For centuries the ancestors of the Upper Mattaponi People have lived in villages along the waterways of Virginia, the land known as Tsenacomocco. They lived in union with the land, the first farmers of America, harvesting corn, beans and squash and hunting deer in ways still employed today. Like their neighboring tribes, they spoke the Algonquian language and when the British came in 1607 they were prosperous people under the leadership of Chief Powhatan, the Paramount Chief of over 30 neighboring tribes. The first recognized map of the region, Captain John Smith’s map of 1612, indicates the present location of the Upper Mattaponi corresponds correctly with a village marked on his map as Passaunkack.
When the British landed at Jamestown in 1607 the people of the Mattaponi River were soon to go through a major transformation. By the mid-1600s the upper reaches of the Mattaponi River was still frontier land and other tribes had been forced by the British into the area. A 1673 map drawn by August Hermann indicates the largest concentration of Indians near the village of Passaunkack, home of the Upper Mattaponi People. Bacon’s rebellion of 1676 led to the Peace Treaty of 1677, signed on behalf of the Mattaponi by Werowansqua Cockacoeske, Queen of the Pamunkey, and a reservation of Chickahominy Indians and some of the Mattaponi Indians was established near the village site of Passaunkack. During the 1700s the Chickahominy migrated back to their homeland close to the Chickahominy River. Those people that remained at Passaunkack were the ancestors of the modern Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe.
Through the 18th and 19th centuries the Upper Mattaponi were known as the Adamstown Band, with so many of their tribal citizens having the last name Adams, possibly named for the last British interpreter in the area, James Adams. By 1850 large nucleuses of at least 10 Adamstown families continued to live in the same area and were still farmers and hunters just as their ancestors had been. A Civil War map of 1863 continued to designate the area as Indian Land, and by the 1880s the Adamstown band had built their own school. Because of the racial climate of the times, the Adamstown people had few rights and found it very difficult to prosper financially. Even so, they valued an education and the first federal funds were requested in 1892 to help support education of the Adamstown Indians.
In the early 20th century, a revival of culture spread throughout the Indian Tribes of tidewater, Virginia and the Adamstown Band officially changed it’s name to the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe, incorporating under the laws of Virginia and properly reflecting their long history on the upper reaches of the Mattaponi River.
In 1919, the desire for education among the Upper Mattaponi continued to be very strong and they built a small one-room schoolhouse, Sharon Indian School. This building was to serve them until 1952, when a modern brick structure was erected adjacent to the original one-room school, that being converted into a cafeteria. The new school was closed in 1965 with the policy of desegregation, and is now on Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Buildings, the only public Indian school building still existing in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today Sharon Indian School is used for various events such as Tribal Meetings and Cultural Gatherings.
By the 1800s, the majority of the Upper Mattaponi people had converted to Christianity and worshipped in their homes or in other Indian Churches, in particular the Pamunkey and Mattaponi reservation churches. In the early 20th century church services were held in the one room school building, but in 1942, the tribe decided to build a new church, Indian View Baptist, which is still home to a great many of the Upper Mattaponi People. Every summer homecoming is held on the church grounds and hundreds of Upper Mattaponi people and dozens of Indians from other Virginia Tribes join together in worship. It is a major time of Celebration for the Upper Mattaponi People.
During the last half of the 20th century, even as the Upper Mattaponi people maintained their tribal identity and cohesion, they became part of the fabric of mainstream America as physicians, pharmacists, accountants and successful business owners. Some have gone on to become leaders in government and in major American Indian organizations. They have purchased a sizable acreage of land where many of their cultural events are held and have developed plans to develop a portion into a new tribal and cultural center.
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