Chickahominy, joined by the Rappahannock, refused to become subservient to her or pay her tribute. After 1718, the Indians were forced to relocate, and by 1820 the Chickahominy Indians gradually had begun to settle in the tribe's present-day location on Chickahominy Ridge. There they purchased land, built homes, and established the Samaria Indian Church.
  • Like other Virginia Indians, the Chickahominy 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.
  • The tribe nevertheless took steps to assert its identity. The Chickahominy tribe reorganized early in the 1900s. In 1901 an old church on tribal land was reorganized as the Samaria Indian Baptist Church, with 90 members in 1910 and 210 in 1945. A new church was built in 1962 and became the Samaria Baptist Church in 1987. On March 25, 1983, Virginia Joint Resolution 54 officially recognized the tribe, which is governed by a chief, two assistant chiefs, and a twelve-person council.