At the time of the English colonists’ landing in present day Virginia in 1607, the Algonquin-speaking Powhatan Confederacy was a thriving, multi-tribal civilization spanning the state’s Tidewater region. Most of the Powhatan language has been lost over time, suffering rapid decline in the century following the establishment of Jamestown.

While some Powhatan words have been incorporated into American English (hominy, chum, etc), it seems that the language was all but extinct by the turn of the nineteenth century. While it is almost impossible to discern the exact year that the last Powhatan speaker faded into collective misrecollect, it is feasible to examine the causes that lead to the extinction of the Powhatan language: disease, warfare, and intermarriage.

Prior to European contact, the tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy lived east of the fall line in the Tidewater region of Virginia, situated along the York, James, and Chickahominy rivers. The tribes inhabiting the area either shared language and culture with the paramount chiefdom of Powhatan, most famously known as Pocahontas’ father, or had entered into alliances with him, thereby joining the Powhatan Confederacy [1].
John Smith estimated that there were around 28 tribes or groups living in the area [2]. The capital of the confederacy was situated at Werowocomoco, thought to be in present day Gloucester County. Most of what is known of the Powhatan Confederacy comes from early English colonist accounts and archaeological evidence. Modern scholars have concluded that in the first years after the European colonists arrived, the Powhatan population was approximately 14,300 [3].

There is some debate as to whether all the tribes in the confederacy spoke the same language [4]. While John Smith, the most famous source on the Powhatan people, asserted that all tribes in the confederacy spoke “the language of [the man] Powhatan,” modern linguists such as Frank Siebert believe that many dialects were spoken [5].  According to Helen C. Rountree, the Powhatan language had been spoken in eastern Virginia for at least 300 years by the time of European contact, and as a result had many dialects. Despite this, the language appears to have been easily understood by all members of the confederacy [6]. According to his journals, John Smith was able to use the same interpreter (which he claimed to be himself) throughout his broad travels in the region during the summer of 1608 [7].

Following the English colonists arrival in December of 1607, it became apparent that their only means of survival was trade with the Powhatan. Desperately in need of food, the colonists traded copper and other “trinkets” for corn.
John Smith is the principle source on the first contact between the Powhatan and colonists [8] . Smith was in Virginia between 1607 and 1609, and was involved in major exploratory expeditions of the region [9]. His records of tribe names and locations remain some of the very few sources on pre-European contact Powhatan villages, however inaccurate they may be [10]. Smith is also one of the few sources on the Powhatan language, as he recorded fifty Powhatan words during his interactions with them. William Strachey, another early colonist, recorded over five hundred Powhatan words during his time in Virginia [11]. Both men composed novels on their return to England, and theirs are the only remaining records of the Powhatan language [12].  John Smith’s map, shown above, was the primary map used by colonists for almost a hundred years.

While the relationship between the Powhatan and the colonists began on relatively friendly terms, tensions soon mounted. When a drought struck, Englishmen took corn from a Powhatan chief at gunpoint. The Powhatan then refused to give the colonists food, which lead to the Starving Time and First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614). Wars in 1622, 1644, and 1675 decimated the Powhatan population [13]. This combined with near-constant warfare between the colonists and tribes in the region led to a significant reduction in Powhatan numbers [14]. So determined were the colonists to engage in ethnic cleansing of the first inhabitants of the area, manhunts were instituted in 1644, hunting the Powhatan as if they were wild game [15]. Rolling disease epidemics also took a toll on the Powhatan. While it is difficult to find sources on the exact number of Powhatan tribal members that succumbed to disease, it is obvious from the 1669 census that the population had been drastically reduced [16].

Chart 1 shows the population estimates of the six most populated tribes by John Smith and William Strachey during the first few years of the colony. The decreased numbers in the1669 census and in Robert Beverley, Jr.’s History and Present State of Virginia in 1705 reflect the rapid decimation of the Powhatan people [17].

Chart 2 reflects the numbers from Chart 1, with Strachey’s estimates in red, Smith’s in blue, and the results of the 1669 census and Beverley’s estimates in yellow and green, respectively.

Disease and warfare were the two most dramatic reasons for the extinction of the Powhatan language, but other, more subtle factors also played a role.  The Powhatan were reported to have been fairly open to members of other groups joining them [18]. Laws passed during the seventeenth century forbade Englishmen and slaves from joining their ranks, which seems to attest to their willingness to allow others to join their tribes [19]. Intermarriage with African and white communities appears to have contributed to the extinction of the Powhatan language, as many members either left their reserves to join new communities or allowed members of other groups to live among them [20]

The overlay map below illustrates the differences between John Smith’s 1612 map and the modernizing forces at play in seventeenth century Virginia. While the Powhatan tribes had initially lived relatively close to the colonists at Jamestown, Native Americans in the Tidewater became increasingly isolated.

As time went on, the Powhatan found themselves living in economic, social, and cultural isolation on land that was increasingly encroached upon by white colonists [21]. Members of splintered tribes often banded together, retreating into the frontier areas of Virginia [22]. The broken tribes occasionally joined other groups that they had once been enemies of, losing their cultural identity and language in the process [23]. By 1800, the Powhatan language was extinct.
A 1780s letter by Thomas Jefferson describes the loss of the Powhatan language and the state of Powhatan tribes in Virginia [24]. “There remain of the Mattaponies three or four men only, and they have more negro than Indian blood in them. They have lost their language, have reduced themselves, by voluntary sales, to about fifty acres of land, which lie on the river of their own name, and have, from time to time, been joining the Pamunkies, from whom they are distant but 10 miles. The Pamunkies are reduced to about 10 or 12 men, tolerably pure from mixture with other colours.The older ones among them preserve their language in a small degree which are the last vestiges on earth, as far as we know, of the Powhatan language.”
In the early to mid-nineteenth century, the growing romanticism surrounding the disappearance of Virginia’s first inhabitants led to renewed interest in the Powhatan [25]. The bloody wars between Native Americans and the colonists were revised into romantic tales of the noble savage, and the myth surrounding John Smith’s epic adventures among the Powhatan led to numerous poems and plays [26]. Interest in the Powhatan surged again in the early twentieth century during Jamestown’s tercentennial [27]. The Powhatan people had become integral to the founding-myth of America [28].
This Google Ngram reflects the renewed interest in the Powhatan people in the early to mid-nineteenth century. The chart also shows the rise in popularity during Jamestown’s tercentennial.
Two hundred years after the extinction of the Powhatan language, film director Terrence Malick sought to revitalize the language for The New World, a retelling of Pocahontas’s love affairs with John Smith and John Rolfe.

Blair A. Rudes, a linguist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, researched other Algonquin-speaking tribes, particularly the Lenape, seeking to resurrect the Powhatan language [29]. As a result, for the first time in two centuries, Powhatan was spoken again.

This Wordle represents the most significant words and themes from samples drawn from modern website histories of the Powhatan. Both the National Park Service and the Encyclopedia Virginia have written extensively on the Powhatan, and the extinction of their language is a recurring topic.

For the security and preservation of my website, I have made back up copies of my writing, photographs, maps, and charts. Should anything go wrong, I will be able to replace anything that has been compromised. As far as security is concerned, the backend is password protected, and I am the only person who knows it. I plan to monitor my website on a weekly basis, checking the web traffic and making sure that all pages have not been compromised. Should anyone take a portion of what I’ve written or created, I see no problem with it as long as they attribute it to me and my original sources.

For this week’s reading, I downloaded Scratch and spent at least an hour playing around with it. I thought that it was a great way to start ‘programming,’ particularly for beginners. I was intimidated when I first read that we would be covering programming this week, as just learning the basics of HTML felt like a huge undertaking for me. I grew up in a place that received donated Mac computers in early 2004, and no one on my reservation owned a personal computer until 2006. I must admit that I barely knew the basics of Microsoft Word until I went to college, and even then, I basically winged it until my Sophomore year.

I enjoyed playing around with Scratch. I added numerous motions and color changes to my Sprite. I intended to include a screenshot, but for some reason my laptop is not complying. What I found most interesting is that Scratch was created (according to it’s Wikipedia page) as a tool that would be easily usable for children. I love that the next generation will be so computer-savvy. I struggled in the first ten minutes of using the program, trying to find a way to make the Sprite move (until I added the move on green flag tool to the instructions). I love that Scratch was made to be easily used by children, though I’m also a little embarrassed by my initial struggle with the program given that I’m 23.


I found the three databases in this week’s readings to be the most interesting, however difficult it was to read through some of the entries. The September 11th, Hurricane, and Virginia Tech databases were all extraordinarily moving from a personal standpoint. From a scholarly perspective, I definitely see the necessity of saving oral histories and personal accounts from these awful events. What is also interesting to me is that I had never considered that the worst tragedies of my generation happened during the internet era. It makes perfect sense to record the histories and oral accounts of survivors online.

What is also interesting to me is that so much of our lives surround the internet — from checking the weather to recording the aftermath of a hurricane. I remember my middle school teachers wondering aloud if the internet would ever be useful, and now it seems that the internet is the most logical choice for documenting tragedies and successes alike.

My tribe has only recently begun recording oral histories of our elders. I can’t help but wonder if the Oglala Sioux Tribe would consider publishing the histories online for the world to see. While very few members of my tribe experienced tragedies firsthand the way that September 11 survivors did, so many elders in my tribes are veterans. Creating a database of Sioux soldiers’ experiences during WWII would be fascinating…and definitely something I’m seriously considering starting for members of my extended family.

What I enjoyed most about this week’s readings was playing around with Wordle. I entered my website’s address and was surprised by what came up in the word cloud. While some words made sense (such as the words “Native” and “Indian,” seeing as it is a Native American news blog), others were more obscure. Such as “Ken,” “Mandan”  and “quarterly.” All in all, I think word clouds are a great way to spice up a blog or website. They’re fun and make you consider just how much you use various words.



I found the “The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation” by Peter Norvig to be the most interesting in this week’s reading. I write for a professional tips and tricks blog, and two of the most common questions I receive are 1.)how to make a PowerPoint and 2.) how to make a PowerPoint interesting. I loved the issues brought up in the Making Of.. section of the site. Many tribal secretaries (for whom my company’s blog is aimed at) are concerned that their presentations are detracting from the point they are trying to make. Does making a list of what you’re going to cover in your presentation enhance or obscure your point? Will making bullet points on your slides make it easier for you listeners to follow along or make it easier for them to tune out?

While I am personally a fan of PowerPoint (though I prefer Prezi), it took several years of school and writing about making slides professionally to fully utilize PowerPoint presentations. I loved the way the author turned “four score and seven years ago” into a graph (which the author described as gratuitous ((which also made me laugh, because rule #1 in my latest blog post is avoid unnecessary graphs and charts at all costs))). I also appreciated the terrible green slides and annoying font colors. In short, it is extremely easy to make terrible PowerPoint presentations, and I owe several paychecks to answering questions on how to improve presentations.

I found “The Difference Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities” to be extremely interesting, especially now that I understand what XML is. I was also interested in the use of Geographic Information Systems to understand the spatial orientation of the areas in question. It was fascinating to read through the “points of analysis” section on the difference slavery made in the two counties. The way that the authors posed their arguments and then addressed them using visual aids (maps, etc) made for an easy and informative read. I had been unsure of how to pose arguments with a webpage for my final project, but the approach used in this website has given me a lot of ideas

I use google docs and google maps all the time. Before I was able to afford Microsoft Word on my new laptop, I used google docs to complete all of my papers and school work. I also appreciate the fact that I can now store all of my important documents on my google drive. I prefer google maps to any other (mapquest, yahoo, etc) direction site. I personally feel that google offers the best email (gmail) system. I can click a tap and get to my documents, calendar, etc.


I found both of  Mat Honans’ articles “How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking” and “How I Got Digital Life Back” to be incredibly interesting. My boyfriend’s Apple ID was hacked two years ago. The person downloaded over 500 songs (mostly flute music, oddly enough), and it was charged to his credit card.  We had been planning a trip to Georgia when he checked his bank account and saw that nearly $600 had disappeared overnight. He opened his iTunes and there they were…516 songs ready to be downloaded. Fortunately, his bank was understanding and the money was back in his account by the end of the week. Initially, however, all my boyfriend could say was “why do this to me?” It was a gross violation of his finances, and once the music finished downloading, his ears. I think he was as unsettled by the flute music as much as how easy it was to break into his Apple account. We never figured out how or why the person did it, but after reading this article I’ve realized that it was most likely very easy for the hacker. All you need is a little information and the inclination to wreak havoc.

I’ve been completely paranoid about my online information since the Flute Music Debacle. My Amazon and Apple email addresses are different. I have four email addresses that I use regularly, each with different passwords. I change my Facebook password once every six months. I use PayPal often, and all my social networking pages are on private. As careful as I am, I am often struck by the fact that there is very little about my life that doesn’t involve the internet. I write and publish my work articles online. I talk to my boyfriend (who’s in grad school in Colorado) and family (in South Dakota) over Gmail and Skype.  I pay all my bills online. My photographs and important documents are all in Dropbox for the most part, but for a long time, I trusted that my information was safe on my computer.  I guess the message here is that you really can’t be too careful. It doesn’t take a genius to completely destroy your online life.

What I found most interesting in this week’s reading was the balancing act described in Cohen and Rosenzweig between respecting copyright laws and increasing the knowledge/data stored on the internet.

I feel that the quote “we encourage all historians, however, to explore how their actions, both online and off, might increase the common storehouse of documents and knowledge out of which much of our individual and collective work arises,” best summarizes the necessity of digitizing history. While I definitely think that historians (and all individuals)  should respect copyright laws, I feel that as we are all in the digital era, adding to our “collective knowledge” is a must. I also appreciated the collaborative aspect of digitizing history described in the chapter. The internet has made history so much accessible, and I have enjoyed countless hours of viewing 1800s photographs and pictures of historical documents.