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Virginia’s First Peoples

First Learn the Facts

Virginia's First Peoples,
The Golden Age of Exploration,
the Settlement of Virginia, and More!

A brief Cultural and Technological
History of the Mound-building Cultures,
their fall and the resulting chaos that
lead to the formulation of the cultures who
first came into contact with the English at Jamestown*

*with observations concerning the importance of Trade and Tobacco
to the Indians, the Settlers and upon England's economy,
the Early Man/Paleo-Indian period and the origins of the Clovis Culture

(additional discussion, topics and resources will be added in the future--suggestions are welcomed!)
Follow this link to Virginia's First Peoples, to find how
your school or group can schedule a presentation free of charge.
I do so free of charge because it really is that important to me.
Shouldn't it be just that important to all of us?

David Stone Sweet

Captain John Smith's Virginia Adventures:
The Survival of the Jamestown Colony
and the Exploration of Virginia's Tidewater

When did mankind first come to the Americas, and from where?

What IS Archaeology?

Issues of Treaty Reform and American Indian Sovereignty

Suggestions for Essays, Classroom
Discussion, Oral Presentations and Reports

Topics Discussed Are

Ethical Responsibility in Collecting
The mystery of North Carolina's Hardaway-Site Campfire Pits
The Significance of Projectile Point Flaking Patterns
Beveling of Points and Knives
Clovis Settlement Patterns in Southeastern Virginia

Sites for Teachers

1) The Adena, Hopewell and Mississippian Cultures: Mound Builder nations whose successive socio-economic, scientific and spiritual advances provided sustenance for vast populations in what became some of the largest cities in the world at that time. The Mississippian Cultures, their climax and decline form the backdrop to the formation of the tribal groups we know of from first contacts with European explorers and New World Colonization ca. 1492-1607.

These three mound-builder cultures' notable traits were their extensive ceremonial, burial and astronomical mounds and earthen structures. Their major population centers were established near rivers and dominated routes of trade and commerce across regions beyond their domain.

Shared practices in spiritual beliefs and successful trade were the unifying factors that caused these cultures to flourish and provided the foundations for a stable government that provided for the security and well-being of growing population. Influencing the cultures and beliefs of peoples living in regions surrounding the river systems of the midwest with their arts and astronomy as well as their spiritual beliefs, unity as a nation was achieved. Their rituals and ceremonies and the pageantry surrounding them appealed to the masses' need for spiritual guidance. Tribal leaderships depended upon prophecy and diplomacy, military strength and the widespread use of natural resources to sustain their social and spiritual structures as a nation.

During the Adena culture's tenure,ca. 1000BC to 100BC, the arts and sciences grew in importance along with advancing agricultural efforts which fed and housed their populations. Too, spiritual aspects of their culture blossomed into the construction of numerous earthworks whose functions ranged from platforms for temples and burial mounds, to astronomical observations geared to the timing of plantings and harvests and more.

Pottery made its first appearance during the Adena period, although reliance upon soapstone vessels carved from the living rock still dominated. Such vessels, consuming much time and effort to create, became much-coveted possessions of the leasdership elete. With the advent of pottery-making, crushed soapstone was used to temper the pottery, and vessels initially were made to closely ressemble those made from soapstone itself. Soon, however, pottery development took its own turn and conical-and flat-bottomed vessels began to emerge as the dominant forms of cooking utensils.

The Adena Culture of the Woodland Period
The Adena: An Introduction to North America's Native People
Mounds & Mound Builders

Following the Adena collapse ca. 100BC a subsequent culture known as the Hopewell grew and flourished throughout the mid-west, establishing wide-flung trade routes that supplied, among many other commodities, obsidian from Wyoming, conch shells from the gulf Coast, and copper from the Great Lakes. The Hopewell Culture made great strides in astronomy, geometry and mathematics before the culture faded and disappeared ca. 800AD.

Pottery and other artistic ventures took new turns in their evolution, and within a few centuries the making of pottery vessels reached new levels of sophistication and design, decoration and function. Cooking vessels were no longer the only forms of pottery made--ceremonial- and mortuary-vessels, effigy vessels and clay pipes also made thier way into the inventories of the Hopewell people.

Hopewell Cultural scientific, artistic, spiritual and social accomplishments set the stage for the Mississippian Cultures to follow.
Octogon Hopewell Lunar Observatory
The "Alligator" Mound--A Hopewell Effigy
Hopewell Archeology: The Newsletter of Hopewell Archeology in the Ohio River Valley
Archaeogeodesy, a Key to Prehistory

The span of time from AD 900 to AD 1500 is called the Mississippian Period after the river basin where this period’s most spectacular cities and ceremonial centers were built.

