The Indians And the Collision of Cultures

by George Brown - published in a 1991 newsletter of Historic Prince William


The following article is excerpted from a book about the history of Prince William County written by Historic Prince William, Inc. member, George Brown, over a period of thirty years. We hope that Historic Prince William, Inc. will be able to publish this in its entirety within the next few months. (The Editors)

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the area which is now Prince William County was occupied by two Indian tribes. Along the Potomac River dwelt the Doegs (sometimes called the Tauxenent, Taux or Toags) a tribe of the Algonquian Federation. In the western part of the area could be found the Manahoac ("they were very merry"), a Siouan tribe.

The Doeg Indians

The Doegs had a structured society, living in villages and, although they hunted and fished, planted crops of maize (corn), pumpkins, sunflowers, squash, beans and tobacco in fields adjacent to their villages.

From John Smith's map and narrative, we know that the Doeg's main village was on the north bank of the Occoquan River, perhaps on the hill where the Lazy Susan Restaurant is now located, or nearby where the colonial town of Colchester later developed. The "Werowance" (tribal chief) lived in the village. There were also at least four hamlets, from Dogue Creek to the south to Theodore Roosevelt Island to the north, each ruled by a lesser "Werewance. " (The main village, now in Fairfax County, was in Prince William prior to 1742 and the hamlet of Pamacocack ("fish, plenty of") was located on Quantico Creek.)

The Doeg's werowances were male, but inherited their high position through female lineage. Holding absolute power of life and death over tribal members, they were permitted as many wives as they could support. Lesser officials included the cockarounse (an advisor); the priest having charge of the temple and advising on matters of war; and the shaman (conjuror.) The priest and shaman performed rites and maintained a temple containing remains of deceased werowances. Completing the population were common Indians and, lowest of all, the war prisoners.

Werowances and priests were supported by tribute from the members of the tribe, including those living in the hamlets. This income was sufficient to cover family needs, communal feasts, entertaining visitors of note, religious activities, alliances with other tribes and a reserve in case of need.

The Manahoac Indians

The Manahoac were a nomadic tribe of hunters, with no established villages, who had learned to burn the forest to create grassland and attract buffalo, their chief source of food. As with other nomads, they left little evidence of their presence except for arrowheads and spear points which still turn up in farmer's fields today. (We do not know if they were indeed "very merry" but that is reported to be the meaning of the tribal name.)

John Smith's Mission

The first documented visit by a European to the area of our County was the voyage of Captain John Smith in 1608. He sailed from Jamestown "to the freshies" in a two-ton barge with a party of fourteen men. We have not only an account of the trip but his map of the river, its tributaries and the location of Indian villages.

Before departing Jamestown, Smith was warned by Indians friendly to the settlers, that Powhattan, Chief of the Algonquian Federation, had issued orders to betray him. Knowing this, he sailed past their main town and sought a location where he might find a more friendly reception.

Rebuffed by many Indian tribes along the way, Smith was pleased to find a friendly reception at "Tauxenent" on the Occoquan river, the main village of the Doeg Indians. They were members of the Algonquian Federation but, at least at that time, disliked Powhattan which may account for the fact that they welcomed him with a feast at the "King's Howse" (Smith's description) which was the residence of the chief of the Doeg Tribe. Smith estimated the size of the tribe to be from 135 to 170, including 40 bowmen. (We cannot judge the accuracy of his estimate, but it is likely that the Werowance did not fully trust him and may have kept some of his tribe concealed.)

An interesting sidelight to Smith's voyage is a report by one of the men accompanying him: "a few beaver, otters, bears, martins and minks we found, and in diverse places that abundance of fish, lying so thick with their heads above the water as for want of nets (our barge driving among them) we attempted to catch them with a frying pan; but we found it is a bad instrument to catch fish with. Neither better fish, more plenty, nor more variety for small fish, had any of us ever seen in one place so swimming in the water, but they are not to be caught with a frying pan."

Colonization Begins

The arrival of the settlers in this area proved to be a disaster for the native Indians. Decimated by the Europeans' diseases for which they had no resistance and overwhelmed by the settlers' firepower in battle, they were soon driven away. Before 1700, the Doegs abandoned their villages and moved to the west. Later, they moved southward into King George County near the present town of Dogue on the Rappahannock River and, by 1714, the remnants of the tribe were located on the upper Mattaponi River, but none survived until modern times.

The Manahoac had much less contact with the settlers, since they occupied land in the area beyond, and buffered by, the Doegs, the Manahoac found themselves dispossessed. As they moved westward, they come under attack by the warlike Iroquois, and the few who survived were later found in the vicinity of Lynchburg, but soon disappeared. The Iroquois, in turn, despite their warlike nature, were unable to resist the settlers and were forced to sign a treaty promising to stay to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The treaty with the Iroquois, as with most treaties the Indians signed, was temporary. As more and more settlers came to this country, more Indian Tribes were dispossessed.

The Indian Heritage

The Manahoac, as we have mentioned before, left only an artifact or so to show that they lived in our County, but the Doegs left a heritage of some importance. As the settlers arrived, they learned the best locations for, and the Indian methods of, hunting and fishing; they copied their techniques used their trails, expanding them into roads (i.e.: the Indian "Potomac Path" essentially became U. S Route 1); and learned the Indian method of warfare which was to prove so frustrating to the British regulars during the Revolutionary War! Had the Doegs not been here, the settlers would have had much more difficulty in establishing and maintaining themselves as occupants of this land. When the Doegs left the area, some of the settlers moved into their villages and cultivated the crops the Doegs left behind.

Although the Doegs welcomed John Smith and his party in 1608, and continued to trade with the Jamestown settlers for some years thereafter, the settlers in this area were to call them "Liars, murderers and thieves." (In all probability the Doegs had an equally uncomplimentary description of settlers, but we do not have a record of it!) It is believed that this was the genesis of the common epithet: "He lies like a dog (Doeg!)"

There are those who claim that the Indians have not left us. According to one local legend, a tall Indian has often appeared in the mirror of the upstairs "necessary room" at a house in Occoquan, but he is gone when one turns around to look for him. The ghost of an Indian chief is said to haunt the cellar of the Snow Hill plantation house in the vicinity of Haymarket, incensed that the white man built upon a spot considered sacred by his tribe. Psychics have claimed that they have seen scores of Indian ghosts in the vicinity of Manassas Battlefield Park. Do you suppose. . . ?

In a very real sense the Indians have not left us. The Doegs' heritage is evident today, at least in the names of many places, such as: Occoquan ("At the end of the water"); Marumsco ("At the island rock"); Quantico ("By the long stream"); and lastly in the most common name of all: Potomac ("Trader").

Again because of their nomadic lifestyle, the Monahoac have virtually disappeared with a trace. Even today when one finds and arrowhead or spear point in the western part of our county, the origin of the artifact is not clear: was it a Manahoac, a Doeg, an Iroquois or even a settler who threw the spear or launched the arrow? (We must remember that the shortage of gunpowder and shot often resulted in forcing the settlers to use Indian weapons for hunting and some settlers used Indian weapons in preference to their guns because they were silent and did not frighten game away.)