A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century
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Anglo-Indian Relations in the Seventeenth Century

Stephen D. Feeley

This essay outlines relations in the seventeenth century between English settlers and the Indians of Virginia—not just the official policies that Indian and English leaders tried to dictate and enforce, but also the unofficial encounters that sometimes challenged authorities and other times escaped their notice. Attempts to govern the nature of contact had profound affects on life for both groups. Through laws and regulations, Virginia's colonial government endeavored with increasing success to decree particular behaviors among the Indians: where they could travel, trade, or hunt, what treaties they could make with other Indian groups, which weapons they could own. The often-ignored corollary to Indian relations is the behaviors that such rules forced upon settlers themselves. Because of Indians, laws regulated where settlers explored, who they could trade with for furs or food, and even how they buried their dead. Long into the seventeenth century and beyond, seemingly unrelated agricultural choices such as what crops to plant, where to settle, and who would control the government can be traced to the state of Indian affairs. In many cases, official policies ran counter to unsanctioned interactions—both peaceable and antagonistic—that continued all the time between settlers and Indians. Precisely because Anglo-Indian relations had such an all-encompassing affect on the lives of everyone in Virginia, the issue could act as a point of contention not only between Indians and settlers, but also among them.


The Powhatans and other Virginia Indians learned about Europeans long before 1607 when 104 Englishmen splashed ashore at the site later known as Jamestown. In 1561 a Spanish vessel commanded by Antonio Valázquez wandered into the Chesapeake Bay and carried away a young chief. Later baptized as Don Luis De Velasco, the Powhatan leader received an education in Mexico, Havana, and King Phillip II's court in Spain before returning to Virginia in 1570 as translator and guide for a hopeful band of Jesuit missionaries. After discovering that European diseases had wreaked havoc on the region's population, Valasco denounced Christianity, took several wives, and led survivors among his tribe in an assault that killed the missionaries. Two years later, another Spanish ship returned to the bay, recovered the lone Spanish survivor, and killed and captured a number of Indians in revenge. For Natives like Powhatan and Opechancanough who lived through the 1560s and 1570s, these early contacts that ended in bloodshed almost certainly helped shape future attitudes towards Europeans. [1]

1 Frederic Gleach, Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 89-97. J. Frederick Fausz, "Opechancanough: Indian Resistance Leader" in Struggle and Survival in Colonial America, eds. David G. Sweet and Gary B. Nash (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981) and Carl Brindenbaugh, Early Americans (New York: University of Oxford Press, 1980) argue that Opechancanough and Velasco may have been the same person. I agree with Helen Rountree, Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 18-19 that such a direct identification is impossible. In either case it remains likely that through such early contacts the Powhatans and their neighbors were better informed about Europeans in 1607 than is often presumed.

It is unclear how familiar these events in the Chesapeake were to Englishmen whose eyes were fixed on the shining accounts of gold, silver, and souls that the Spanish were reaping elsewhere in the New World. Lured by such wealth, between 1584 and 1587 English captains and adventurers funded by a group of well-connected gentlemen from southwestern England led by Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to create a settlement in Roanoke, "Virginia," as a base for English privateering and exploration, and as a western bastion of Protestantism. The promoters Thomas Harriot and Richard Hakluyt also argued that the colony would further new notions of mercantilism by opening markets for English goods, absorbing unemployed vagrants uprooted by the enclosure of rural lands in England, and providing new sources of raw commodities ranging from tropical dyes and silks to cordage and lumber. [2]

2 Thomas Harriot, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (London, 1590); E. G. R. Taylor, ed., The Original Writings and Correspondence of the Two Richard Hakluyts (Cambridge, England: Hakluyt Society). David B. Quinn, Set Fair for Roanoke : Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606, (Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1984); Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Roanoke, The Abandoned Colony (Totowa, N.J. : Rowman & Allanheld, 1984); Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery/ American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975), 6-24.

All of these were high hopes for what turned out to be a sandy spit on the Outer Banks of present-day North Carolina. The island was ill suited for English crops and treacherous shoals made re-supply difficult. Hungry settlers quickly found themselves dependent on bands of Indians who inhabited the island and nearby mainland. Despite favorable portrayals of the Indians by Thomas Harriot and remarkably humane paintings by John White, the harsh military bearing of soldiers and settlers—many of them veterans of genocidal colonizing efforts in Ireland—quickly antagonized the Indians and eliminated chances of peaceful cooperation. Further exasperating tensions, local Indians lured the colonists into ill-advised participation in local conflicts between coastal Algonquian groups and Iroquoian Mangoaks. Colonists realized with horror that wronged Indians could simply move away, take their invaluable caches of corn, and leave the English to starve. Without Indian assistance, dependence on a supply line made unreliable by the vicissitudes of war, weather, and finance left the settlers in a precarious if not hopeless position. When much-needed supply ships did not arrive, the colony and its inhabitants disappeared. Most of the "lost" settlers probably perished of starvation and disease; Mangoaks (probably Tuscaroras) may have captured some; others probably sheltered among the Chesapeake tribe—a group whom Powhatan's forces decimated on the eve of the arrival of English ships in 1607. [3]

3 Gleach, Powhatan's World, 104; Ian K. Steele, Warpaths: Invasions of America (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 39; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 21.

Lessons Learned?

