Tag Archives: Rappahannock

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.

 

“A Place Like No Other.”

Commentator Thea Marshall recently learned about a famous architect who’ll be putting back together again a famous pile of rubble.

Of course, the famous architect is Jorge Silvetti – of Machado and Silvetti Associates – and the famous pile of rubble is Menokin, a National Historic Landmark and the Commonwealth’s largest and most historic jigsaw puzzle.

This essay, as comfortable to listen to as a favorite tune, is chock full of information about Menokin – the place, the people who lived here, and what the future holds for this historic treasure.

http://ideastations.org/radio/archive/2012-07-25-menokin-redux

Thea Marshall is the author of “Neck Tales: Stories from Virginia’s Northern Neck,” published in June, 2009. Along with her professional writing assignments, she is a broadcaster, actor, and producer, with life long experience in all forms of communication – from print to theater to radio and television. She writes and broadcasts original commentaries on and about the people, places, history, culture and current issues relating to the Northern Neck for WCVE Public Radio (heard on both WCVE in Richmond and WCNV for the Northern Neck).

America: First Impressions

Native American Settlement

Before the Menokin plantation was ever developed, this area along Cat Point Creek (also called Rappahannock Creek) was home to the Rappahannock Indian Tribe. In 1608, Capt. John Smith recorded 14 Rappahannock towns on the north side of the River and its tributaries. The general plantation site was referred to as “Menokin” by the Rappahannock, which likely translates to “He gives it to me” in the tribe’s Algonquian-based language. Francis Lightfoot Lee kept the name for his home. For more information on the Rappahannock Tribe, visit www.rappahannocktribe.org.

Trees of Menokin

Are you sad the cherry blossoms are no longer in bloom? Do you still need that tree fix?! At Menokin, there are an abundance of tree species to see. In fact, you can download our tree guide and learn about over 30 species of trees while enjoying a nice walk on our nature trail. Bring some friends and your dog and experience these natural wonders!

First, let’s test your tree knowledge! Do you know what tree this is? (Hint: it is the Virginia state tree)

It’s a flowering dogwood tree (Cornus Florida)! Actually, the white or pink “flowers” of the flowing dogwood tree are bracts, or specialized leaves, that surround a cluster of tiny yellowish flowers. The dogwood tree is beautiful all year round.  The white or pink “flowers” that bloom in the spring give way to bright, red leaves in the fall. The flowering dogwood is abundant in the Eastern United States. [1]

Can you name this tree?

It’s a Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron Tulipfera)! The tulip poplar is one of the largest of the native trees to the Eastern seaboard. Native Americans and colonists used these trees to make canoes.  It could be that the Rappahannocks, who lived on Cat Point Creek, could have used some of Menokin’s tulip poplars to build some canoes! [2]

Another tree you can see at Menokin is a Devil’s Walkingstick. Can you tell us how this tree got such a spooky name?!

——
Notes:
[1] “State Trees and State Flowers,” The United States National Arboretum
[2] “Tulip-tree, Tuliptree Magnolia, Tulip Poplar, Yellow Poplar,” The Floral Genome Project

Architecture Firm Chosen To Lead The Menokin Project Team

We have chosen the architecture firm of Machado and Silvetti Associates, LLC to lead an interdisciplinary team in the planning and design of the Menokin Project. We are certain that Machado and Silvetti will implement our vision to present Menokin through its many parts and pieces rather than through a traditional reconstruction. Further, this renowned firm will help our Foundation realize its goal to become an internationally recognized learning center for heritage and natural resource conservation through innovative practices and technology.

Our glass house project is an innovative and groundbreaking approach to historical preservation.  We will not restore the house to how it looked in the late 1700s, but instead recreate the missing parts of the house by using glass.

After the loose pieces of the house were removed and categorized,  we  were faced with the challenge of stabilizing and preserving the house, while at the same time furthering the public’s understanding of how the house was built and the historic make-up of the house. We wanted the ruins to be a safe place where people could learn and discover. The glass concept allows visitors to see the inner workings of the architectural structure  of the house, while also allowing visitors to envision what the house looked like at its prime.  Menokin, through this project, fulfills its aim to interpret Francis Lightfoot Lee’s life as well as further current knowledge of architecture, archaeology, and preservation.

Machado and Silvetti, headquartered in Boston, is best known for its contemporary designs that are attached to historic settings. The firm is one of the few practices in the United States that specializes in merging innovative and contemporary agendas with historic structures and contexts. A recent project includes designing a research and exhibition center within a historic landmark fort in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

We are confident Machado and Silvetti will further our aims to be an innovative and internationally renowned education center. Construction on the glass house is projected to begin in 2015. We will continue to post updates on the glass house project at Menokin. We welcome any comments or questions!