Prior to European contact, the Powhatan paramount chiefdom occupied land in what is now eastern Virginia. An estimated 14,000 to 21,000 people were members of these tribes. Although there were about thirty separate tribes each with their own chief, it was Powhatan, the paramount chief and political leader, who held the greatest authority.
Members of the paramountcy were the tribes of Arrohateck, Appamattuck, Pamunkey, Mattaponi, Chiskiack -- these were the original groups. By 1598, the tribes of Kecoughtan, Youghtanund, Rappahannock, Moraughtacund, Weyanoak, Paspahegh, Quiyoughcohannock, Warriaskoyack, and Nansemond. All the people of these tribes spoke the same eastern-Algonquian language.
In 1607, Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement of North America. Conflicts between the settlers and the Powhatan paramountcy began almost immediately. With the Europeans trying to expand beyond Jamestown, conflicts over land continued to grow.
In August, 1610, the First Anglo-Powhatan War began and lasted till 1614. The English continued to gain new footholds. Powhatan, aging and losing control to his younger brother Opechancanough, responded less to the attacks. Opechancanough, a greatly feared warrior and well-liked leader of the Powhatan paramount chiefdom, was strongly opposed to the settlers.
In an effort to gain more power, the English took Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, captive and held her for ransom. Negotiations over hostages and weapons went on for almost one year. In March of 1614, a peace was concluded and sealed by the marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe, a colonist. For several years, relations between the Indian and settlers were a little better.
The second Anglo-Powhatan War began in 1616, when uprisings started again. The Chickahominy tribe refused to pay their share of corn to the new governor of the settlements and rejected the alliance with the English. Powhatan died in 1618 and Opechancanough, his brother, came to full power. By maintaining friendly relations with the English, Opechancanough gained their trust. In 1622, warriors of Opechancanough, mingling with the settlers, suddenly struck and killed a third of the colony. Over the next ten years, attacks back and forth left many dead on both sides.
For twelve years there was some peace. Then the third Anglo-Powhatan War started up in 1644. The Powhatan paramountcy, still under Opechancanough, made a last effort to remove the Europeans from the colony. The colony had grown considerably and the death of 500 settlers was devastating, yet that was just a small percentage of the entire population. The Europeans were steadily gaining land and more power.
Three new forts were built in 1645 by the colony. With Fort Charles, Fort James, and Fort Royal established on major rivers and near falls, the English had better strongholds. In August of that year, an attack lead by Governor William Berkeley, resulted in the capture of Opechancanough. All other male captives were deported to Tangier Island. Opechancanough was killed. The major power of the Powhatan Confederacy ended with the death of Opechancanough. He was 100 years old.
The treaty of October 1646 established set guidelines and boundaries for the settlers and the new paramount chief, Necotowance (nephew of Opechancanough), and sub-tribes of what was once a powerful paramountcy. Governor Berkeley developed and maintained friendly relations with the remaining Indian tribes and a relative peace reigned for thirty years after the end of the third war.
Totopotomoi, a grandson of Powhatan's sister, became the next Pamunkey paramount chief in 1649. He was a strong ally of the English. He married Cockacoeske, the daughter of Opechancanough. After his death, Cockacoeske became the paramount chief. She was called "Queen of the Pamunkey" by the English.