What form of government did the Powhatan have?

Aged man, Theodor de Bry, 1590

Aged man, Theodor de Bry, 1590

Powhatan, the supreme chief, dominated their government. All villages in the same region belonged to one tribe. Each tribe had its own chief called a werowance (male) or werowansqua (female), and villages within a tribe had their own leaders who answered to the tribal chief. Everyone paid tribute taxes to the tribal chief, in the form of skins, beads, copper, deer, turkeys and corn. These goods were stored in large temples until used by a chief or given to loyal followers or guests. John Smith noted in 1612, “the forme of their Common wealth is a monarchical government, one as Emperour ruleth over many kings or governours. Their chiefe ruler is called Powhatan…His inferiour kings whom they call werowances are tyed to rule by customs, and have power of life and death at their command.”

Powhatan ruled by a system of customary law, coupled with his own commands.

He and his chiefs enforced their orders with the assistance of trusted priests and counselors. For those who disobeyed, punishment could be severe, such as clubbing or burning to death for theft, murder and other major offenses. Minor offenses yielded beatings and other less severe punishment. Scalping and slow death by torture were reserved for enemies and trespassers.