History of Virginia

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Native Americans traveled across a land bridge from Asia into North America.      The first people to live in Virginia were Indians.  Thousands of years ago, Alaska and Asia were joined by dry land.  This dry land is called a land bridge.  The Indians walked over this land bridge from Asia into Alaska.  As years passed, the Indians moved further south.  After many years, different groups of Indians lived in all parts of North and South America.  The first Europeans to come to Virginia met Indians.  These Indians had already lived in Virginia for thousands of years.

 

    What Indian Groups Lived in Virginia? All Indian groups that lived in Virginia were part of the Eastern Woodland Indians. Three different groups of Indians lived in Virginia.  These groups spoke different languages.  They also lived in different ways.  These groups are named after the language they spoke.  The language groups were the Siouan, the Iroquoian, and the Algonquian.   The Siouan language group settled primary in the Piedmont region of Virginia.   The Iroquoian language groups lived in the southeastern and southwestern parts of Virginia--in the Allegheny (Appalachian) Plateau Region and in the Tidewater Region.   The largest group of Iroquoian Indians was the Cherokees.

See where the language groups settled in Virginia.

    The Algonquian Indians were the largest group that lived in Virginia.  The Algonquians lived mostly along the Tidewater and Eastern Shore of Virginia.  More than thirty different tribes of Algonquians lived in Virginia when the English settlers arrived.  Some of these tribes were the Powhatan, the Chesapeake, the Accomac, and the Pamunkey.

    The first Indians that the English met in Virginia were Algonquians.  These Indians had a chief named Powhatan.  He was an important ruler.  Powhatan was the ruler of many groups of Algonquian Indians (known as the Powhatan Confederacy) who lived along Virginia's coastline. Click here for a web-based activity.

    The Indian Way of Life.  Virginia was a land with many forests and rivers.  The Indians used what they found in nature for shelter and food.  The Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy lived either in longhouses or in wigwams.  A longhouse was a long, low building made of young trees and covered with grass, bark, or animal skins.   A wigwam was a smaller house built of the same materials.

Families living in the longhouse shared chores.    A longhouse is a long, low building made with a frame of bent young trees, and covered with grass, treebark, or animal skins.   Many families lived in one longhouse.

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    Indian Food The land and waters of early Virginia filled many of the basic needs of daily life.  The local trees provided nuts and juicy berries.  Squirrels, rabbits, wild turkeys, and deer inhabited the forests.  The cold, salty waters of the Chesapeake Bay were full of oysters, crabs, and other edible seafood.

    The Indians were skillful in obtaining the food available to them.  They took careful aim with bows and arrows to hunt the turkeys, deer, and other animals in the forest.  Sturdy sticks and vines were used to make traps for raccoons and opossums.  Bones were sharpened into fishing hooks and spear tips.  Nets were woven from grasses and weeds.

    The Indians not only were successful hunters but they were also farmers.   The Indians grew such things as pumpkins, beans, squash, and maize (the Indian word for corn).   Corn was the most important plant for these early Virginians.  They ate corn at almost every meal.  Sometimes they mixed it with beans to make succotash.   Sometimes they boiled it.  Sometimes they mixed it with meat to make stew.   The most common way they used corn was to make bread.  To make bread,   Indian women pounded the corn between two rocks to break the kernels into small bits.  This was cornmeal.  The cornmeal was then mixed with water and cooked.  

To learn more about the Native Americans visit these sites:

Eastern Woodland Indians

Mattaponi Indian Reservation

Virginia's Indians

Rappahannock

History of the Cheokee

Assateague People of Virginia

Rappahannock

Chickahominy Tribe

Monacan Nation

Virginia's Indians, Past and Present

 

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