A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century
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Research Design

Danielle Moretti-Langholtz

"...the main thing I want the general public to know about my people is that we weren't a historic tribe that the English documented in 1608 and [then] we all died off." Chief G. Anne Richardson, the Rappahannock Tribe (the Virginia Indian Oral History Project at the College of William & Mary).

In recent decades, academic historians, anthropologists, and museum curators, have begun to include subaltern voices in their work and exhibits. Realizing that in the historical situations of the colonial encounter, American Indians, African Americans, and European settlers created stories to both justify and challenge the outcome of the past. This project proposes to compile the documentary evidence from the seventeenth century that pertains to Native people and combine it with the stories and commentary of Virginia Indians, historians and anthropologists in order to offer a counter point to notions of Native people as "savages," or "vanishing" people and therefore unworthy of their lands or proper place in history. The scope of work is wide-ranging and includes searching the primary documents for information regarding interactions between Virginia Indians and settlers in the seventeenth century, as well as searching for images of Native people, place names, a review of language sources. A major thrust of the study is the inclusion of Native perspective provided by the leadership and membership of Virginia Indians.

One focus of this study is the examination of primary documents pertaining to Indians during the seventeenth century in four Virginia counties: James City, Charles City, York and Isle of Wight. In addition to the search of primary documents a time line was created using the documentary sources to represent important historical events impacting Virginia Indians. Commentaries from Virginia Indian tribal leaders are incorporated in the time line to provide a Native voice or commentary, drawn from oral history, about the events represented on the time line.

A wide variety of archival materials were examined by William & Mary students (graduate and undergraduate) to extract and build the foundation for input from the Virginia Indian perspective. Court records and minute books, county deeds, wills, inventories, McIlwaine's minutes of 1620s, Holten's List of Living and Dead in 1623, and Muster Rolls for 1623/4 were reviewed for the following counties: Charles City, Isle of Wight, James City, Surry and York. The Colonial Papers collection in the Library of Virginia, the Virginia Colonial Records Project, containing microfilm copies of the folios of the Public Record Office (P.R.O.) in London, Journals of the House of Burgesses, Legislative Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia as well as museum holdings were reviewed. Additionally, databases, collections in the Virginia Historical Society, the Library of Virginia and material in private collections were searched. The data are arranged in two tables in chronological order and by count. Entries pertaining to inter and intra tribal relations, Anglo-Indian relations, court cases involving Indians and settlers, subjects pertaining to cultural clashes (warfare), trade (expeditions, goods, items, furs, skins, corn, tobacco), religion, servants, forced laborers, runaways, captives and slavery have been placed in the charts. This approach was taken after consultations with various tribal leaders. It was their wish to see the actual entries rather than look at summaries of the primary documents. Since the entries are drawn from only those counties in the scope of work not all of Virginia's tribes are represented in the data sets. However, the presentation of the data in this manner permits tribal leaders to examine certain aspects of their history in a new way. The assistance of Katharine Harbury was invaluable in the compilation of these data. This is the first time that these types of data have been compiled into a single chart. It is hoped that these data may be used to present a more nuanced presentation of the impact of the colonial encounter on indigenous peoples in Virginia as well as a better understanding of their response to that impact.

Topics of interest to the Native communities helped to inform the shape and outcome of the report. In some ways it is an unconventional report in format and its intention to share the research with tribal communities. A time line or chronology of events pertinent to the Native community was developed using selections from primary documents, especially those statutes noted in Hening (1823) for the period. The time line was given to the chiefs of the eight state-recognized tribes—the Chickahominy Tribe, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Mattaponi Tribe, Upper Mattaponi, Nansemond Indian Tribe, Pamunkey Tribe, Rappahannock Tribe and Monacan Indian Nation, and to one non-state recognized tribe, the Patawomeck Tribe, for their comments. Input was sought from the Virginia Council on Indians (VCI) and updates on the progress of the report were given to the VCI on a regular basis. Several versions of the time line were developed over the course of six months until the final version was compiled for this report. Additionally, conversations and consultations were held with those tribal leaders and tribal members willing to participate in this report.

The unique mix of specialists drawn from anthropology, history and tribal communities provides a special opportunity to allow a multi-vocal presentation of the material. This study includes an overview of the rise of the Powhatan Chiefdom by Dr. Martin Gallivan that draws heavily on archaeological investigations and interpretations of pertinent sites. Jennifer Ogborne provides a brief overview of Powhatan ceramics. [1] Martha W. McCartney contributes in a significant manner to this study with her chapter on narrative history. Particular emphasis is placed upon Anglo-Indian relations with sections by Stephen Feeley, Dr. Edward Ragan (historian for the Rappahannock Tribe), and a review of literature pertaining to Bacon's Rebellion by Thane Harpole. Due to the fascination with Pocahontas, a brief section is devoted to on this historical personage drawn from the point of view of one tribe (the Mattaponi) by Angela Daniel. This report also includes research on early images of Powhatan Indians, information on Indian place names and a section on Powhatan language. These appear as appendices compiled by Buck Woodard (Lower Muskogee Creek and Indian at Large member of the Virginia Council on Indians) along with additional material on Pocahontas from the private collection of William Cole. The study includes an annotated bibliography and recommendations for further research possible ways to utilize information in the report for the National Park Service's interpretive plan.

1Information from contemporary Powhatan potters looking at the NPS collections of ceramics is forthcoming. However, the damage resulting from Hurricane Isabel prevented this section of the report from being completed.

The organization of the chapters shifted during the course of the research and its current form was requested by the Colonial National Historical Park. Contributors were given the latitude to use either "Indian" or "Native American" in their chapters. At the request of several tribal leaders we have capitalized the word "Native" throughout the text.

The following institutions were contacted for information about their holdings of seventeenth century material culture or documents: the Library of Virginia, Alderman Library at the University of Virginia, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Rockefeller Library at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Fogler Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., the Huntington Library, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the Library of Congress, Swem Library at the College of William & Mary, the Werowocomoco Research Group, and the collections of the Colonial National Historical Park at Jamestown. A special note of thanks goes to Karen Rehm for her support and helpful commentary in shaping the direction of this study.

Finally, the inclusion of Native commentary in this study adds an original component to the report. It is hoped that the National Park Service will build on this report to create an interpretive plan that represents the experience of Virginia Indians in the post-contact world. Their perspectives provide an alternative to the Anglo-centric presentation of seventeenth- century history at Jamestown.

As Chief Barry Bass of the Nansemond Tribe noted, "We [Virginia Indians] were always here and we will always be here. However, we have not always been asked for our opinions when it comes to our history." It is hoped that this report brings the Native and non-Native communities one step closer to working together to better understand and interpret our shared history.

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Last Updated: 22-Nov-2006