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Court of Powhatan

The great monarch of the country, Powhatan, at this period, was holding his court at Werowocomoco, on the left bank of York River, and thither Smith was conveyed to await the royal pleasure. The reception of so important a captive was conducted with suitable solemnity and parade. Powhatan sat upon a raised seat before a fire, in a large house, clothed with a robe of raccoon skins, the tails hanging in ornamental array. He was an old man, about sixty years of age, of noble figure, and that commanding presence natural in one born to rule with undisputed authority over all around him. A young girl sat on each side of the king, and marshaled around the room were rows of warriors and women, bedecked with beads, feathers, and paint.

Smith s entrance was hailed by a shout; the queen of Appamatuck brought him water to wash, and he was magnificently entertained, as a distinguished guest of the king. The strange scene, which ensued, so replete with pathos and poetic interest, must be given in the simple language of the old historian.

Smith’s Preservation By Pocahontas

Pocahontas
Pocahontas

Having ended his repast, “a long consultation was held, but the conclusion was, two great stones were brought before Powhatan: then as many as could, laid hands on him, dragged him to them, and thereon laid his head, and, being ready with, their clubs to beat out his brains, Pocahontas, the king’s dearest daughter, when no entreaty could prevail, got his head in her arms, and laid her own upon his to save him from death: whereat the emperor was contented he should live to make him hatchets, and her bells, beads, and copper; for they thought him as well of all occupations as themselves.”

The worthy captain’s own rhymes describe his appearance and state of mind at this crisis:

“They say he bore a pleasant show, but sure his heart was sad; For who can pleasant be and rest, that lives in fear and dread?”

Entertaining his captive as a privileged guest, Powhatan now held long consultations with him, giving wonderful accounts of the vast western country and its inhabitants. Smith responded with details, equally amazing to the savage monarch, of the power and magnificence of the East. After two days of friendly intercourse, Smith was informed that he should return in safety to Jamestown; but as a prelude to the conveyance of this satisfactory intelligence, Powhatan was at much pains to get up a theatrical scene that should impress or terrify his prisoner. Left alone in a large cabin, Smith’s ears were saluted by strange and frightful noises from behind a mat partition, and, incontinently, Powhatan, with some hundreds of attendants, all like himself, in hideous disguises, made his appearance. He appointed twelve Indians to guide him to the settlement, requesting that a grindstone and two great guns should be sent back, by them, in return for liberty and favors received at his hands.

Captain Smith, well knowing the capricious disposition of his captors, felt little security or ease, until he was safely restored to his companions at Jamestown.

His absence had been severely felt: confusion and dissension were rife among the inhabitants of the colony, and the strong arm and determined will of the bold captain were required to keep order, and restrain those who were again inclined to effect an escape in the pinnace.

The two guns (demi-culverins), together with a mill stone, were brought out, and proffered to the guides; but, seeing the terrible effect of a discharge of stones among the branches of an ice-covered tree, the poor savages were greatly terrified, and thankfully accepted divers toys in place of so weighty and dangerous a present.

Supplies Furnished By The Indians

So reduced were the settlers at this time, that all must have perished with starvation but for the intercourse established by Smith between them and the people of Powhatan. Every four or five days, his noble and generous little protectress, Pocahontas she was then only about ten years of age would make her appearance, accompanied by attendants laden with provisions. Part of these supplies came as presents from the king or his daughter; for the rest, the price paid in toys and articles of use was left entirely at Smith s discretion, ” so had he enchanted these poor souls, being their prisoner.”

Newport’s Arrival

Captains Newport and Nelson now arrived from Eng land, with two ships, laden with necessaries and articles of traffic. Rejoiced at the arrival of friends and provisions, the colonists allowed the sailors to hold what inter course they pleased with the natives, and the consequence was that the market was soon spoiled by the irregularity of prices offered by the English for the Indian commodities. Smith had possessed Powhatan and his people with extravagant ideas of the power and majesty of Newport, whose speedy arrival he predicted, and preparations were now made to give a still more forcible impression. Messengers were sent to inform the Indian monarch that the great captain of the seas had reached Jamestown, and would make a visit of state to his royal friend and ally. The pinnace was made ready for this purpose, and “a great coyle there was to set him forward.” When they had arrived at Werowocomoco, Newport was wary and cautious, fearing treachery on the part of the savages, and Smith therefore volunteered to go forward, with a small company, and see that the coast was clear. Over the creeks, which meandered through the marshy country, bridges were found, but of so frail a structure, being composed of poles bound with bark, that some suspicions were entertained that they might be intended as traps. Smith therefore kept some of the chief Indians, who acted as guides, in the midst of his company, for security against attack.

