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 thehad been divided between two reservations, both established as a result of the . 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 . 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 thestopped 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 and Mattaponi reservation churches.
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 whenwent 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. Thebanned 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 and 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 (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,, Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and 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.