Upper Mattaponi Tribe


The Upper Mattaponi tribe is a state- and federally recognized Indian tribe whose tribal grounds consist of thirty-two acres in King William County, near the upper reaches of the Mattaponi River. In 2009, the tribe consisted of 575 members, many of whom live in Virginia.

Indian Town of Passaunkack

Although the Upper Mattaponi tribe was not known by that name until 1921, its members are descended from a group of Indians who lived near Passaunkack in the 1700s. In the late seventeenth century, the members of the Mattaponi tribe had been divided between two reservations, both established as a result of the Articles of Peace (1677). The Mattaponi Reservation, as it is still known, was founded in 1658 on the western banks of the Mattaponi River. Another reservation, established in 1695 near Passaunkack, was assigned to both Mattaponi and Chickahominy Indians. During the 1700s, the Chickahominy tribal members relocated to their ancestral lands; the Indians who remained near Passaunkack are the ancestors of today’s Upper Mattaponi Indians.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this area became known as Adamstown and its native residents as the Adamstown Band—so named because many of them had the surname Adams, possibly in honor of James Adams, a British interpreter who elected to remain with the tribe after the Virginia colony stopped funding interpreters in 1726. By 1850, a federal census documented ten Adamstown families in the area; an 1863 Civil War map designated Adamstown as “Indian Land.” By this time, most of the tribal members had converted to Christianity and worshipped in their homes or in other Indian churches, in particular the Pamunkey and Mattaponi reservation churches.

Sharon Indian School

The Upper Mattaponi people traditionally value education. They built their own school by the 1880s and in 1892 requested federal funds for education. In 1919 the King William County School Board built a small one-room schoolhouse, the Sharon Indian School, which the Upper Mattaponi furnished. The building served as a primary and limited secondary school for Upper Mattaponi children. (Church services were also held at the school until 1942, when the tribe built the Indian View Baptist Church.) In 1952, a brick structure replaced the original Sharon Indian School. The brick school closed in 1965 when desegregation went into effect. The building is now used as a tribal center. The only public Indian school building in Virginia that still exists, the Sharon Indian School is now on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Early in the 1920s, the Adamstown Band became incorporated as the Upper Mattaponi tribe, but—like other Virginia Indian tribes of the period—struggled to preserve its identity and culture. The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and subsequent legislation banned interracial marriage in Virginia and asked for voluntary racial identifications on birth and marriage certificates. “White” was defined as having no trace of African ancestry, while all other people, including Indians, were defined as “colored.” To accommodate elite Virginians who claimed Pocahontas and John Rolfe as ancestors, the law allowed for those who had “one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood [to] be deemed to be white persons.” The laws essentially erased Virginia Indians as a category of people under the law. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Racial Integrity Act unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia (1967).

In the second half of the twentieth century, the Upper Mattaponi people reasserted their tribal identity. On March 25, 1983, Virginia Joint Resolution 54 officially recognized the Upper Mattaponi tribe, along with the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and Rappahannock tribes. The tribe was federally recognized on January 29, 2018. Traditionally, the tribe hosts an annual festival and powwow on its land each summer, with hundreds of Indians from the Upper Mattaponi and other Virginia tribes in attendance.

May 29, 1677
Cockacoeske signs the Treaty of Middle Plantation, and at her request several tribes are reunited under her authority. But having been free of Powhatan domination since 1646, the Chickahominy and Rappahannock refuse to become subservient to her or to pay tribute.
A federal census documents ten families of Adamstown Indians (later known as Upper Mattaponi Indians) living near the village of Passaunkack.
The King William County School Board builds the Sharon Indian School, a one-room frame building that provides a primary and limited secondary education for Upper Mattaponi children. The families of the students provide the school's furnishings.
The group known as the Adamstown Indians incorporates as the Upper Mattaponi Indian tribe.
March 20, 1924
Governor E. Lee Trinkle signs "An act to Preserve Racial Integrity," a law aimed at protecting whiteness on the state level. It prohibits interracial marriage, defines a white person as someone who has no discernible non-white ancestry, and requires that birth and marriage certificates indicate people's races.
The Upper Mattaponi tribe builds the Indian View Baptist Church in King William County.
The Sharon Indian School closes as a result of desegregation.
June 14, 1976
Upper Mattaponi tribal leader Andrew Washington Adams obtains a charter incorporating the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribal Association.
March 25, 1983
Virginia Joint Resolution 54 extends official state recognition to the Chickahominy Tribe, the Eastern Chickahominy Tribe, the United Rappahannock Tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi Tribe. It also acknowledged the recognition of the Pamunkey Tribe and Mattaponi Tribe, which the commonwealth had recognized since the colonial era.
January 29, 2018
The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act is signed into law, granting official federal recognition to the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan, Nansemond, Rappahannock, and Upper Mattaponi tribes.
  • Egloff, Keith, and Deborah Woodward. First People: The Early Indians of Virginia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.
  • Wood, Karenne, ed. The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail. Charlottesville: Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2008.
APA Citation:
Encyclopedia Virginia staff. Upper Mattaponi Tribe. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/upper-mattaponi-tribe.
MLA Citation:
Encyclopedia Virginia staff. "Upper Mattaponi Tribe" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 21 May. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 03
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