Indians of Virginia

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Distress of the Colonies

While Captain Smith remained in America, and continued in power, he maintained his authority over the natives. In a grievous famine that succeeded the events we have just detailed, they proved of infinite service in providing the wild products of the forest for the starving colonists. Many of the English were sent out to live with the savages, and learn their arts of gathering and preparing the roots and other edibles that must take the place of corn. These were treated with every kindness by the Indians, “of whom,” says Smith,” there was more hope to make better Christians and good subjects than the one half of those that counterfeited themselves both.” Kemp and Tussore, who had been set at liberty, remained thereafter stanch adherents to the English interests. Sundry malcontents belonging to the colony had fled into the woods, thinking to live in ease among the natives, whom they promised revenge upon their old conqueror, the president. Kemp, however, instead of giving ear to these persuasions, fed them ” with this law, who would not work must not eat, till they were near starved indeed, continually threatening to beat them to death;” and finally carried them forcibly back to Captain Smith.

Martin and West’s Settlements

In the early part of the summer of 1609, large supplies came over from England, and a great number of factious and disorderly adventurers were brought into the new settlement. Unwilling to submit to the authority of the president, insatiate after mines of gold and silver, cowardly in battle, and cruel and treacherous in peace, their distress proved commensurate with their unthrift. At Nansemund, a company, under one Captain Martin, after wantonly provoking the ill will of the natives, was unable to resist their attacks; and another division under West, which at tempted a settlement at the falls of James River, proved equally inefficient and impolitic. “The poor savages that daily brought in their contributions to the president, that disorderly company so tormented those poor souls, by stealing their corn, robbing their gardens, beating them, breaking their houses and keeping some prisoners, that they daily complained to Captain Smith, he had brought them for protectors worse enemies than the Monacans themselves: they desired pardon if hereafter they defended themselves.”

Carrying out this intention, the Indians fell upon the fort immediately after Smith s departure, he having set sail for Jamestown. His vessel taking ground before he had proceeded far, he was called upon to interfere, and brought matters to an amicable conclusion, removing the English from the inconvenient spot they had selected for their habitation into the pleasant country of Powhatan.

Arrival Of Lord De La Warre

Before reaching Jamestown, Captain Smith met with so severe an accident by the firing of a bag of gunpowder, that he was thereafter incapacitated from further service in the colony. So terribly was his flesh torn and burned, that, to relieve the pain, he instantly threw himself into the river, from which he was with difficulty rescued. It being impossible to procure the necessary medical assistance for the cure of so extensive an injury, he took pas sage for England by the first opportunity, and never again revisited the colony he had planted and supported with such singular devotion, energy, and courage. The fate of the two principal of the Dutch conspirators against his life, is thus chronicled: “But to see the justice of God upon these Dutchmen: Adam and Francis were fled again to Powhatan, to whom they promised, at the arrival of my Lord (La Warre), what wonders they would do, would he suffer them but to go to him. But the king, seeing they would be gone, replied; you that would have betrayed Captain Smith to me, will certainly betray me to this great lord for your peace; so caused his men to beat out their brains.”

Retaliations Upon The Natives

Smith’s departure was the signal for general defection among the Indians. They seized the boats of the settlers under Martin and West; who, unable to keep their ground, returned to Jamestown, with the loss of nearly half their men. A party of thirty or forty, bound upon a trading expedition, was set upon by Powhatan and his warriors, and all except two were slain. One of these, a boy, named Henry Spilman, was preserved by the intervention of Pocahontas, and sent to live among the Patawomekes. Reduced to the greatest extremity, the English were obliged to barter their very arms for provisions, thus adding to the power of the enemy in the same ratio that they weakened their own resources. Famine, pestilence, and savage invasion reduced the colony, which before had numbered five hundred inhabitants, to about sixty miserable and helpless wretches, within the short space of six months from the time that Smith set sail. The crude products of the forest formed their principal food; “nay, so great was our famine,” proceeds the narrative, “that a savage we slew and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and eat him, and so did divers one another, boiled and stewed with roots and herbs: and one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was known, for which he was executed as he well deserved.”

Upon the arrival of a ship, with Sir Thomas Gates and company, all the unfortunate settlers, abandoning their town, took passage with him for England. At the commencement of the voyage, they fell in with Lord La Warre, who was on his way to Jamestown, bringing with him large supplies of men and necessaries; and all returned together to Jamestown.

Fortunately the Indians had not, as yet, destroyed the fort, and the numbers and efficiency of the whites were so far increased, that they were “able to tame the fury and treachery of the savages.”