All their suspicion proved groundless: Powhatan received the officers with the greatest distinction, entertained them hospitably, and celebrated their coming with feasts and dances. The great king ” carried himself so proudly yet discreetly (in his savage manner) as made all admire his natural gifts.” He declined any petty traffic, but requested Newport to bring forward at once all the goods that he had brought for trade, expressing his willingness to give full return. His desire was complied with, Newport wishing to outdo the king in generosity and show of munificence; but the result hardly equaled his expectation, for the cunning savage, says the narrator, ” valued his corn at such a rate that I think it better cheap in Spain.” A few blue beads in the possession of Smith now caught the eye of Powhatan, and aroused his curiosity and avarice. The wary captain pretended to be loath to part with them, as being of a “most rare substance of the color of the skies, and not to be worn but by the greatest kings in the world. This made him half mad to be the owner of such strange jewels,” and, to obtain them, he readily paid an immense quantity of corn; esteeming him self still the gainer. The trade in blue beads, after this, became a royal monopoly.

The party returned to Jamestown; but only to experience greater privation and hardship than ever.

The town took fire, and much of their provisions, clothing, and other means of comfort was destroyed. The winter was bitterly cold, and nearly the whole colony, together With the crews of the ships, were possessed with an insane desire to search for gold, to the neglect of the labors necessary to secure health and prosperity. From these causes more than half their number perished.

The Indians, seeing their weakness, became insolent and exacting, and, but for Smith, whose prompt and energetic action, without actual bloodshed, subdued and brought them to terms, they might have completely overawed, and perhaps have extirpated the colony. Those whom the English took prisoners insisted that the hostilities were in accordance with the orders of Powhatan: but he, on the other hand, averred that it was the work of some of his unruly subordinates. The conciliatory message was brought by “his dearest daughter Pocahontas,” whose appearance ever had the most potent influence with the brave man for whom she felt such filial attachment, and who was bound to her by every tie of gratitude and affection.

Smith’s Expeditions Up The Chesapeake

Upon the 2d of June 1608, Captain Smith, with four teen companions one half “gentlemen,” the rest “soldiers” undertook his celebrated exploration of Chesapeake Bay. Their conveyance was a large open barge.

They first shaped their course for the isles lying off Cape Charles, still known as Smith s Isles, and thence reentered the bay. Passing Cape Charles, they saw ” two grim and stout savages,” armed with bone-headed lances, who fearlessly questioned them as to whence they came and whither they were bound. They were subjects of the “Werowance of Accomack, on the eastern shore of the bay; and, being kindly entreated, responded with equal civility, and directed the English to their king’s head-quarters.

They found the chief to be the “comeliest, proper, civil savage” that they had ever held communion with. He gave a most singular account of a pestilence, which had not long before carried off the greater portion of his people. Two children had died, probably of some infectious disease, and ” some extreme passions, or dreaming visions, phantasies, or affection moved their parents again to revisit their dead carcasses, whose benumbed bodies reflected to the eyes of the beholders such delightful countenances as though they had regained their vital spirits.” Great crowds gathered to see this spectacle, nearly all of whom, shortly after, died of some unknown disease.

These Indians spoke the Powhatan dialect, and entertained Smith with glowing descriptions of the beauties and advantages of the bay, to the northward. Proceeding on their voyage, the navigators entered the river of Wighcocomoco, on the eastern shore, where the inhabitants exhibited great rage and hostility, but perceiving that no harm was intended them, with true savage caprice, fell to dancing and singing, in wonder and merriment at the novel spectacle. No good water was to be obtained here, and Smith with his crew made short tarrying. Still coasting along the eastern portion of the bay, they reached the Cuskarawaok, where great troops of savages followed them along the bank, climbing into the trees, and discharging their arrows with ” the greatest passion they could express of their anger.” As the party could not by signs give them to understand that they came peacefully, a discharge of pistol-shot was directed, which produced the usual effect, scattering the Indians in every direction. On landing, not a native could be found: the English therefore left a few beads, bells, looking-glasses, and bits of copper in the huts, and re turned on board their barge.

