Even the famous Pocahontas is thought to have lived here at one point in her life. Native Americans lived in this area for centuries, well before colonization, when populations of different tribes were thriving. The Clovis people are some of the earliest known inhabitants of the region and are considered to be the early ancestors of many Native American tribes. According to the Arlington Historical Society, researchers have found evidence of Clovis technology from more than 10,000 years ago in every Virginia county.
For thousands of years, Indigenous nations lived relatively uninterrupted in Virginia (and the USA) until the first European settlers came in the 1500s. At that time, three tribes (the Powhatan, the Monacan and Cherokee) were the most prevalent in Virginia. They spoke Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquoian, and lived along coastal waterways in woodlands and mountain valleys, according to Virginia Tourism Corporation. In 1607 British explorer John Smith visited Northern Virginia during his many travels in the "New World." Here, he encountered Indigenous people and published a map of his discoveries and Virginia in 1612.
The National Park Service says that this map calls out the location of over 200 Indian towns. Smith's map also shows a Native American village on the banks of the Potomac River where the Pentagon and Washington National Airport are today, says local history teacher Karl VanNewkirk. The Potomac River was important waterway for many tribes who lived along its banks and fished in its waters. The name is thought to be derived from the word Patawomeck, presumably representing an anglicized name for the Native American tribe that lived in this area, as recorded by the John Smith at the time. The 17th century Patawomeck lived in the upper reaches of the Potomac River and might have actually lived in Arlington, says Jim Adams, the curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.