Virginia Native History
AT THE dawn of the seventeenth century, three distinct groups of Indian tribes, representing three different linguistic stocks, occupied the territory that is now Virginia. Along the coast and up the tidal rivers to their falls were the many palisaded settlements of the Algonquian group, the Powhatan confederacy, enemy of the Siouan stock composed of the Monacan and Manahoac federations that spread from the banks of the upper James and the headwaters of the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers to the Allegheny Mountains. The bellicose and scattered Iroquoian stock was represented by the Conestoga (Susquehanna) tribe of nearly 6oo warriors living in fortified towns near the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay; the Rickohockan or Rechahecrian (who are identified with the Cherokee by most ethnologists, as the Yuchi by John Reed Swanton), occupying the mountain valleys of the southwest; and the Nottoway in the southeast.
During their first years in Virginia the colonists of the London Company found along the rivers and coast some 200 villages under the leadership of Wahunsonacock, known to the colonists as Powhatan. This chief of an Algonquian confederation, which consisted of about 2,400 warriors, had inherited the territories of the -Powhatan, Arrowhatock, Appamatuck, Pamunkee, Youghtanund, and Mattapament, to which, by later conquest, he had added other tribes, bringing the number under his dominion up to 30Of the 36 'King's howses' or tribal capitals, Werowocomoco, on the left bank of the York River, was Powhatan's favorite, and the one in which, as a prisoner in 16o8, Captain John Smith first saw the powerful chieftain.
Arriving at Weramocomoco [Werowocomocol their Emperour proudly lying uppon a Bedstead a foote high, upon tenne or twelve Mattes, richly hung with manie Chaynes of great Pearles about his necke, and covered with a great Covering of Rakaugkcums. At [his] heade sat a woman, at his feete another; on each side sitting uppon a Matte uppon the ground, were raunged his chiefe men on each side the fire, tenne in a ranke, and behinde them as many yong women, each [with] a great Chaine of white Beades over their shoulders, their heades painted in redde: and, [Powhatan] with such a grave Maiesticall countenance, as ve me into admiration to see such state in a naked Salvage."
Displacement of the Indians began almost simultaneously with the finishing of the first stockade at Jamestown. Before the colony was two years old, the principal Indian settlements had been seized, Powhatan had withdrawn to a remote town on the Chickahominy River, and the Indians were so intent on revenge that no Englishman was safe outside the fort. Temporary suspension of hostilities, however, was established by the marriage of John Rolfe and Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, in 1614, after which the colonists 'had friendly trade and commerce, as well with Powkatan himselfe, as all his subjects.'
In the treaty of peace that followed, the Indians acknowledged the British as their masters. But the chief of the Pamunkey tribe, Opechancanough, who succeeded Powhatan in reality though not nominally, was determined to annihilate the white invaders. In 1662 his carefully planned attack resulted in the massacre of some 350 settlers. The colonists who escaped, forewarned by a converted Indian boy, retaliated at once, and during the autumn of 1622 and the following winter killed so many Indians and destroyed so many of their settlements that for more than 20 years there was a truce. But in 1644, Opechancanough, now old and feeble, decided upon a last effort. In the uprising that began on April 18 with a sudden massacre along the whole border, the Indians were routed and Opechancanough was captured and brought to Jamestown, where he was murdered by an outraged colonist. In October 1646 his successor made a treaty of submission by which the Indians agreed to abandon everything below the falls of the James and Pamunkey Rivers and to restrict themselves on the north to the territory between the York and the Rappahannock.
