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History of Monacan Indians in Columbia, Virginia
February 8, 2022
With a very small population of 126 people, Columbia, Virginia was once a thriving capital for the Monacan Indian Nation and still holds historical value. By the 1600s, the Monacan Indians had created a capital that rivaled European towns, such as Jamestown in size.
Rassawek, now modern-day Columbia, Virginia, was home to over 2,000 Monacan Indians for over 5,000 years. It is located at the mouth of the Rivanna River where it meets the James River known as “Point of Fork.” According to Virginiaplaces.org, Point of Fork is recognized as a historic site of a Revolutionary War battle where the British destroyed a supply depot in 1781. Columbia is now home to a vineyard named “Rassawek Vineyard,” which has been known for housing many historical structures from the Monacans. These include an arched stone bridge, a White Gazebo, Saylor cabin built in 1844, and the Cherokee cabin built in 1910.
The Monacan Indians used Rassawek as a major trading center. When English settlers began venturing out from Jamestown in the early 1600s, Captain John Smith placed Rassawek on the map. The Rivanna and James Rivers were crucial for the English settlers’ ability to thrive. Crops such as corn, beans, and squash were grown and things like fruit trees, wild grapes and nuts. Like Jamestown, Rassawek was a thriving community for years until the English began to invade and bring diseases over, wiping out the population. Between 1607 and 1720, Monacans began to move westward, but some stayed at Rassawek. The tribe lived there for many years but slowly began to move headquarters to Amherst County.
Monancans have fought for representation in Virginia for years, but more so here recently. In 2009, the James River Water Authority was created and planned a water pipeline from the James River to Zion’s Crossroads. It was created to increase tax revenue for the counties, without consideration of things like the historical site of Rassawek. The authority decided to build a water pump station at Point of Fork next to the former site of Rassawek. The process required assessment of the historic and cultural resources, in which the Monacans were contacted in May of 2017. The authority offered to conduct archeological studies before excavating the site for the pump station, to facilitate reburial if any graves were discovered, and to make a donation to the Monacan Ancestral Museum. The Monancans are opposed to this idea because they wished for their ancestors to be left where they were placed, out of respect. In August 2020, the James River Water Authority requested the Corps of Engineers to suspend work on its permit for the Point of Fork site which is considered a win for the Monacan Indian Nation.