Werowocomoco: Finding and Investigating a Legendary Site

Time Period
16,000 BCE to 1622 CE
Media Type
American Indian History
Dr. Randolph E. Turner, Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, Jonathan Doherty, and Ken Adams

On February 23 at 5:30 p.m., a panel of distinguished guests delivered a Banner Lecture entitled “Werowocomoco: Finding and Investigating a Legendary Site.” Soon after purchasing and settling on their waterfront property along the York River in Gloucester County, the Ripleys sensed their place was unique and special. For Lynn Ripley that feeling was confirmed by the number of American Indian artifacts—shards and projectile points mostly—that she routinely collected on her walks about the property. Her artifact collection soon drew the attention of archaeologists who had been hoping for many years to identify the site of Werowocomoco, the legendary American Indian village where chief Powhatan, his daughter Pocahontas, and Capt. John Smith first crossed paths when Smith was brought there as a prisoner. In 2003, nearly 400 years after the Powhatan people first encountered English settlers at Jamestown, archeologists from the College of William and Mary, the Fairfield Foundation, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources confirmed that the Ripleys’ property was, indeed, the site of Werowocomoco. During the next ten years, archaeological research would reveal just how special the site is, with indications of a village emerging roughly 400 years before the English settled Jamestown. Today, Werowocomoco is recognized as a secular and sacred seat of power of the Powhatan people until 1609, when paramount chief Powhatan departed the village. Thereafter, Werowocomoco soon vanished from the historical record, until its rediscovery in 2003.

Panelists for this Banner lecture, all of whom were involved in the dramatic and poignant story of Werowocomoco in the twenty-first century, will offer their perspectives on its rediscovery and investigation and discuss their connections to the site today.

Panelists will include Dr. Randolph E. Turner, former archaeologist at the Department of Historic Resources; Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, former director of the Department of Historic Resources; Jonathan Doherty, assistant superintendent of the Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Park Service; and Ken Adams, Chief Emeritus of the Upper Mattaponi and Virginia Indian Advisory Board member.

This lecture was cosponsored with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and is free and open to the public.