The Jamestown settlers' contact with the Indians of Siouan stock was limited. A week after landing, on May 21, 1607, Christopher Newport with a party of 23 pushed up the James to the falls, where they were told by Pawatah (Powhatan) that it was a 'Daye and a halfe Iorney to Monanacah . . . his Enmye,' who 'came Downe at the fall of the leafe and invaded his Countrye.' In the autumn of 1608 Captain Christopher Newport, 'with 120 chosen men,' went up 'fortie myles' past the falls and discovered on the south bank of the James two Monacan towns. The first, Mowhemenchouch ( Mowhemcho), was an open settlement, through which John Lederer passed in 1670, calling it Mahock, which Francis Louis Michel, a visitor in 1702, called Maningkinton, and which a Huguenot colony took possession of in 1699. It later became Monacan Town. The second village, 14 miles distant, was Massinacack. In August 1608 Captain Smith with 12 men and the Indian guide Mosco, 'a lusty Salvage of Wighcocomoco ascended the Rappahannock, had an encounter with Manahoac Indians (of whom some 12 tribes wandered over the Rapidan-Rappahannock area of the Piedmont section), and from an Indian named Amoroleck received the information about the Siouan tribes that is contained in his Description of Virginia (16 12):
Upon the head of the river of Toppakanock [Rappahannock] is a people called Mannahoacks. To these are contributers the Tauxanias, the Shackaconias, the Onlpowaw, the Tegninatoes, the Whonkenteaes, the Stegarakes, the Hassinnungaes, and divers others; all confederats with the Monacans, though many different in language, and be very barbarous, living for most part on wild beasts and fruits.
The Monacan confederacy, dwelling 'upon the head of the Powhatans' along the James above the falls, consisted, according to Smith's enumeration, of the Monacan proper, 'the Mowkemenchughes, the Massinnacacks, the Monahassanughs, the Monasickapanougks,' together with other tribes not named. The'chiefe habitation' of this confederacy of five tribes, whose generic name of Monacan applied also to the territory they occupied, was Rasauweak (Rassawek), at the confluence of the James and Rivanna Rivers.
The allied Monacan and Manahoac confederacies were constantly at war with the Powhatan and the Iroquois (the Massawomek of John Smith and the Massawomees of Jefferson), 'their most mortall enemies.'
Banded into a league late in the sixteenth century, the powerful Iroquois began thereafter their gradual descent upon these weaker tribes of the south, annihilating some and causing others to flee, eventually to merge for protection ~ thus completely shattering the tribal pattern existing in 1607. About 1656, "the Mahocks, and Nahyssans," according to Lederer, but more probably the Shackoconian tribe of the Manahoac confederacy, seeking a new dwelling place, "sett downe near the falls of James river, to the number of six or seaven hundred."
In an attempt to dispel them, the English, who were joined by the Pamunkey under Totopotomoi, precipitated what was perhaps the bloodiest Indian battle ever fought on the soil of Virginia, the last great fight between Siouan and Algonquian tribes. The Powhatan, who had suffered even more at the hands of the English than at those of the Iroquois, became by 1665 mere dependents of the colony, submissive to the stringent laws enacted that year, which com pelled them to accept chiefs appointed by the governor. After the Treaty of Albany in 1684, the Powhatan confederacy all but vanished.
The exploratory trip made in 1670 by John Lederer, a German who received a "commission of discovery" from Governor Berkeley, lifted the veil that had so long covered the activity of these Siouan tribes. Drastic changes, caused by the hostile wedge formed by the Iroquois in the north and by the English in the east, had taken place among the confederations in a little more than half a century.
Leaving the falls of the James, Lederer went southwest "toward the Monakins," then "from Mahock" (Mohemcho), the tribe's town "into the province of Carolina," finding in "these parts . . . formerly possessed by the Tacci, alias Dogi," the tribe of Nahyssan (the Monahassanugh of John Smith) still living at their village on the James. This tribe, called Hanohaskie by Thomas Batts (1671), became in later narratives the Tutelo (Totero or Todirish-roone), a generic Iroquoian name applicable to all Siouan tribes in Virginia and Carolina. A subtribe of the Tutelo was the Saponi (the Monasickapanough of John Smith), who had moved from the Rivanna to a tributary of the upper Roanoke, where their town of Sapon was visited first by Lederer and then by Batts. Other tribes of Siouan stock were the Nuntaneuck (the Tauxanias of Smith); the Akenatzy (Occaneechi), who lived on an island in the Roanoke River; the Managog (Manahoac), who had but lately roamed the upper Piedmont region; and the Monakin or Monacan, who occupied the village of Mohemcho. All these tribes were of Siouan stock.
