L to R: Brad Hatch, David Onks IV, and Reagan Andersen pictured at the Patawomeck Museum & Cultural Center in December 2022. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities
Brad Hatch sets an eel pot in the Rappahannock River in December 2022. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

Four years ago, archaeologist Dr. D Brad Hatch of White Oak was the only member of the Patawomeck Indian Tribe who knew how to make a traditional eel pot from start to finish. Determined to change this, Brad began to pursue opportunities to share his knowledge of the craft with the Tribe’s younger generations. In 2022, our Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program enabled Brad to spend a year teaching the craft to fellow Patawomeck Tribe members David Onks IV and Reagan Andersen. That same year, we awarded a grant to the Patawomeck Tribe to support a series of public eel pot workshops hosted by Brad. 

Eel pots were once important sources of income and independence for the Patawomeck people. Tribe members would set the roughly arm-length basket traps into nearby waters to capture eels, which were valuable as exports to European markets and as bait for crabs. “Fishing has brought our people together as a form of community action for hundreds of years,” Brad said. 

Today the eel pot functions as a symbol of Patawomeck Indians’ persistence in their environment. “It is something that brought us through hard times,” Brad shared. “It is also something we were able to carry from our ancestors right on up until today. Not only has the eel pot provided food, but it maintains our culture. It sustains us in a spiritual sense. We resisted colonialism with it.” 

Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Film