Native American Heritage

Dancing Point

Dancing Point was once the home of the
Rappahannock Indians

Native Americans in the Northern Neck of Virginia

 Very little is chronicled about the thousands of years that Native Americans lived in the Northern Neck, but the story unfolds as we examine the lay of the land.  The water boundaries have shaped the history of this area since mankind first discovered the shores of the "Neck" 10,000 years ago.  The waterways of the Chesapeake Bay, Rappahannock River, and Potomac River provided both sustenance and isolation as the early inhabitants established permanent villages in the Northern Neck.

The rich colonial history is evidenced by the historical attractions found here today, but throughout the region the Native Americans thrived for thousands of years before European settlers arrived.  The bounties of the water and the richness of the land enabled these early "settlers" to live and establish their culture.  It is quite apparent that the natural resources of the Northern Neck are the reason why the Native Americans settled here.

The land masses that we now live on are believed to have risen from the sea hundreds of millions of years ago.  The landscape allowed plant life to become established, and the grasses and shrubs of the broad open areas provided feeding grounds for hooved animals like Bison and Caribou.  The first people to inhabit the North American Continent were the nomadic hunters and gathers that followed the herds of animals to use for food, clothing and shelter.  Historians believe that Native Americans settled in the Northern Neck as they changed from a nomadic lifestyle to an agricultural based society. 

The lifestyle of the nomadic native Americans left few artifacts to tell the story of what it was like to live in their world, but we do have some clues.  Spear tips dating from 10,000 years ago attest to the presence of these hunters in the Northern Neck.  Authentic stone spear tips can be seen in the Richmond County Museum at the intersection of Routes 3 and 360 in the center of Warsaw. The size of these artifacts leads you to conclude that the spears were aimed at large game.

Using poles and animal skins, to form tepees, these hunter-gatherers could pack up and move very quickly in order to follow the roaming herds.  As the great forests grew and the large herds disappeared, more and more groups became dependent on the natural resources of the area.  The hunter-gatherers began to settle down into more permanent homes or "long houses".  The numerous creeks, rivers and Chesapeake Bay provided a great source of food.  Native Americans shifted toward a more agrarian lifestyle by utilizing the great seafood resources offered in the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay.  Along the shoreline they lived, grew crops and created great mounds of seashells as they abandoned the nomadic lifestyle.

The Native American Tribes of the Northern Neck were involved with other tribes to the south for leadership and trade.  The English Explorer Captain John Smith, who first explored the Northern Neck in 1607, documented many different villages located here.  Some of these Native Americans were under the leadership of the great chief, Powhatan c. 1547-1618, who resided on the Pamunkey River, about 40 miles from Warsaw at the Capital called Werowocomoco.  Near Warsaw, at Jugs Creek, the Rappahannock Indian village was considered the local headquarters for Chief Powhatan.  This village was referred to as Tappahaneck and contained a long house that the Chief may have stayed in during his visits.  Chief Powhatan was the father of Princess Pocahontas, who has been given credit for saving Captain John Smiths life.

As the contact of Native Americans with European settlers increased, their numbers decreased.  Many Native Americans sold their land holdings to the settlers and the tribes gradually dispersed.  Today there are no organized tribes in the Northern Neck.  The relatives of the first inhabitants of the area now live across the Rappahannock River and often return to the area to celebrate the traditions of the past.

You can see authentic displays, artifact exhibits, ceremonial dances and purchase Native American crafts at many of the celebrations presented in the area.  George Washington's Birthplace National Monument holds an Indian Heritage day each Summer.  Several towns in the Northern Neck have held Native American Culture Days.  Understanding the culture of the first inhabitants of the Northern Neck provides us with a window to the past.  The beauty and abundance of natural resources inspired the Native Americans to treasure their homeland, we now find the historical aspects of their presence here a treasure unto it's own.