George F. “Thunder Cloud” Custalow was the chief of the Mattaponi tribe from 1914 until his death in 1949. Born in King William County in 1865, Custalow instituted educational and religious reform in his community and helped forge Mattaponi tribal identity. (Prior to his efforts, it was mistakenly believed that the Mattaponi were a branch of the Pamunkey, not a separate Powhatan tribe.) Under his leadership, a Mattaponi school opened on the reservation and tribal members founded the Mattaponi Indian Baptist Church. Custalow also campaigned with Pamunkey chief George Major Cook against legislation that restricted Virginia Indians’ civil rights even further than the Virginia Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, which passed in 1924, already did. He died on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation on March 18, 1949.
Author: Patricia Ferguson Watkinson
George Major Cook (1860–1930)
George Major Cook, also known as Wahunsacook or Wahansunacoke, served as chief of the Pamunkey Indians from 1902 until his death in 1930. Born on the Pamunkey Reservation in King William County in 1860, Cook had become one of the headmen of the tribe by 1888 and was elected chief in 1902. In 1917 he obtained rulings from the state attorney general that Virginia had no right to tax Indians living on the reservation or to draft members of the tribe for military service, thus reaffirming Pamunkey status as wards of the state. During the 1920s he opposed the Virginia Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, which effectively classified Virginians as either black or white. In speeches, newspaper articles, and visits to legislative committees and successive Virginia governors, Cook argued for the right of Virginia’s Indians to maintain their distinct heritage and be correctly classified as Indians in official records. During the final year of his life, Cook led opposition to a proposal to exempt Indians on reservations from being classified as black because it did not protect those who lived off the reservations. He died at his home on the reservation on December 16, 1930.