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Timeline / Colonizers and Resistance / AD 1607: British colonists settle in Powhatan territory

AD 1607: British colonists settle in Powhatan territory

More than 30 tribes and an estimated 20,000 Indians, including Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and Chickahominy peoples make up the powerful Powhatan Chiefdom in eastern Virginia. Wahunsunacock, who becomes known as Chief Powhatan, leads the regional “empire.” A British joint stock company moves into Powhatan’s territory, establishing the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. As English and other settlements expand and grow, Native populations decline due to various factors, including disease.

“Although it is difficult to obtain precise population figures, scholars estimate that the Powhatan Chiefdom included about 12,000 people when Jamestown was settled in 1607. Only 1,000 were left by 1700.” —Gabrielle Tayac, We Have a Story to Tell: Native Peoples of the Chesapeake, 2006

Epidemics, Land and Water

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Map showing Chesapeake Bay area and Indian place names, with inset of Chief Powhatan (Wahunsunacock); created by John Smith in 1608.

Courtesy Granger Collection, New York

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Detail of Chief Powhatan (Wahunsunacock) in a longhouse at Werowocomoco, as depicted by Englishman John Smith on his map of Virginia, created in 1608

Courtesy Granger Collection, New York

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Chief Powhatan's (Wahunsunacock's) ornamental deerskin cloak, with shell beadwork symbolically mapping the balance of power among southeastern tribes of the Chesapeake tidewater region, ca. 1608

Courtesy Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford