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Where are the Women: Examples from the LVA Collections
Virginia Indian Women


Shaping Public Opinion

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Service to Country

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Where are the Women:
Examples from the LVA Collections



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That Properly Belongs to Every Christian Man, 1708 | Virginia Indian Women

The social roles and political authority of women in Tsenacommacah, as the Powhatans called what became Virginia, were in some respects different than in England or in English Virginia, but when the first colonists found that some Powhatan tribes were under the rule of women, they did not think that was remarkable. It was only four years since the death of their Queen Elizabeth. The colonists simply applied the familiar term "queen" to those Native American rulers. In Powhatan society, authority to rule descended through women. The son of a chief, or king, did not inherit his father's office; rather, the son of a chief's sister became the new chief.

Gabriel Archer employed the same masculine language of royalty that Elizabeth had used about herself when he wrote about meeting Opossunoquonuske, the Queen of Appomattac, on 26 May 1607. Compared with the paramount chief, Powhatan, she arrived "rather wth more majesty: she had an usher before her who brought her to the matt prepared under a faire mulbery tree, where she satt her Downe by her selfe wth a stayed Countenance. she would permitt none to stand or sitt neere her: she is a fatt lustie manly woman: she had much Copper about her neck, a Crownet of Copper upon her hed: she had long black haire, wch hanged loose downe her back to her myddle. . . . she is subject to Pawatah as the rest are; yet wthn herselfe of as greate authority." ["A relatyon of the Discovery of our River, from James Forte into the Maine," 21 May–21 June 1607, British Public Record Office, Colonial Office 1/1, fol. 49v]

Petition of the Queen In behalf of her self and her Nation. 1 November 1718. Manuscript. RG 1, Colonial Papers Collection, folder 29, no. 12.

In this petition to Alexander Spotswood, lieutenant governor of Virginia, Ann “the Queen of Pamunky” “in behalfe of her selfe & her Nation Of Pamunkey Indians” asked that the Virginia government no longer give patents for land lying near the Indian reservation and to preserve the rights of the Pamunkey to their “Indian Town.”

Petition of the Queen and the Great Men of Pamunkey Town. Ca. 1705–1706. Manuscript. RG 1, Colonial Papers Collection, folder 17, no. 27.