Virginia Indians Today
Their first encounter with the English was in 1603 when Captain Samuel Mace sailed into the Rappahannock River. Mace was befriended by the Rappahannock Chief but the record tells us that Mace killed the Chief and took a group of his men back to England. In December of 1603, those men were documented giving canoe demonstrations on the Thames River. In December of 1607, when the Rappahannocks first met Captain John Smith at their capital town “Topahanocke” on the banks of the river bearing their name. At the time, Smith was a prisoner of Powhatan’s brother, Opechancanough. He took Smith to the Rappahannocks for the people to determine if Smith was the Englishman who, three years earlier, had murdered their chief and kidnapped some of their people. Smith was found innocent, at least of these crimes and was able to return to the Rappahannock’s homeland in the summer of 1608 when he mapped fourteen Rappahannock villages on the north side of the river. The Rappahannock’s territory on the south side of the Rappahannock River was their primary hunting grounds.
English settlement in the Rappahannock River valley began illegally in the 1640s. After Bacon’s Rebellion, the Rappahannocks consolidated at one village and in November 1682, the Virginia Council laid out 3,474 acres for the Rappahannock in Indian Neck where their descendants remain today. One year later, the Virginia colony forcibly removed the Tribe from their homes, relocated them to be used as a human shield to protect white Virginians from the Iroquois of New York who continued to attack the Virginia frontier and threaten the expansion of English settlement.
In an effort to solidify their tribal government in order to fight the state for their recognition, the Rappahannocks incorporated in 1921. They were officially recognized as one of the historic tribes of the Commonwealth of Virginia by an act of the General Assembly on March 25, 1983 In 1996, the Rappahannocks reactivated their work on federal acknowledgement, which had originally began in 1921 when their Chief George Nelson petitioned the U.S. Congress to recognize Rappahannocks civil and sovereign rights. In 1995, they also began construction of the cultural center project and completed two phases by 1997. In 1998, the Rappahannocks elected the first woman chief, G. Anne Richardson, to lead a Tribe in Virginia since the 1700s. As a fourth generation chief in her family, she brings to her position a long legacy of traditional leadership and service among her people. Also in 1998, the Tribe purchased 119.5 acres and established a land trust on which to build their housing development. They built their first home and sold it in 2001.
The Rappahannocks host their traditional Harvest Festival and Pow-Wow annually on the second Saturday in October at their Cultural Center in Indian Neck, Virginia. They have a traditional dance group called the Rappahannock Native American Dancers and a Drum group called the Maskapow Drum Group, which means “Little Beaver” in the Powhatan language. Both of these groups perform locally and abroad in their efforts to educate the public on Rappahannock history and tradition.
State recognized: March 25, 1983