The Eastern Agricultural Complex was a group of plants that originally formed the basis of agriculture in eastern North America north of Mexico. These plants included squash (Cucurbita pepo), little barley (Hordeum pusillum), goosefoot or lambsquarters (Chenopodium berlandieri), erect knotweed (Polygonum erectum), maygrass (Phalaris caroliniana) sumpweed or marshelder (Iva annua), and sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

Of these plants, sunflower and sumpweed have edible seeds rich in oil, erect knotweed has starchy seeds, maygrass and little barley are grasses that yield grains that may be ground to make flour, and goosefoot is a leafy vegetable related to spinach. The squash that was originally part of the complex was raised for edible seeds and to produce small containers (as with gourds), not for the thick flesh that is associated with modern varieties of squash. (Note that erect knotweed is a distinct species from the Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) that is considered an invasive species in the eastern United States today.)

The archaeological record suggests that humans were collecting these plants from the wild by 6000 BC, then gradually modifying them by selective collection and cultivation over a period of centuries. Remains of domesticated squash date to 3000 BC, sunflower to 2840 BC, marshelder to 2400 BC, and goosefoot to 1700 BC.

Slowly, these crops were replaced by the more productive crops developed in Mexico: maize, beans and additional varieties of squash. Although cultivation of maize in Mexico may date back as far as 10,000 years ago, it penetrated into regions dominated by the EAC around perhaps the 200 BC, and highly productive adapted strains became widely used around 900 CE. The spread was so slow because the seeds and knowledge of techniques for tending them had to cross inhospitable deserts and mountains, and because new varieties of plants had to be developed to suit the cooler climates and shorter growing seasons of the northern regions of the continent.

It seems that maize was adopted first as a supplement to existing agricultural plants, but gradually came to predominate as its yields increased. Ultimately, the EAC was thoroughly replaced by maize-based agriculture; most EAC plants are no longer cultivated, and some of them (such as little barley) are regarded as pests by modern farmers.

Corn, beans and squashs were grown on a vast scale that fed thousands of people, and new techniques in farming increased the harvests accordingly. Food stored in large quantities for difficult times provided for a more stable society—movements with the seasons were reduced or eliminated on any large scale, and permanent towns were established. Ceremonial centers flourished along major trade routes and surrounding populations grew to create some of the most populous cities in the world.

The Mississippian Cultural Complex is made up of 6 major cultures sharing many advanced concepts of spiritualism and worship. Differing subsistence strategies in different climates and habitats influenced each of these cultures’ material goods, trade items, agricultural practices and their expression of spiritual concepts in pottery and stone. While similar themes like the cross and sun circle, weeping eye and hand symbols are expressed in each culture’s artifacts, many differing concepts are noted to mark each as unique. In burial-mound complexes and ceremonial centers and in rural communities near and far—literally tens of thousands of mounds were built. Where trade and commerce flourished amidst vast arable lands and habitation space, cities grew and further inspired the expression of spiritual beliefs in what we today call art*.

*Recognizing and honoring the spirits by incorporating symbolic patterns of power onto one’s belongings was how the beneficial forces of nature were draw close to the Indians throughout their lives. Most Indian cultures have no word for ‘art’ yet it can be said that the high degree of social sophistication reached during this period certainly inspired exuberant expression!

These cultures are characterized by advanced levels of social complexity. People congregated to create some of the largest cities in the world, specialized craftsmen and providers of goods and services grew in status, and an elite priesthood arose to administer the laws of rulers believed to have descended from the Sun itself. The elaborate material possessions found in graves belonging to the elite demonstrate much wealth and energy spent in their creation, as well as marking sharply defining social stratifications.

At the same time, ca. AD 800 to AD 1300, the Anasazi of the Four Corners Region of the southwest also flourished, and it is likely that corn and the knowledge to grow it first came from Central America to the Four Corners region and from there to eastern cultures. The Anasazi harnessed scarce water-resources in such an effective manner that their crops flourished--until a centuries-long drought struck...

Around AD 1130 a series of droughts began that lasted over 200 years. Catastrophic crop failures drove the Anasazi out of the Four Corners Region and by AD 1300 the Anasazi had abandoned their cliff-dwellings to move into Mexico, eventually to become the Aztec.

The Mississippian cultures experienced an equally devastating downfall, for throughout their realm, lands sterile from overuse were now arid, too. Overuse of resources and unforeseen climatic changes sent entire cultures across the northern continent into collapse and disintegration.

In the wake of these disastrous events, small clan and kinship groups departed to find their own way. Their descendants became the tribal groups we know of from the first european explorers--fiercely independant or unified in cause by powerful paramount chiefs, these descendants of the mound builders lived in far less splendor. To secure vital resources, villages often raided each other. Palisaded villaged began to emerge, and conflicts over velued resources became a way of life.

Mississippian culture
Ancient Astronomy
Mounds of North America

Among the difficulties faced by the Mississippian Cultures were the complexities of dealing with the environment and resulting shortages of resources caused by their over-use--HOW is our society today like and unlike theirs with regards to the following facts about their culture?:

1) Populations soared to its highest levels of American prehistory

2) 95 percent of the population worked to support the remaining 5 percent

3) Consumption of resources reached a rate beyond which the environment could easily replenish.

4) The environment, already heavily burdened, was sharply impacted by prolonged drought.

5) The Leadership and Priest-class hierarchies, unable to end the drought or reverse environmental, and thus economic trends, collapsed.

6) Resources became so scarce that no one location could support any great number of people for long. The cities, ceremonial centers and hamlets were abandoned and left to the encroaching wilderness.

7) Populations and birth-rates dropped dramatically, the sciences and arts heretofore critical to their now vanishing cultures were largely forgotten...

Aftermath: Warfare, Renewal of Tribal Identity and Colonization

Active trade diminished with demand, and the production of goods dropped sharply. Trade routes still functioned, and exchanges of information and some goods continued between the woodland, prairie and mesa peoples.

As conflicts over resources escalated, agricultural practices and food-gathering strategies underwent forced changes. Palisaded villages were built to protect the people and their stored food supplies from other raiding tribes. More intensified use of nearby resources meant a greater variety of foodstuffs made their way into Indian diets--increasing both flavor and nutritional values and thus enabling the people to survive harsh winters in better health. Crops grown were stored for over-winter use--those foods consumed during warmer seasons comprising a mixture of wild-grown and cultivated vegital foods, and such meats as were trapped, caught or hunted in nearby woods.

To defend their lands and homes, villages sought alliances with neighboring villages for mutual protection and sharing of scarce foodstuffs during harsher winters. Paramount Chiefdoms arose where one powerful leader obtained the submission of large numbers of neighboring tribes to dominate the resources of their home region as well as trade with others. Wahunsenaca and the Powhatan Indian Confederacy was one such paramount chiefdom, and the Powhatans came to dominate all of eastern Virginia by 1607.

A Treasure-map To Riches and Glory:
New World Explorations on a global scale

The Explorers: A Selection of Biographical Sketches

2) Chief Wahunsenaca and the Powhatan Indian Confederacy, a Paramount Chiefdom

The first European explorers to step ashore since Lief Erickson 500 years earlier came for many reasons but quests for wealth and riches is what they all boiled down to.

New England and the Canadian Maritimes were frequented by large numbers of sailor-fishermen and fur-trappers. Portuguese, French, English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh adventurers established seasonal and permanent camps, worked at fishing, hunting, and processing the results thereof for shipment back to Europe. French Catholic priests traveled inland to save Indian souls, living as the Indians did and sharing their lifestyle year-round, while English Protestant priests sought to control the Indians by trading with them on English terms and under English laws.

Spain monopolized the central and southern regions of the hemisphere while laying claim to portions of North America along the gulf and Atlantic coasts. In 1498, Sebastian Cabot may have coasted as far south as Virginia; Verazzano, in 1524 and Gomez a year later both landed within the Chesapeake Bay region, Gomez claiming formal possession of the land for the King of Spain. Throughout the rest of the 16th century Spanish slave-hunters from the West Indies raided Virginia and mid-Atlantic shores. Spain and Portugal divided the southern hemisphere between them--Brazil alone speaks Portugese as its national language and Spain's discoveries of vast gold and silver resources were mined and minted to excess, and shipments sent back to Spain sometimes fell prey to English privateers—-Pirates, AARRG!

The first known direct contact between the Indians of Virginia and European explorers in the middle peninsula region and on the York River erupted into violence, where a Spanish Jesuit Mission under Father Segura, with seven other priests and a number of lay companions, was landed in 1570 and subsequently massacred, leaving only one young boy alive. Living with the local Indians, he was reportedly recovered by a second Spanish ship under Menendez in 1572. Any hint of gold to be found on these shores was eagerly sought after by both Spanish and English explorations, but none was discovered...

Among artifacts coming from Mathews County, VA
is a Spanish Olive jar recovered from the waters just off New Point Lighthouse, where "local legend" has it that a Spanish vessel was shipwrecked somewhere nearby. Am clammer hauled this jar up over 50 years ago, and kept it around his place as a curiosity. When we met, now just 20 years ago, he learned I was doing educational programs in the schools, so he gave this jar to me and said 'Thank You!'--he, and I as well--thought it was of Indian making. He told me some stories about the area, including about the hurricane in '36 that tore off the entire tip of New Point Comfort, leaving nothing but the lighthouse still standing upon a huge pile of stone--an island unto itself, to support the beacon, so to speak. Local familiarity with these events allude to the depth of local lore and history still spoken of today.

Tales of Spanish gold, pirates, witches and haunted Indian grounds from the depths of the past. Many people around Old House Woods have either seen one or more of these spectral events, or know someone who has:
"A ghost ship and a spectral figure in Spanish-style armor who pointed to a direction that supposedly held buried riches for the finder, an Indian who danced and sang around a duck blind on a freezing cold night, leaving footprints all around the structure, having never been seen WHILE leaving them. Strange voices out on the water, sounds of rowing, lanter-lights appearing and disappearing, and many more phenomenon."

This was in an area called Old House Woods, several miles north of New Point Comfort, a stretch of shoreline broken by numerous creeks and coves, two major deepwater anchorages, Horn Harbor and Winter Harbor, and a broken chain of scattered islands--banks really--offering treacherous shoals and northeast winds in winter to drive a ship upon them at higher tides.

In any event, the Spanish Olive jar is typical of the 1500's to 1600's and examples are known from Florida, Georgia and Gulf Coast states. This particular vessal is 9 inches across, 11 inches high and has a rounded bottom and short flaring neck typical of these type jars. Coming from Virginia waters, this is an exceptionally rare find!

Together, French, Spanish and English cultural influences were soon felt upon tribal politics and trade across the continent... Metal implements, utensils and tools quickly found their way into Indian culture via trade and capture, changing how and why the Indians did things forevr. The diseases carried by settlers wrought horror in advance of their coming and in their wake as well, depopulating whole regions within mere decades. It was against this vast panoramic backdrop that Wahunsenaca forged a confederacy of tribes and became Paramount Chief of the Powhatan Indians of Virginia.

Wahunsenaca, the given name of that great chief we’ve come to know as Powhatan, rose to power in or around 1570 by right of inheritance comprising a league of six tribal groups centered on the confluence of the Pamunkey and Mataponi rivers and that area of the James River by the falls. Over the following years Wahunsenaca added another twenty-five or more sub-tribes to his confederacy, creating a paramount chiefdom by alliance and treaty, or by conquest and threat of war.

Powhatan Warrior, Maiden and Child

The word Powhatan, which has historically come to be associated with both Chief Wahunsenaca and his paramount chiefdom, is literally translated as ‘the falls’ or ‘great falls’ and refers to that region of the James River nearest the fall line. The Powhatans speak a dialect of the Algonquin language, which is one of the most numerously spoken tribal languages in North America. Spoken by the eastern Algonqin tribes up and down the Atlantic seaboard, it is also spoken in various dialects by the Shawnee, Blackfoot, Sauk and fox, Ojibwe and other tribes found scattered across the continental United States.

Neighboring the Powhatans to the south, west and north were also tribes speaking different languages:

Immediately to the south were the Iroquoian-speaking Nottoway, Meherrin and Tuscarora tribes in North Carolina.

West of the Powhatans were tribes speaking dialects of the Siouan language—the Monacan, Saponi, Tuteloe and Occaneechi.

To the north were both Iroquoian and Algonquin-speaking tribes, the nearest of which were the Potomacs, an Algonquin-speaking tribe which Wahunsenaca sought alliance with and domination of to strengthen his confederacy.

With the coming of the English, Wahunsenaca looked forward to playing middle-man in trade with his neighbors--trading with other tribes promised to be profitable as the Powhatans had no close competitors. The increase of Powhatan wealth and power would further Wahunsenaca's efforts to establish military-based alliances to control English expansion.

The Powhatan Indian political structure prospered by collecting tribute--basically like collecting taxes--in the form of corn and other foods suitable for over-winter storage, along with hides, roanoake or wampum, and other goods from all the tribes inhabiting Powhatan's domain. Warriors from any and every tribe could be called upon at any time to aid Wahunsenaca--and support would in return come to each tribe in their need—-for war, famine, disease, etc., as well as each tribe enjoying the blanket of peace promoted by these alliances.

The Confederacy extended from lands in Virginia east of the Piedmont or fall-line, in an irregular border running roughly from Washington, DC through Fredericksburg, Richmond and Petersburg down to the border of North Carolina and including Virginia’s Eastern Shore (see blue area of map above). From the writings of DeBry and Hariot, Powhatan influences may have extended to parts of the North Carolina coast as far south as Pamlico Sound.

Cultural hallmarks of unity between neighboring southern groups include the practice of cleaning the bones of their chief’s bodies and preserving their bodies or bones in charnal houses constructed for this specific purpose. Ossuary burials, cranial deformation via cradle boarding or cranial binding techniques, Idol-worship ceremonies directed to a supernatural being called Okee, the new fire rite, scratching rite, and the emetic at harvest time, a priesthood-shaman order, and the monarchical form of government. Numerous shared cultural attributes such as are demonstrated in architecture, ceramics, basketry, clay and stone tobacco pipes, feather work and the elements of cultivating maize, tobacco, squashes and beans all suggest strong affinities between The Powhatan cultural group and the Conoy and Nanticoke tribes, and by extension is probably connected to the Delawares.

Also found among the Powhatans were water-filled ceramic pot-drums covered by a piece of stretched rawhide, the roached deer-hair fashion adopted by the men, the shaving off of all the hair except a visor-like ridge across the forehead by the Quiakros (ke-ä-krôs) or priest-shamans, bodily decoration in the form of feathers stuck with thick oil upon the skin, wearing the dried hand of a vanquished enemy, the sword or club set with small sharp pieces of stone like teeth along one or both edges, and the absence of tailored garments all suggest a fairly recent migrant Algonquin group extensively transformed by association with southeastern tribal groups. It would be interesting to know how much of Norse culture made its way into the Southern Algonquin traditions, considering the strong suggestions of this event with their Northern Algonquin cousins from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia in Canada.

For more detailed information, see the following References:

MacCord, Howard A., Sr and Callahan, Amanda F., Editors, "The Powhatan Indians of Virginia", Volume 3 of the Jamestown 2007 Trilogy

Mooney, James, "American Anthropologist", Vol 9, No 1 (1907) (also in "The Powhatan Indians of Virginia", Volume 3 of the Jamestown 2007 Trilogy)

Custalow, Dr Linwood "Little Bear" and Daniel, Angela L. "Silver Star", "The True Story of Pocahontas—The Other Side of History", Fulcrum Publishing, 2007

Charles G. Leyland, "Algonquin Legends", 1884, Dover Publications, 1992,
for a very revealing look into Northern Algonquin Oral Traditions and their similarities to Norse Saga and Edda--very interesting!


The Powhatan Confederacy

Powhatan Indian Tribe History

John White's Village Of Pomeiooc In Virtual Reality

3) The Chesapeake Indians

The Chesapeake Indians once living in the immediate vicinity of Virginia Beach built longhouse structures, called ‘yahaken’ in the Algonquin language. Made from bent saplings lashed to form arches and supports, then covered with thick mats of woven grass and slabs of tree-bark, they were easily maintained and proved quite comfortable. Their primary structures were surrounded by a palisade wall of logs set in a pattern too close to squeeze between, and was probably large enough to shelter and protect the population of the whole village. The Great Neck Site in Virginia Beach is the only known Chesapeake Indian village site that has been found or excavated to date. It was discovered that among the remnants of their lodges there were no evidence of fire-pits or hearth features for heating the lodges' interiors.

Bone and antler were used to make a variety of tools and ornaments, even arrowheads could be made from bone and antler. Wooden and pottery vessels ranged from platters and shallow bowls to conoid bottomed cooking pots, some of rather large size. Sinews, grasses and barks provided materials for baskets, mats, woven containers and the cordage, rope and twine needed to lash, tie, or weave with.

The Chesapeake Indians ate lots of fish, most any of the four-legged creatures they could catch, and many species of birds, turtles and snakes--and their eggs, too--were also eaten. Corn, squashes, gourds and the abundant acorns, walnuts and hickory nuts provided the basics, and along with any kind of vegetal food that could be had in abundance were eaten, too. Corn and other foods were stored for the coming winter. These attributes of the Chesapeake Indians also generally apply throughout the tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy. Seasonal events, rituals and ceremonies were synchronized to the seasonal positions and movements of the sun, moon and stars above.

At or around 1607, Wahunsenaca killed or drove off the Chesapeake Tribe, and replaced them by expanding the nansemond tribes' domain to include what is now Virginia Beach. Scholars have suggested that the Chesapeake may have absorbed remnants of the lost Roanoake Colony prior to their scattering, suggesting a possibility of wavering loyalties should the english return.

Mary Ellen Norrisy Hodges, Archaeological Investigations of Site 44VB7, Great Neck Site, Department of Historical resources, 1998--an investigation of the Only known Chesapeake Indian Village Site, located just off Great Neck Road in Virginia Beach, VA

Yahaken--in the Powhatan-Algonquin dialect is a word analogous to 'lodge' or 'house'; in the northern Algonquin dialect spoken by the Mi'Kmaq of Nova Scotia and surrounding lands, their word for 'long house' is Pijegan'

The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squashes

4) Tobacco and Pipes among the Indians
The Indians smoked tobacco in a variety of pipes, the simplest of which were long tubes shaped like a cigar with tobacco being loaded into one end and smoke drawn from the other. Elbow- and vase- or urn-pipes also made their way into their rituals and ceremonies Symbols of power, totemic representations and geometric patterns were also figured upon the clay and stone pipes made by the regions' Indians. Pipes were made from various stones, including steatite, slate, limestone and chlorite. Clay was used extensively to create smoking pipes of casual and ceremonial/ritual use as well, and the influences of neighboring cultures may be seen in their range of style.

Reproductions of typical Woodland Period Tobacco pipes
found throughout eastern Virginia

The use of the pipe and tobacco dates back more than 2000 years before contact with Europeans, and possibly as long ago as to 6000BC. The tube-pipe is the most universal pipe-form across the continent, examples being found in virtually every culture from coast to coast. Some cultures developed elaborate forms and conventionalized animals and totemic-forms are represented. The pipe and smoking of tobacco is also found in Mexico’s ancient cultures, but is surprisingly absent in South American cultures, the act of inhaling tobacco through forked snuff-tubes being the mode of use there.

Powhatan Indians Smoking Tobacco

Pipe ceremonies and rituals became more common in the centuries during and following the Adena Culture. The Hopewell, briefly mentioned above, brought the artistic rendition of pipe making to a high level with delicate platform-based animal effigy pipes wrought in attractive stone. The spiritual influence and power such pipes held created a demand for ceremonial pipes across an ever-widening circle. The Mississippian Cultures furthered the importance of the pipe as a ritual artifact spiritual importance with larger pipes carved in the round of birds and other animals. As each of these cultures declined, spiritual needs were met with an increasing number of pipe-forms both for individual use and for tribal ceremonial functions--cultural focus being found in widely shared ceremony and ritual.

The popularity of pipe ceremonies as a requisite to healing rites, establishment of alliances and treaties, sealing agreements and contracts between parties, and as a prelude to any spiritual undertaking grew in importance with all the tribes and nations, and so great was the pipe's recognition as sacred, pipe carriers were most often granted free passage wherever they might go.

During the Golden Age of exploration, the pipe and tobacco achieved even wider acceptance. This may be due to several circumstances: European iron tools such as files, drill-bits and gouges made their ways into native culture via trade, making the creation of pipes much easier than using stone implements. European diseases promoted the spread of healing rituals, increasing the demand not only for pipes but for healers who could work the pipe's medicine against disease. The influences of Christianity and colonial trade, law and society upon native culture may have compelled wider application of the spiritual aspects of ritual and ceremonial tobacco-use as well. Many colonists took to casually smoking tobacco as a pleasant pasttime, and what were once pleasures soon became expensive habits and vices.

The Indian concept of the pipe and tobacco smoking centers on the belief they create a direct line of communication with the Great Spirit, that one’s prayers will be heard most clearly upon the sacred smoke of the tobacco.
A pipe-holder on a mission to another tribe was accorded every consideration in the carriage of his office and pipe. A common practice among eastern and midwestern tribes at this early period was to apply white clay to cover the pipe as signifying a peace-mission, while red clay covering the pipe signified a message of war.