In 1606, a group of wealthy London lawyers and merchants (supplanting Raleigh and his compatriots who had fallen out of royal favor at the accession of James I) formed the Virginia Company of London under a crown charter. By selling and raffling shares in the venture, they hoped (unsuccessfully as it turned out) to avoid the funding shortfalls that had hindered the privately sponsored Roanoke colony. Setting their sights further north, they aimed to settle within the Chesapeake Bay, whose shores were more fertile, better accessible by ship—and most intriguingly—controlled by an incredibly powerful and wealthy Indian ruler who supposedly possessed great troves of gold (actually native copper) and pearls.

On April 26, 1607 three company vessels entered the Chesapeake Bay carrying the settlers and, courtesy of their superiors in England, a sealed box of written instructions reflecting lessons from the past and ambitions for the future. The first, a "Letter of Instruction" from the king, entreated that Christianity be "preached, planted, and used" as "much as they may, amongst the salvage people," confidently assuming that once converted (by a process never specified) the Indians would subject themselves to "such sever paines and punishments as shal be inflicted" and live side by side in perfect, well-disciplined harmony with the settlers.[4] A different set of instructions, "given by way of Advice" by the Virginia Company's London Council, offered a less rosy view. Taking it for granted that "you cannot carry your Selves so towards . . . [the Indians] but they will grow discontented with your habitation," the instructions urged the settlers to "in no Case Suffer any of the natural people of the Country to inhabit between You and the Sea Coast." More mindful of the Spanish threat than advice to avoid "a low and moist place because it will prove unhealthful," they selected Jamestown peninsula, a virtual island. For the next several decades, the site's brackish and easily contaminated estuarine water supply would weaken immune systems, contributing to the deadly illnesses that stalked among the settlers. [5]

4 "20 November 1606, Instructions for Government," in Philip L. Barbour, ed., The Jamestown Voyages Under the First Charter 1606-1609 (Cambridge, England: Hakluyt Society, 1969), 1: 43.

5 "Instructions given by way of Advice" in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 1: 50-52.

The instructions further urged the settlers to mask weakness and give the appearance of strength. Soldiers were never to allow Indians to examine or even hold guns, lest they "run from you with your shot." To enhance the Natives' awe and fear of their muskets' killing power, the leaders could let only those settlers "Chosen out of your best Marksmen" shoot in front of the Indians. Otherwise, "if they see Your Learners miss what they aim at they will think the Weapons not so terrible and will be [boldened] to Assailt You." The Instructions also urged the settlers to hide all evidence of sickness or death, partially out of the misguided belief that all Indians considered Europeans to be gods, but more realistically to prevent the large Indian population from seeing the English in a state of weakness. Despite urging precautions, however, the heads of the Virginia Company recognized from the earlier experiences at Roanoke that the settlers could not avoid all contact with the Indians—indeed, they would depend on it. "Not being Sure how your own seed Corn will prosper the first Year," the settlers were instructed to "imploy Some few of your Company to trade with them for Corn and other lasting Victuals." Accompanying this realization was the almost neurotic fear that the Indians would abandon the settlers. "You must have Great Care not to Offend the naturals if you Can Eschew it," cautioned the Council. [6]

6 "Instructions given by way of Advice" in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 1: 50-53.

The planners were right to assume that the region's Indians, many of them led by Powhatan, would be judging the strange, womanless band of newcomers. Even before the settlers reached Jamestown Island, Indians had wounded a settler and a sailor "recreating" at Cape Henry. [7] After arriving, the settlers hastily dragged tree branches into a half-moon shaped fortification. Two weeks after arriving in Jamestown, another band of Indians (probably Paspaheghs) mounted a "very furious Assault" on the English. Only fire from the ships anchored nearby drove the Indians off. After the completion of a more substantial fort of planks with three bulwarks and mounted artillery, Indians periodically rained arrows into the enclosure. [8]

7 George Percy, "Discourse," in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 1: 133-34; Smith, "Map of Virginia," in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 2: 379.

8 Smith, "Map of Virginia" in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 2: 380; Archer, "A Relatyon," in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 1:95-96; Percy, "Discourse" in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 1: 142.

But even as some bands took pot shots at nervous settlers around the fort, others approached in friendship and to trade. Englishmen on expeditions up the James River led by the one-armed ship captain Christopher Newport received friendly welcomes at a number of villages and met several chiefs, including Powhatan's son, Parahunt. [9] To a certain extent the variety of responses met by the English reflected the diversity of a village world. But as subjects of Powhatan, the Indians' wide-ranging behaviors also reflected a policy of testing the newcomers' strength and ineptitude, asserting military strength, and leaving the door open for alliance and trade. [10] Additionally, Powhatan attempted to prevent the English from contacting and making an alliance with his western Monacan enemies. [11]

9 Gleach, Powhatan's World, 107.

10 Steele, Warpaths, 41; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 29-55. J. Frederick Fausz, "An 'Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides,'" Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 98, no. 1 (January 1990): 16-17.

11 Fausz, "Abundance of Blood Shed," 12.

The first summer, starvation and disease more than military assault, threatened to destroy the colony until Powhatan sent his people with food to trade. [12] In directing the exchange of corn, fish, and venison in exchange for iron tools, copper pots, and glass beads, Powhatan preserved authority that previously depended in part on his ability to collect and redistribute copper, poccoon [red dye], roanoke [shell beads], and other native wares. Most of all he sought guns. These would allow him to cement his authority at home and secure his empire's borders abroad.

12 Edward Wingfield "Discourse," in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 1: 217; Percy "Discourse" in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 1: 144-45.

