Tag Archives: Indigenous Cultural Landscape

Cultural Landscapes of Menokin: An Historical Analysis – Part I

Originally prepared in October 2012 and revised in November of 2013, this research conducted and prepared by C. Allan Brown is part of the The Menokin Glass House Project.

 

The report will be shared in a serial fashion with the intention of a weekly post as time allows.

PART I

The objective of this report is to provide an explication of how the landscape of Menokin has functioned historically as a setting for human habitation.  The focus is “cultural” usages and meanings rather than “natural” conditions as wildlife habitat.  To borrow the terminology of anthropological studies, the analysis centers on an examination of human pathways (movement through space in time) and activity areas (utilization of space in time).  Eighteenth-century plantations in America were complex agricultural-production systems.  Their organization reflected societal and individual attitudes.  In the most refined examples, such as Menokin represents, they were also expressions of aesthetic and associational values.

Perhaps the most distinctive quality of the natural landscape of Virginia’s Northern Neck, the broader geographic setting between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, is the pattern of irregularly-shaped, small plateaus encompassed by shallow escarpments that occasionally approach true “cliffs” in character.  In the vicinity of Menokin, the level (or nearly level) upper plateaus are typically quite modest in extent.  By contrast, the tidewater landscape farther down the peninsula (as also along the lower James and York rivers) is usually flatter and more broadly expansive.  Land, sea and sky begin to merge there.  But in Menokin’s locale, discrete elevated pockets of land have been carved by numerous interconnected rivulets.  The resulting dendritic pattern is clearly visible in satellite imagery of the immediate region (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

The generally wooded condition of the surrounding ravines has created nearly continuous bands of foliage that envelope each enclave.  The density and verticality of the trees define compact spatial edges and frequently also limit long-distance views.  Upon each plateau itself there is a prevailing sense of containment and seclusion.  Those particular qualities also make the Menokin landscape quite different from the continuously rolling topography of the piedmont to the west, where the ground levels (and perspectives) constantly vary, and mountains are always on the horizon.  It is evident that the natural landscape of Menokin (Fig. 2) has had significant implications for the development of its cultural landscapes.[1]

Figure 2

Menokin plantation takes its name from references to the Indian word associated with the stream which bounds the property along the southeast.  As early as 1657/58 the name “Manakin” appears in local records in relation to that “Creek” or “Run” or “Swamp.”[2]  (An upper branch sometimes was called “Muddy Run”; in recent years, the latter name also has been applied to the entire stream.)  The current spelling of Menokin only became standard in the late 18th Century with the Lee family tenure.  Prior to that, numerous transliterated variations may be found, ranging widely from “Monoaton” to “Monocon” to “Manoikin.”  Mary R. Miller, in her very useful study of Place-Names of the Northern Neck of Virginia (1983), in attempting to distinguish between the variant spellings, nevertheless made some significant errors which have produced subsequent confusion.[3]  It does appear however that the similar place-names of “Monascon,” “Monaskan” or “Menaskant” (thought to be a shortened form of “Monasukapanough”) identify an entirely separate locality on the border of present Richmond and Lancaster counties.[4]

The Algonquian meaning of “Menokin” is unknown today, according to most authorities on American Indian cultures.[5] Variations of that place-name today appear throughout the eastern seaboard.  As unlikely as it may seem, modern authorities also believe that the Algonquian word bears no relation to the Monacan Indians who inhabited the upper James River region during the contact era, yet who spoke a separate Siouan language.[6]  (Thus the similar name of the Huguenot settlement of “Manakin,” established in 1699 in what became Powhatan County near an abandoned Monacan Indian town, is considered to be merely coincidental.)  It also should be mentioned that there was a “Manoakin” on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay as early as 1663.[7]  Clifford C. Presnall’s article on “The Menokin Mystery” in the Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine (pp. 3020-3022) attempted to address the matter but ultimately circulated further misinformation.

