Geography

Maps & Regions

Note: The following information is from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and used with permission.

Maps of Virginia Indians

Department of Historic Resources map
http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/arch_NET/timeline/late_wood_map.htm

John Smith's Voyages
http://www.virtualjamestown.org/smith_voyages/jsmith_voyages.html

John Smith map 1608
http://www.virtualjamestown.org/jsmap1.html

John Smith map 1608 modified
http://www.virtualjamestown.org/jsmith_mod.html

Virginia Historical map J Smith
http://www.vahistorical.org/sva2003/mapofvirginia.htm

Regions of Virginia's First People

Virginia's first people lived throughout what is today the eastern United States in thousands of large villages. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people resided in each village, which was organized around a complex economic, social, and political structure. The people depended on intensive gardening for most of their food. Before the Middle Woodland era, tribes scattered throughout Virginia differed little. By Middle to Late Woodland, however, they developed strong identities as each adapted to its local setting. In Southwest Virginia, the transplanted Mississippian and local cultures thrived; in the Shenandoah Valley, the Earthen Mound Burial culture grew; and to the east, the Coastal Plain Indians prospered.

When Europeans first made contact with the early inhabitants of Virginia, there were three distinct language groups. These language groups were the Algonquian, Siouan, and Iroquoian. There was a distinct spatial pattern to their settlement.

Algonquian-speaking peoples occupied the Coastal Plain north of the Chowan drainage basin. Algonquian was spoken primarily in the Tidewater region. This was the most densely populated region of Virginia at this time. People depended upon agriculture (maize, beans, and squash) and lived in some 161 permanent or semi-permanent villages located on the banks of the major streams. Each village had from two to 50 houses. Some of these villages were palisaded.

Siouan-speaking peoples inhabited primarily the Piedmont Plateau of Virginia. Also agricultural people, they are less well known than the Algonquians of the Coastal Plain. They had little direct contact with early English settlers who could have left a written record of their villages and way of life before they were altered and destroyed. They may have had less permanent settlements than the coastal plain American Indians (First Americans) and thus may have resulted in less of archaeological record. One group of Siouan people who achieved some significance during the Colonial Period was the Occaneechi, who lived on islands in the Roanoke River near the modern Virginia-North Carolina line. They became middlemen in trade between the English settlements around the Chesapeake Bay and the American Indians (First Americans) in the Carolinas. Today Occaneechi State Park marks the location of their villages.

Iroquoian-speaking peoples lived in two widely separated parts of Virginia at the time of Contact. The Nottoway and Meherrin were among the tribes living in the Chowan Drainage Basin and major tributaries to the Chowan bear their name today. Indications are that these people lived much as the Algonkians of the Coastal Plain. Like many Iroquoian groups, they had a reputation as fierce warriors, one thing that allowed them to hold onto their lands longer than their neighbors to the north.

The other Iroquoian-speaking peoples in Virginia were the Cherokee. Their villages and agricultural lands were in the vicinity of the Great Smoky Mountains in today's North Carolina and Tennessee. However, southwestern Virginia was part of their hunting territory, and others recognized their claim to that land. 

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