What is: The Pamunkey Reservation and Railroad Tracks

What was: The 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation created an 6-mile wide, 18,000-acre exclusive Native American zone by prohibiting colonists from living within three miles of the settlement on Pamunkey Neck.

In 1693, the colonial government allowed the Pamunkey to sell 5,000 acres of their land. That helped them pay debts and relieved some pressure to extinguish the reservation completely.

Starting in 1836, the Pamunkey were threatened by an effort to terminate their reservation for various reasons and on numerous occasions. It could have led to sale of the lands and dispersal of the tribe.

Over time, more slices of land were transferred out of Pamunkey control, leaving the tribe with an inadequate land base for subsistence by hunting and gathering. Today, the Pamunkey Reservation consists of 1,200 acres. That is 7% of the land originally granted by the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation.

The railroad tracks that run through the reservation are a reminder of the effects of modernity and how the indigenous peoples have been disrespected.  The tracks 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.