Published on February 22, 2011 by Carol
Chief Powhatan (d. 1618), whose proper name was Wahunsenacawh (sometimes spelled Wahunsonacock), was the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah, an alliance of Algonquian-speaking Virginia Indians in Tidewater Virginia at the time English settlers landed at Jamestown in 1607. Powhatan, who represented the main political and military power facing the early colonists, was the father of Pocahontas and probably the older brother of Opechancanough, who led attacks against the English in 1622 and 1644.
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In 1607, the English colonists were introduced to Wahunsenacawh as Powhatan and understood this latter name to come from Powhatan’s hometown near the falls of the James River near present-day Richmond, Virginia.
Seventeenth-century English spellings were not standardized, and representations were many of the sounds of the Algonquian language spoken by Wahunsenacawh and his people. Charles Dudley Warner, writing in the 19th century, but quoting extensively from John Smith’s 17th-century writings, in his essay on Pocahontas states: “In 1618 died the great Powhatan, full of years and satiated with fighting and the savage delights of life. He had many names and titles; his own people sometimes called him Ottaniack, sometimes Mamauatonick, and usually in his presence Wahunsenasawk.” Many variants are used in texts:
The description, weroance (chief?)
The name, Wahunsunacock
The title, Mamanatowick (paramount- or great- chief, overlord?)