Next morning the poor simple savages, dismissing all fear, gathered round them to the number, as appeared, of two or three thousand, eager to offer whatever was in their power to bestow for “a little bead” or other trivial toy. These people were the Sarapinagh, Nause, Arseek, and Matitaquak, and they showed such readiness to trade, that Smith pronounced them the ” best merchants of all other savages.” They gave wonderful accounts of the powerful and warlike Massawomekes, who lived to the northward, and were identical with the Iroquois or Six Nations.

Some of the crew falling sick, and the rest becoming weary and discontented with their unaccustomed fatigue and exposure, Smith, much against his inclination, turned towards home, “leaving the bay some nine miles broad, at nine and ten fathom water.” Entering the Potomac, on the 16th of June, it was determined to explore it, as the sick men had recovered. No Indians were seen until the company had passed thirty miles up the river; but, arriving at a creek in the neighborhood of Onawmanient, ” the woods were laid with ambuscades, to the number of three or four thousand savages, so strangely painted, grimed, and disguised, shouting, yelling, and crying as so many spirits from hell could not have showed more terrible. Many bravados they made, “but a discharge of bullets, over the surface of the water, quickly changed their mood. Arms were flung down, hostages given, and courtesy and kindness succeeded the truculent demeanor, which was first exhibited. By the account of the Indians, Powhatan had directed this intended attack; and, if their representation was true, he was stimulated to such a course by sundry of Smith’s enemies at Jamestown.

The boat’s crew made their way as far up as the river was navigable, encountering various other tribes, some of whom were friendly, and others hostile. The thunder of the English weapons never failed to awe and subdue them.

Ever hankering after the precious metals, the adventurers were attracted by glittering particles in the bed of various streams; and, making it a constant object of inquiry, they were led by some Indians, subject to the king of Patawomeke, to a noted mine, on the little stream of Quiough. It was on a rocky mount, and the material sought, when dug out with shells and hatchets, sparkled like antimony. The Indians were accustomed to wash and cleanse it, and then, putting it in small bags, “sell it all over the country, to paint their bodies, faces or idols; which made them look like blackamoors dusted over with silver.” Newport asserted that the contents of some of those bags, when assayed in England, proved to be exceedingly rich in silver; but all that Smith and his men collected was worthless.

On the way towards Jamestown, as the barge lay in shoal water, the crew amused themselves by spearing fish, which were exceedingly plenty. Captain Smith, using his sword for this purpose, drew up a fish, (“not knowing her condition,) being much of the fashion of a thornback, but a long tail like a riding rod, whereon the middle is a most poisoned sting, of two or three inches long, bearded like a saw on each side, which she struck into the wrist of his arm near an inch and a half.” The swelling and pain consequent upon this, were so great that the brave captain, despairing of recovery, ordered his own grave to be dug; which was accordingly done on a neigh boring island. His time, however, had not yet come: the physician of the party succeeded in relieving him, in so much that, that very night, “he ate of the fish to his supper.”

As they returned to their old quarters, the Indians judged from their appearance that they had been engaged in notable wars; an idea, which they failed not to encourage, averring that all the spoil brought home was taken from the redoubtable Massawomekes.

At Jamestown all was found in disorder and misery, as was generally the case when the master-spirit was absent. Thus ended the first exploration of the unknown waters of the Chesapeake, leaving the English still in doubt as to its extent, and still hopeful of eventually finding a passage thereby to the South Seas!

On the 24th of July, a second expedition was undertaken up the bay, by Smith, with a boat s crew of twelve men. The Indians of Kecoughtan, with whom they spent several days, exulted greatly in the supposition that the English were out on a war expedition against their dreaded enemies, the Massawomekes.

Proceeding up the bay, more than half the party were prostrated by the diseases of the climate, and in this crippled condition they came upon seven or eight canoes, filled with Indians of the warlike tribe they were supposed to be in search of. Seeing that the English showed no fear, but prepared briskly for an engagement, these Massawomekes concluded that discretion was the better part of valor, and fled to the shore. Being tempted by the offer of some trifling toys, they at last came out to the barge unarmed, bringing presents of provisions, targets, skins, and rude implements of warfare. They had been engaged in war with the Indians of the Tockwogh or Sassafras River, as their fresh wounds bore witness.

They disappeared during the following night, and the explorers made their way into the river of Tockwogh. Seeing the Massawomeke weapons, the Tockwoghs were in ecstasy, supposing that their enemies had been defeated; and led Smith up to their fortified town: “Men, women, and children, with dances, songs, fruit, furs, and what they had, stretching their best abilities to express their loves.”

Here Smith made some stay, sending messengers to invite a deputation from the renowned Sasquesahanocks to visit him. Sixty of “those giant-like people,” accordingly came down from their country, bringing presents, and holding bold and familiar intercourse with the strangers. The daily devotional exercises of prayers and psalms, which our pious captain regularly observed, were responded to, on the part of the wondering savages, by strange ceremonies of their own.

“They began in a most passionate manner, to hold up their hands to the sun, with a most fearful song, then embracing our captain, they began to adore him in like manner: though he rebuked them, yet they proceeded till their song was finished: which done, with a most strange furious action, and a hellish voice, began an oration of their loves.”

They then clothed him with rich skins and mantles, and proffering beads and toys, declared that they, and all they had, were at his service, if he would but lend his assistance against the terrible Massawomekes.

Returning to examine the river Rapahanock, Smith fell in with a former acquaintance, one Mosco, of Wighcocomoco. He was doubtless a half-breed, and was supposed to be some Frenchman s son, as he rejoiced in the distinguishing mark of a “thick, black, bush beard, and the savages seldom have any at all.”

The English fortified their boat by making a breastwork around the gunwale, of the Massawomeke shields, which were so thickly plated as to resist the arrows of the savages. This stood them in good stead in divers skirmishes with the Rapahanock. On one occasion, thirty or forty of that tribe so disguised themselves with bushes and branches, that, as they stood discharging their arrows upon the edge of the river, the English supposed their array to be a natural growth of shrubs.

Mosco accompanied Smith in his visits to many nations on the Chesapeake, and proved of no little service, whether the reception at their hands was friendly or hostile. The good will of a patry of Manahocks was gained by means of favor shown to a wounded prisoner, whom Mosco would fain have dispatched “never was dog more furious against a bear, than Mosco was to have beat out his brains.” They questioned this captive, who was called Amorolock, about his own and the adjoining tribes, and demanded of him why his people had attacked peaceful strangers. ” The poor savage mildly answered,” that they had heard that the English were ” a people come from under the world to take their world from them.” He described the Monacans as friendly to his tribe, and said that they lived in the mountainous country to the west, ” by small rivers, living upon roots and fruits, but chiefly by hunting. The Massawomeks did dwell upon a great water, and had many boats, and so many men that they made war with all the world.”

In this, and the preceding voyage, the whole of the extensive bay of Chesapeake, was explored, together with the lower portions of the principal rivers emptying into it; and an accurate chart of the whole country still bears witness to the skill and perseverance of the brave commander. Curious sketches of native chiefs, and of encounters between them and the English, accompany the maps, which illustrate the quaint and interesting narrative from which this portion of our history is drawn.

Before returning to Jamestown, the party sailed for the southern shores, and passed up the Elizabeth River into the “Chisapeack” country. They saw but few dwellings, surrounded by garden plots, but were struck with the magnificent growth of pines, which lined the banks. Thence coasting along the shore, they came to the mouth of the Nandsamund, where a few Indians were engaged in fishing. These fled in affright, but the English landing, and leaving some attractive trifles where they would find them, their demeanor was soon changed. Singing and dancing, they invited the party to enter the river, and one of them came on board the barge. Complying with the request, Smith went up the stream seven or eight miles, when extensive cornfields were seen. Perceiving some signs of treachery, he would not proceed farther, but endeavored to regain the open water with all possible expedition. His fears proved to be well grounded; for on the way down, arrows were poured into the boat from either side of the river by hundreds of Indians, while seven or eight canoes filled with armed men followed “to see the conclusion.” Turning upon these, the English, by a volley from their muskets, soon drove the savages on shore and seized the canoes.

The Indians, seeing their invaluable canoes in the enemies power, to save them from destruction readily laid down their arms; and, upon further communication, agreed to deliver up their king’s bow and arrows, and to furnish four hundred baskets of corn to avert the threatened vengeance of the terrible strangers.


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MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 28 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indians-of-virginia.htm - Last updated on Feb 19th, 2013


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