Werowocomoco was a town that served as the headquarters of the paramount chief Powhatan, the Virginia Algonquian political and spiritual leader, when the English founded Jamestown in 1607. Powhatan received tribute from 30 Virginia Algonquian tribes, in return for providing food in times of famine, military protection, and spiritual powers. He held sacred materials such as copper and certain colors of shell beads. This town had been developed and occupied by various Native American peoples since 1200 CE.
"Werowocomoco" was documented by English settlers in 1608 as located near the north bank of the York River in what is now Gloucester County. It was separated by that river and the narrow Virginia Peninsula from the English settlement of Jamestown, located on the James River. Powhatan's Chimney, a site of historical ruins associated with a house purported to have been built for Powhatan, was earlier thought to have been the site of this capital.
In 1977, an archaeologist found ground-surface artifacts at a site further west on the York River on Purtan Bay, about west of Gloucester. He determined they indicated a late Woodland/early European contact-era settlement.
In 2002 current landowners of this site permitted an archaeological survey of their property. It revealed extensive artifacts on what may have been a settlement, with habitation from 1200 into the 1600s. Archaeologists and anthropologists believe this is the site of Werowocomoco.
Since 2003, a team of archaeologists and related researchers has been working at this site. They and the landowners initiated consultation with the Virginia Council on Indians to plan and execute excavations on the site. Representatives of local Virginia Indian tribes, some of whom are descendants of the tributary tribes of Powhatan, continue to advise the research. Excavations at the site since 2003 have revealed evidence of a large town, including two -long, curved, earthwork ditches built from the river bank about 1400, two hundred years before the English first visited the area. In 2006 the Werowocomoco Archeological Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Excavations will continue. Scholars hope to find more evidence about the political nature of the Powhatan polity.
In 2014, President Barack Obama proposed future federal budget funding to acquire this site in Gloucester County to make it part of the National Park System. Under this proposal, Werowocomoco would be formally opened to public visitation under the management of the National Park Service.
Powhatan became the title associated with the paramount chief when Wahunsenacawh (sometimes spelled Wahunsonacock) was selected for the position. He came from a small village named Powhatan, meaning the falls of the river, at the fall line of the James River. His people were known by that geographic name as well. The present-day Powhatan Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia was developed at the site of the former Native American village.
The name Werowocomoco comes from the Powhatan werowans (weroance), meaning "leader" in English; and komakah (-comoco), "settlement". It is unknown when Powhatan moved there. He may have wanted to live in a place associated with Native American leaders.
In 2002–2003 a comprehensive archaeological survey and excavations revealed an extensive settlement on the York River which researchers believe was Werowocomoco. Excavation has revealed that the settlement was inhabited since 1200 CE, and complex earthworks were built about 1400 CE. Powhatan may have made use of a site already well-known to his people as a regional center.