Matchut

By 1614, the English settlers had occupied much of the land along the James River and were beginning to establish farms on the York River. The territory controlled by Powhatan was reduced as the English expanded out from Jamestown. The Algonqian ruler was forced to move west from his original capital at Werowocomoco to Orapakes in 1609, and ultimately Powhatan settled at the headwaters of the Pamunkey River at Matchut.

According to Helen Rountree, Powhatan moved from Orapakes to Matchut between 1611 and 1614. Matchut was located on the northern bank of the Pamunkey (upstream of the modern Route 360 highway crossing), in a location where the English could not reach by sail before the Native Americans would be able to respond to a water-based attack. While the new Algonquian capital was at the edge of Monacan territory, the threat of the English caused the two groups to become allies by 1611.1

Matchut - upstream of Route 360, on the north bank of the Pamunkey River
Matchut - upstream of Route 360, on the north bank of the Pamunkey River
Source: US Geological Survey - Manquin 7.5 topo (2010)

Compared to the swamps at Orapakes, the new location offered better water access for Powhatan to receive corn provided by his subordinate werowances, and offered better farmland for local production. Most importantly, Matchut was far enough away from the English for Powhatan to feel secure. Locating Matchut on the northern bank of the Pamunkey put another water barrier between the capital of the Algonquians and the English, providing some protection against a ground attack. When Powhatan dispatched his daughter Pocahontas to visit the Potowomacks in 1613, he was based at Matchut and she presumably left from there.

Matchut may have been more secure than Powhatan's last two capitals, but it was still accessible to the English. According to Ralph Hamor, Matchut was a two-day trip from Bermuda Hundred ("the Bermuda") on the south bank of the James River. In 1614 he visited Powhatan to negotiate a marriage between Sir Thomas Dale, the leader of the English Colony, and one of Powhatan's daughters. 2

It pleased Sir Thomas Dale, before my returne to England, because I would be able to speake somewhat of my owne knowledge, to give mee leave to visit Powhatan and his Court: being provided, I had Thomas Salvage with mee, for my Interpreter, with him and two Salvages for guides, I went from the Bermuda in the morning, and came to Matchot the next night, where the King lay upon the River of Pamaunke

Dale hoped such a marriage would bring an end to warfare between the Powhatan tribes and the English. After Powhatan rejected the proposal, Dale tried to pressure Powhatan by bringing Pocahontas to Matchut. Dale proposed to exchange Pocahontas in return for the settlers that had fled to the Algonquian towns, and for the English tools and weapons they had stolen. In the second trip to Powhatan's capital, Dale sailed with 150 men to the Pamunkey River. According to Hamor's account (obviously written from the English point of view, with phrases such as "justly provoked"):

...we were no sooner within shot of the shore than they let flie their Arrowes among us in the ship. Being thus justly provoked, wee presently manned our Boats, went on shore, burned all their houses, and spoiled all they had we could finde... Then we went higher, to a house of Powhatans, called Matchot, where we saw about foure hundred men well appointed; here they dared us to come on shore, which wee did; no shew of feare they made at all, nor offered to resist our landing, but walking boldly up and downe amongst us, demanded to conferre with our Captaine, of his comming in that manner, and to have truce till they could but once more send to their King to know his pleasure, which if it were not agreeable to their expectation, then they would fight with us, and defend their owne as they could, which was but onely to deferre the time, to carrie away their provision; yet wee promised them truce till the next day at noone, and then if they would fight with us, they should know when we would begin by our Drums and Trumpets.

Obviously Matchut was not completely inaccessible to land-based sorties from the English sailing ships. Later, after further negotiations, Powhatan agreed to let Pocahontas marry John Rolfe and to live in peace with the English (but Powhatan never agreed to a marriage between Dale and any Native American).

in foreground: capture of Pocahontas (1613), in background: Dale's destruction on the trip to Matchut while trying to return her (1614)
in foreground: capture of Pocahontas (1613),
in background: Dale's destruction on the trip to Matchut while trying to return her (1614)
Source: Theodore De Bry Copper Plate Engravings

When Powhatan moved his capital moved to Matchut, Opechancanough lived across the Pamunkey River at Youghtanund. When Powhatan died (apparently in April 1618), his younger brother Opitchapam assumed authority. However, it appears Opechancanough controlled the confederacy's dealing with the English, and Opitchapam lacked full control or served just as a "front man" for Opechancanough.

Apparently the peace associated with the marriage of Pocahontas-John Rolfe was made over objections by Powhatan's younger brother, Opechancanough. Opechancanough organized the Great Uprising of 1622, when the Algonquians dropped the appearance of peaceful coexistence and attacked the English settlements.

The English response to the Great Uprising in 1622, and to another one in 1644, was to kill or displace most of the Algonquians living in Tidewater and to destroy the Powhatan confederacy. Those two wars greatly disrupted the capacity of any single Algonquian leader to control multiple tribes in eastern Virginia.

The last "capital" of the organized confederation led by Powhatan, Opitchapam, and Opechancanough was apparently Matchut. In 2010 there were seven state-recognized tribes in Virginia that had close ties to the original paramount confederation. Two of the old Algonquian tribes have reservations on the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers. Each Algonquian tribe has their own center and no tribe is subordinate to another.

References

1. Rountree, Helen, Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed By Jamestown, University of Virginia Press, 2005, p.132-133
2. as recorded by John Smith in The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations, and A sea grammar - Volume 1, Chapter XII. The Arrivall of the third Supply, memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/lhbcb:@field(DOCID+@lit(lhbcb0262adiv23)) (last checked September 15, 2006)

the four capitals of Powhatan, from his original inheritance at the Fall Line to Matchut
the four capitals of Powhatan, from his original inheritance of "Powhatan" at the Fall Line to Matchut
NOTE: on John Smith's map, north is to the right
(Source: Library of Congress, John Smith's 1624 map of Virginia)


Capital Cities of Virginia
Virginia Places