Powhatan History

In the words of the late Chief Roy Crazy Horse...

We are the native natural people of this land, descendants of an ancient confederation that at one time included over thirty nations. Our people were placed here by the Creator, and have maintained an unbroken history of thousands of years of settlement along the coastal areas of the mid-Atlantic. Although most of our lands are now occupied by others, many of the nation of the original Powhatan Confederacy still survive. The oldest treaty written in this land is between the Powhatan Nations in the year 1646.

Since the time we met the Europeans in the 1500's, our history has been characterized as a struggle to survive war, disease, prejudice, and cultural disintegration. Foreign disease alone probably accounted for halving the Powhatan population by the end of the 17th century. Many of the survivors of those early epidemics were largely decimated by war and starvation. Yet, against all odds, we the Renape (human beings) have survived. Essentially the term Renape refers to us as an ethnic group, a people speaking a common language. However, we were not all united in one Nation. Our people governed themselves freely and harmoniously as independent republics, which sometimes came together in alliances or confederations, such as the Powhatan Confederacy. Thus Powhatan refers to our political identity, while Renape refers to our ethnic/language identity.

Preservation

History shows that New Jersey's efforts to create a European society to the exclusion of the Original Peoples resulted in an ethnic cleansing which eliminated almost the entire Native population in the early 19th century.

Despite systematic attempts to destroy our Confederation and our culture, the Powhatans have endured, proving our Peoples' strong will to preserve our heritage. Tribal affinities remain strong, distinctive religious beliefs and economic traditions continue to be practiced, and in spite of efforts to force our people to speak only English, the Powhatan language is still alive!

Powhatans Today

Today, most of the descendants of New Jersey's Original People are in Oklahoma and in Canada.

The Powhatan Renape Nation's origins were in the late 19th century, where one by one, our people came in to settle a tiny subdivision known as Morrisville and Delair in Pennsauken Township.

Our forefathers were mostly Rappahannocks from Virginia and Nanticokes from Delaware. Although they had taken tremendous losses in culture as the result of the racist society which surrounded them, they were able to retain their identity. They know who they were and they sought people like themselves as spouses for their sons and daughters. They were quiet, put down deep roots, brought in new members, consolidated their community. At one point, almost 90% of the population of Morrisville were Powhatan Renape people - some 42 homes.

In the 1960's, we "went public" by establishing a center in Philadelphia and later in Moorestown....but we always kept quiet about our home neighborhood. In 1976 we moved to larger quarters in Medford. In 1980, the State of New Jersey, by Resolution of its Senate with the concurrence of the General Assembly, recognized the Powhatan Renape Nation. The resolution also called upon the Congress of the United States to recognize the Powhatan Renape Nation.

IN 1982 the Powhatan Renape Nation negotiated an agreement with the State of New Jersey to take over 350 acres of state owned land in the town of Westampton. The property is now recognized by the state of New Jersey and the general public as the Rankokus Indian Reservation. The Nation's administrative Center is located here to manage its community, educational, cultural, social and other programs and services.

We take on the responsibility of helping the people of the State of New Jersey - particularly school children - to understand our people, our ways, our history, and in the process, to help them understand their own history and their responsibility as Human Beings in the Creation. Thousands of school children visit the Reservation annually to tour its museum, art gallery, and the many exhibits and nature trails on the grounds.

Annual events such as the Juried American Indian Arts Festival, the largest of its kind east of the Mississippi River, are held at the Reservation. As such, the Reservation serves as a focal point not only of the Powhatan Renape Nation, but for American Indians` of other nations located in the region.

For additional information, we recommend A Brief History of the Powhatan Renape Nation, by Chief Crazy Horse. This publication available directly from the Rankokus Indian Reservation. To order, please send $3.00 plus $1.21 for shipping and handling to:
Powhatan Renape Nation
Rankokus Indian Reservation
PO Box 225
Rancocas, NJ 08073