The Monacan Indians and Manakintown
In 1607, when the first English settlers set foot in northern Chesterfield County, they entered the territory of the Monacan Indians, members of the Catawba tribe of the Sioux. At that time, the Monacans were believed to number 8,000 to 10,000. Recent archeologial evidence suggests that the Monacans were a significant influence on the decision by the eastern Powhatan Indians to allow the Jamestown colony to survive.The Monacans may have been Powhatan's chief source for copper, a highly valued commodity.
How long the Sioux had inhabited Virginia is unknown. Historians theorize that after leaving the Midwest, they migrated to the Ohio Valley, then moved eastward over the mountains into Virginia to escape the warring Iroquois. The six or seven hundred Sioux migrated to and established five towns along the James River and its tributary, the Rivanna River. These towns were open settlements rather than the normal palisaded villages, depending heavily on agricultural products. Like other tribes, they raised tobacco primarily for ceremonial purposes. Monacans survived on Virginia's abundant wildlife and then-teeming rivers. Today, when the water level is low, Monacan fishing traps are visible within the western limits of Richmond. Because of the intrusions by the white man, the Monacans began deserting their hunting and fishing grounds near the end of the 17th century.
In 1699, a Huguenot colony took the Indian land and established a settlement of their own. Through intermarriage with the white settlers or through uniting with other tribes, the Monacan population gradually decreased. Because the river repeatedly overflowed village sites, few traces of native settlements have remained in the area. Although no bones of the Monacans have been found, we do know that the Sioux nations had burial mounds. Burying the dead side by side and on top of each other, with thick layers of earth between each one, formed these huge burial mounds. The early settlers, attempting to level the land and till the soil, apparently destroyed any significant traces of Monacan culture and customs.
In 1989, a group of present-day Monacan Indians living in Amherst County, VA, were recognized as a tribe by the Virginia General Assembly.
Check out The Monacan Nation Site for more history.
Monacan Indian Living History Museum at Natural Bridge, VA
There's more on the Indians on the James River from In River Time: The Way of the James.