Captain John Smith's Adventures on the James
— www.johnsmithtrail.org —
James River Park System
The James River's rocky rapids marked a border between the Algonquian Indians and the Monacan Indians. In 1608, Capt. Christopher Newport and a band of colonists may have passed by here as they travelled by foot further up the river in search of gold. They visited a Monacan town somewhere near modern Richmond. According to William Strachey, who arrived at Jamestown in 1610, the English had claimed the territory for their king: "One day's journey into the Monacan country our elder planters at their first coming proclaimed His Majesty king of the country at Mohominge, a neighbor village, and set up a cross there with His Majesty's name inscribed thereon." The English recognized the capacity for water-powered mills along this stretch of river, which descends "3 or 4 fathoms down into the low country." In the seven-mile stretch from Bosher's Dam to the Mayo Bridge, the James River drops 105 feet in elevation, today powering some of the nation's best urban whitewater paddling.
Capt. John Smith's Trail
John Smith knew the James River by its Algonquian name: Powhatan, the same as the region's paramount chief. Smith traveled the river many times between 1607 and 1609, trading with Virginia Indians to ensure survival at Jamestown. What he saw of Virginia's verdant woodlands and pristine waters inspired him to explore the greater Chesapeake Bay, chronicling its natural wonders.
Capt John Smith's Trail on the James is a 40-site water and auto tour for modern explorers.
(sidebar) Monacan Territory
In the early 1600's, the fall line was both a cultural and a physical divide. The James River's rocky rapids marked the boundary between the Algonquian speaking Powhatans and the Siouan speaking Monacan.
The paramount chief of the Powhatans warned John Smith against the Monacan, and may have hoped to get English weapons and trade goods to overcome his historic rivals.
Smith wrote, "They have many enimies, namely all their westernely Countries beyond the mountains, and the heads of the rivers. Upon the head of the Powhatans are the Monacans?unto whom the Mouhemenchughes, the Massinnacacks, the Monahassanuggs, and other nations, pay tributes."