Menokin’s somewhat strategic location at the confluence of two small streams (named “Rappahannock Creek”[8] and “Manakin [sic] Creek”[9] in the earliest records) and near the

Figure 3

main travel artery of the Rappahannock River (Fig. 3) was recognized as being highly suitable for occupation even in the prehistoric era.  An abundance of early artifacts (stone flakes, pottery shards and fire-cracked rock) have been recorded by archaeologists investigating the plateau near the house ruins (Fig. 4).[10]

Figure 4

By the contact era with Europeans, the vicinity was occupied by the Rappahannock Indians (who evidently had resided in the broader region since about 1300 C.E.).[11]

The locality’s association with them is reflected in the site’s long-standing place names.  Indeed, Capt. John Smith’s 1612 map of Virginia appears to locate the principal seat of the Rappahannocks (“Toppahanock”) in the general Menokin neighborhood (Fig. 5).[12]  He reportedly first encountered them in December 1607 and then again in July 1608 (Fig. 6).[13]

Figure 5

 

Figure 6

 

One archaeologist has suggested that in the mid-seventeenth century (and perhaps earlier?), when there probably were only a few hundred Rappahannocks left, the

Figure 7
Figure 8

chief “town of the Great Rappahannocks”[14] was situated along the southern edge of what became the Menokin estate (Fig. 7).[15]  The particular promontory that he identified is one of the first to be encountered upstream along Rappahannock Creek and is slightly secluded yet affords a clear view to allow monitoring of movement on the nearby river.[16]  It would seem to be an ideal defensive position.  However, there appears to be disagreement among historians; a recent map of “Indians Towns” along the Rappahannock River (Fig. 8) does not include the Menokin location.[17]  (In any case, compare the apparent discrepancies among the relative locations of “Toppahanock,” “Acquack” and “Nomanye”/”Nawmanay,” known today as “Nomini”.)  This important subject needs to be more fully investigated in consultation with experts on Virginia’s indigenous people.  Future archaeological excavations may clarify the matter.


