Virginia History and Werowocomoco

I grew up in Michigan. When I moved to Virginia in 7th grade, I found it strange how Social Studies classes focused heavily on Virginia history, particularly Confederate generals. However, as I continue work on my 4th grade Digital Toolbox, I discover new Virginia historical gems. One thing that pleasantly surprised me is Virginia curriculum’s focus on Native Americans. I know shamefully little about Native American history and am looking forward to continually delving in.

Fourth graders learn about Native American tribes in Virginia; specifically, the framework incorporates tribe names, languages, locations, and habitats in addition to farming, hunting, and clothing practices. The curriculum also relays information regarding Powhatan and Pocahontas as well as modern American Indians. Although the framework mentions that Native Americans were forced inland, it does not put much weight on Native American oppression. Of note, students learn about recent archaeological dig sites including Werowocomoco.

In this blog post, I focus on Werowocomoco, a historically important Powhatan Indian town confirmed as an archaeological dig site in 2002. In class, we have discussed in depth the importance of using primary sources for student engagement. Artifacts from Werowocomoco are a great example of potentially useful primary sources. This website provides images and descriptions of American Indian artifacts and historical items. This one provides useful information about the Werowocomoco research project with maps, history, excavation information, and more. Lastly, this resource provides additional information and videos regarding Werowocomoco including an entire page dedicated to teacher resources. This is a great potential field trip opportunity as science topics can also be incorporated. Virtual field trips are even an option.

What are your thoughts on Virginia’s focus on Virginia history? As a teacher, what modifications are you planning on making to ensure history is honest and inclusive? Additionally, did you find these resources helpful? What facets of these resources would you consider utilizing? What resources (primary or otherwise useful) have you come across while working on your digital toolbox?

9 thoughts on “Virginia History and Werowocomoco

  1. Bethany, it’s funny you should bring up Virginia History and the Werowocomoco in your blog as our Literature Circle is currently reading the non-fiction National Geographic 1607 A New Look at Jamestown by Karen E. Lange which discusses just that! A fantastic resource to be included in your Digital Toolbox should also be the Historical Fiction we were asked to read; Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone. Both books highlight the significant importance of the Werowocomoco and of course, tie into Virginia History for sure.

    Despite growing up in Virginia, I never learned about Werowocomoco but certainly learned about and took a field trip to Jamestown. It wasn’t until this class did I ever hear about the significance of Werowocomoco and learned about it’s rich and complicated history. I do think Virginia history is extremely important to teach students living in Virginia not only because it’s the place where they are living but also because it has the added bonus of our country’s founding rooted in Virginia in the early 1600’s. We are so fortunate to live in such a history-rich place, that I strongly believe we should be teaching Virginia history in school. What a missed opportunity to omit it. If my memory serves though, I think before 4th grade, we were only taught about the Native Americans around the time of Thanksgiving and of course, the narrative was quite different then. (Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/us/thanksgiving-myths-fact-check.html#:~:text=Not%20to%20rain%20on%20your%20Thanksgiving%20Day%20parade%2C,feast%2C%20the%20turkey%20%E2%80%94%20is%20not%20exactly%20accurate.)
    Now, we are teaching the stories upon which our country was founded in a more open, honest and inclusive manner. Being able to travel to the area and see in plain sight the landscape and possibly even see artifacts is a tremendous asset to living in Virginia, one I hope will continue to be included in school.

  2. Bethany,
    I really like your example of Virginia history regarding Native Americans. I was surprised that I had actually not heard of Werowocomoco. I agree with you that it would be a great field trip, science and historical opportunity to take a class there or even get to see some of the artifacts as primary sources. As someone who was born and raised in central Virginia, I can attest to the emphasis placed on local Virginia history, especially Native Americans. I can also attest to the fact that the oppression and disturbing mistreatment of the Native Americans was not addressed until I was much older. The elementary lens of Virginia’s Native history is one that relays cultural values and practices of various tribes but does not dive any deeper than that. I want to teach Kindergarten, which focuses on patriotism more than Native history. However, when Virginia history is dove deeper into in first and second grade, I hope the students are able to be guided, with kid-friendly language, through the mistreatment of Native Americans and the truth that is often evaded in textbooks and lesson plans. It’s really important to approach difficult subjects that revolve around dark parts of our history in a way that kids can understand using friendly language, but still conveying the important messages so often left unaddressed. Thank you for sharing these awesome resources, Bethany!

  3. Hi Bethany,

    I wanted to mention that I liked how you stated being “pleasantly surprised” because I feel that, as educators, we can sometimes (and more often than not) focus on the not-so-pleasant aspects when talking about the history curriculum. I do believe that its important to have focus on Virginia’s history because most students can relate to the topic since living in Virginia – however, it may cause a disadvantage for students who move to Virginia during later years in their education (possibly around 4th or 5th grade and/or higher).

    As a student who grew up in Virginia, I remember learning about Jamestown and Native Americans but much of what I learned was very surface level – it truly felt like the information on this topic was almost fairy tale-like rather than a reality. I feel that I perceived what I was being taught in this way because there wasn’t any detail provided in my learning experience that could lead me to gaining sense of reality to the “story.” In addition, I don’t recall learning about Werowocomoco.

    When I become a public school teacher, ideally within the PreK-2 level, one way I will modify to ensure that the history is honest and inclusive is by addressing the questions and concerns that come about from my students in an age-appropriate manner while teaching the history and social science standards. I also will plan activities and instruction in a way that strays away from the potential of fabrication. Moreover, actively monitoring my teachings, so that students won’t view historical individuals as “caricatures,” ensuring these individuals are humanized.

    Regarding the resources you’ve provided, I found them very helpful. Providing students with artifacts, from the VirginiaIndianArchive.org website, is a great way in providing them with real-life examples relating to the content.

    One resource I found on the VDOE website features curated online resources and experiences, created by the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Collaborative project with consideration of the VA standards. https://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/history/index.shtml
    Click this link, then scroll down to the section titled “Dr. Carter G. Woodson Collaborative” and you will see links to resources and experiences. At the bottom of the section, they provide a “Support and Guidance for Selecting and Enacting Resources” that provide information on how to best utilize materials that might have cultural bias.

    Hope you find the resource I included helpful!
    : ) Morgan

  4. Thanks so much for this excellent post, Bethany. The resources on the Werowocomoco are amazing! The Virginia Indian Archive database is so cool. This is an area where I need to do more reading and learning. I will definitely book mark all of these links so I can reference them in the future.

    Like you, I think the focus on Virginia is a tiny bit puzzling, especially if it just leads to teaching Confederate war heroes. I do love, though, the idea of focusing on Virginia’s indigenous people, and I think you could build an entire unit just out of what you’ve linked here. I also really enjoyed the focus on the different regions of Virginia last semester in the 4th grade science curriculum (this was the grade I worked with for my bibliography). I do think it’s important for children to have a sense of place, whether that means knowing about the geography/topography of their home state, as is taught in science, or, within a social studies context, the stories of the peoples who lived here prior to the onset of white settler colonialism.

  5. Hi Bethany,

    Thank you for sharing this, Bethany; as a born and raised Virginian, I was unaware of the Werowocomoco tribe or the archaeological dig site. The sites you shared were fascinating, especially the artifacts and A Story Written in the Land (Excerpted from “Virginia Indians at Werowocomoco: A National Park Handbook,” second edition). During undergrad, I took an archaeology class and enjoyed the hands-on nature of learning; I would love to create my own dig site simulation for the students to practice analyzing artifacts.
    Understandably, Virginia focuses on Virginian history as it is a very historical state throughout multiple periods. However, the SOL and curriculum are pretty one-sided; we’ve talked about adapting our teaching history to tell an authentic narrative. I think this could be as simple as first teaching “what you’ll be tested on” and then “the other half” so that students are still prepared for their test and get a complete picture. Activities could include completing a Venn diagram, role-playing sides of history, and more. As I’ve said in other posts, history should not be concealed; we should not ignore the stories we don’t like. Instead, we need to give students a well-rounded view of history so they can make informed decisions independently.

  6. Hi Bethany!

    Thank you for your blog post. This one was particularly interesting to read as my group for the Literature Circle read “Blood on the River” and “A New Outlook at Jamestown,” which are, both, books that integrates history of Werowocomoco.

    I come from California so our history is very different and did not teach a lot of what is taught in Virginia, especially this specific topic. I think that this history is important not only for residential Virginians to learn, but learners from other states as well. During my K-12 years, history was my lowest strength and learning about news and history of our country has always been something my grandmother encouraged. When applying to Richmond, I was mesmerized by how much history Richmond and greater Virginia has in its structures, education, and attractions.

    In looking at the resources that you have provided, I believe there is an abundance in useful information, with the help of images and videos to engage learners. I think you have provided us with a database with critical primary sources and images to consider using for our teaching careers.

    I would just like to add on that this is history is far different from any history I recall learning in my elementary years, and with this kind of history comes insight to a lot of conflict and pain that people had to endure while this country grew to be what it has become today. This history should be prioritized to teach, but at the same time we must focus on relaying the information as accurately as possible while also making sure that the way we teach it is appropriate for the ages we teach.

  7. Bethany!!

    I am in love with your post. VA history is my absolute favorite, especially the colonial times. I agree that while students learn about Native Americans, we do not teach them about oppression, what actually happened on both sides, or how the colonists were often in the wrong! I hope to teach 4th or 5th grade, so I would definitely plan on teaching what they need to know and not sugar coating things. They are old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong, and I’m pretty sure standards will change soon enough anyways to incorporate both sides of all historical events.

    Thank you so much for your resources as well. I really liked them! I am linking the Jamestowne website below. I used it for my digital toolbox as they have so many great primary resources to use when teaching Virginia Studies.

    -Madison

  8. Well Bethany, like some of your classmates before you, you are stealing my thunder! However, I do appreciate this post and you sharing of these resources. I will add to them this page at the VDOE on Virginia’s First People:
    https://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/history/virginias-first-people/resoures/index.shtml

    I think we do a great disservice to our students when we don’t tell the whole story of the colonization of this land. The stories of native peoples don’t just stop because we arrived. They may be more difficult to hear, but there are great stories of perseverance here, as well innovation and environmentalism well- beyond those of others at that time.

    We’re going to explore a number of primary resources related to Jamestown and where we have them, the native peoples who inhabited this land.

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