The area where Flowerdew is situated had been inhabited by Paleo-Indians from the Late Pleistocene. At Windmill Point, for instance, Clovis points (10,000BCE) and imported chert flakes were found, suggesting the presence of a hunter-gatherer camp in the area (Deetz 1993: 32). Native occupation at Flowerdew between the Paleolithic and the 17th c. CE appears to have been more or less continuous, with Native American pottery dating to multiple, successive phases (Archaic through Woodland) discovered in most sites. Native American houses, defensive works (earthworks, palisades) and cemeteries are known to have existed at sites PG40 (Maycocks site), PG41A-B (Earthwork Wall), PG65 (palisade), and PG90 (village). These sites belonged to the Weyanoke (or Weanock) tribe.

Native American sites around the Powhatan River ca. 1610, indicating the later location of Flowerdew Hundred in orange (adapted from Feest 1978, fig. 2, Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15)

From the Late Woodland period onwards (900 CE), Tsenacommacah (‘densely inhabited land’) was a political alliance of Algonquian-speaking peoples. Tsenacommacah stretched from the Powhatan (James) River to the Potomac and from the Fall Line, west of which was Monacan territory (cf. Hantman 2018), to the Chesapeake. Mostly sedentary, the people of Tsenacommacah had thrived for centuries by farming corn and beans, hunting, fishing, and gathering edible wild grains, greens, medicinal plants, water and wood as fuel. They excelled in woodland warfare, practiced crafts (basketry, mats, leather goods, pottery, wooden implements, cordage, stone weapons and tools, and later pipes), and engaged in long-distance trade and gift-exchange using the Chesapeake waterways and river pathways. The settlements were perched on high grounds near rivers and were sometimes palisaded for protection, as the palisade remnant at PG65 also suggests. Their houses (yehakins) formed villages or towns containing a few to hundreds of houses. These dwellings were substantial and well-constructed from bent saplings, and featured trodden earth floors, hearths, gardens, storage installations and ceremonial spaces. By the late 1500s the town of Werowocomoco, headquarters of the Powhatan tribe (near present-day Gloucester), exerted control over the most important tribes of Tsenacommacah. By 1607, Wahunsenacawh (or Powhatan, Pocahontas’ father, 1550-1618), had consolidated much of the Tsenacommacah territory, some 28-36 tribute-paying Native American communities, into one of the most powerful centralized chiefdoms of the eastern seaboard with an estimated combined population of 14,000-30,000 people. Powhatan’s reputation to Europeans, in fact, preceded the arrival of Jamestown colonists (Fausz 1987: 145).

Following the end of the First Anglo-Powatan War (1609-1614), which ended with Pocahontas’ abduction (1613) and marriage to John Rolfe (1614), the people of Tsenacommacah witnessed the disruption of traditional trade networks and the expansion of European settlements along the Powhatan River. After John Rolfe introduced commercial tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) to the colony, European plantations and forts, such as the Flowerdew Hundred plantation on Weyanoke land, proliferated upstream. Native American pottery wares from Colonial sites at Flowerdew dating potentially in the 1600s could suggest trade interaction and/or cultural assimilation between native and settler groups (see also PG64 and the Stone House). After Powhatan’s death (1618), his brother Opechancanough launched the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-1632), starting with the first Uprising (March 22, 1622), in an effort to control the colonizers. In the 1630s Powhatan fields were routinely raided by the latter (‘feedfights’, Fausz 1987: 149), who also formed fur trade alliances with other eastern shore tribes.

By 1646 the Powhatan Chiefdom had been largely dismantled due to economic disruption, the measles and smallpox outbreak introduced by settlers and their retaliation for the uprisings of 1622 and 1644. By 1669 there were only 725 Native American males from 19 different tribes in the entire colony (Deetz 1993: 83). Later in the 17th c., after Bacon’s Rebellion (1676), remaining Native Americans became enslaved. The enactment of the Virginia Slave Codes (1705) consolidated slavery and established an array of prohibitions and penalties for people of color, including Native Americans (cf. Gallay 2002). Throughout the 18th and 19th c. many Powhatan tribes lost their reservations or sold them under financial or legal pressures. In the early 20th c. many Native Americans fled Virginia as a result of the 1924 Racial Integrity Act.

The archaeological record at Flowerdew allows us to escape narratives of conquest and Eurocentric mythopoeia (cf. Jenning 1975; Fausz 1987; Gallivan 2011), such as settlers bringing civilization to empty, culture-free or primitive lands. It permits us to appreciate the Native American contributions to the cultural landscape of the James and Virginia prior to colonization, as well as potentially gauge the complex interactions between indigenous peoples and European settlers.

John Smith’s map of the Chesapeake, ca. 1612 (Library of Congress)