How did the Powhatan look and dress?

A Weroan or Great Lord of Virginia, de Bry engraving

A Weroan or Great Lord of Virginia, de Bry engraving

John Smith’s 1612 description of the Powhatan Indians said they were “generally tall and straight, of a comely proportion, and of a colour browne….Their haire is generally black, but few have any beards. The men weare half their heads shaven, the other halfe long…. The [women’s hair] are cut in many fashions agreeable to their yeares.” Powhatan men and women painted their faces with a mixture of red paint and nut oil and used bear fat to ward off winter cold and summer insects. Women tattooed their bodies with abstract designs or pictures of flowers, fruits, snakes and lizards. As a mark of status, the elite wore beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Common materials used in Powhatan jewelry include shell beads, freshwater pearls, copper and animal parts, such as teeth or bones.

The Powhatan people wore little clothing. Although other types of clothing could be made, typically Powhatan men and women wore an apron of deerskin around the waist. Men wore fur cloaks, loose sleeves and leggings. Moccasins were worn on trips into the forest. Powhatan men were armed with the bow and arrow and war club.

Indian women made clothing from animal skins and other natural materials. They tanned the hides and used bone awls, bone needles and deer sinew to fasten garments together. Clothing was often decorated with fringe, beads, bones, teeth or painted designs.