PHOTOPHILE- Lost city: County's biggest Monacan town emerges
It was such a notable town that Captain John Smith– although he never ventured this far inland– put it on his famous 1612 map of Virginia. Today, however, Albemarle's biggest Jamestown-era Indian village is just a memory, some hills and floodplain around the Rivanna River off Polo Grounds Road.
But the memory came alive on Sunday, September 23, for 150 or so listeners to the on-site talk by UVA's Jeffrey Hantman, an expert on Monacan Indians and this town called Monasukapanough. (Its exact pronunciation being unknown, Hantman and others were pronouncing it MON-ah-SOOK-ah-pa-NAW.)
Hantman suggests that residents of the village, which disappeared before Albemarle was settled in the early 1700s, hunted, fished, and probably grew corn, squash, and beans and might never have encountered the English colonists. One thing's for sure: they buried the bones of their dead in a mound.
That last factoid comes from Thomas Jefferson, who as a boy saw a passing Indian party take a six-mile detour to make a sorrowful pilgrimage to the mound. In 1783, Jefferson went to the site to conduct what Hantman calls a "scientific archaeological excavation." By then, the land was under cultivation by white settlers whose agricultural practices had trimmed the 40-foot diameter burial mound from 12 feet in height to just seven and a half.
Still, the approximately 1,000 sets of bones, none damaged by warfare, were enough to convince Jefferson that it was, as he wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, "the common sepulchre of a town."
After the talk, limeade and brownies were served, and at least two dozen attendees took a hike down the Rivanna River to get a sense of what might have been downtown Monasukapanough.
Part of the village lands are now the SOCA-ACAC South Fork Soccer Park, and part is the Bentivar subdivision. So where, someone asked, was the village?
"It could be here, and it could be down in the bottomlands," Hantman answered. "But it's probably all the way around us, the way the Monacans lived."
FOR NON-FLASH BROWSERS, HERE'S HOW THINGS LOOKED:
Victoria Ferguson, a Monacan and interpreter at the Natural Bridge Monacan village, and Jimmie Lou Reid, a member of the Proffit community since 1952
Bill Emory photographed Kenneth Branham, the chief of the Monacan nation, who was reelected to his fourth four-year term in July. "No Virginia Indian," Branham said, "would get upset being called 'Indian'."
Karenne Wood, tribal council member; Judy Branham, the chief's wife; and Edith Durie, the chief's sister
Clara Belle Wheeler, who owns the farm of pioneer George Rogers Clark, visits with Waynesboran Cathy Lang.
Jeffrey Hantman and Susan Lebeis, a Martha Jefferson nurse with a degree in anthropology
Nearby landowners Jim Murray, Don Swofford, and Bess Murray visit with Doug Clark, who began his 45-year aviation career from a grass strip on this bottomland, which his grandfather bought about 100 years ago.
Captain John Smith's 1612 map shows Monasukapanough.
VIRGINIA CENTER FOR DIGITAL HISTORY