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We think we know....but do we?

On December 2, 2018, the Museum opened our newest permanent cultural exhibit space, The Mannahoac [Mannahoack, Manahoack, Manahoac] Confederacy.

Just as with other historical terminology and names, there is confusion with the proper spelling of this Confederacy. Mannahoac (1608), Manahocks (1629), Mannahoacks (1635), Mahoc and Mahock (1672), Manahoac (1781), Mannahannocks (1883). For simplicity for now, we’ll use the spelling found most frequently “Manahoac”. Also, MS Word tends to force a change from the 1635 Mannahoack to the Anglicized Manahoac.

This new exhibit is an educational effort to inform visitors of the native peoples who inhabited what became Orange County (1734 to within its final boundaries). The earliest written account of their presence was in 1440. The Manahoacs were a hunting, gathering and farming people with nine known (recorded) tribal communities. Most of their communities were situated along waterways. Their closest neighbors were the Monacans, and the much larger and more powerful Powhatan Confederacy. The exact relationships between these three communities is not fully known, though we do know that the Powhatans were enemies of the Manahoac peoples; and the Monacans and Manahoacs were on good terms with each other. However, all three communities did band together as necessary to fight off the Iroquois and Susquehanna.

The 1635 map of Virginia by Willem Blaeu contains a detailed notation of the known Native Communities. Within the red circle that we’ve added, are the five known Manahoac communities at that time. The Stegara, Shackaconia, Tanxsnitania, Hassuiuga and the Mahaskahod. It was the Stegara who created the “Rapidan Mound” located on the Rapidan River’s edge.

19th century historians believe that the Manahoac Confederacy was down to less than 1,500 people upon their one and only interaction with Captain John Smith in 1608. This reduced population is believed to have been the result of numerous tribal wars with the Iroquois and Susquehanna nations and disease brought into the region spread through trade routes springing from early Spanish explorers. The Confederacy appears to disappear when its few remaining peoples were absorbed into other Siouan-speaking tribal communities among the Powhatan and other confederacies.

What we know about the Manahoac Confederacy is founded on information gathered by Captain Smith in 1608 through his Powhatan interpreter. While similar in culture, the Powhatan people were Algonkian and spoke a different language. Therefore, we probably do not have a completely accurate knowledge about the Manahoac Confederacy. Historians who wrote about the Manahoac Confederacy in the 1800s were able to gather information from descendants of the Confederacy, but well after their blending into other tribal communities. Again, what we know, or believe we know, may not be complete or fully accurate at this point in time. This is a learning opportunity.

During a visit to the Monacan Nation’s Museum in Amherst County, I read about Captain Smith’s encounter of 1608 with a hunting party of the Manahoac Confederacy. The exhibit sign reads that a group of Manahoacs “attacked John Smith and his men near the Rappahannock River” and that a member of their party “Amoroleck” had been captured and questioned about the reason for the attack. “Amoroleck answered that they believed that the English had come from ‘under the world, to take [our] world from [us]. John Smith never again ventured into our territory…” (Monacan Nation Museum Exhibit). This is the first mention I have read to date that links the Monacans with the Manahoacs and infers a shared territory, rather than strictly enforced boundaries. Unfortunately, the lack of written primary source history about these two communities prior to the 17th century and the dissolution of the Manahoac Confederacy leaves us with questions that we may never be able to answer.

Our exhibit includes stone and quartz tools from the western area of Orange County as well as a look at the “Rapidan Mound” – a large burial mound beside the Rapidan River that proved that the Stegara resided in Orange County. We also acknowledge the vital work of Ms. Sandra Speiden and her archaeological efforts involving Native American sites. Our information panels address the quartz relief sculptures, stone tools, definitions and information about the Manahoac Confederacy.

It is our hope that after visiting this exhibit, people will be inspired to learn more about the Native Peoples of Virginia.

Our thanks to Dr. Hal Young, Mr. Bill Speiden, Mr. Charles Brewer and Dr. Alan Shotwell for their generous contributions to this exhibit.

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