Skip to main content

Patawomeck Tribe

History of the Patawomeck

  • [Written by Bill Deyo, Patawomeck Tribal Historian]
  • When the English colonists settled Jamestown in 1607, the Patawomeck Tribe was a very large tribe of the Powhatan Federation.  They quickly made friends with the English colonists and eventually even became their allies, refusing to help the leader of the Powhatan Federation, Chief Opechancanough, younger brother of Powhatan, who tried to obliterate the English in the great massacres of 1622 and 1644.  Without the help of the Patawomeck Tribe, the settlement of Jamestown would almost certainly have failed to survive.  The Patawomeck supplied the Jamestown settlement with corn and other food when they were starving.
  • In 1607, the Patawomeck Tribe was settled in the areas we now know as Stafford and King George counties.  The English pronounced the name of the tribe as “Potomac,” from which the Potomac River derived its name. Their chief, called the “Great King of Potomac” by the English, appears to have married the sister of the Great Chief Powhatan. The Great King’s next younger brother, I-Oppassus, or “Japasaw,” as the English called him, was the Lesser Chief of the Tribe. Japasaw was known as “Chief Passapatanzy,” as that was where he made his home. The famous Indian princess Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, was visiting Japasaw’s family at the time that she was taken captive by the English, who had hoped to use her as a bargaining chip to force her father to release the English captives that he had.
  • Pocahontas had many family ties to the Patawomeck. Her mother has long been thought by historians to have been a member of the Patawomeck Tribe. Also, one of Japasaw’s two wives was a sister of Pocahontas, and the first husband of Pocahontas was Kocoum, the younger brother of Japasaw.
  • The rule of the Patawomeck Tribe eventually fell to Japasaw’s son, Wahanganoche, sometimes called “Whipsewasin” by the English.  Those were very troubled times for the Patawomeck, as several influential colonists tried to take away the land of the chief by making false accusations against the tribe for the murders of certain colonists. Chief Wahanganoche was taken prisoner by the English and was forced to stand trial in Williamsburg. The chief was acquitted of any wrong doing, much to the dismay of the greedy colonists who wanted his land.
  • In 1663, on his way home from Williamsburg, Chief Wahanganoche lost his life. From implications in a letter written by Col. John Catlett, it appears that the chief was ambushed and murdered in Caroline County near the Camden Plantation. It is ironic that his silver badge, given to him in Williamsburg by authority of the King of England, for safe passage over English territory, was found 200 years later at Camden, where it had apparently been lost as a result of the chief’s murder.
  • Shortly after the death of the chief, in 1666, the English launched a full-scale massacre against the Patawomeck and other area Virginia Indian tribes. Most of the men of the Patawomeck Tribe were killed, and the women and children were placed in servitude.  Two of the chief’s sons made it across the river to Maryland but were captured by an enemy tribe and were turned over to the English. A few of the Patawomeck children, who were orphaned by the 1666 massacre, were taken in by area colonists.
  • Chief Wahanganoche was very shrewd in allowing a number of his daughters to marry well-to-do English colonists in the area. He must have been careful to instruct them to pass on the Indian ways to their children. It is because of the children of those daughters and some of the orphan children of 1666, who also married English colonists that the Patawomeck Indians and their culture survived.
  • The descendants of these Patawomeck children intermarried with each other, and many of their descendants have continued to marry cousins of Patawomeck descent to keep the blood strong. They passed on the Indian ways of agriculture and of hunting and fishing that have been used up to the present day in Stafford County. Some of the current tribal members are still able to construct the intricate eel baskets just like their Patawomeck ancestors did more than 400 years ago.
  • The descendants of the Patawomeck Tribe banded together in the 1700s in the White Oak area of Stafford, which was in King George County until the county boundaries changed in the late 1770s.  This was in walking distance from the Passapatanzy area, where many of the descendants still live today.