Q&A – Jamestown: Three Cultures, One Land
Students submitted hundreds of questions that we were not able to address during the live program “Jamestown: Three Cultures, One Land.” We are grateful to Jessica Pedrick, Sally Stook and the education staff from Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation for taking time to answer so many students questions . We hope you and your students will enjoy reading their responses.
Q: From Nick in Miami: How do they build their houses?
A: Hi Nick! The Powhatan built their longhouses, or yehakins, using saplings (young trees) as the frame and weaving mats out of marsh reeds (tall grasses) to cover the frame. The English and African cultures both used a variation of something called “wattle and daub”.
Q: From Dorrion: How did people get the fur?
A: Hi Dorrion. The Powhatan people got fur mainly by hunting and trapping. They would hunt white-tailed deer, raccoon, opossum, turkey, squirrel and rabbit, among others. The English would trade with the Powhatan to get furs like beaver, which was an animal the Powhatan people trapped rather than hunted.
Q: From Mrs. Pendley’s class in Bartlesville: What did they make bows and arrows out of?
A: The English wrote down that Powhatans preferred locust and cedar trees for their bows, and river cane for their arrows.
Q: From Bryar in Mrs. Thompson’s class in Oklahoma City: Did the Powhatan have jewels?
Hi, Bryar. Pearls from oysters and various cuts of shells were their main “jewels” for adornment. Later, when the Powhatan traded with the English and other Europeans, they would adorn themselves with copper trinkets including copper bells and Italian glass beads.
Q: From Kaleb in Miami: How would they get more shells?
A: Hi, Kaleb, one of the things you can always find in Eastern Virginia is shells. The Powhatan towns were situated along the rivers so that they could collect clay, river reeds, fish, and shells. I hope you get a chance to come to Virginia Beach one day soon.
Q: From Carter in Norman: Did they wear anything other than aprons?
A: Hi Carter. Sometimes leggings were worn for hunting or travelling in difficult terrain and sometimes for special ceremonies.
Q: From Mrs. Geist’s class in Norman: Do you speak one of the Native American languages?
A: Hi, Norman, sadly we only have about 200 words we still know from the Powhatan language.
Q: From Kate: Did the Powhatan eat the animals after they skin them?
A: Yes, Kate. Deer, raccoon, opossum, bear, beaver, etc. were all eaten by the Powhatan people. In fact, the beaver’s tail was considered to be a delicacy among the Powhatan people.
Q: From Mrs. Shannon’s class in Broken Arrow: Where did the fur come from?
A: Hi Kathy! Do you mean the fur we used during the program? They are all real! A lot of the deer fur was donated to us from a local hunt club. We also purchase some from a company to use for educational purposes.
Q: From Mikey in Broken Arrow: What was an everyday item the Powhatans used?
A: Hi Mikey. Fire was definitely an everday item the Powhatan used. Fire cooks your food, warms your house, and smokes your furs and other foods.
Q: From Trinity in Miami: What all did they use the oyster shells for?
A: Hi Trinity. Shells made wonderful scrapers when working with a deer hide or digging out a canoe.
Q: From Paislee: Did they use lavender to color clothing?
A: What a cool idea, Paislee, but to my knowledge, I don’t think so. They did however use various berries, plants and roots.
Q: From Natalie in Edmond: What did they make the bow and arrow from? Did they have arrowheads?
A: Hi Natalie. For bows, the Powhatan would use locust and cedar trees. Arrows were made from rivercane. Arrowheads were made from stone, bone, antler and shell, to name a few.
Q: From KeeLee: Why was copper so important to the Powhatans?
A: Copper was important because it was something that was very scarce, or hard to get. Think about for example, a rare diamond, which is something that is hard to get- because it is rare!
Q: From Breckin: Would the Native Americans put on war paint?
A: Nice question, Breckin. Yes, it is known that the Powhatan men painted their shoulders and faces with pigments, red and black, for various reasons including warfare.
Q: From Samuel: What did the Powhatan sleep in?
A: Good question! The mother and father usually slept on a bench (bed), and the children slept on the floor covered in furs.
Q: From Harmonee: Do they have bow and arrows?
A: Hello, Harmonee. All three groups that came to Jamestown were familiar with bows.
Q: From TJ in Ryan: What did the Powhatans use to make their shoes?
A: Hello TJ! The word moccasin is actually a word we borrow from the Powhatan Indians’ language, Algonquian. We believe that they used deer skin or other animal skins to make the leather for their moccasin shoes. Typically, Powhatan people only covered their feet and legs when they were leaving their towns and villages. Otherwise, they were barefoot.
Q: From Kira in Lawton: Did they wear moccasins?
A: Hello Kira! Usually Powhatan wore moccasins when leaving their town and villages.
Q: From Mathew in Shawnee: Are the powatan still here in 2021?
A: Yes, Matthew! Today there are 11 Powhatan Indian-descended tribes recognized by both the State of Virginia and the Federal government.
Q: From Mrs. Scott’s class in Enid: We are wondering why the Powhatan painted their skin.
A: Hi, Mrs. Scott’s class! Here is a great video that will answer your question! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXjrNWHJymo
Q: From Mrs. Dettle’s class in Enid: Why did native Americans under the age 10 not wear clothes?
A: Hey, Mrs. Dettle’s class, it was never written down WHY Powhatan did this, but they certainly did. One theory is that making clothes was hard work and it made little sense to keep making clothes for children that were constantly growing.
Q: From Laura in Mrs. Scott’s class in Enid: I want to know why the Powhatan did not wear clothing as children.
A: Hi Laura. They never wrote down why, but clothing wasn’t worn until around age 10.
Q: From Arianna: Why do the 10 year old and under not wear clothes?
A: Hi, Arianna. They never wrote down why, specifically! Think about things in your culture that may seem “different” to others.
Q: From Hailee-Mae: Why do the 10 and under not wear clothes?
A: Hello, Hailee-Mae. They never wrote down why, but we do know making clothes is hard work and it does make sense for the person to stop growing before wearing clothes.
Q: From Trevor: Did the Powhatan encounter stuff like rats?
A: No, not until the English came. Rats found there way onto English ships and were introduced to Jamestown when they arrived.
Q: From Tegan in Mr. Dewbre’s class in Ryan: How did the Powhatans get their seeds?
A: Greetings, Tegan. Every plant you eat has seeds inside, so you could grow more!
Q: From Crosby in Mr. Dewbre’s class in Ryan: What crops did they plant?
A: Hi Ryan. The Powhatan obtained about half of their food through farming, which was done in the summer months. Using a system of small mounds, women and children planted corn and bean crops, placing squash and gourds in-between. Corn, the most important crop, as well as beans and squash, were dried and preserved for later use throughout the year. Dried gourds could be used as musical instruments or for bowls, cups, and scoops. To supplement their field crops, particularly in late winter and spring, they gathered fruit, nuts, grain, tubers, and roots.
Q: From Coree in Mrs. Hale’s class in Bartlesville: Did any of the people wear things to camouflage themselves?
A: Hey, Coree. There was not too much camo used in warfare. The Powhatan mainly used camouflage for hunting. If they wore the furs of a deer, they would blend right in! We do know that the Powhatan men did paint their shoulders and face with colors of black and red for various reasons, such as warfare.
Q: From Ryleigh in Mrs. Ledford’s class in Tecumseh: What other copper objects were used?
A. Greetings Ryleigh. The English copper was mostly for pots and pans. The Powhatan used it primarily for jewelry.
Q: From Kenneth: Was gold more valuable to the Powhatan than copper?
A: Hey, Kenneth. The Powhatan people placed more value on copper. The Europeans definitely placed more value on gold.
Q: From Jacob in Mrs. Bell’s class in Felt: Did the Powhatan war with other clans?
A: Hi, Jacob. Good question! Rival Native American groups fought each other just like rivals in all parts of the world. War is how Chief Powhatan was able to force some of the 32 tribes under him to recognize him as leader. Not all of his tribes got along, so warfare among them was also possible. The Powhatan Indians would certainly also fight their rivals from time to time as well.
Q: From Bella in Mrs. Moore’s class in Midwest City: Are the shells a source of income for the Powhatan?
A: Hi, Bella. From time to time, shells were used as a trade item.
Q: From Mrs. Goodwin’s 5th grade in Norman: What tools did they use to make their weapons?
A: Powhatan people were mainly going to rely on stone knives and stone axes. Bows would be made from deer tendon and wood. Arrows would be made from deer bone as well as stone.
Q: From Andrew: Did the Powhatan and others make friendship?
A: Hi, Andrew. The final peace treaty between the English and the Powhatan was in 1646. Today, there are 11 Virginia Indian tribes recognized, most of them descended from the Powhatan Indians.
Q: From Vinny in Broken Arrow: Were the feathers the Powhatan wore purely decorative, or did they have another purpose?
A: Vinny, that’s a great question. As far as we know, the feathers were just for decoration.
Q: From Mrs. Hindman’s class in Bartlesville: Did they use the copper for arrowheads?
A: Hi, Mrs. Hindman’s class, even though the Native Americans had copper, they were not manipulating it into tools. Copper is pretty soft and flexible by itself. To make it stong enough for tools or weapons, you need to mix it with other metals to make bronze or brass (much stiffer, but not as much as steel) which the Powhatan Indians did not do.
Q: From Carter: Did they wear any thing else other than the aprons?
A: Good question, Carter. There is mention of leather mantles being worn by people that are more important. There was even mention of a feather mantle. (A mantle is a loosely fitting dress-like garment worn over one shoulder). Of course, furs were worn to keep people warm and to show off their importance as well. Lastly, there is a note that silk grass was used to make clothing as well.
Q: From William in Mrs. Yarborough’s class in Grove: What did the Powhatan women wear? Did they wear aprons?
A: Willam, great question! Women did wear leather aprons. Here is a video that will answer your question further: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXjrNWHJymo.
Q: From Shanon in Drumright: How did they make the animal skin skirts?
A: Shannon, Powhatan Indians used a method called Brain Tanning – using the animal’s own brain to soften the skin enough to be worn.
Q: From Virginia in Broken Arrow: What did they put on their feet when they went to fight?
A: Hi, Virginia! Great name! Moccasins were worn on the feet of Powhatan people when they left their towns/villages. The word “mocassin” is actually part of the Powhatan Indian language, Algonquian.
Q: From MIchael in Broken Arrow: What did the Powhatans celebrate?
A: Hello, Michael. For celebrations, the Powhatan mainly celebrated good harvests and good hunts.
Q: From Joseph in Mrs. Yarborough’s class in Grove: What did the Powhatans use if they were sick?
A: Hello, Joseph. For the Powhatan Indians, their natural environment provided food, shelter and also a natural pharmacy of medicines for diseases and ailments. They relied on grasses and native plants such as bloodroot, tuckahoe, cattails and cordgrass.
Q: From Dalton: What did they eat?
A: Hello, Dalton. In Virginia, they ate raccoon, opossum, duck, squirrel, geese, deer, rabbit, seafood, corn, beans, squash, etc. How many of these do you still eat?
Q: From Samuel: What did the Powhatan sleep in?
A: Hi Samuel! From what we can tell, Powhatan Indians generally slept on raised “beds” that were covered in animal furs. Sometimes chldren might have to sleep on the floors on mats and furs.
Q: From Nick in Miami: What did they eat?
A: Hello Nick. In Virginia, they ate raccoon, opossum, duck, squirrel, geese, deer, rabbit, seafood, corn, beans, squash, etc. Yum!
Q: From Emma: What kinds of things did they eat?
A: In Virginia, they ate raccoon, opossum, duck, squirrel, geese, deer, rabbit, seafood, corn, beans, squash, etc. No McDonald’s for them!
Q: From Melissa: Where did they get the string from?
A: Good question. The Powhatan were able to make rope from deer leg tendon or the backstrap (tenderloin) of the deer. The hide of the deer as well as the gut, could also be used as string. The Powhatan could also use the fibers of some plants, like the yucca plant.
Q: From Ke’Mya: How did they wear there hair when they went hunting?
A: Ke’Maya, it is believed by the English that one reason Powhatan men kept the right side of their head shaved and the left side long was to prevent the hair from being in the way of using the bow and arrow.
Q: From Paige in Miami: Was there a certain way the Powhatan people had paint on them depending on their age or rank?
A: Great question, Paige! We do think there was religious and spiritual meaning for how the Powhatan Indians painted themsleves, but it would vary from individual to individual.
Q: From Zane in Broken Arrow: How did Powhatans hunt for food?
A: Hey Zane! The Powhatan men used bows and arrows mainly to hunt large prey. They wore animals skins for camouflage and often worked together, having some men drive the large animals into areas where other men could kill them. They would also use nets and traps to capture smaller animals.
Q: From Lane in Miami: How many Powhatan are still in Oklahoma?
A: Hello Lane! Virginia recognizes 11 Virginia Indian tribes today. At least 7 of these are directly descended from Powhatan tribes. Others, like the Monacans, existed in 1607 but were not part of Powhatan’s chiefdom. There many people today all around the country who are descendents of the Powhatan tribes.
Q: From Rayden in Drumright: Did the women in the tribes fight in battles?
A: Hello, Rayden. It was not part of the Powhatan culture to have women fight, but same was true of most Eurpoean and African cultures at the time.
Q: From Kenneth: Was gold more valuble then copper to the Powhatan?
A: We don’t know if the Powhatan had much use for gold or silver. Copper had the highest value to Powhatan Indians.
Q: From Anna Kate in Mrs. Nicholson’s class in Sapulpa – What did they use to tie their jewelry together? How did they get string/rope?
A: Anna Kate, most string for jewelry was animal tendon, usually deer.
Q: From Andrea: What happened to the Powhatan when they lost their land?
A: Thanks for the question, Andrea! The Powhatan faced several choices: some fought to get their land back, some moved away from the English to a new place, and some stayed near the colony and tried to live more like the settlers. Eventually, some that stayed near the English were placed on reservations, which still exist today and and are open to the public to visit.
Q: From Cameron: Do people still use tomahawks?
A: Cameron, “tomahawk” is an actual Powhatan word, but during this time period, it was just a wooden war club. Over time, the word came to mean a metal war axe. Few people use them as weapons today, but becasue they are axes, they can be useful in camping.
Q: From Hailee- Mae: Did they have pets?
A: Hi Haille- Mae! We think all three cultures had some sort of pets, but the animals might vary due to location.
Q: From Chance in Drumright: What types of fruits did they have in Virginia at the time?
A: Good question, Chance. Virginia had fruits like paw paws, persimmons, and passion fruit.
Q: From Thomas in Mrs. Stramski’s class in Nicoma Park: Did the Indians ever destroy entire colonies?
A: Hi Thomas. In 1622 and 1644, they definitely came close.
Q: From Christopher: Did they have war?
A: Christopher, the Powhatan and English fought off and on for 40 years.
Q: From Caroline in Broken Arrow: Were the Powhatans friendly to begin with?
A: Caroline, it is tough to define “friendly” in this situation. I am sure there were plenty of friendly people in all of the cultures. However, remember the English and the Powhatan had different views of the land. They were also speaking different languages at the time, so communication was probably more difficult. These cultures did fight off and on for 40 years, but remember, there were many times of peace.
Q: From Amber: Did the Indians worship eagles?
A: Amber, this was true for some Indian groups, but this was not written down for the Powhatan people.
Q: From Molly in Mrs. Nicholson’s class in Sapulpa – How were the chiefs chosen?
A: Good question, Molly. The fancy word is “matrilineal’ This simply means that all the children of the same mother were in line to become chief.
Q: From Cason in Mrs. Arnold’s class in Norman: What plants did the Powhatan grow?