Planners of the colony had imagined that this reliance on the Indians would last only a single planting season. But in following years, settlers frequently pressured Indians for corn. In return for English goods, corn became the main currency of the Indian trade. When they could not barter for it, the colonists went to war for it, attacking villages and burning houses, to filling the holds of their small boats with the precious grain. When they could do neither, they starved. [13]

13 Smith, "Map of Virginia," in Barbour, Jamestown Voyages, 2: 437.

In dealings for food the leaders of the colony depended on John Smith, a cocky mercenary with experience in numerous European wars and a knack for seizing hostages to enforce his demands. After being captured by Powhatan's influential brother, Opechancanough, in December of 1607, a month-long captivity among the Pamunkeys gave Smith a smattering of the local Algonquian language and initiated a grudging respect between Smith and Powhatan. The Indian ruler attempted to adopt his captive as a werowance, and by extension assimilate the Jamestown settlers as a new subsidiary tribe in hopes of receiving as tribute two cannons, a grindstone, and promises of military assistance. [14] A year later the English tried to reverse this adoptive ploy by crowning Powhatan as a vassal of James I—a plan that backfired when Powhatan refused to come to Jamestown and kneel to accept a crown and cloak as symbols of his subordination. Instead, Powhatan demanded that the gifts be brought to him as tribute in his capital of Werowocomoco. [15]

14 John Smith, "The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles [1626]" in Barbour, The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 149-52. Some doubt may be cast on the veracity of this story because Smith omitted this story in several earlier editions of his histories.

15 John Smith, "The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia [1612]" in Barbour, The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, 236.

By sending Smith abroad to trade, the settlement's leaders had hoped to relegate the upstart out of important affairs. But by making himself the broker between the two peoples, Smith seized control of the colony. Not forgetting the source of his own influence, he maintained a careful watch over all trade, quashing a minor revolt caused by several German glassblowers among the colonists who sought to smuggle guns to Powhatan. [16] In the winter of 1608-1609, Smith drastically reduced the rate of starvation and disease among the settlers by dispersing them to sites along the James River. But doing so antagonized Powhatans' people. Forced back to Jamestown and confined there by Indian retaliatory raids, unable to plant and ill supplied, 120 of the 220 remaining settlers died during the next winter (1609-1610)—a period infamous as the "Starving Time." [17]

16 John Smith, Travels and Works of Captain John Smith, ed. Edward Arber (Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1910), 2: 447-67.

17 Percy, "Trewe Relacyon," in Virginia: Four Personal Narratives (New York: Arno Press, 1972).

The First Anglo-Powhatan War and the Peace of Pocahontas

These events marked the beginning of the first Anglo-Powhatan War. Early victory eluded the Powhatans in June when the arrival of ships bearing new supplies, arms, and settlers narrowly prevented desperate survivors from burning the fort and abandoning the colony. [18] The ships also brought the new governor, Thomas West, the Lord De La Warr, one of a succession of militaristic leaders who replaced Smith after a wound from a gunpowder explosion forced him to return to England. De La Warre and the other acting governors during the 1610s (Thomas Gates, George Percy, and Thomas Dale) transformed Virginia into a paramilitary colony under rules that culminated in the draconian Lawes, Divine, Morall, and Martiall issued in 1611. Military hierarchy superseded English class structure and every colonist learned to obey commands issued by "the severall sounds of the Drumme." Non-compliance was punishable by death. [19]

18 Steele, Warpaths, 43.

19 Darrett B. Rutman, "The Virginia Company and its Military Regime," in The Old Dominion: Essays for Thomas Perkins Abernathy, ed. Darrett B. Rutman (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1964), 1-20; "Lawes Divine Morall and Martiall" in Peter Force, ed., Tracts and Other Papers (New York: Peter Smith, 1947), vol. 3.

During this first Anglo-Powhatan War between 1609 and 1614 the colonists launched expeditions against Indian towns seeking to burn houses, kill inhabitants, and seize valuable cornfields in order to feed themselves and starve the Indians. Hoping again to expand beyond the confines of Jamestown, they successfully fortified garrisons on defensible peninsulas at Henrico, Coxendale, Rochdale, and Bermuda Hundred—often the former sites of prime Indian fields and settlements. Powhatan's people wiped out an English blockhouse that guarded the approaches to Jamestown and later attempted to lay siege to the main settlement. More often they had to fall back before better-armed and better-armored English troops and hope that disease, hunger, and the occasional military victory would deplete the settlers faster than supply ships could replenish them. On both sides instances of cruelty and torture reached new levels as each group jockeyed for dominance in future relations. [20]

20 Fausz, "Abundance of Blood Shed," 3-56; Percy, "Trewe Relacyon" in Virginia: Four Personal Narratives.

But brutality did not signal a wholesale shift to racial violence that precluded an end to all peaceful meetings. Indeed, the colonial government expended great energy to monitor and regulate interactions that nonetheless continued between individual Indians and settlers. Indians frequented Jamestown selling food—until Governor Thomas Gates ordered several to be apprehended and executed as spies. Moreover, several English runaways took their chances among the Indians. When they were recaptured, Governor Thomas Dale,

in A most sever mannor cawsed [them] to be executed. Some he apointed to be hanged Some burned Some to be broken upon wheles, others to be staked and others to be shott to deathe all these extreme and crewell tortures he used and inflicted upon them to terrefy the reste for Attemptinge the Lyke. [21]

21 Percy, "True Relacyon," in Virginia: Four Personal Narratives, 280.

Not all contacts were frowned upon. Even during the darkest hours of warfare, the colonial government authorized agents to negotiate and trade with Indian groups outside of Powhatan's direct control along the eastern shore and northern Chesapeake for food and military assistance. These meetings bore fruit in the spring of 1613 when Samuel Argall cajoled Japazaws, a Patawomec werowance, to surrender an invaluable bargaining chip—Powhatan's favorite daughter, Pocahontas. In more peaceable times, Pocahontas had frequented the English settlement and cavorted and cart wheeled with the young boys. After a year of captivity living in the home of Reverend Alexander Whitaker she converted to Christianity, took the biblical name Rebecca, and married John Rolfe.

For both sides the marriage offered a face-saving way of avoiding a final, mutually destructive confrontation between the closely matched Powhatans and the English. "Ever since," reported a settler, "we have had friendly commerce and trade not only with Powhatan himselfe, but also with his subjects round about us." Even the Chickahominies, "a lustie and daring people who have long lived free from Powhatan's subjection," soon afterwards made treaties with the colony. Freed from fear of Indians and lured by the desire to plant tobacco, which became extremely profitable with the introduction of sweeter Caribbean strains and a growing European market, settlers began to come out of their forts. Large numbers of settlers, under relaxed rules allowing them for the first time to privately acquire their own farms, took little heed of official warnings not to settle "straglingly in divers places." [22] As the fortress mentality gave way to less guarded caution, English runaways caught among the Indians more often got away with a whipping, fine, or even pardon rather than torture and execution. By 1619 only servants, potentially the most rebellious segment of society, were restricted from freely trading. Debating how to treat Indians who frequently found employment "in killing of Deere, fishing, beatting of Corne and other workes," Virginia's general assembly finally decided "neither to utterly reject them nor yet to drawe them in." Although "five or six" could be admitted to "places well peopled," "lone inhabitants" were "by no meanes to entertain them"—a precaution that often went unheeded. [23] Guided by Thomas Thorpe, in 1619 the Virginia Company with the help of parish donations from England set aside 1,500 pounds to create a mission college for Indians boys near the falls at Henrico. Even though these plans went awry, this demonstrated a willingness on the part of the government to accept Indians—at least those willing to convert—into colonial society virtually unseen since the first days of settlement. [24]

22 Hamor, "A True Discourse," in Virginia: Four Personal Narratives, 11; Morgan, American Slavery/ American Freedom, 90; Rolf, "Virginia in 1616," in Virginia: Four Personal Narratives, 105; Susan Kingsbury, The Records of the Virginia Company of London (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1933), 3:104.

23 Hamor, "A True Discourse," in Virginia: Four Personal Narratives, 27; Kingsbury, Records, 3: 74, 170-71.

24 Kingsbury, Records, 3:102, 165; James Axtell, Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 179-80.

It would be misguided, however, to accept colonists' views of these years as a golden age of Powhatan-English relations. Increased contact with English clergymen more often taught the Indians to distrust the settlers' cultural intolerance. Rapid settlement spurred by desire for prime tobacco lands reached as far as the fall line and encroached on about half of the Powhatan chiefdom's core area. Epidemics of European diseases—the first since the sixteenth century—further disrupted the population. In 1618 Powhatan died of old age, leaving authority in the hands of Opechancanough, a military leader. [25]

25 Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 61- 73. Steele, Warpaths, 45. Opitchapan, a decrepit, lame, and uninspiring leader, briefly preceded Opechancanough.

Uprisings in 1622 and 1644

At a pre-arranged time on the morning of March 22, 1622, Indians trading and visiting at scattered English homes and plantations along the James, York, and Appomattox Rivers drew carefully concealed weapons and attacked their hosts. By the end of the day's fighting, the Indians had killed approximately 347 of the 1,240 colonists, wiped out settlements at Martin's Hundred and Charles City, and destroyed the colony's iron works. Jamestown narrowly escaped thanks to its fortifications and the last minute warning of a christianized Indian who had befriended his English employer. The death and destruction confirmed Virginia's reputation as a deathtrap for potential settlers in England, ended the financially unstable Virginia Company, and in its stead brought direct crown rule. Locally, the resumption of warfare helped further the careers of a new cadre of councilors and war captains who ascended to and held power by feeding, protecting, and leading into battle ragged bands of refugee-settlers who sheltered within eight fortified strongholds. Wartime commissions gave the commanders "absolute power and command in all matters of warr over all the people." [26]

26 Morgan, American Slavery/ American Freedom, 98- 130. Fausz, "Merging and Emerging Worlds: Anglo-Indian Interest Groups and the Development of the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake," in Lois Carr, Philip Morgan, and Jean Russo, eds., Colonial Chesapeake Society (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 53-56; Smith, Travels, 2: 584; Kingsbury, Records, 2: 375; 3: 609; 4: 37-39, 89, 186

For much of the decade commanders led raids three times a year on the Indians of the Powhatan Empire reminiscent of the "feedfights" that had characterized warfare during the first Anglo-Powhatan War. Historians such as Alden Vaughan have pointed at this period as crucial to the creation of racial hatred towards Indians in Virginia, an argument supported by the suggestions of the Company secretary, Edward Waterhouse, who urged using bloodhounds and mastiffs to "teare them, which take this naked, tanned deformed Savages, for no other than beasts." [27] In 1623 settlers reported serving poisoned wine to two hundred or more Indian dignitaries fooled by "manye fayned" English overtures for peace. [28] Shifting away from defending isolated settlements, the Assembly implemented a plan to segregate the region by building a palisade between the James and York rivers anchored in the center by Middle Plantation (now Williamsburg) that would set off approximately 300,000 acres for the exclusive use of settlers and their livestock. [29]

27 Alden T. Vaughan, "Expulsion of the Salvages: English Policy and the Virginia Massacre of 1622," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 35 (1978): 57-84; Edward Waterhouse, "A Declaration of the State of the Colony" in W. Stitt Robinson, ed., Early American Indian Documents: Treaties and Laws, vol. 4 Virginia Treaties, 1607-1722 (Frederick, Md: University Publications of America, 1983), 31-40 (hereafter, Robinson, Virginia Treaties).

