Going Powhatan #4: Going to the Library

I live in Henrico County, VA.  I used to think we have a nice library system.  I was wrong.  We actually have a scintillating library system.

Back in November, as I was lining up resources and information for my Going Powhatan project I seemed to recall that Henrico County Public Library (“HCPL”) had an “ask a librarian” function on the website.  So I jumped over and took a look.  Sure enough, there it was.  “Can’t go inside on account of COVID,” I thought.  “Might as well give it try.”  I clicked the link and typed a quick message asking for assistance compiling a reading list of the most highly-referenced books on the lifeways of the native tribes of Virginia with an emphasis on the frontier period and prior (pre-1912).

I immediately got a phone call — a phone call! — from a nice librarian named Kareema (I found out later she was Kareema Hamdan, Area Branch Manager of HCPL).  She said that they were working on it and they’d get back to me.  “This is  the sort of thing that librarians live for,” she said.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought it would be fun to see what they came up with.  I thanked her and waited patiently for a reply.

About a week later I got the following email from Kareema which said,

Hi Mitch,

I sent out a request to our librarians for any information we could provide to assist with your research and reading list. As you will see, we gathered more than just book titles so I hope some of this information is helpful to you. Please feel free to follow up with us if we can assist further.

Thank you,


Librarians who contributed:

Lisa Kroll
Elizabeth Hadley
Kelsey Crossley
Barbra Salas

Below are the resources and links they provided to me.  I’m still stunned by the amount of work they put into this, awed by its comprehensiveness, and deeply appreciative for the contribution they made to the project.  I told Kareema that she and her entire team were going in the book’s dedication, and I meant it.

The most insightful resources were the two relating to depiction of Native Americans in literature.  I’m not an insensitive person, but I can be a little naïve.  I honestly felt that sincerely immersing oneself in the language and lifeways of Virginia’s Native Americans was in and of itself a gesture of the greatest respect.

It never occurred to me that a reasonable person could view this project as disrespectful or exploitative.  But when I saw the references provided by the librarians, an old memory resurfaced.

Many years ago I met a fellow who assumed my first book was by and for neo-Nazis just because it had a red and black cover that featured a crow which he thought was an eagle.  I had been gut-punched.  I assured him that my book was most certainly not in any way inspired by, associated with, related to, or sympathetic toward anything Nazi — neo- or otherwise.  But was he still laboring under the misconception?  You know what they say about first impressions.

It all came back to me and my stomach knotted like kudzu.  What if somebody misunderstood what I was doing with this project?  How could I have forgotten that painful lesson?  Back then I had an excuse.  It was my first book as a self-published, freshman author.  But I’ve written six books since then.  I hope I’m older and wiser.

Thanks to the nudge of some kind librarians, and to the memory of an old lesson re-learned, I determined to break my back trying as hard as possible to see this project the way others might.

I started by reading a couple of contemporary books by and about local native peoples — Chickahominy Indians – Eastern Division: A Brief Ethnohistory by Elaine and Ray Adkins and  The Chickahominy Indians of Virginia Yesterday and Today by Eleanor West Hertz. I will read more.  And I will also get the opinions of local tribespeople before I publish.

Print titles owned by Henrico County Public Library

  • Eastern Shore Indians of Virginia and Maryland by Helen Rountree ( Any title by Helen Rountree should be worthy of reading)
  • The Powhatan Landscape: An Archaeological History of the Algonquin Chesapeake by Martin Gallivan
  • Indians in Seventeenth Century Virginia by Ben McCary
  • The Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes.  Detroit: Gale, 1998.
  • Encyclopedia of native tribes of North America by Michael Johnson
  • The Powhatan landscape : an archaeological history of the Algonquian Chesapeake  Martin D. Gallivan,
  • Powhatan Indian place names in Tidewater Virginia Martha W. McCartney
  • The true story of Pocahontas : the other side of history : from the sacred history of the Mattaponi Reservation people by Linwood Custalow
  • Pocahontas and the Powhatan dilemma : an American portrait  Camilla Townsend, Camilla
  • Monacan millennium : a collaborative archaeology and history of a Virginia Indian people by Jeffrey L. Hantman
  • The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail edited by Karenne Wood.
  • RELATION OF VIRGINIA : a boy’s memoir of life with the Powhatans and Patawomecks by Henry Spelman (on order as of 11/2020) https://www.upress.virginia.edu/title/1636
  • First People: The Early Indians of Virginia | UVA Press Incorporating recent events in the Native American community as well as additional information gleaned from publications and public resources, this newly redesigned and updated second edition of First People brings back to the fore this concise and highly readable narrative. Full of stories that represent the full diversity of Virginia’s Indians, past and present. www.upress.virginia.edu

From the William & Mary Libraries: Virginia Indian Research References

Websites affiliated with VA tribes or with tribe specific information

Publishing / Book Guidance by Native Americans about Native Americans in literature :

  • http://www.oyate.org/ “Oyate is a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity, and that all people know that our stories belong to us.”
  • Established in 2006 by Dr. Debbie Reese of Nambé Pueblo, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books. Dr. Jean Mendoza joined AICL as a co-editor in 2016. https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/

Resources on Indigenous Virginians from HCPL Databases (you will need your library card number to access)

Ebsco eBooks High School:

Plants of Virginia

  • Britton, Nathaniel Lord, and Addison Brown. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and British Possessions: From Newfoundland to the Parallel of the Southern Boundary of  Virginia, and from the Atlantic Ocean Westward to the 102d Meridian. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1913.  An oldie but a goodie, in three volumes, comprehensive and still useful although the taxonomy is dated; available online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library, https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/940#/summary
  • Flora of North America, http://beta.floranorthamerica.org/Main_Page Comprehensive work in progress.
  • Foster, Steven, and James A. Duke. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition. Peterson Field Guides. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Of limited use without second, identifying guide; general info about medicinal use, not specific.
  • Peterson, Lee. Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999. Drawings and photos, habitat descriptions, seasonal guides, and preparation instructions; of limited use without second guide.
  • Virginia Department of Forestry. Common Native Trees of Virginia: Tree Identification Guide. 2007. Of limited use; available as free download from http://www.dof.virginia.gov/shop/index-books.htm
  • Virginia Native Plant Society,https://vnps.org/ Has info about Virginia natives, including regional guides geared toward the home gardener which can be downloaded for free, https://vnps.org/virginia-native-plant-guides/
  • Virginia Wildflowers, https://virginiawildflowers.org/ Amateur site with identifying photos of wildflowers found in southwestern Virginia; includes limited info on edible and medicinal plants and fungi.
  • Weakley, Alan S., J. Christopher Ludwig, and John F. Townsend. Flora of Virginia. Fort Worth: Botanical Research Institute of Texas, 2012. Large coffee-table book highly recommended by naturalists; first formal update of local flora since the 18th century; best of all, most of the information is accessible via (much cheaper) app, courtesy of the Flora of Virginia Project,https://floraofvirginia.org/

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