A Return to the River – TTG

A part of ancestral homelands on Fones Cliffs is restored to the Rappahannock Tribe 

This section of Beverly Marsh, across from Fones Cliffs, is where members of the Rappahannock tribe hid and shot arrows during their defense against Captain John Smith in 1608. The tribe now owns 465 acres along the cliffs. PAMELA A. D’ANGELO FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Nearly 400 years after the Rappahannock Tribe was forced from their lands along the Rappahannock River, they finally got a piece back. It all culminated in a “Return to the River” ceremony Friday, on a windy afternoon at a farm along the Rappahannock in Essex County. Under a giant white party tent that at times felt it would lift with the wind gusts, 200 people gathered—tribal members, their friends and the many who helped return the land. Some dabbed their eyes as they listened to heartfelt speeches and prayers and rejoiced with the Rappahannock’s Maskapow Drum Group.

Across the river, the string of Fones Cliffs stand like sentinels, some up to 150 feet high. The tribe now owns 465 acres of them, their former town of Pissacoack mapped by Capt. John Smith during his 1608 explorations. The cliffs were once their home, along with lands up and down both sides of the river in this area, including the farm.

“I whispered over to Chief Anne before this all started, ‘I hope I can get through my remarks without crying,’” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland told guests. She didn’t. Nor did Rappahannock Chief Anne Richardson and many in the audience. But they were tears of joy and relief.“You know for our people to go back there, which they haven’t been yet, it’s emotional because the bones of our ancestors reside there and their DNA is in the ground and the eagles watch over it,” Richardson said the day before the ceremony. “It’s a spiritual place for us.”

Besides being part of Rappahannock ancestral homelands, the cliffs are a stopping place for hundreds of migratory bald eagles and a large year-round population. They can be seen perched over the river, which sustains sturgeon, shad and the invasive blue catfish, an eagle favorite. During certain times of the year, among the marshes across from the cliffs are thousands of migratory birds.


Comment: I learned of this last Friday from a national news provider, but decided to see how my local paper covered the story. Glad I waited. Pamela A. D’Angelo did a great job covering and reporting this story. She also provided plenty of back story, both recent and ancient.

I don’t get down to the Fones Cliffs area of the Rappahannock very often. I’m far more familiar with the area just up river from Fredericksburg. Just last Thursday I watched a rather large murder of crows on the rocks among the shallow rapids of this section of the Rappahannock. Just downstream from the crows, the ever present blue herons were fishing the rapids. Enjoy the respite. I did.


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18 Responses to A Return to the River – TTG

  1. Degringolade says:

    You are almost describing the Willamette in terms of wildlife. I am about seven miles from downtown Portland. Herons in the shallows by elk rock, eagles overhead. crows and ravens abound.

    Nice life we have

  2. cobo says:

    CA might be doing something to offer redress to our Native tribes. But we’ll see how it really plays out: https://www.ktvu.com/news/newsom-proposes-100m-for-native-american-tribes-to-buy-land

  3. scott s. says:

    Used to have to make the trip from Annapolis to Newport News and would take the 301 to the 17 down to Yorktown. That is a very nice area. But I have trouble relating as I feel no affinity for my “ancestral homeland” if I could even define that.

  4. Leith says:

    Good on the Morris family and Chief Anne for making it happen. Deb Haaland and Bryan Newland of the BIA need to step up and give federal recognition to the Chinook Nation in SW Wash State and NW Oregon along the Columbia River and Willapa Bay. They welcomed the Lewis and Clark expedition 200 plus years ago and kept them alive with salmon, elk, and whalemeat. Without them Oregon and Wash might well have ended up as part of Canada.

    • TTG says:


      Our local Stafford County tribe, the Patawomecks, are also seeking federal recognition. The mother of Pocahantas was a Patawomeck. I remember when Wayne Newton came here and to Richmond to speak for the tribe’s state recognition back in 2010. He spent a lot of time in Stafford with his Patawomeck relatives. A large farm was donated to the tribe a few years ago where they are working on a cultural center and living history museum. It should open this summer.

  5. jim ticehurst says:

    Thankis for the ..Pow Wow…Nice Break..I spent an Entire Summer on an Indian reservation..On The Coast of Washington..when I Was 13 yoa..I Love The Native Americans..I Am happy for Any Tribe..That Get Tribal Land.. Back..and can Develope thier Own Tribes Culture Centers..I Have a Hand Made..Cedar Canoe Paddle..A Treasure and Gift…
    From The Oldest Tribal Member..”Granny”…She Was Proud to Say..
    “I Paddle My Own Canoe.”…The Pow Wows..The Drum Beat..The Costume Dances…The
    Salmon..on Spits..The People…All Good,,

  6. Swamp Yankee says:

    I’m headed this weekend to a herring celebration that the Wampanoag are putting together at the site of an ancient Wampanoag village on the Nemasket River in Middleboro, Massachusetts.