28 "Letter of Robert Bennett" in Robinson, Virginia Treaties, 50-51.

29 "Governor and Council . . . Urging a Palisade" in Robinson, Virginia Treaties, 52-53.

Despite racialized language and deeds, the survival of the colonists during the Second Anglo-Powhatan War again depended largely upon settlers' ability to trade and make alliances with Indian groups not closely allied with Opechancanough, especially the Susquehannocks, Piscataways, and Patawomekes. After the war ended in stalemate with a fragile truce in 1632, William Claiborne and other wartime traders expanded these ties into an extensive fur trading network based on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Susquehanna River. In 1634 Governor Harvey angered this "interest group" of Indians, traders, and northward-looking planters by upholding the claims of the newly founded colony of Maryland (whose proprietors also sought to monopolize the Indian trade). Discontent towards this expansion policy and resentment at Harvey's indecisive, "dangerous peace" with the Powhatans that had ended the warfare critical to several councilors' rise to power, fueled a coup that ousted the governor in 1735—evidence of the hold that Indian policies had on the lives of the colonists during the uneasy peace of the 1630s. [30]

30 Warren M. Billings, ed., The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1689 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 251-54; Erich Isaac, "Kent Island," Maryland Historical Magazine, 52 no. 2 (1957): 93-119; "Claiborne vs Clobery et als in the High Court of Admiralty," Maryland Historical Magazine, 26 (1931): 381-404; Fausz, "Merging and Emerging Worlds;" J. Mills Thorton, "The Thrusting Out of Governor Harvey: A Seventeenth-Century Rebellion," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 76, no. 1 (January 1968): 11-26; "Peace with Indians as One of the Causes of Mutiny . . . ." in Robinson, Virginia Treaties, 60-61.

In 1644, war again swept through Virginia. This outbreak in many ways reenacted the same grisly script as the 1622 uprising. As before, the Powhatans felt the pressures of English encroachment, this time as claims north of the York River edged westward toward the Pamunkey capital of Cinquoteck, near the confluence of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers. Revealing the rapidity with which settlers and Indians had reestablished local relations, once again the Powhatans used the tactics of surprise: coming to the outlying English settlements under the "feigned masque of Friendship" before attacking from within. Nearly five hundred settlers lost their lives, but this represented a smaller proportion of casualties than in 1622; the attacks were mostly successful only along the outskirts of settlement. [31]

31 Steele, Warpaths, 48; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 84-87; "A Perfect Description of Virginia" in Force, Tracts, 2: 11; Robert Beverley, History and Present State of Virginia [1705], Louis B. Wright, ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1947), 62.

Opechancanough—by now crippled and nearly a hundred years old, but still a keen tactician—had timed the attack to take advantage of divisions among the settlers. From loose-lipped settlers and by watching English ships exchanging gunfire in the bay, the chief learned about the Civil War that raged in England and threatened to erupt in Virginia. Rather than collapsing under the pressure, however, settlers put aside their religious and political differences and joined together to mount the familiar retaliatory raids against the Indians' towns and fields. Conscious of their own internal factions, and subject to a General Assembly more dependent on settlers' votes, Virginia's government this time implemented strict laws to subdue opportunities for the rapacious exploitation of one's fellow colonists. Into the former place of over-mighty councilors stepped the recently appointed Governor William Berkeley, who by capturing Opechancanough in a surprise attack cemented his reputation as a war-hero and his grip upon the colonial government for most of the next three decades. In a twisted replay of Pocahontas's journey a generation earlier, Berkeley hoped to ship her aging kinsman to England as a "royal captive" and proof of Virginia's conquest. Before Opechancanough could suffer this final indignity, a vengeful English guard mortally shot the old leader in the back. [32]

32 John Winthrop, Winthrop's Journal: A History of New England 1630-1649, ed. James Kendall Hosmer (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908), 167-68; "News from Virginny," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 65 (1957), 85-86; "Acts, Orders and Resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia 1643-1646," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 23 (1915): 229-39; Hening, Statutes, 2: 307, 320; Beverley, History, 62.

After Opechancanough: The Early Tributary Period

Previous Anglo-Powhatan wars had essentially ended in armistices between equals. But in October 1646 the new Powhatan chief, Necotowance submitted to a treaty that forced the defeated werowance to pay symbolic tribute and "acknowledge . . . [that he held] his kingdome from the King's Majestie of England." The treaty's main points (along with successive addendums) would form the basis of Virginia's Indian relations for the remainder of the colonial period, laying out the theoretical justification for English authority, delineating separate territories, limiting freedom of movement, and curtailing cross-racial contacts. The overarching theme was containment of Indians and settlers into more strictly defined spheres. To this end the Virginia government assigned "Necotowance and his people" an area on the north side of the York River and to the southwest, beyond the Blackwater River. Trade was to be directed through forts at the fall line and only designated Indian messengers bearing badges or wearing special striped shirts were to cross into the restricted territory. English settlers entering Indian lands could also be judged felons. [33] On one hand these restrictions aimed to prevent infiltrating Indians from launching yet another surprise attack. On the other hand, the laws sought to prevent unregulated English settlers and traders from debasing the value of English goods, or worse, accidentally reviving another war through "ignorance and mistake of language." [34]

33 This treaty attempted to simplify Virginia's Indian relations by bolstering failing Powhatan patterns of authority and viewing surrounding Indian groups under Necotowance's control—a fiction that often proved problematic, especially as Virginians expanded beyond the Powhatan core area.

34 "Treaty of Peace with Necotowance, King of the Indians" in Robinson, Virginia Treaties, 67; Hening, Statutes, 1: 322-326; Billings, Old Dominion, 227; "Acts Orders and Resolutions . . . 1643- 1646," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 23 no. 3 (July 1915), 252.

Nonetheless, these boundaries quickly proved permeable. As early as 1648 settlers along the York River faced charges that they "doe dayly Entertayne the Indians in their howses both Day and Night." [35] One of the policy's goals had been to prevent runaway servants and slaves from seeking refuge among nearby tribes. But the plan was never entirely successful. In a 1668 court case, an Indian named Norwas, "who hath entertained a run away mayd servant" was ordered held without bail until "they produce the said Mayd." [36]

35 Beverly Fleet, ed., Virginia Colonial Abstracts, York County Records, 1648-1657, vol. 26 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1961), 10.

36 "Acts, Orders and Resolutions . . . 1643-1646," 251; Billings, The Old Dominion, 231.

Moreover, settlers quickly pushed beyond the boundaries established in 1646. By the late 1640s, colonists established plantations along the Rappahannock River; by the 1650s they reached the Potomac. This geographic growth was fueled by a desire for prime tobacco lands and the immigration of huge numbers of young, male indentured servants who had paid for their passage by contracting for several years of servitude. Despite a high toll taken by disease and a skewed gender ratio, populations continued to grow. In 1624 there had been 1,275 colonists; by 1634 the number was 4,914. In 1640 the population reached approximately 8,000. In the 1660s and early 1670s approximately 41,000 settlers and slaves inhabited Virginia. Policies that granted a fifty-acre "headright" for each immigrant exacerbated colonial sprawl. By comparison, the Powhatan population dropped: they numbered between 13,000 and 15,000 during the colony's first years; in the 1620s and 1630s their population was under 5,000; fewer than 3,000 remained by 1669. [37]

37 Gleach, Powhatan's World, 169, 195.

As settlers and Indians increasingly lived in close proximity to one another, the government often found itself awkwardly attempting to calm quarreling neighbors. In the face of settlements that pushed beyond and made irrelevant limits set aside by treaty, in 1650 Virginia's government began to survey parcels of land into reservations for the Indians at a ratio of about fifty acres per adult male—a calculation that wrongly presumed the quick adoption of European agricultural patterns. [38] Despite government precautions, settlers encroached on lands; hogs and cattle trampled native crops; Indians burned forests near plantations during their hunts. Both sides squabbled over trade. On occasion the colonial government organized retaliatory raids against troublesome Indian groups. In 1654 the Assembly ordered the militias of three counties to march in a show of force against the Rappahannock Indians. [39] But often preserving the peace required intervening on behalf of Indians who became increasingly adept at petitioning the Governor's Council. In 1651 after a posse of settlers bound and beat a group Pocomokes, a Virginia court arrested and fined the fifty or so perpetrators and ordered valuable tools and roanoke beads sent to the victims. [40]

38 Gleach, Powhatan's World, 185.

39 "Orders For a March Against the Rappahannock Indians," in Robinson, Virginia Treaties, 71-72.

40 "Northampton County Records in the 17th Century," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 5 (July 1897): 33-34; H. R. McIlWaine, ed., Journals of the House of Burgesses, 1659/60-1693 (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1994), 14-15.

At such times, Governor Berkeley felt that counseling "humanity and Christianity" prevented further violence. But settlers, observed another official, "breake out into murmurings and repinings against the Governors and the Government for not following their rash humors and immediately involving the Countrey in a destructive warr." [41] In particular, those settlers on the frontier fleeing high land prices or seeking to profit from the Indian trade often felt exposed and vulnerable—an unease exacerbated by a fluctuating tobacco market and a fear that members of the government favored personal gain over public welfare. The government's tax-subsidized forts, thought many, monopolized trade, did a poor job at defense, and limited access to land. Along with the forts, the government depended on the tributary Indians as buffers against hostile tribes. In 1655 nearly a hundred Pamunkey Indians joined a colonial militia to fend off six or seven hundred "Richahecrians" (perhaps Cherokees, piedmont Siouans, or Iroquois) who appeared on the upper James. When combat began, the militia fled, leaving the Pamunkeys to bear the brunt of the casualties. [42] But rather than seeing tributaries as useful allies, many Virginia settlers feared that Indians living in their midst might collude with enemy Indians, allowing a repeat of the attacks of 1622 and 1644.

41 Beverly Fleet, ed. Virginia Colonial Abstracts, Lancaster County Records, 1654-66, vol. 1 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1961),115; Beverly Fleet, ed. Virginia Colonial Abstracts, Charles City County Records, 1655-1666, vol. 43 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co.,1935), 347.

42 Hening, Statutes, 1: 402-03, 422-23; Gleach, Powhatan's World, 189-191; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 93.

Bacon's Rebellion and Beyond

These tensions culminated in the series of uprisings known as Bacon's rebellion (1675-1676). The war began near the Maryland border when squabbles over stray hogs between Virginia settlers and the small Doeg tribe escalated into murders by both sides. Retaliatory raids by the Virginia militia expanded the conflict further by accidentally provoking the Susquehannocks, a powerful tribe that had been forced south into Virginia's borderlands by the Iroquois Confederacy. Angry at the militia's unregulated behavior, Berkeley relied upon the unpopular frontier forts and pursued a diplomatic solution that distinguished between friendly and hostile tribes. However, Nathaniel Bacon, an ambitious planter in Henrico County, continued to lead vigilante posses that struck nearby allied or neutral Indians in addition to vainly pursuing elusive Susquehannocks. "Are not the Indians all of a [single] color [?]" demanded his supporters rhetorically. After Occaneechees assisted an attack against a nearby Susquehannock camp, the militia turned on and killed fifty of their erstwhile allies. His men hunted the Pamunkeys—tributaries since 1646—deep into the Dragon Swamp. When Berkeley declared his actions illegal, Bacon turned around his band of ex-servants, middling farmers, slaves, and discontented planters and sacked Jamestown, burning the capitol. Bacon's death from dysentery and the lousy disease, and the arrival of shiploads of royal troops restored order. In the aftermath of the uprising, and of the nearly simultaneous King Metacom's (Philip's) War in New England, King Charles II took steps to increase supervision of custom revenues and governance in the colonies. [43]

43 Wilcomb E. Washburn, The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957); Charles M. Andrews, ed., Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690 (New York: Scribner, 1915); Steele, Warpaths, 53-58; "Indian Affairs . . . ." in Robinson, Virginia Treaties, 73-81; Morgan, American Slavery/ American Freedom, 250-270.

The reestablishment of Indian relations in Virginia was formalized in the Treaty at Middle Plantation (1677). Unlike previous treaties, this document explicitly set out to rectify:

mutual discontents, Complaints, jealousies, and feare of English and Indians occasioned by the violent intrusions of divers English into their Lands, forcing the Indians by way of Revenge, to kill the Cattle and hoggs of the English, whereby offence, and injuries being given, and done on both sides, the peace of this his Majesties Colony hath bin much disturbed.

Recognizing the wrongful nature of the war, the treaty laid out several explicit protections of Indians' land, "persons, goods, and properties," affirmed their right to bear arms during peace, and made provisions for travel to gather oysters and wild plants. Nonetheless, Virginia's officials were not prepared to reject the military victories that Bacon's illegal troops had handed them. Therefore, the treaty clarified old provisions requiring the tributaries to provide military aid, return runaway slaves and servants, and submit themselves to English courts. Although Virginia's government half-heartedly attempted to revive the old Powhatan Empire under the authority of the Pamunkey Queen, many tribes—some of them Iroquoian groups who were never under Powhatan rule—signed separately. [44]

44 "Treaty at Middle Plantation . . ." in Robinson, Virginia Treaties, 82-87; also "Articles of Peace," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 14 (1907): 289-96.

For the rest of the seventeenth century and much of the eighteenth century, Virginia's officials committed themselves to a frontier policy that depended heavily upon supervision of its tributary Indians. By giving the government a say among nearby Indians in matters of trade, military affairs, settlement, and movement, Virginia's tributary policy gave the highest officials a useful back channel of authority among settlers in a region where churches, courts, prisons, and other emblems of control were few and far between. Of the colony's tributaries, William Byrd supposedly bragged, "how great [an] order they keep them." [45] Virginia's tributary Indians saw innumerable aspects of their lives scrutinized. When word of the Pamunkey Queen's death reached Jamestown, Virginia's councilors asserted their authority by sending the interpreter George Smith to inform the tribe's great men that they needed to come to the capital to have the successor confirmed. [46] If the Nottoways wanted to plant fields outside their original grants, or travel between their main town and their "Quiocosin House," they needed to pass on a petition through Nathaniel Harrison, a council member who lived nearby. [47] Differences between different tributary groups, such as when the Nansemonds complained that two of their men were kidnapped by the Pamunkeys, got settled according to European, not native courts and codes of conduct. [48]

45 William Saunders, The Colonial Records of North Carolina, 10 vols. (New York: AMS Press, 1968) 2: 251-52.

46 H. R. McIlwaine, ed., The Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia, 6 vols. (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1925-1966), 1: 79. (Hereafter EJCCV)

47 EJCCV 3:98; for another example in which the Nottoways cleared and planted outside their reservation and sought permission to hold onto the fields see EJCCV 3: 45.

48 EJCCV 2:148.

Virginia's increased reliance on slave labor and consequent racial stratification added pressures on tributary Indians. Enslaved Africans had been in the colony since 1619, when a Dutch ship had first exchanged twenty plus Africans for food at Point Comfort. But for many decades, the small number of Africans coinciding with a heavy use of white indentured servants gave the chattel system a flexibility in both practice and its supporting legal statutes that would later disappear. Within this unformed system, some Indian servants appeared in the records as if they had indentures—albeit for longer periods than typically experienced by whites. Others appeared as slaves. In 1649, 1655, and 1658 the Assembly had to pass laws asserting that Indian children who had been hired out by their parents as servants to settlers were not slaves. The 1670s witnessed a rapid shift away from white indentured servitude and greater reliance on African slavery. Simultaneously, during Bacon's Rebellion, the enslavement of Indians captured during wartime was formally legalized. The practice continued for decades even after being outlawed in 1691. Although technically only Indians captured outside the colony's boundaries—typically from the Carolinas—could be enslaved, other laws that lumped Indians together with peoples of African descent added to the precariousness of the tributaries' position. Further confusing the situation, treaties and laws required the tributaries to help capture runaway servants and slaves—white, black, or Indian. [49]

49 Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 136-43.