Between 1671. and 1701 the Saponi and Tutelo tribes withdrew from their position at the base of the mountains, directly in the path of the Iroquois, and settled on two islands in the Roanoke River near the one inhabited by their kinsmen the Occaneechi, an important tribe whose island was the great trading center "for all the Indians for at least 500 miles." The Occaneechi's wealth, however, was their undoing. In 1676, the Susquehanna (Conestoga), driven from their Chesapeake Bay home by the Iroquois and the English, fled to the Occaneechi, whom they tried to dispossess. In the battle that ensued, the Susquehanna were driven from the island. In May of the same year, Nathaniel Bacon, Jr., with 200 Virginians, arrived there in pursuit of the Susquehanna, joined the Occaneechi, and put the Susquehanna to flight. The latter settled near the Nottoway tribe, their Iroquois kinsmen, and became the Meherrin.
Afterwards the whites turned on the Occaneechi, whereupon this tribe abandoned its island home, fled into Carolina, and eventually combined with the Saponi, Tutelo, and other tribes of Siouan stock in a body numbering about 750 persons. In 1705, according to Robert Beverley, the Indian population within the explored portions of Virginia numbered fewer than 500 able-bodied men, of whom 350 were remnants of tribes once belonging to the Powhatan confederacy.
Through the persuasion of Governor Spotswood, who hoped to protect them from the Iroquois and at the same time to make them a barrier between the Virginia settlements and the hostile southern tribes, the Saponi, Tutelo, 'Stukarocks,' and federated tribes moved in a consolidated group from Carolina to the vicinity of Fort Christanna, shortly after the opening of the Tuscarora War (1711-12). Here Spotswood, to secure the fidelity of the smaller tribes, began a school to which were admitted as pupils and hostages-the children of chiefs. But this seed of civilization fell on sterile ground. The Saponi, or, as they were then commonly called, the Christanna Indians, were still at war. Quarrels persisted between them and the neighboring Nottoway and Meherrin; while the more distant Iroquois, who cherished toward these people 'so inveterate an enmity' that it could be "extinguished" only by their "total Extirpation," continued their attacks.
Finally, Governor Spotswood, hoping to put an end to the warfare between the Iroquois and the southern tribes, in 1722 promoted the Albany (N.Y.) Conference, at which a peace treaty was signed by the Five Nations of the Iroquois and their allies, the Tuscarora, Shawnee, and others on the one hand, and by Virginia and its tributary Indians on the other. Thus the long war ended and peace finally came in Virginia to "the Nottoways, Meherrins, Nansemonds, Pamunkeys, Chichominys, and the Christanna Indians" ~ called 'Todirich-roones' by the Iroquois, and comprising 'the Saponies, Ockineeckees, Stenkenocks [Stegarakes], Meipontskys, [Ontponeas] & Toteroes,' all of whom were grouped at "Sapponey Indian town," which was "about a musket-shot from the fort.'"
Dissatisfied with the proximity of white settlements and at peace with the Iroquois, the restless Saponi, Tutelo, and such allied tribes as the Occaneechi and the Stegarake (only survivor of the Manahoac confederacy) abandoned the settlement near Fort Christanna, about 1740, went first to Pennsylvania and then to New York, where they placed themselves under the protection of their traditional enemy, becoming in 1753 a part of the Six Nations.
During the first half of the eighteenth century the Shenandoah Valley ~ last frontier of Virginia ~ was the hunting ground of such nonresident Indian tribes as the Delaware, Catawba, and Shawnee, among whom there was continual warfare. After the completion of a chain of forts along the border for the protection of white settlers, the Indians suddenly withdrew from the valley in 1754, but returned in 1756 at the beginning of the French and Indian War. Depredations continued until the end of the war in 1763, after which the valley was left in peace. The Cherokee, as the white settlements pressed upon them in their mountain fastness, moved gradually westward.
