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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


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What were the responsibilities of the Powhatan women and children?

On of the chieff Ladyes of Secota
On of the chieff Ladyes of Secota
The jobs the women did varied and some required great skill. The women built the yi-hakan, gathered food and firewood, and made pottery, mats, baskets, pots, cordage, wooden spoons, platters, and mortars. In addition to this, they also made clothes, prepared meals, raised children, and grew crops. They were also barbers for the men and children. When the family moved, they carried all the burdens so that the men were free in case of enemy attack.

A cheiff Ladye of Pomeiooc
A cheiff Ladye of Pomeiooc
The three principal plants cultivated by the women and children were corn, beans, and squash, known in Powhatan myth as the three sisters. Using a dibble stick, four varieties of corn were planted in a hole with two varieties of beans. Two of the varieties, flint corn and she-corn, were planted because they ripened later than the other two, which ripened sometime in May. This gave them two crops per year. After the corn had emerged and had grown into a good stalk, the beans would come up and climb the stalk of corn. Squash was planted in between the other holes and the plants were allowed to run along the ground, which kept the weeds down.

Fields were rotated yearly for maximum production. Each family would have at least four fields that they would work each year in the following manner:

Clearing new field Field number 2 Field number 3
(lay fallow)
Field number 1

The third field would not be planted, but the women and children would gather the wild greens growing in this field.

Their feetheynge of their meat in earthen pots
Their feetheynge of their meat in earthen pots
All the women of the tribe did cooking. A community pot was placed on the outside fire pit and as the people got hungry they would eat from the pot. There was not a standard breakfast, lunch, or dinnertime, so the pot would be replenished throughout the day with vegetables, wild greens, and meat or fish.

Their sitting at meate
Their sitting at meate
The pottery was made of clay, dug from a creek bank. Stones and leaves were picked out of the clay and crushed oyster shell was added to it for strength. After making the pot in a cone shape with a pointed bottom, it was left to dry for a day or two before it was put into the fire with wood and sticks covering it to make the fire very hot. This "firing" made the pots durable.
Their manner of careynge ther Children...
Their manner of careynge ther Children...

The Powhatans were a matrilineal society, which meant that the family tree was traced through the mother and any inheritance was also passed through the mother. The only real "queens" among the Powhatans were those who were rulers themselves by matrilineal inheritance. The sons and daughters of rulers were "princes" and "princesses" only if they were the children of a female in the line of succession or if their father; the weroance, were still alive. Only the brothers, or sisters, or sisters' children would inherit the chiefdom from Wahunsunacock. Pocahontas was only a princess as long as Powhatan was still alive.

Women controlled not only their family's food supply, but were also the real owners of the houses. Women were well respected in the Powhatan society. When a man decided to marry a woman, the pressure was on him to prove himself to her as a good provider and protector. He had to attract the woman with gifts of food. He also had to pay the bride-wealth to her parents. This was his way of telling all of the people of the tribe what value was placed on the woman. It was also viewed as compensation to her parents for the loss of valuable labor.

Women would not accept a man who did not measure up to their expectations. The men had no respect for any man who did not meet their expectations, either. Because of cultural differences in this area, the English settlers were perceived as inadequate since they appeared to be unable to feed themselves.



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