The James River And Powhatan

Following down James River, constantly receiving accessions from mountain streams, we soon come to Lynchburg, most picturesquely built on the sloping foothills of the Blue Ridge, and having fine water-power for its factories, a centre of the great tobacco industry of Virginia, supporting a population of about twenty thousand people. Lynchburg was a chief source of supply for Lee’s army in Eastern Virginia until, in February, 1865, Sheridan, by a bold raid, destroyed the canal and railroads giving it communication ; and, after evacuating Richmond, Lee was endeavoring to reach Lynchburg when he surrendered at Appomattox, about twenty miles to the eastward, on April 9, 1865, thus ending the Civil War. The little village of Appomattox Court House is known in the neighborhood as Clover Hill. When Lee surrendered, casualties, captures and desertions had left him barely twenty-seven thousand men, with only ten thousand muskets, thirty cannon and three hundred and fifty wagons.

The James River, east of the Blue Ridge, drains a grand agricultural district, and its coffee-colored waters tell of the rich red soils through which it comes in the tobacco plantations all the way past Lynchburg to Richmond. In its earlier history this noted river was called the Powhatan, and it bears that name on the older maps. Powhatan, the original word, meant, in the Indian dialect, the ” falls of the stream” or ” the falling waters,” thus named from the falls and rapids at Richmond, where the James, in the distance of nine miles, has a descent of one hundred and sixteen feet, furnishing the magnificent water-power which is the source of much of the wealth of Virginia’s present capital. The old Indian sachem whose fame is so intertwined with that of Virginia took his name of Powhatan from the river. His original name was Wahunsonacock when the colonists first found him, and he then lived on York River; but it is related that he grew in power, raised himself to the command of no less than thirty tribes, and ruled all the country from southward of the James to the eastward of the Potomac as far as Chesapeake Bay. When he became great, for he was unquestionably the greatest Virginian of the seventeeth century, he changed his name and removed to the James River, just below the edge of Richmond, where, near the river bank, is now pointed out his home, still called Powhatan. It was here that the Princess Pocahontas is said to have interfered to save the life of Captain John Smith. Here still stands a precious relic in the shape of an old chimney, believed to have been originally built for the Indian king’s cabin by his colonist friends. It is of solid masonry, and is said to have outlasted several successive cabins which had been built up against it in Southern style. A number of cedars growing alongside, tradition describes as shadowing the very stone on which Smith’s head was laid. It may not be generally known that early in the history of the colony Powhatan was crowned as a king, there having been brought out from England, for the special purpose, a crown and ” a scarlet cloke and apparrell.” The writer recording the ceremony says quaintly : ” Foule trouble there was to make him kneele to receive his crowne. At last, by leaning hard on his shoulders, he a little stooped, and three having the crowne in their hands, put it on his head. To congratulate their kindnesse, he gave his old shoes and his mantell to Captaine Newport, telling him take them as presents to King James in return for his gifts.”