On the 15th of June (1610) Captain Argall, being engaged in a trading expedition among the Patawomekes, found there the young prisoner, Henry Spilman, who had met with kind treatment, and by whose intervention abundance of corn was procured. Frequent mention is made of Spilman in subsequent portions of Virginian history. He was killed by the Potomac Indians, in 1623, while on a trading expedition up the river. Having gone on shore with some of his company, some difficulty arose, and, after a short skirmish, those on board the boat “heard a great bruit among the savages ashore, and saw a man’s head thrown down the bank, whereupon they weighed anchor and returned home; but how he was surprised or slain is uncertain.”

That the colonists were not slow in making use of their newly acquired power over the natives in their vicinity, sufficiently appears from the manner in which they revenged some injuries received from those of Paspahegh. Not satisfied with burning their town, they deliberately put to death the queen and her children, who had fallen into their hands.

In the following year the Appomatuck Indians, for some offences, were driven from their homes, and their corn was seized, “without the loss of any except some few savages.” The manner in which peaceful intercourse was at last established with Powhatan, however it may be justified upon the plea of necessity, reflects but little credit upon the English. Argall, in the year 1613, (according to some chronicles,) while up the Potomac in search of corn, heard from the sachem Japazaws that Pocahontas, who had not been seen at Jamestown since Smith s departure, was residing among his people. The captain determined not to lose the opportunity to secure so valuable a hostage, and having, by the assistance of Japazaws, decoyed her on board his ship, he made her prisoner. The treacherous Potomac sachem pretended great distress; “the old Jew and his wife began to howl and cry as fast as Pocahontas,” but appeared pacified when Argall told them that the princess should be well treated, and restored as soon as Powhatan would make restitution of the goods he had purloined and plundered from the colony.

Seizure Of Pocahontas: Her Marriage

Baptism of Pocahontas
John Gadsby Chapman depicts Pocahontas, wearing white, being baptized Rebecca by Anglican minister Alexander Whiteaker in Jamestown, Virginia; this event is believed to have taken place in 1613 or 1614. She kneels, surrounded by family members and colonists. Her brother Nantequaus turns away from the ceremony. The baptism took place before her marriage to Englishman John Rolfe, who stands behind her. Their union is said to be the first recorded marriage between a European and a Native American. The scene symbolizes the belief of Americans at the time that Native Americans should accept Christianity and other European ways.

When the emperor learned of this transaction, the “unwelcome news much troubled him, because he loved both his daughter and the English commodities well; ” and he left Pocahontas in the enemies hands for several months before he deigned to pay the least attention to their demands. It has been supposed, and with great show of reason, that the kind-hearted girl had lost favor with her father by her sympathy with the English, and by endeavoring to save them at the time of the massacres which pre ceded the last arrival; and that this was the cause of her retirement to Potomac.

When Powhatan at last consented to treat, his offers were entirely unsatisfactory to the English, and another long interval elapsed without any communication from him. Meantime, an ardent attachment had sprung up between Pocahontas and a young Englishman of the colony named John Rolfe, “an honest gentleman and of good behavior.” When it was at last concluded to use open force to reduce Powhatan to compliance with the English requisitions, a large force proceeded to the chief s head-quarters, by water, taking the princess with them. The Indians exhibited an insolent and warlike demeanor, but were easily put to flight, and their town was burned. Pursuing their advantage, the invading party proceeded up the river to Matchot, where, a truce being agreed upon, two of Powhatan s sons came to visit their sister, and, overjoyed at finding her well and kindly cared for, promised their best endeavors to bring matters to a peaceful issue. Rolfe, with one companion, had an interview with Opechancanough, who also declared that he would strive to persuade the king to compliance with the English proposals.

When Powhatan heard of the proposed marriage of his daughter, his anger and resentment towards the whites seemed to be appeased. He sent his brother Opitchapan, and others of his family, to witness the ceremony, and readily permitted the old terms of trade and intimacy to be renewed. Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married about the 1st of April 1613.

The Chickahominies, hearing that Powhatan was in league with the colony, felt little inclined to be upon ill terms with so powerful a confederacy; and, having made advances, a treaty of friendship was entered into with all due forms and ceremonies.

Not contented with the security against Powhatan’s hostility which the possession of his beloved daughter afforded, the colonial governor, Sir Thomas Dale, sought yet another hostage from the king; and in 1614 sent John Rolfe and Ralph Hamor to his court for this purpose.

Peace With The Indians

The aged chief received them with courtesy and kindness, and appeared pleased and gratified at the accounts which they gave him of Pocahontas satisfaction with her new alliance, and the religion and customs of the English. “When the purpose of the mission was made known to him, which was no other than the obtaining possession of his youngest daughter, upon pretext of marrying her nobly, Powhatan gravely refused compliance. He would never trust himself, he said, in the power of the English; and, therefore, if he should send away his child, whom he now loved as his life, and beyond all his other numerous off spring, it would be never again to behold her. ” My brother,” he added, “hath a pledge, one of my daughters, which so long as she lives shall be sufficient; when she dies he shall have another: I hold it not a brotherly part to desire to bereave me of my two children at once.”

