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When Great Britain colonized Virginia in 1607, the area's substantial indigenous population consisted chiefly of the Powhatan Indians, a confederation of Algonquian tribes. By the middle of the 17th century, however, most of the Indian settlements in the upper valleys of the James and Rappahannock rivers had been abandoned. By the same token, few if any Indians remained in the Virginia Piedmont as early as 1675. The purpose of this work is to offer a comprehensive summary, prior to the Indians' disappearance, of all manner of life and culture of the Algonquians and the other tribes known to have inhabited 17th-century Virginia.
When John Smith arrived in Virginia in 1607, chief Powhatan had brought under his control more than 30 Algonquian tribes. Professor McCary begins with a description of the principal tribes within the Powhatan confederation, such as the Nansemond, Pamunkey, Pissaseck, and so on. The author's primary focus thereafter is with the social organization of the indigenous population, and the topics covered are legion: village structure, housing, foods, hunting and fishing methods, tobacco cultivation and usage, ornamentation and decoration, tools, pottery and furniture, implements and weapons, methods of warfare, music and games, marriage and burial customs, crime and punishment, religious beliefs, seasons and festivals, and more. Supporting the narrative are a number of detailed line drawings made by John White, a member of the ill-fated English colony on Roanoke Island, Virginia, in 1585, an essay devoted to Virginia prehistory and archaeology, and a helpful bibliography.
All in all, Professor McCary's book must stand as the best brief introduction to the Indians of 17th-century Virginia available.