Real Nansemond Names

As a Bass, I was born with one of the most recognizable “Nansemond names.” However, the Bass name was not associated with Nansemond ancestry until John Bass(e) (b. 1616), an English minister, married Elizabeth (b. 1618), a Nansemond woman and daughter of a Nansemond Chief, in 1638. Descendants of Elizabeth (my 9th great grandmother) have become some of the most researched Nansemond people; however, she was one of over a thousand who was born, lived, and died in settlements surrounding the Nansemond River whose real Nansemond names (of the Algonquian language) have been lost. In this brief article I will share some names of Nansemond people and places that were documented at first contact.

Nandsamund
John Smith’s Map of Virginia (1624) named Nandsamund, Mattanock, Teracosick, Sharps Isle (island in the Nansemond River), and Mantoughquemend as Nansemond settlements.

When the English arrived in Nansemond territory in the early 1600s, their objective was to acquire additional resources. The Jamestown settlement’s food supply was not sufficient to sustain the pace of growth and John Smith strategically sent out two expeditions to settle new areas.

John Martin and George Percy were sent with 60 men by boat to Nansemond (while Michael Sicklemore led another group to the same area by land). The men described the Nansemond as being governed by four werowances1,2Weyhohomo, Amapetough, Weyongopo, and Tirchtough. The term “werowance” (meaning “antler wearer”) and each of these names were part of the Algonquian language spoken by the Nansemond.

Weroance Names
“…and these fower togither may make of sturdy and bold salvadges two hundred…”

To date, these are the only documented Algonquian names of early Nansemond people and places3. All other “Nansemond names” are English names held by individuals of Nansemond ancestry

References

1Conquest of Virginia, the third attempt, 1610-1624 : Virginia founded under the charters of 1609 and 1612 : an account based on original documents of the establishment of the colony, by the Virginia Company of London by Conway Whittle Sams

2The Cradle of the Republic, Jamestown and James River – Lyon Gardiner Tyler 

3Treaty Between Virginia and the Indians (1677) named Pattanochus as the King of the Nansanticoes, Nanzemunds, & Portabacchoes. This name is often cited as the King of the Nansemonds along the Nansemond River however this is an error. There were two signatures and this name, Pattanochus, was associated with a King who lived in King George County. The name of the Nansemond King who lived further south was not specifed.

 

 

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This site contains a historical and genealogical overview of the Great Dismal Swamp. The primary focus is on free people of color who lived in the counties of Norfolk, Princess Anne, Pasquotank, Camden, and Currituck (with relationships extending throughout southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina) and environmental influences on historical communities and migration. I am a Washington, DC-based scientist, an advocate for responsible research, and a Descendant of the Great Dismal. Thank you for reading.

13 thoughts on “Real Nansemond Names

    1. It’s like a man’s name.. same with women’s names ending in ske, squa… opechancanough is the one or man whose soul is white.. my son’s name is kekutonowasanough(one or man that bears lightning)

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  1. Thanks for sharing. I’ve always been in awe of the Nansemond. I live in Suffolk and used to live on the marsh in Chuckatuck across from Dumpling Island (supposedly where the Nansemond stores their food supplies?).

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    1. Doing a family tree for my son Kevin Cummings, I find that Elizabeth Tucker was my sons 9th grandmother and her husband Rev. Bass, his 9th grandfather. If I have run the family tree correctly, I have never heard of this tribe, here in lower Virginia all I have known was Cherokee tribe. Excited to tell my son and granddaughter.
      Carmen Berry Cummings Blevins

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      1. Documentating the Bass family history of the Nansemond tribe is worth the effort!

        I am so glad Nikki is interested and cares about putting history both oral and obscured on record. Nansemond tribe is no longer vanishing !

        I am also Bass DNA match with Alabama / GA / NC / VA roots who is an investigator, researcher and genealogist.

        Thank you for all you do!
        From Windy

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  2. Polly Bass is my 5th grandmother and John Launier Bass (her father) is my 6th grandfather. William Pettiford (b. 1761) is my 6th grandfather. I am interested in learning all that I can about my family and the old ways.

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  3. My research links me back to Edward Bass being my 10th grandfather and Mary Tucker as my grandma. I’m getting confused with different stories I’ve read. I see that he was John’s brother and that Mary was an Indian, but I can’t tell if she was of this same tribe or a different one. Any suggestions? Thank you so much for the work you’re doing!

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  4. Research is your passion! Are you archiving your history,a family tree or research papers in the Virginia libraries or historical societies? We must pass on your facts for future generations. Thank you very much.

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