Please See this reference, a most complete and concise assemblage of documented information regarding tobacco's use:
McGuire, Joseph D., "Pipes and Smoking Customs of the American Aborigines"; Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum for the year ending June 30, 1897, reprinted by
Gustavs Library

5) European’s Use of Tobacco

Because of the wide-sweeping medicinal properties attributed to tobacco, the smoking was indulged in by Europeans throughout the seventeenth century regardless of rising tobacco-prices. Chief among alleged medical properties, according to Nicolas Mouardes in De Simplicibus Medicamentes, Antwerp, 1574, was its curative qualities regards wounds. This work, translated into french by A. Colin in Historie des Drogues, Lyons, 1602, further expounds on the medicinal uses of tobacco and other herbs as well, among them copal which is a gum whose strong odors very said to cure various ailments when burned as an incense, and which was at times mixed with tobacco or other herbs to do so. The name tobaccocomes from the Caribbean island of that name, Tobago, where natives rolled crushed leaves into a single large leaf to create, in effect, very large cigars and cigarettes from which a whole group might smoke.

Englishman Smoking Tobacco

The Spanish used tobacco, whole or powdered, and considered it good for the treatment of headaches, lockjaw, toothache, coughs, asthma, stomach ache, obstructions, kidney troubles, disease of the heart, rheumatism, the poisoning from arrows, carbuncles, consumption and more.

Prescribed treatments took varied forms and was administered by heating the leaves and applying them to the part affected, to rub the teeth with a rag dipped in the juice, wrapping a leaf into a pill and inserting it into a tooth, boiling the leaves, decoctions of leaves, pounding the green leaves and mixing them with oil or steeping them in vinegar, applying the powdered leaves as a poultice, in fomentations, by smoking the leaf through the nose, inserting the bruised leaves or juice thereof into wounds and just about any imaginable method that can come to mind was tried or prescribed. Doctors of no experience with the herb frequently made fantastic claims of tobacco's powers to heal. Demand for the herb soared along with profits from its shipment to European ports and markets.

Further, it is reported that the Indians of Brazil made pills from seashells and tobacco, both powdered and mixed in the mouth by chewing it until it formed a solid mass, and thence divided and rolled into little pills slightly larger than a pea. In journeying, these same pills are said to stave off hunger and thirst for as much as four or more days’ travel.

It is clear that the spread of tobacco use in Europe was facilitated moreso by the supposed benefits with which it afforded the individual from a medicinal standpoint, than by the mere popularity of smoking it for pleasure alone.

One of the most often-repeated anecdotes regarding tobacco’s newfound appeal to the English follows thus: Sir Walter Raleigh was smoking in his study, and, being thirsty, called for his servant to bring him a tankard of beer. Jack hastily obeyed, and Sir Walter, forgetting to cease smoking, was in the act of spouting a volume of smoke from his mouth when his servant entered. Jack, seeing his master smoking prodigiously at his mouth, thought no other but he was all on fire inside, having never seen such a phenomenon in all England before, dashed a quart of liquor at once into his face, and ran out screaming “Massa’s afire! Massa’s afire!”

From another anecdote of the period, Queen Elizabeth is reported as saying, referencing the efforts of alchemists, ”…that many laborers in the fire have turned their gold into smoke, but Raleigh was the first to turn smoke into gold!”

6)The Economics of Tobacco

Tobacco and land to grow it upon were the ultimate successes of the Virginia Company’s efforts to become financially viable— John Rolfe shipped the first usable cargo of cured tobacco from Jamestown to England in 1616. The factor most critical in this tobacco’s usefulness is the fact that Powhatan Indians had finally consented to reveal their leaf-curing techniques to Virginia growers. Had this event not taken place, the Virginia Company’s charter would have run out that year and the colony likely abandoned altogether. By 1620, 40 hogsheads of tobacco were shipped to England; in 1638, 500 hogsheads of tobacco, equaling 500,000 pounds, were shipped from Jamestown, and in 1670 the shipments had increased to 12,000,000 pounds of tobacco.

Tobacco Rustica

During Elizabeth’s reign there was little reason for the diminutive size of the pipe-bowl then popularly smoked from, beyond the basic scarcity of the supply of tobacco itself, the duty on it being only two-pence per pound. James I, however, raised this sum to a staggering 6 1/2 shillings per pound. In 1620 and for a long period after, the strongest efforts were made to suppress tobacco’s use. In that year James I issued a restraining proclamation whose statute reads:

“Whereas we, etc., out of the dislike we had to the use of tobacco, tending to a general and new corruption, both of men’s bodies and manners, and yet, nevertheless, holding it of the two more tolerable that the same should be imported, amongst many other vanities and superfluities which come from beyond the seas, then permotted to be planted here within this realm, thereby to abuse and misemploy the soil of this fruitful kingdom..” …did prohibit, after the 2d day of February next “the sowing, setting, or planting of tobacco; and whereas we have taken into consideration the great waste and consumption of the wealth of Our kingdom by the inordinate liberty and abuse brought into our dominions,” it prohibits others than such as shall be authorized and appointed thereto by letters patent from having it in possession, etc.