In 1768, Governor Francis Fauquier, answering a question propounded by the Lords of Trade and Plantation, revealed the state to which the aborigines of Virginia had been reduced. "The number of Indians residing in the known parts of this Colony," he wrote, "is very small, there being only some remains on the Eastern Shore and Pamunkey Indians, who are so far civilized as to wear European dress, and in part follow the customs of the common Planters. Besides these there are some of the Nottoways, Meherrins, Tuscaroras and Saponeys who "tho' they live in peace in the midst of us, lead in great measure the Life of wild Indians. The number of all these decrease very fast owing to their great fondness for Rum."
These remnants were the amalgamation of some of the numerous tribes that had roamed the forests of Virginia. The Nottoway, strong during the first settlement period and greatly outnumbering the Powhatan in the provincial census of 1669, were by 1820 reduced to 27 persons, of whom only three spoke the tribal language. The Meherrin, the other Virginia tribe of Iroquoian stock, equaled in number the Pamunkey ~ originally the strongest tribe of the Powhatan confederacy ~ in 1699, after which they rapidly vanished. The Nansemon (tribe of the Powhatan confederacy, composed of some 300 warriors in 1622, had dwindled to 45 men by 1669. In 1744 they joined the Nottoway. Today, in Virginia, there are several groups and scattered families of Indian descent in the forests of Virginia. The Nottoway, strong during the first settlement period and greatly outnumbering the Powhatan.
Description of the sedentary Powhatan Indians in their "pallizadoed townes" formed much of the substance of early writings on Virginia. "Their habitations or townes" were "for the most part by the rivers, or not far distant from fresh springs, commonly upon a rise of a hill. Many settlements, particularly those on the Bay, were protected by encircling palisades, as depicted in the water-color drawings of Secotan and Pomeioc (in Carolina) made in 1585 by "Maister John White, an Englisch paynter."
Where there was less danger of attack, the habitations of the Algonquian spread out unprotected on the river shore. Werowocomoco, Powhatan's favorite village, and Kecoughtan (at or near the present site of Hampton) were typical. "Kegquouktan . . conteineth eighteene houses," wrote Smith in Newes from Virginia, "pleasantly seated upon three acres of ground, uppon a plaine, halfe invironed with a great Bay of the great River . . . the Towne adioyning to the maine by a necke of Land of sixtie yardes. Placed under the covert of trees," the houses-all alike, "scattered without forme of a street," and "warm as stoves, albeit very smoakey" ~ were like "garden arbours." A framework of poles was set in two parallel rows inclosing the floor space. Opposite poles were bent over and lashed to one another in pairs to form a series of arches of equal height, and these arches were joined by horizontal poles placed at intervals and securely tied together "with roots, bark, or the green wood of the white oak run into thongs."
Each of the flat ends had a door hung with mats. Outside stood a wooden mortar and pestle for grinding com. The smoke from the fire kindled on the ground inside escaped through a small vent in the roof. The coverings were generally of bark or mats of rushes, occasionally of boughs. The ordinary dwelling, which housed from 6 to 20 people, contained but one room, on each side of which were platforms or bedsteads about a foot high and covered with 'fyne white mattes' and skins.
In "square plotts of cleered grownd" near these bark-covered houses, the women raised tobacco and such vegetables as corn, beans, an herb called "melden," squash, "pumpons and a fruit like unto a musk millino." Maize was so important that platforms were erected in the fields, where watchers were stationed to protect the crop from birds, and the shelled corn filled storage baskets that took "upp the best part of some of their houses." Among the roots used for food were groundnuts (A pios tuberosa) and tuckahoe( Peltandro Virginica and Orontium aqualicum).
In March and April the Powhatan lived on their '"weeres," feeding on "fish, turkies and squirrells," the fish being caught in fish dams or shot with "long arrows tyed in a line"; in May they "set their come"; and in the "tyme of their huntings" they gathered "into companyes" with their families and went "toward the mountaines," where there was "plenty of game."
The empire ruled over by Powhatan was reduced to subdivisions, each with a governmental hierarchy consisting of the cockarmse or sachem, the werowance or war leader, the tribal council, and the priests. Nor did the scheme vary under Opechancanough. "This revolted Indian King with his squaw," wrote Thomas Martin in 1622, "conunaundeth 32 Kingdomes under him. Everye Kingdome contayneigne ye quantitie of one of ye shires here in England. Everye such Kingdome hath one speciall Towne seated upon one of ye three greate- Rivers . . ." Dwellings and gardens were owned privately, but all other property was held in common.