A: Hi Cason, great question. The Powhatan grew a variety of plants like corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, gourds, tobacco, herbs, a type of passionfruit, and more. Here is a webcast where you can learn more: https://www.historyisfun.org/video/life-of-the-powhatan-indians-farming/
Q: From Nick in Lawton: Didn’t the Native Americans cross to Americas from Russia?
A: Nick, sadly no one really knows, but you have mentioned a theory that is very popular.
Q: From Lane in Miami: Where do the Powhatan live now?
A: Lane, we have two reservations here in Virginia for the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes, but most Powhatan descendants live in neighborhoods like everyone else. By now, I bet they live all over the world!
Q: From Emily: What were aprons made out of?
A: Emily, the aprons were made from deer hide.
Q: From Samuel: Do the Powhatans and the English still battle?
A: Hi Samuel. These two cultures fought briefly the first day they met and there was off and on fighting all the way until 1646, which was the final peace treaty.
Q: From Jayden in Miami: About how long would the fights go on with the settlers and the Indians?
A: Hi Jayden. These two cultures fought briefly the first day they met and there was off and on fighing all the way until 1646, which was the final peace treaty.
Q: From Simon in Broken Arrow: How old did you have to be to start hunting or fighting?
A: Hello, Simon. For the Powhatan, it was the father’s decision when to teach the kids those important skills. Mothers, however, were involved in introducing these skills at younger ages.
Q: From KeeLee in Miami: Why did the Powhatan want copper so bad?
A: Hi KeeLee. Copper was the only metal the Powhatan were using until Europeans arrived.
Q: From Peyton in Mrs. Stramski’s class in Nicoma Park: Were the Indians allowed to mine jewels?
A: Hi, Peyton. The Powhatan people were not mining for metal at this time in history.
Q: From Gracie in Mrs. Nicholson’s class in Sapulpa: Why were the children not allowed to have clothing until they were older?
A: Hi Gracie. In the Powhatan culture, it was “normal” for the children to not wear clothing. Think about things in your culture that may seem “different” to other cultures. For example, do you eat fried onion burgers in Oklahoma? I’ve never had one of those here in Virginia!
Q: From Andrew in Miami: What animals did the Powhatan hunt?
A: Hi Andrew. They hunted raccoon, opossum, duck, geese, rabbit, bear, and deer.
Q: From Carter in Lawton: Did the Powhatan wear anything other than aprons?
A: Good question, Carter. Besides aprons, important people in the tribes wore leather mantles. There was even mention of a feather mantle. (A mantles was a loosely fitting dress-like garment worn over one shoulder. Of course, furs were worn to keep people warm and to show off their importance as well. Lastly, there is a note that silk grass was used to make clothing as well.
Q: From Brighten in Claremore: Was there ever a time where the Indians and the colonists get along?
A: Hi Brighten. There was a small period of peace when Pocahontas got married to John Rolfe in 1614, but the final peace treaty was not until 1646.
Q: From Alex in Mrs. Stramski’s class in Nicoma Park: Did the Indians eat turtles?
A: Hi, Alex. Yes, we do believe they ate turtles! Additionally, the shells were used as serving platters.
Q: From Israel: Were there any fights between the Powhatan Indians?
A: Hi Israel. Yes, sadly the English and Powhatan Indians did have fights. The colonists write that they were attacked shorty after their landing. The two sides fought from time to time in small battles and larger wars between 1609-1646.
Q: From Arion: How would tribes treat sick people?
A: Hi Arion. For the Powhatan Indians, their natural environment provided food, shelter and also a natural pharmacy of medicines for diseases and ailments. They relied on grasses and native plants such as bloodroot, tuckahoe, cattails and cordgrass.
Q: From Brooklyn: How much would they go to war?
A: English settlers and Powhatan Indians fought briefly the first day they met, and there was off and on fighing all the way until 1646, which was the date of the final peace treaty.
Q: From Sarah in Miami: What did Native American woman wear during this time in history?
A: Hi Sarah. The Powhatan women wore a lot of the same clothing as the men, including that leather apron. Here is a great video about Powhatan women’s clothing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXjrNWHJymo