—When English colonists settled Jamestown, the Indian town of Werowocomoco was a secular and sacred seat of power of the Powhatan Chiefdom—Long lost to history, in 2003 the site was publicly identified by archaeologists with DHR and the College of William & Mary “Werowocomoco was basically our peoples’ Washington DC.” - Kevin Brown, Chief of the Pamunkey Tribe
RICHMOND – Today Governor Bob McDonnell joined Virginia Indians and Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources (DHR) to publicly dedicate to conservation the site of Werowocomoco, the place where Paramount Chief Powhatan, Captain John Smith and Pocahontas first met, in December 1607.
“The preservation of Werowocomoco and today’s dedication ceremony embodies the special relationship the Commonwealth has with Virginia’s living Indian community,” Governor McDonnell said. “Together, these efforts serve as tangible evidence of our ongoing commitment to that community and to its rich history and culture.”
“This easement adds to the growing acreage of vital riparian lands and habitat within the Chesapeake Bay watershed that we’ve placed under conservation during Governor McDonnell’s administration,” Secretary Domenech said. “But more significantly, it represents the protection of what is the most important Native American site along the Chesapeake and its tributaries,” he added.
During his remarks, Governor McDonnell individually recognized the chiefs of Virginia’s seven Powhatan-descendant tribes, the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi, asking them to stand along with their respective tribal members attending the ceremony.
With the York River serving as a scenic backdrop, preservation of the nearly 58-acre Werowocomoco site was formally recognized with a ceremonial signing of a conservation easement between the property’s owners Bob and Lynn Ripley, and Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, director of the Department of Historic Resources, the agency that has spearheaded efforts to conserve Werowocomoco and that will hold the easement on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
After the ceremonial dedication of the land to conservation, Pamunkey Indian Chief Kevin Brown spoke in solemn response and presented strings of quahog wampum and copper beads to the Ripleys, Kilpatrick, and Secretary Domenech, in a gesture of gratitude for the partnership to preserve the Werowocomoco site, the secular and spiritual seat of power of Paramount Chief Powhatan and the Powhatan Chiefdom when Jamestown was settled in 1607.
“Werowocomoco was basically our peoples’ Washington DC. It is a very sacred and historic site and we are very happy it is being put into an easement to protect it from development,” said Kevin Brown, Chief of the Pamunkey Tribe.
Afterwards Secretary Domenech invited each of the chiefs to the podium to speak. Their words touched on the spiritual, cultural, and historical significance to them individually and to their tribes of Werowocomoco, where archaeologists say Native Americans settled at least as early as 1200 A.D., long before the English arrived in present-day Virginia.
Situated along the York River, the Werowocomoco site will remain the property of its current owners the Ripleys, who were lauded during the ceremony for their exemplary stewardship of the land. As the easement holder, DHR will ensure the site’s protection while also overseeing continued research by archaeologists working closely with Virginia Indians through the Werowocomoco Research Group and its Virginia Indian Advisory Board.
Ten years of archaeology at Werowocomoco has revealed an extraordinary and unique site—including the footprint of the largest longhouse ever investigated in Virginia—and one befitting the stature of a paramount chief and military leader such as Powhatan and of the town that lay at the heart of the Powhatan Chiefdom. The chiefdom, consisting of about 30 tribes and 15,000 or more persons inhabiting much of present-day Tidewater and coastal Virginia, was among the most complex Native American societies in eastern North America when Jamestown was settled.
“Werowocomoco is deeply defining of Virginia Indian prehistory and history and that of Virginia and the nation,” said Kilpatrick, who as director of DHR proposed and worked closely for many years with the Ripleys to bring the site under the protection of an easement. “If Jamestown was the beginning of the English in North America, then Werowocomoco—where Smith met with Powhatan at a time when the fate of Jamestown hung in the balance—was the beginning of the beginning. This is a site of international significance,” she added.
The Werowocomoco site, which was the focus of a PBS NOVA special in 2003 and a National Geographic Magazine feature in May 2007, was listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.