    The Nemasket plays host to the largest herring run on the East Coast — get any of them (alewives, blueback herring) down your way, TTG? It was thrilling for me as a lad, when you could still catch them by hand, to go to the various herring runs after long, snowy, New England winters.

    • TTG says:

      Swamp Yankee,

      Historically, herring were big down here, but there’s been a moratorium on them for a decade due to declining numbers. We do still have community shad plankings, as well as traditional Virginia political shad plankings. But commercial fishing for shad has been suspended also due to declining numbers. Not sure if any of our tribes have a special dispensation for herring.

      • Swamp Yankee says:

        Oh yes, we also have state law (both Commonwealths!) that prohibit taking herring, both on inland waters and within Massachusetts state waters; however, the giant trawlers that operate in Federal waters are able to suck up vast clouds of herring for fish oil pills with no problem whatosever. I know this is a problem from South Carolina to Nova Scotia, the range of the Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus). Full disclosure: wrote my doctoral dissertation in history, in large part on colonial herring laws in the Towns of southeastern Massachusetts. They were/are extremely focused on their preservation.

        The Wampanoag have rights to take herring along our local rivers and brooks, and that strikes me as only fair.

        I do wish the trawlers operating in federal waters would be limited, though, especially since game fish like striped bass eat herring (the vastly increased seal population here, food for Great Whites now in the summertime, also eat a lot of bait and game fish, too).

        • different clue says:

          Since herring, alewives, menhaden, other small to tiny fish are the base of the ocean food chains right in their area, driving the herring, alewives, menhaden, capelin, other small to tiny fish extinct will drive every edible fish above them on the food chain extinct as well. Perhaps just “commercially extinct” like the cod off Newfoundland and not all the way species-extinct, but “commercially extinct” is very relevant to those of us who like to eat these bigger fish.

          So little-fish strip mining for oil for pills should be regulated now before the choice is between prohibiting it later or letting it “self-prohibit” through extinction.

  7. Degringolade says:

    TTG ET AL:

    You folks out on the right coast might want to check this stuff out


    • TTG says:


      Those illustrations are out of Eric Sloane’s books. I have most of them. I helped my father and grandfather build some of those dry stone walls around our property. They were everywhere in the woods. Growing up around so many rocks and stones, I cannot bring myself to paying for them down here in Virginia. Don’t see any stone walls in the woods here, either. Sloane’s books on barns and covered bridges are also great. You could build a post and beam structure from his illustrations.

  8. KjHeart says:

    This is good – it is really good

    The return of tribal lands is important

    Some people may think it is not important

    it IS important

    I am hoping for the healing of all the Nations

  9. Mikew says:

    Politically correct twaddle. I didn’t read the article about where the “lost” land came from but Native Americans were fighting amongst each other and taking land from others long before Europeans showed up.

    • TTG says:


      Europeans were also fighting amongst themselves and taking land from each other, as were Asians and Africans for centuries. So what?

    • Fred says:

      What did the Bushmen say about the Bantu, or the Toltecs about the Aztecs?

  10. jim ticehurst says:

    Yes…Those…Native Americans..With Amazing Cutures and History all over The Americans..(Dont forget the Olomecs and Incas Fred) Had to Get Greedy and Build Rairoads all across America and Kill of The Buffalo. to sell the Hides and leave the Meat to Rot…And Trade Thier Canoes in For Giant Trawlers with 100 mile Nets..and ruin all the Waters of Puget Sound Dragging up The Bottom..

    Oh Yes…Native americans are very Proud today..to Have another Tribe Member appointed to the United States Supreme Court..

    Politically Correct Twaddle…?? Shameful Comment..
    I Paddle My Own Canoe..

  11. Christian J. Chuba says:

    ‘the Rappahannock River’
    I am glad that there are members of the tribe left to reclaim some land.

    I am bemused because here in NJ, we eradicated native Americans as we named our towns and rivers after them, Ramapo, Totowa, Hackensack, Mahwah, Pompton Plains, … If I tried really hard, I bet I could come up with another 10.

    In any case, I do not get outside enough but I do recall that those random times when you see a massive flock of birds squawking refreshes me. I just look up and say, wow, I forgot we had such beautiful trees as they are filled with starlings, crows, or whatever

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