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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 did they look like? What did they wear?

The Marckes of fundrye of the Chief mene of Virginia
The Marckes of fundrye of the Chief mene of Virginia
Men commonly wore a breech-clout of skin worn between the thighs. The men would shave the right side of their heads to prevent their hair from getting caught and tangled in their bowstrings, or hampering them in fighting their enemies. They kept a ridge of hair on the crown. The left side they wore long or sometimes tied into a knot. They would decorate these knots with deer antlers, copper, or "the hand of their enemie dryed, ...the whole skyne of a hauke stuffed with the wings abroad" as described by William Strachey.

Men commonly had two or three "wyde" holes in their ears. Into these they would put chains of "stayned pearle braceletts, of white bone, or shreeds of copper beaten thinne and bright, and wound up hollowe, and with a greate pride, certaine fowles' leggs, eagles, hawkes, turkeys, etc., with beasts' clawes, beares, arrahacounes, squirrells, etc. The clawes thrust through they let hang upon the cheeke to the full view, and some of their men there be who will weare in these holes a small green and yellow-couloured live snake, neere half a yard in length, which crawling and lapping himself about his neck oftentymes familiarly, he suffereth to kisse his lippes." (a quote by Strachey) Other ornaments included dead rats tied by the tail.

Tattoos were also a common occurrence among the Powhatan people. Strachey described the tattoos he saw on the women as "...cuningly ymbrodered with divers workes, for pouncing or searing their skyns with a kind of instument heated in the fier. They figure therin flowers and fruits of sondry lively kinds, as also snakes, serpents, eftes, &c., this they doe by dropping uppon the seared flesh sondry coulers, which, rub'ed into the stampe, will never be taken awaye agayne, because yt will not only be dryed into the flesh, but grow therein."

The more wealthy women wore mantels of animal skins, in addition to the apron- like skirt. Both might have been fringed at the bottom, and probably decorated with shells or beads.

Children under the age of twelve did not wear clothing at all in the warmer months, and it was the custom for the girls' hair to be cut very close or shaved with just a lock at the back of the head grown long. The women usually did shaving with shells. Pocahantas, Powhatan's daughter, was approximately eleven "returns of the leaf" old when William Strachey wrote about her being a playful young girl doing cartwheels and getting the boys at the Jamestown fort to do them, too. Therefore she was probably naked and bald when she first met the English. At the age of twelve, the girls then wore a short apron-like skirt that was tied about the waist.

An ageed manne in his winter garment
An ageed manne in his winter garment
The Powhatans were active outdoor people and dealt with winter cold as long as possible by acclimatizing and oiling themselves. When the weather was cold, or when the family would go on a communal hunt, men and women put on a type of leather breeches and stockings that were fastened together. This protected them from the bushes and shrubs. Bearskins were used to make moccasins. They would also bundle up in a fur cloak called a "matchcoat."




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