When imagining Indians and Indian culture in Virginia, most people think of Powhatan wrapped in regal robes of animal pelts and his daughter Pocahontas who later traveled to England as John Rolfe's wife. Yet many thousands of people lived in what today is Virginia, and these two individuals do not come close to representing the typical Indian culture of Virginia. Powhatan's control, in fact, did not extend beyond the falls of the James River near present-day Richmond. The Monacan Indians, not the Powhatan, inhabited the vast Piedmont region of Virginia between the falls of the James and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This project aims to shed light on the Monacans, a native group about whom little is actually known. John Smith recorded a great deal of information about Powhatan culture, economics, and politics in his writings, including The Generall Historie of Virginia; his adventures, however, only led him to encounter the remote Monacan culture on three specific occasions (Hantman 1990: 678-9). Beyond those instances, Smith really only writes of the Monacans as the main adversaries of the Powhatan Chiefdom:

[The Powhatans] have many enemies, namely, all their westernly Countries beyond the mountains, and the heads of the rivers. Upon the head of the Powhatans are the Monacans, whose chiefe habitation is at Rasauweak, unto whom the Mowhemenchugehes, the Massinnacacks, the Monahassanughs, the Monasickapanoughs, and other nations pay tributes. (Smith 1907: 68).

From these brief accounts, modern ethno-historians and anthropologists glean most all of their information on the Monacan Indians of the period of European Contact.

What do we truly know about the Monacans? According to Captain Gabriel Archer, a member of the first expedition led by Christopher Newport up the James River to the fall line, the Powhatan guides did not want to cross into the lands of their inveterate enemy. Beyond the Monacan lands was Quirank (the Blue Ridge Mountains), they explained, in which one could find caquassan, a reddish mineral that was likely copper (Hantman 1990: 678-9). The second encounter consisted of Smith questioning a captured Monacan warrior, Amoroleck, through an interpreter (Hantman 1990: 679). In 1608, Smith writes of the last definitive encounter with the Monacan people:

Captain Newport with 120 chosen men...set forward for the discovery of the Monacan, leaving the President at the Fort with about 80. or 90. (such as they were) to relade the Ship. Arriving at the Falles we marched by land some fortie myles in two dayes and a halfe, and so returned downe the same path we went. Two townes we discovered of the Monacans, called Massinack and Mowhemenchouch, the people neither used us well nor ill, yet for our securitie we tooke on of their petty Kings, and led him bound to conduct us the way. (Smith 1907: 143).

With the information Smith collected from these brief engagements, stories and encounters with the Monacan people, he included them on his map of Virginia, the only map still in existence that explicitly includes Monacan villages.

The fact that John Smith refers to the captured man on the 1608 expedition as a "petty King," or werowance is significant. Chief Powhatan did not rule over a united "nation" at all; he was the leader of a confederacy of several smaller tribes. Each tribe, in turn, was ruled by a werowance who owed tribute to Powhatan (see Turner 1985). It seems likely, then, owing to both geography and Smith's account that the Monacan had a socio-political structure similar to the Powhatan. However, Smith also portrays the Monacan as less socially adept than their coastal neighbors: "...all confederates with the Monacans, though many different in language, and be very barbarous, living for the most part of wild beasts and fruits (Smith 1907: 68). This statement could mean that the Monacans relied less on agriculture and more on "primitive" hunting and gathering for subsistence; nevertheless, one could also chalk Smith's assertion up to a lack of direct or sustained study of the Monacan.

To fill the void of information about the Contact-era Monacans, one must now turn to archaeology. Excavations at the Crab Orchard, Hoag, Saratown, and Occaneechi Town sites (see Lapham 2002, Ward and Davis) in the Virginia and North Carolina Piedmont have yielded postmolds (features in the soil that are the decayed remains of a wooden post) in figures similar in shape to those of a Powhatan settlement near Jamestown (see Luccketti et al. 1994). The fact that the Powhatans had knowledge of the minerals of the Blue Ridge, people who could translate between the two languages, as well as a general feeling of hostility towards the Monacans suggests that these two cultures were indeed in contact, likely exchanging cultural influences. Thus, with slight reservations, one can infer that Monacan and Powhatan architectural structures were likely similar.

Other than Smith, we know relatively little about the Monacan people. Almost nothing was written about them after Smith's chronicle, and white settlers moving westward towards the Blue Ridge found little, if any, resistance from native peoples. For many years, historians interpreted the silence of the written record as evidence that the Monacan people no longer resided in this section of Virginia and had perhaps migrated westward and intermarried with other Indian groups. More recently, though, new theories have come to the forefront. Between 1911 and 1913, Jackson Davis visited and photographed Negro schools in Virginia. In Amherst County, though, Davis found a peculiar mission school on top of Bear Mountain. Though classified as a Negro school, Davis realized quickly that these people were not African American but Native American (J. Davis Collection). Specifically, these people were Monacan. One cannot say with any certainty how long the Monacan had lived at Falling Rock on Bear Mountain, but their presence signals that they did not merely disappear into the western wilderness. Today, the Monacan people still maintain a presence on Bear Mountain; twice a year, they celebrate their heritage in through a pow-wow and a homecoming festival.

In the early twentieth century, David Bushnell, an archaeologist with the Smithsonian Institute, sought more information about the Indians of Virginia's Piedmont, and he conducted surface investigations, interviews, and archival research. He seems to have derived his interests in the Piedmont from the chapter entitled "Aborigines" in Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson specifically mentions seeing Indians (though he does not say of what tribe they are) at the site of an accretional burial mound on the Rivanna River that he was later to excavate. At least thirteen such mounds exist today in the central Virginia Piedmont (see Dunham et al. 2000). Bushnell makes the conclusion that these people whom Jefferson saw were indeed Monacan (Bushnell 1933), and he found sufficient reason to believe that Monacan people still inhabited the village of Monasukapanough (across the river from the Rivanna Mound) in the early 1700s (Bushnell 1930: 20).

Recent work at the believed site of Monasukapanough and the Rivanna Mound reinforces Bushnell's conclusion that the Monacan still inhabited the village site into the eighteenth century. Both Potomac Creek pottery sherds as well as Clarksville projectile points have been found in the past few seasons. To most, these archaeological classifications mean nothing. However, both artifact types date to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Perhaps, as Bushnell says, the village was smaller or underutilized, but someone with these ceramic and stone technologies must have been there at the same time that settlers moved in to Albemarle County from the east.