The People of Jamestown: The Powhatan Indians
Students will describe the culture and environment of the Powhatan
Standards of Learning:
Virginia SOL: VS1g; VS2b, c, e; VS.3g, 4b; USI. 3b, 4b
National Standards of History: Historical Analysis and
Interpretation; Historical Comprehension
Materials Needed for Activity:
Video: Discovering Jamestown: The Powhatan Indians (Windows Media Player required. Click here to
Classroom map of Virginia
Other Helpful Resources:
See the Cultures at Jamestown and Living With the Indians background essays under Curriculum Materials.
tribe - a sociopolitical
organization which may include one or more local villages/towns,
districts or other groups which share a common ancestry
chiefdom – a sociopolitical organization in which the
society is ranked; all the villages in a region are united and led
by one very powerful person or family whose authority is inherited
werowance – leader of a tribe within the chiefdom
tribute – a gift or payment made to someone, usually a
leader such as a werowance or Powhatan himself
conjurer – one who practices magic or serves in a religious
role healing others or predicting the future; a lower ranking
puccoon – A valuable red dye sought in trade by the
The Powhatan people occupied the
coastal plain of Virginia, located roughly between 36 and 38
degrees north latitude and 75 and 77 degrees west longitude. It
includes the area east of the fall line, plus the Eastern Shore.
Easy access to waterways, farmland, and forest throughout eastern
Virginia allowed each village to produce most everything it
needed. Because of the bountiful environment in which they lived
and the spread of ecological variety over the coastal plain, the
Powhatan had little need for economic specialization. Every tribe
could produce what they needed in terms of foodstuffs, building
materials, and utensils within their own territories. However, in
order to obtain highly desirable luxury goods, such as copper,
puccoon, shell beads, and pearls, the Powhatan people traded
extensively with other Indian groups in areas as far away as the
Great Lakes. The desire for luxury goods played a big role in the
relationship between the Powhatan and the English. The English
desperately needed Powhatan knowledge of the local environment and
ways to use it in order to survive. The Powhatan desired copper,
beads and other luxury items possessed by the English. Though the
Powhatan and English traded and got along at times, they often
fought. In the end, it was the overwhelming firepower of the
English, in addition to devastating diseases that ultimately
sealed the fate of the Powhatan people.
Step 1: Review the meaning of
“culture” (way of life) with students. Remind the class that all
cultures have certain basic needs which they meet in different
ways. How they meet these needs may be based on geography,
available resources and technology. The same thing is true for how
societies organize themselves into functioning groups. Discuss the
importance of “environment”, especially as it related to the
Powhatan Indians. The local environment provided the Powhatan
people with their every need. Have students look at the classroom
map of Virginia to refresh their memories of Jamestown’s location,
emphasizing its proximity to water and the richness of the forests
and soil with an abundance of resources.
Step 2: Tell students they will be viewing a video to learn
how the Powhatan Indians met their basic needs and how they
organized their society. Divide the class into six groups. Each
group should be assigned one cultural feature to discuss – food,
clothing, tools and technology, recreation/arts, religion, and
societal organization. Instruct students that as they watch the
video, they should write down what they hear about the cultural
feature they have been assigned.
Step 3: Have students view the video, Discovering
Jamestown: The Powhatan Indians.
When the video has ended, have
the students in each group discuss among themselves what they have
learned about the Powhatan Indians and the cultural feature they
Summary Activity: Ask each
group to decide upon a spokesperson for their group and have that
person report what they learned about their particular cultural
feature. Use the following questions to guide discussion, if
Food - What kinds of food did the
Powhatan eat? How did they get it?
Clothing – What materials did the
Powhatan use to make their clothing? How did they decorate
Tools and technology – What were some
of the tools made by the Powhatan? From what did they make them?
Recreation / arts - What were some of
the leisure activities enjoyed by the Powhatan? Give some examples
of sports or games they played?
Religion - How would you describe
their religion? What roles did their priests and conjurers have in
Society - How did the Powhatan
organize their society? What form of government did they have?
As students report out, have them
give examples of how the Powhatan were able to interact with their
environment. Discuss how this compares with our society today and
the way we relate to our environment in obtaining our goods and
our necessities. Are there any similarities? Differences?
The “Discovering Jamestown” electronic classroom was made possible
by Dominion & Dominion Foundation and John and Dorothy Estes.
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