Pocahontas was carefully educated in the Christian religion, which she appeared sincerely to embrace. She nourished the warmest affection for her husband, upon his part faithfully returned; and what with these new ties, and the enlarged ideas attendant upon education and inter course with intelligent Europeans, she seemed entirely to lose all desire of associating with her own people.

Pocahontas Visits England: Her Death

Rolfe and his wife sailed for England in 1616, and reached Plymouth on the 12th of June. Great interest was excited by their arrival, both at court and among many people of distinction. Captain Smith prepared an address to the queen upon this occasion, setting forth in quaint, but touching language, the continued kindness and valuable services received by himself and the colony at large from Pocahontas. He commended her to his royal mistress, as “the first Christian ever of that nation, the first Virginian ever spoke English, or had a child in marriage by an Englishman, a matter surely worthy a prince s understanding.”

When Smith met with his preserver at Branford, where she was staying with her husband after her arrival in England, his demeanor did not at first satisfy her. Etiquette, and the restraints of English customs, prevented him perhaps from making such demonstration of affection as she had expected from her adopted father. “After a modest salutation,” he says, “without any word, she turned her self about, obscured her face as not seeming well contented; and in that humor, her husband, with divers others, we all left her two or three hours, repenting myself to have writ she could speak English.”

This pique, or whatever emotion it may have been, soon passed off, and she began to converse freely upon old times and scenes. She said she would always call Smith her father that he should call her child, and ever consider her as his “countryman.” It seems that she had been told that he was dead, and only learned the truth on reaching England. Powhatan had been anxious to get intelligence of his old rival, and specially commissioned an Indian of his council, named Uttomatomakkin, whom he sent over to England, to find out Captain Smith; to see the Englishmen’s God, their queen, and their prince; and to ascertain the number of the country’s inhabitants.

This last direction he endeavored to perform by carrying a stick with him, and making a notch for every man he saw, “but he was quickly weary of that task.”

Captain Argall, Rolfe, and others, having been furnished with an outfit for Virginia, in 1617, Pocahontas (known as Rebecca, since her baptism and conversion,) was about to revisit her native country, but was taken suddenly ill, and died at Gravesend. “She made not more sorrow for her unexpected death, than joy to the beholders to hear and see her make so religious and godly an end.” She left one child, Thomas Rolfe, who afterwards resided in Virginia, and from whom many families in that state still trace their origin. The celebrated John Randolph, of Roanoke, was one of his descendants.

At Jamestown, Argall found matters in a bad state. Little was attended to but the raising of tobacco, which was seen growing in the streets and market place. The savages had become bold and familiar, “as frequent in the colonists houses as themselves, whereby they were become expert in the English arms.” They broke out, in some instances, into open murder and robbery, but the old chief Opechancanough, when redress was demanded, disclaimed all knowledge of or participation in the outrages.

Death Of Powhatan

The venerable Powhatan died in April, of the year 1618, and was succeeded by his second brother, Itopatin. The new king, as well as the formidable Opechancanough, seemed desirous of continuing at peace with the whites. Despite his protestations of friendship, and renewal of solemn leagues and covenants, the old king of Pamaunky was still held in sore suspicion, and it is plain that Indian power, if roused against the colony, was growing formidable. The historian expresses his amazement “to understand how strangely the savages had been taught the use of arms, and employed in hunting and fowling with our fowling pieces, and our men rooting in the ground about tobacco like swine.”

Pory’s Settlement

John Pory, secretary of the colony, undertook a settlement on the eastern shore in 1621. Namenacus, king of Pawtuxent, visited him, and expressed his good will in style characteristic of Indian metaphor. Baring his breast, says Pory, he asked “if we saw any deformity upon it; we told him, No; No more, said he, is the inside, but as sincere and pure; therefore come freely to my country and welcome.” The English were accompanied by Thomas Savage as interpreter; a youth who, sixteen years before, had been left with Powhatan for the purpose of acquiring the Indian language, and who afterwards proved of great service to the colony.

When the party reached the dwelling of Namenacus and his brother Wamanato, they were most hospitably received and entertained. Boiled oysters were set before them in a “brass kettle as bright without as within,” and the alliance was cemented by exchange of presents. Wamanato promised to keep what he had received “whilst he lived, and bury them with him being dead. He much wondered at our Bible,” proceeds Pory, “but much more to hear it was the law of our God, and the first chapter of Genesis expounded of Adam and Eve, and simple marriage; to which he replied he was like Adam in one thing, for he never had but one wife at once; but he, as all the rest, seemed more willing of other discourses they better understood.”


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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. 21 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indians-of-virginia.htm - Last updated on Feb 19th, 2013


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