What is: A mound on Pamunkey Neck, described as the gravesite of Powhatan.
What was: Powhatan, was the leader of many Algonquian tribes and met on several occasions with Captain John Smith in 1607 in the earliest recorded meetings between a Native leader and the English. On one visit in 1609, the English forced Powhatan to bow so they could crown him as a ruler in Virginia.
He died around 1618, and the ceremony for the “taking up” of his bones was a signal for the uprising that initiated the Second Anglo-Powhatan War in 1622. Colonists did not know the details of Powhatan’s death or burial, so the written records do not document the location of his grave.
His bones may have been placed in a mat and kept in the Uttamusak temple complex, rather than interred in the ground. Whether or not Powhatan’s remains ended up on what is today the Pamunkey reservation, no one knows for sure. However, it highlights the association with the paramount chief and father of Pocahontas and gives the Pamunkey tribe special status today.
The railroad tracks running across the Powhatan mound were first laid in 1855, across 22 acres of the Pamunkey reservation, without permission from the Pamunkey and with no compensation to the Pamunkey for this unsolicited and unwanted use of their land.
In 1975 the Pamunkey began a suit against the Southern Railroad Company which in 1979 resulted in reparations of $100,000 being paid to the Pamunkey for the location of these tracks. The terms of their settlement also required that the railroad continue regular rent payments for use of that land in the future, and determined that if the railroad should at any point discontinue use of the tracks, the land will be returned to Pamunkey use.