Typical of the Iroquoian type of town was the village of the Nottoway, which William Byrd visited in 1728. A strong palisade, about 10 feet high, surrounded a quadrangle dotted with long communal "cabins . . . arched at the top, and covered with bark."
Inside there was no furniture except "hurdles" for repose. The fortification served as a place of refuge for members of the tribe living in outlying districts. The towns of the Siouan tribes were similar. Within the enclosure of those that were palisaded stood the prominent round "town house" surrounded by the "arbour-like" dwellings of the people.
The Cherokee towns spread out a1ong the banks of mountain streams or in a valley. Close by the dwellings of logs chinked with clay stood a conical earth-covered lodge known as the "winter hot house." On an artificial mound in the center of the village was the large oblong "council house," center of all tribal ceremonies.
The male Indian costume consisted of garments of skins or woven fiber, and moccasins; the women wore skirts of fringed deerskin or woven silkgrass fiber (silk weed or Indian hemp, Asclepias pulchra), which reached from the waist to the middle of the thigh. Members of both sexes wore in winter mantles made of skins and feathers. Feathered headgear, necklaces of clam shells, beads, or pearls, copper pendants, wampum head rings, and body tattooing completed the garish personal decoration. The Siouan Indians of 'Sapponey Town,' visited by Byrd in 1728, had probably varied little since early days in their traditional war dress. With "feathers in their hair and run through their ears, their faces painted with blue and vermillion, their hair cut in many forms," they were "really . . . very terrible." Both men and women greased their bodies and heads with bear's oil or walnut oil mixed with paint, either of, which yielded an "ugly smell." The "Sweating-houses," little huts built with wattles, were also tribal survivals. Heated by red-hot pebbles, they were used by sick Indians to sweat out maladies, "a remedy . . . for all distempers."
The handicrafts were exclusively woman's province ~ the making of wooden dishes and trays, "earthern pottes" and the thread spun from "'barks of trees, deare sinews, or a kind of grasse they call Pemmenaw," which was used variously as "lines for angles," nets for fishing, sewing the deerskin mantles, and the making of baskets and "aprons . . . women wear about their middles, for decency's sake."
In their monotheistic religion , according to Lederer, the Indians worshiped Okee, called also Mannilk, the "creator of all things." To him alone the high priest or Periku offered sacrifices. "The government of mankind" was assigned to "lesser deities, as Quiacosough and Tagkanysough ~ that is, good and evil spirits." Smith, however, says "their chief God" was "the Devil, him they call Okee."
Burial customs varied among the different tribes. Within most of the temples were the image of Okee and the sepulchers of kings. The Algonquian buried ordinary members of the tribe in pits; while the bodies of the chiefs were disemboweled, dried, stuffed with sand, wrapped in skins and mats, and then laid in the temple. Henry Spelman, who lived among tribes along the Potomac prior to 1610, described a burial resembling the type used by Indians of the Plains. The body, wrapped in mats, was laid on a scaffold about three or four yards high. Ossuaries were common among the southern Algonquian and the Siouan tribes of the Piedmont. The bones of the dead, in a reburial ceremony, were deposited in great pits until a huge mound was formed.
Today, along the shores of Chesapeake Bay and the banks of many of its tributaries are heaps of oyster shells, containing bits of pottery and stone implements, which mark the position of many ancient Algonquian settlements, some having flourished long after 1607. Westward, along the valley of the James from the falls to the mountains, in the section once dominated by the Siouan tribes, are traces of their village and campsites on the banks of streams, where fragments of pottery and stone implements are scattered over the surface. The same district contains soapstone quarries and occasionally a macabre ossuary. In the Rappahannock-Rapidan area most of the mortars, long cylindrical pestles, hammers, discoidal stones, and pipes have been garnered; but occasionally axes, projectile points, and bits of pottery are brought to the surface by freshets or turned up by the plow.