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Strachey's A Dictionarie of the Indian Language

Smith's Vocabulary of Indian words

Weroances and Their Tribes

English Observers

William Strachey' s Description of Critters in the Chesapeake Bay

Henry Spelman, Relation of Virginia, 1609

Timeline


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Pre-Contact

What were the responsibilities of the Powhatan men?

Their manner of fishynge in Virginia
Their manner of fishynge in Virginia
The men hunted deer and turkey; fished for crabs, oysters, and fish; and fought enemy tribes. The most common methods of fishing were angling, netting, shooting with arrows, and trapping in weirs.

A fishing spear
A fishing spear
A fishing arrow
A fishing arrow
Angling was done with rods, lines, bait, and fishhooks. Fishhooks were either a splinter of a bone or a piece of deer bone that was naturally formed in the shape of a hook. A fisherman on shore often lassoed sturgeon, a freshwater fish, around the tail. Fishnets were made of deer sinew, bark, or a type of grass the Indians called pemmenaw. The Powhatan women would spin a thread with pemmenaw. This was used in a multitude of ways that ranged from housing, to the mantels of feathers, to lines for fishing. Occasionally, fish were shot with long arrows that were tied to a line. Some tribes, such as the Accomacs, speared fish.
A fishing weir
A fishing weir
Fish traps were set by laying stones close together across the river in a "V" shape. The points of the "V" would lead downstream, and were left open. Long wickerwork cones called weirs, about three feet wide at the opening and about ten feet long, were then placed inside the "V". The fish would swim in and become trapped by other fish behind them.

The broiling of their fish over the flame
The broiling of their fish over the flame
Hunting played a major part in the Powhatan man's life. Hunting provided food, clothing, and tribute to the weroance. He not only had to prove himself as a warrior, but he also had to pay a tribute to the chief. According to William Strachey, Powhatan expected to receive 80 percent of what his people brought in from the hunt. All of the deerskins were placed before Powhatan and he took the skins he liked.
A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia
A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia


Activity:
What is the minimum number of deer a Powhatan warrior would have to kill to provide clothing for himself or a member of his family while still paying tribute to Powhatan?

There were three common ways to hunt animals:

  • Trapping was used for smaller game, such as beavers and otters.
  • Stalking deer was done by lone hunters wearing a deerskin with the head stuffed and the body opened on one side to allow for the hunter's arm. There was an element of danger as well as skill in this way of hunting. A skillful hunter would have to imitate another deer to be able to get close enough, but not enough to make a stag attack a "rival."
  • Surrounding was also called "fire hunting." This required more people but did kill more deer.
    There were two different methods of surrounding:
    • The group would find a herd and encircle it. By building fires between their circles and shouting, they were able to make the deer panic. The circle gradually got smaller and smaller, eventually it was small enough to easily kill the deer one by one.
    • Another method of surrounding was to drive the animals into the water where men in canoes would kill the deer while they were swimming.

Full shooting gear consisted of a bow, arrows, a quiver, and a wrist guard and shooting glove. Bows were usually made of witch hazel or of locust wood. Bowstrings were made of deer gut or from twisted thongs of deer hide. Arrows had several parts: a reed shaft, a wooden foreshaft, and a head. The arrowheads could have been splinters of stone, wild turkey spurs, sharp bird bills, splinters of deer bone, oyster shell, or ends of deer horns. Stone arrowheads were shaped with a small piece of antler that the hunter hung on his wrist guard. They were tied onto the shaft or foreshaft with deer sinew and then glued with waterproof glue made of deer antlers that had been boiled down into a jelly-like substance.

Arrow
Arrow
The overall length of an arrow was about forty-five inches. Arrows were usually fletched with turkey feathers and a nock was grated in using a hafted beaver tooth.


 

 

 

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