[1] For the broader physical context, see John R. Wennersten, The Chesapeake: An Environmental Biography (Baltimore, 2000); Philip D. Curtin, Grace S. Brush and George W. Fisher, Discovering the Chesapeake: The History of an Ecosystem (Baltimore, 2001).
[2] Virginia Land Office Patent Book 4, p. 303
[3] See Mary R. Miller, Place-Names of the Northern Neck of Virginia (Richmond, 1983), pp. 93, 97, 98, 101.
[4] Ibid., pp. 97, 101.
[5] See William Bright, Native American Placenames of the United States (Norman, OK, 2004), pp. 263, 278, 294.
[6] See Jeffrey L. Hantman, “Between Powhatan and Quirank: Reconstructing Monacan Culture and History in the Context of Jamestown,” American Anthropologist v. 92 (1990), pp. 676-690; Karenne Wood and Diane Shields, The Monacan Indians: Our Story (2000); Dennis B. Blanton and Julia A. King, eds., Indian and European Contact in Context: The Mid-Atlantic Region (Gainesville, FL, 2004), esp. pp. 22-26.
[7] See Virginia Magazine of History and Biography v. 19 (1911), pp. 173-180.
[8] Although the earliest documented name for the stream known today as Cat Point Creek is “Fleet’s Creek” (see Henry Fleete’s patent of 750 acres along that stream, dated 1 August 1652; Virginia Land Office Patent Book 3, p. 97), within a few years it was consistently known as “Rappahannock Creek” (see John Stephens’ patent of the original 1000 acres of the Menokin property, dated 13 March 1657/58; ibid., 4: 303).  The name “Cat Point Creek” came into common usage only beginning in the nineteenth century. However “Cat Point, Rappahannock Creek” was familiarly known by the mid-eighteenth century; see, e.g., Virginia Gazette (Purdie& Dixon), 3 September 1772.   The earliest record of “Catt [sic] Point” that I have seen dates to 5 February 1706; see Richmond County Deed Book 4, pp. 92a-93.  There was a ferry across Rappahannock Creek situated at that location as early as 1686.
[9]John Stephens’ original 1000-acre patent of the Menokin property, on 13 March 1657/58, situates it as “upon Rappahannock River or Creek opposite to the land of Colo. Henry Fleete, bounding southwesterly upon the said creek which divides this land from the said Colo. Fleete’s land, southeasterly upon Manakin [sic] Creek being a branch of the said Rappahannock Creek;” Virginia Land Office Patent Book 4, p. 303.  See also Camille Wells, “Menokin in Time:  A Documentary Research Report” (1997) prepared for the Menokin Foundation; it is the most comprehensive history of the site that has been produced.
[10]See Thane H. Harpole, David A. Brown and Meredith Mahoney, “An Archaeological Survey of Menokin, Site 44RD35, Richmond County, Virginia” (June 2008), esp. figs. 2, 3, 10 and 23; Deanna Beacham, “Examples of Indigenous Cultural Landscapes in Virginia” (2011), pp. 15-17.
[11]U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge:  Comprehensive Conservation Plan” (December 2009), section 3-6.  See, also, James D. Rice, Nature and History in the Potomac Country:  From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson (Baltimore, 2009); Edward DuBois Ragan, “Where the Water Ebbs and Flows:  Place and Self Among the Rappahannock People, from the Emergence of their Community to its Seclusion in 1706” (PhD diss., Syracuse University, 2005); Stephen R. Potter, Commoners, Tribute, and Chiefs:  The Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley (Charlottesville, 1993).
[12]See Edward W. Haile, Virginia Discovered and Discribed [sic] by Captayn [sic] John Smith 1608 (Champlain, Virginia, 1995); Philip L. Barbour, ed., The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), 3 vols. (Chapel Hill, 1986).  See, also, Helen C. Rountree, Wayne E. Clark, Kent Mountford, and Michael B. Barber, John Smith’s Chesapeake Voyages, 1607-1609 (Charlottesville, 2007); Susan Schmidt, Landfall Along the Chesapeake:  In the Wake of Captain John Smith (Baltimore, 2006).
[13]Karenne Wood, ed., The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail, 3rd edition (Charlottesville, 2009), p. 42.  See also Keith Egloff and Deborah Woodward, First People:  The Early Indians of Virginia, 2nd edition (Charlottesville, 2006), esp. p. 76.  The “Cat Point Creek and Vicinity” guide, published by the Friends of the Rappahannock (n.d.), identifies “Dancing Point” on the western shore of Menokin Bay (“location according to local legend”) as the site of the “King’s town” and the place where “in December of 1607, that the Rappahannocks first met the explorer Capt. John Smith.”’
[14]Stevan C. Pullins, “A Phase II Archaeological Evaluation of Site 44RD50 Associated with the Proposed Route 3 Project, Richmond and Westmoreland Counties, Virginia” (August 1992), p. 10.  Note that elsewhere in that report (p. 9) the adjective “great” shifts place, modifying “town” (i.e., “Great Town of the Rappahannocks”). There is also a reference to a Rappahannock town along Rappahannock Creek (“Fleet’s Creek”) in a patent dated 8 October 1657: Virginia Land Office Patent Book 4, p. 185.  Curiously, Wells’ comprehensive 1997 research report (“Menokin in Time,” op. cit.) makes no mention of Pullins’ 1992 report.  See, also, Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas’s People:  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries (Norman, Oklahoma, 1990), p. 118.
[15]Capt. Henry Fleete’s 1652 patent of land southwest of the present Menokin property was situated on the “north side of Rappahannock River, southwest of Great Rappahannock town where the Indians are at present seated 2 miles up Fleet’s Creek [i.e., Rappahannock or Cat Point Creek]” Virginia Land Office Patent Book 3, p. 97.  See, also, Pullins, “Phase II Archaeological Evaluation,” pp. 11-12.  John Stephens’ will, dated 5 March 1661, bequeathed the 1,000 acres of the Menokin property, “lying on Raa’ok. Creek, on the same side the Indians liveth on as per patent… ;” (Old) Rappahannock County Deed and Will Book, 1677-1682, Part I, pp. 66-68.  See, also, Thomas Hoskins Warner, History of Old Rappahannock County, Virginia, 1656- 1692 (Tappahannock, 1965), pp. 36-37.
[16]It seems that the promontory has not been physically investigated by archaeologists; it was not examined during the survey conducted in 2008 by DATA Investigations, LLC.  Aerial photographs indicate that as late as about 1950, that area of the plateau was open (now wooded).  See, also, Douglas W. Sanford and Michael J. Klein, “An Archaeological Assessment of Richmond County, Virginia” (February 1994), pp. 91-95, 100.  Not far from the Mount Airy millpond, a Rappahannock ossuary, dating from c. 1630-1660, was excavated just south of the Menokin property; see Potter, Commoners, Tribute and Chiefs, pp. 218-220.
[17]Figure 9 (uncredited) was found in the files of the Menokin Foundation.  It may be related to the “Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail” project.  Also, Figure 6?  For the uncertainty today of actual locations of the Indian towns, see Rountree, Powhatan, p. 12; Blanton & King, Contact, pp. 62-64, 69, 71.

