The Other Jamestown

The Algonquian Exchange

Pomeiooc Indian Village

“…I have seen the death of my people thrice.” Chief Wahunsenacah(Powhatan) (Original Source) See also: Wahunsenacah and John Smith on Peace and War


Othering” defines the historical treatment of Native Americans that began at Jamestown and has continued to this day. “Other” is a trope, in this case for a people who are perceived to be culturally deficient or deviant from the white Anglo-Saxon norm. First, European colonizers labeled them as savages, later Virginia’s native peoples were forced onto reservations in the seventeenth-century, assumed to be no longer extant in the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries, defined as “coloreds” in the twentieth-century(Virginia’s 1924 Racial Exclusion Law), and excluded from federal benefits in health care and education into the twenty-first century. Not until January 29, 2018, did the federal government recognize these original Virginia tribes (all Algonquian speaking except the Monacan, a Siouxan tribe): Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Nansemond, and Monacan. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe received federal recognition 28 February 2016 separately through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Other Jamestown: Reinterpreting Indian History

Three fallacies have prevented a balanced understanding of Indians in American history: 1. they have been obstacles to progress; 2. they have been hapless victims; 3. they were cultural deviants. These negative views leave no room for agency, similar to the notion of Holocaust victims being victims who never challenged their oppressors, or African Americans who were Sambos. Both of the latter notions have been proven to be fallacious. A more balanced interpretation of Indian history is past due. Jamestown is the place to begin.

The central theme of this website is the Algonquian Exchange, a device for probing the cultural and other consequences of the interaction between the colonizers and the Algonquian Indians of Early Virginia.

Story Lines

English Settlements

Map of Virginia (Use keys to navigate)
Deerskin Map: Indian Nations between South
Carolina and the Mississippi River [C. 1724].
The National Archives (British)
Virtual Indian Town
Smith’s Capture


Algonquian Dances

Critical Inquiries

  • What is the Algonquian Exchange and why is it important
  • Why did Wahunsenacah (Powhatan) allow the English colony to survive?
  • Who are liminals and what roles did they play in Roanoke and Jamestown?
  • Why is 1619 a pivotal year in the Virginia colony?
  • How did John Rolfe and Matoaka (Pocahontas) facilitate the rise of a tobacco economy?
  • What caused the “starving winter?”
  • What led to the “Paspahagh Massacre“?
  • Were the Algonquians naturally prone to violence? NOTE: Popular culture, especially nineteenth-century western films that cast Indians as warlike, is deeply embedded in American culture. In the history of early Virginia Indians, a case can be made that the invaders were often guilty of provoking violence against Indians and then portraying them stereotypically as prone to violence.
  • How do you think the absence of women, knowledge of the environment, and access to food resources affected conditions in early Jamestown? See Kathleen Brown’s excellent essay.
  • What did Thomas Jefferson mean by characterizing the English and Indians as “wolves and sheep?”
  • Using this site, list as many examples as you can of the Algonquian exchange.
  • What was the Black Legend? The White Legend?
  • What was the impact of climate change?
  • Were Virginia Algonquians victims, obstacles to progress, or cultural deviants? Find examples to challenge these renditions.
  • How did drought, disease, and invasion affect Indian-invader interactions?

Dr. Crandall Shifflett

Professor Emeritus
Virginia Tech
For K-16 students and teachers and the generally educated public
See also,