Powhatan Indians, a small tribe inhabiting tidewater Virginia in early colonial times. The tribe's name was given to one of its chiefs and to the Powhatan Confederacy of about 30 tribes, which he headed. These Indians were closely associated with the first English settlement in America, that of the Virginia colony at Jamestown in 1607. Powhatan is said to mean “falls in a current of water.”
The confederacy totaled some 15,000 Indians at one point. All the tribes were of the Algonquian linguistic stock. Included were several tribes for which geographical features of Virginia were named: Appomattoc, Chesapeake, Chickahominy, Mattapony, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Potomac, and Rappahannock, for example.
The chief, whose real name was Wahunsonacock, is said to have enlarged the confederacy from 6 to 30 tribes by conquest. His daughter Pocahontas influenced him in being generally friendly to the English settlers, especially after her marriage to John Rolfe in 1614.
After Powhatan's death in 1618 his brother Opechancanough led a war against the English that lasted from 1622 to 1636 and resulted in the destruction of all the English settlements except those immediately about Jamestown. In a second uprising in 1644 Opechancanough was captured and killed. In 1676 Nathaniel Bacon led bloody raids against Powhatan tribes.
The confederacy was decimated by the wars against the English settlers. The remnants of the tribes, however, remained in Virginia and descendants of members of the confederacy tribes live there today.