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FOCUSED: A Century of Virginia Indian Resilience

Jamestown Settlement Special Exhibition
On display February 4, 2021 to March 25, 2022

A special exhibition focused on 100 years of Virginia Indian resiliency and featured personal and professional photography collections charting this century of change, from the passage and repeal of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 to state and federal recognition today.

Nannie and Paul Miles, Union Collins and boy; Frank Speck photograph collection, N12730; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

In 1919, Pamunkey Indian couple Nannie and Paul Miles, along with an unidentified child and Union Ottaway Collins holding a dog, posed on the front porch of a house on the Pamunkey Reservation in Virginia. Frank Speck photograph collection, N12730; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

In collaboration with Virginia Indian tribal communities, Jamestown Settlement presented “FOCUSED: A Century of Virginia Indian Resilience,” a contemporary exhibition on display February 4, 2021 through March 25, 2022.

“FOCUSED” was principally a photographic exhibition drawing from collections held by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, as well as images from anthropologist Frank Speck in 1910s to 1930s, the work of award-winning Baltimore Sun photographer A. Aubrey Bodine in the 1940s and 1950s, and portraits by contemporary American Indian photographers.

The special exhibition focused on the resilience of Virginia’s Indian population, from the passage and repeal of the Racial Integrity Act in 1924 to the contemporary efforts of 11 Virginia tribes to receive state and federal recognition. The exhibition highlighted themes central to Virginia Indian daily life, including the establishment and maintenance of Virginia Indian reservations and tribal lands, education, fishing and hunting, and traditional crafts and cultural heritage.


Turkey Feather Mantle Made in 1930s by Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi
Turkey Feather Mantle, circa 1930s by Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi_Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection

Turkey Feather Mantle, circa 1930s by Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

A turkey feather mantle hand-woven in the 1930s by Mollie Adams, a leading member of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, was among the featured objects in the special exhibition. The mantle, still retaining the iridescence and glow of countless turkey feathers, is in the permanent collection of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and was last on public display in 2007.

Anthropologist Frank Speck undertook extensive research of some of the Virginia Indian tribes, including the Upper Mattaponi community in King William County, where he met Mollie Adams (1881-1973) and her family in the 1918. Speck’s written field notes included descriptions of feather work which correspond to the turkey feather mantle featured in the exhibition.

Portrait of Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi, 1918. Frank Speck photograph collection, N12647; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

Portrait of Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi, 1918. Frank Speck photograph collection, N12647; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

Mollie Adams, was an Upper Mattaponi tribal leader with her husband, Jasper Lewis Adams, who served as chief of the Upper Mattaponi from 1923 to 1973, followed by her son Andrew Washington Adams in 1974-1985. Her grandson, Kenneth Adams, serves as chief of the Upper Mattaponi today. Mollie and Jasper Adams raised 12 children in King William County and faced similar hardships as her neighbors, including poverty, difficulty in attaining education, as well as bigotry and segregation in the wake of the 1924 Racial Integrity Act. The Racial Integrity Act, created through the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics, reclassified all Virginia Indians as “negro” or “colored,” a law that was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. For Mollie Adams, she obtained a certified statement of her Indian ancestry, and worked to build a strong foundation for the Upper Mattaponi through her church and tribal activism.

About Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement explores the world of America’s first permanent English colony and the Powhatan Indian, English and West Central African cultures that converged in the 17th century. Through comprehensive and immersive indoor exhibits and outdoor living-history experiences, the museum explores life in the Jamestown colony and its first century as Virginia’s capital.


“FOCUSED: A Century of Virginia Indian Resilience” was made possible with the support of James City County.