In the “counterblaste” of King James I, tobacco is stated to be “loathsome to the eye, hurtful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless”. Pipes were made in huge number for trade to the Indians of the colonies—both ‘wampum pipes and others of white clay…

In 1625, Charles I issued a proclamation “De Herba Nicotiana” which among other stipulations this was included: “Whereas our most dear father did, 29th September last and the 2d march last, publish two proclamations prohibiting the importation of tobacco not the growth of Virginia or the Sommer islands,” gives until the “fowerth days” of May next to export any such as may be in the country. Drastic in mmeasure that this proclamation was, it likely induced the following year (1626) a counter-proclamation permitting the importation of 50,000 pounds of Spanish tobacco.

The diminutive "Cutty Pipe" of English manufacture--all of 4 1/2" long

Demand increased the price in proportion to supply and the prohibitive cost of this weed consequently reduced the size of the pipe-bowl to elfin dimensions. Laws restricting or prohibiting the usage of tobacco were enacted in the colonies as well: suck laws remained in effect in Boston as late as 1897!

So popular was tobacco as a money crop that farmers across Virginia grew nothing but tobacco and starved themselves out of home and lands. Nearly 6000 colonists lost their lives in Virginia by 1620--an ominous toll overlooked by greed and hoped-for prsperity growing tobacco for England's markets.

Hogsheads of Tobacco being loaded aboard English Ships

Opechancanough's 1622 Massaacre--the Attack upon Martin's Hundred and other settlements resulted in 350 deaths

This site was built and is owned by David Stone Sweet--
I support others' educational efforts and encourage the use of links to this site to further such worthy goals. If you wish to link this site to yours, please let me know so that a reciprocal link to your site may be added to mine below.
Thank you,

From the earliest years of my childhood I have been fascinated with prehistoric cultures, and particularly with those of my own ancestry--the Mi'Kmaq of Nova Scotia. I found my first arrowhead when I was about 11 years old--I still have it. Since that time I've spent some 25 years walking the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and have found many ancient artifacts to study and learn from. Some of the very best days of my life have been spent in the quiet solitude of ancient campsites...

There are beaches, tidal flats and marshes, herons,
fish hawks and eagles and loons. There is the scent of
salt-marsh and rich deep-woods earth within the same
breath, the colors of sea-washed straw and grasses,
shells littering the low-tidemark, glistening bits of
rock. The sun sets into deep purpled clouds low upon
the water and a distant-tree'd horizon--the
river-deeps glimmering jewels arisen from Neptune’s
trove, dancing in last farewell to bright skies, to
indigo depths' rest. Last daylights' rays arching
towards heaven, copper-tinge waves of skied mist above
casting a glow so deep and rich as to draw me again and
again to this benighted shore...I have walked this beach
a thousand times and will ever walk there in my thoughts
and dreams, for it has become a part of my being.
It will always be so, even beyond my lifes' long years...

Over the last 25 years or so, I've exhibited a growing collection of artifacts at numerous pow-wows and cultural events across 5 states and in local schools and a few museums as well. I've prepared presentations and exhibits and conducted demonstrations out of my own pocket and often at considerable expense. I have made it my pleasure and now, my profession, to study the ancient cultures of eastern North America.

I've become a flint knapper--a maker of arrowheads nd using primitive tools--and I am an accomplished artisan in leather, rawhide, clay and stone as well. The works I produce represent both replica's of ancient and modern interpretations of traditional crafts--and they demonstrate the simplicity and effectiveness of so-called primitive technologies. I wish to state up front that I am not affiliated with, enroled with nor recognized by any tribe, and declare this here to make understood that I know who I am and where I came from, and I do not need blood-quantum certification to say I am American Indian and descended from the Micmac, Cheyenne and Ojibwe, as well as bearing English and French admixtures of blood.

All material is copyrighted by David Stone Sweet, 2008-2009, and may not be reproduced in any form without express written consent.

Additional Links and References

Virginia Department of Historic Resources
Virginia Archaeology Network
Archaeological Society of Virginia
Virginia Archaeology Links