Powatan Indian villages, King's residences, "breadbasket" marshes producing tuckahoe, and the best corn-growing soils of the James River floodplain.
This map locates Powhatan Indian "towns" in 1607–1608. Most of these were small hamlets strung along the shores of the Chickahominy River. The map also shows the correlation between the denser upriver distribution of those towns and the presence of several factors. The guiding principle is: more food makes for more people.
The red stars identify "breadbasket marshes"—places where major concentrations of "tuckahoe" plants including arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), spatterdock/cow lily (Nuphar advena), and wild rice (Zizania aquatica). The greened-in areas of streams represent where arrow arum can grow (source: VIMS). Because these tubers grow deep in mud that is watered by large upstream areas even in a drought, they were the major hard-times food for Indian women whose corn withered and died in the dry years of 1607 and 1608.
When corn did grow well, it grew (and still grows, if unfertilized) even better in certain alluvial soils (shown in yellow) that occur up the James River (source: USDA Soil Surveys). There are additional reasons for more Indian settlements being farther up the James; the ones shown here are those concerned solely with plant life.
- Notes by Helen C. Rountree
Map produced by John Wolf; data supplied by Helen C. Rountree; reproduced by permission, National Park Service. Another version is printed in Rountree et al., John Smith’s Chesapeake Voyages, 1607–1609 (Charlottesville, Va)