Giving Back to the River: The Pamunkey and Mattaponi Fish Hatcheries

"Their Manner of Fishing"

The 30+ tribes affiliated with the Powhatan paramount chiefdom lived along the rivers of the vast Chesapeake Bay watershed, taking what they needed from the waters and returning to them, spiritually andy physically, in gratitude for the water's gifts. Early colonists found the rivers so full of fish that they tried to catch them with frying pans.

Map of Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom

Map of Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom, showing the Chesapeake Bay and its many rivers.

In this watercolor by John White, 1585, the Native people of the Virginia-Carolina coast are depicted in various fishing activities, along with the species they pursued. Some men appear to be hunting fish after dark using fire to attract the fish. Others use spears. Additionally, a fish weir--a fence made of wooden spikes that draws the fish into a trap-- stretches across the river. Remnants of Native fish weirs can still be found at certain points on the James River above Richmond.

<em>The manner of their fishing</em>

"The Manner of Their Fishing"

Many tribes were forced to move inland as the English encroached on their best farming lands in the rich river bottoms, but those who managed to remain stayed close to the rivers. Here we see four Native men fishing from a sailboat, circa 1900.

Four men in Sailboat; Fishnet at Shore at Foreground 1900

Men fishing, circa 1900, net in foreground. Photograph by James Mooney.