 

2017 Menokin Speaker Series – The Official Schedule

2017-speaker-series-logo

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH 16

An American Silence: Walker Evans and Edward Hopper – documentation of common people their lives and places
4:00 – 6:00 | $10 | Speaker: Jeffrey Allison
Menokin Visitors Center | 4037 Menokin Road | Warsaw, VA

The photographer Walker Evans and painter Edward Hopper were part of the generation of American artists who tore themselves away from European ideals at the start of the 20th century. Join Jeffrey Allison as he explores these artists who celebrated America without filter focusing on common people in common lives and places. Within those scenes lie a powerful silence in which directness creates a visual anxiety as we wonder what has just happened and what will happen next.


APRIL 13

Geology of Menokin and the Formation of the Chesapeake Bay
Speaker: Christopher “Chuck” Bailey, College of William & Mary
4:00 – 6:00 | $10

Chuck Bailey
Chuck Bailey

Curiosity about the origins of the iron-infused sandstone of which Menokin is built has led Dr. Bailey on a deeper exploration of the geologic history of the Northern Neck and how it relates to the formation of the Chesapeake Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 


MAY 18
Mapping the Indigenous Cultural Landscape
Speaker: Scott Strickland, St. Mary’s College, MD
4:00 – 6:00 | $10

Scott Strickland
Scott Strickland

The project was undertaken as an initiative of the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay office to identify and represent the Rappahannock Indigenous Cultural Landscape between Port Royal/Port Conway and Urbanna. It was administered by the Chesapeake Conservancy and the fieldwork undertaken and report prepared by St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

 

 

 

 


JUNE 8
The Archaeology of Menokin
Speaker: David Brown, Fairfield Foundation
4:00 – 6:00 | $10

David Brown
David Brown

Dr. David Brown and his colleague, Thane Harpole, have been the archaeologists of record at Menokin for over a decade. This session will incorporate an outdoor “Adventures in Preservation” program as well as an indepth look into the past, present and future archaeology at Menokin.

 

 

 

 

 


JULY 18

The American Revolution
Speaker: Julie Richter, College of William & Mary
11:45 – 1:45 | $25*

Julie Richter
Julie Richter

Julie Richter received her Ph.D. in American History from the College of William & Mary in 1992. She teaches courses on colonial and Revolutionary Williamsburg as well as the way in which gender, race, and power shaped life in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Virginia as part of the National Institute of American History and Democracy.

*This lecture will take place at Ingleside Winery in Westmoreland County. Lunch is available by reservation and is included in the cost of the ticket.

 

 


AUGUST 17

Trees Up Close: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets
of Everyday Trees*
Speaker: Nancy Ross Hugo
4:00 – 6:00 | $15

Nancy Ross Hugo
Nancy Ross Hugo

Nancy Ross Hugo describes the joy of discovering unfamiliar features of familiar trees and how carefully observing seeds, catkins, flowers, resting buds, emerging leaves, and other small phenomena of ordinary backyard and roadside trees can provide insight into tree biology and reveal a whole new universe of tree beauty. She also shares what decades planting and observing trees has taught her about which trees make the best landscape investments and the importance of planting long-lived, legacy trees.

*This lecture will take place off-site due to the Smithsonian WaterWays Exhibit in the Menokin Visitor’s Center. Location TBD. A tree walk at Menokin will take place at the conclusion of the lecture.


SEPTEMBER 23-24

Menokin Sleepover Conference
Speakers: Frank Vagnone (One Night Stand) and Joseph McGill (The Slave Dwelling Project)

These two innovative and well-known historians and speakers will converge at Menokin for an extraordinary weekend of historical reflection, discourse and lessons on new ways to explore and experience historic places and the people who inhabited them.

More details about related programming will be shared as plans are solidified.