Bits of SJ: The Powhatan Renape

by R. Cohen | Sep 15, 2003
Bits of SJ: The Powhatan Renape The Powhatan are a branch of the Algonquin speaking Indians that populated the northeastern part of the United States at the time of colonization. Powhatan is an Algonquin word meaning "at the falls", describing the original lands of these people (ENAT, 198-200). At their peak, the Powhatan were members of a huge union of various bands, "The Powhatan Confederacy" based in what today would be the state of Virginia. The Powhatan are the signatories of the oldest treaty written in America by England dating back to 1646.

The Powhatan population suffered greatly for its contact with the early British settlers. Half their number were wiped out by disease before the year 1700. Even more would be lost to war between the English and the Powhatan, capture and "exporting" them to England as curiosities and still further ravages of new, alien diseases born by the English.

The Powhatan Renape, the word Renape means "human beings", that remain today, are a smattering of those various bands that once formed the great confederation: the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Mattaponi, the Nansemond, the Pamunkey, the Potomac, the Rappahannah and the Upper Mattaponi.

In 1982, the state of New Jersey recognized the Powhatan Nation and ceded the Rancocas State Park to the Powhatan Renape. This land is now the Rankokas Reservation of the Powhatan Renape Nation, which is overseen by Chief Roy Crazy Horse.

The Powhatan Renape adopted a flag after recognition to fly over their returned land. On a white flag, the seven colors of the rainbow are represented in a circle, starting with red at the center and ending with violet on the outside edge. In the center of the rainbow is the "sacred tree," atop the back of a turtle. Rising from the "sacred tree" is a white eagle. The eagle's wing arch upward encircling a yellow and orange sun against a red backdrop.

For more information about the Rankokus Indian Reservation, visit their website at, and see our Attractions article, Rankokus Indian Reservation.

For more South Jersey History, visit our SJ History page.

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