If the tributaries saw their options circumscribed by a paternal government, they partially offset the costs by learning to take advantage of the system. Indian leaders whose titles were confirmed by the colonial government, perhaps festooned in one of the coronets and silver badges sent by the King of England, saw their status become much more unassailable by competitors within the tribe. [50] When William Brown petitioned to evict Indians who moved onto his land, cut the trees, disturbed his servants, and could be heard shouting late into the night, the council decided that the Indians should be allowed to use the fields for the next two years. They had to be restrained from burning Brown's fencing, but could burn trees that they had already "barked." [51] If an interpreter like Thomas Blunt seemed to be overly interested in acquiring Native lands, the Nottoways and Meherrins could "express . . . a dissatisfaction" and refuse to cooperate until another spokesperson was appointed. [52] Moreover, tributaries weakened by warfare and disease could shelter in the lee of heavily armed Virginia troops during incursions by stronger, "foreign" tribes.

50 EJCCV 1:4, 40.

51 EJCCV 3:172.

52 EJCCV 2: 315.

Beyond the Borders

By weakening tributaries and helping to end the monopoly of frontier forts on trade, Bacon's Rebellion eliminated bottlenecks that had slowed the passage of traders beyond Virginia's borders. The next four decades witnessed the highpoint of Virginia's southwestern deerskin and Indian slave trade into the Carolina piedmont and inner coastal plain. By the end of the century between fifty and sixty Virginia traders annually embarked on the "tradeing voyage" to the Indian nations in the Carolinas and beyond. By 1708 their numbers had perhaps reached as many as one hundred. [53] Before 1711 many of these expeditions made the Tuscaroras along the Neuse, Pamlico, and Roanoke rivers their final destination. Other times they continued further south and west to the Catawbas and Cherokees. Often these expeditions provoked disputes with competing traders from South Carolina, which was established in the 1670s. Bypassed tributary Indians occasionally found employment as guides and porters for these expeditions. More often tributaries scraped out a meager living by farming and hunting on the margins of colonial society, selling crafts locally, and laboring as hunters or hands on nearby plantations.

53 Merrell, Indians' New World, 29.

At the same time that Virginia's traders were traveling ever-greater distances beyond the colony, increasingly Virginia's government found itself dealing along its borders with powerful, independent, "foreign" Indians—chief among these were members of the Iroquois Confederacy. In the seventeenth century, the Iroquois included five nations: the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks. (After 1713 they adopted the members of the Tuscaroras, originally from near Virginia's southern border, as a sixth nation). Iroquois raiding parties marching against Catawba enemies in South Carolina frequently clashed with frontier settlers and tributary Indians in Virginia. In response to this inter-colonial problem, in 1677, 1679, and 1684 Virginia's government dispatched diplomatic missions to Albany, New York, the seat of Anglo-Iroquois diplomacy, in conjunction with officials from New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Assuming the role of broker for the colony's settlers and tributary Indians, officials attempted to establish the Appalachian Blue Ridge and the Potomac River as a boundary between the Iroquois and Virginia—a goal not achieved with any lasting success until the Treaty of Lancaster in 1744. [54]

54 Robinson, Virginia Treaties, 268- 362; James H. Merrell, ""Their Very Bones Shall Fight": The Catawba-Iroquois Wars," in Beyond the Covenant Chain: The Iroquois and their Neighbors in Indian North America, 1600-1800, ed. Daniel K. Richter and James H. Merrell (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1987), 115-133; Daniel K. Richter, "War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience," William and Mary Quarterly 3rd Ser., 40 (1983): 528-59.


Over the course of the seventeenth century, the Indians of Virginia—many of them former subjects of Powhatan and his kin—saw their political autonomy decline and shift into the hands of the colonial government. At the beginning of contact, however, this process was neither straightforward nor easy to predict. Initially the Powhatans attempted to assert themselves over the tenuous English settlement. For the first half of the century they wielded great influence over the young colony. During peace, settlers depended on local Indians for food and trade. But during war, settlers increasingly learned to reach further out to neutral Indian groups. Moreover, an expanding tobacco trade secured uninterrupted access to supplies and additional settlers from England—an advantage that eventually allowed colonists to move from stalemate to substantial victories. Even after the balance of power had shifted, Anglo-Indian relations remained a crucial and contentious issue capable of propelling governors and other leaders into or out of power. Bacon's Rebellion represented only the most visible example of a time-honored tactic by which aspirants used opportunities presented by the Indians to crush fellow colonists and exalt themselves. The tributary policy, created by the Treaty of 1646 and expanded after Bacon's Rebellion, further offered a potent, if often unpopular, symbol of the colonial government's ability to influence life among settlers and Indians on Virginia's frontiers. Within this system, Indians continued to carve out a space—albeit one under constant pressure from white neighbors, government officials, and "foreign" Indians. A 1697 survey of Indians who had become tributaries counted a population of less than 1,450 people. [55] As the Indian population dropped even further in the eighteenth century, the rapt attention once given to them by colonial observers shifted to discussions of the "disappearing Indian"—a myth partially perpetuated by the Indians' own skillfulness at hiding from authorities' attention. Moreover, colonists were often blind to a third race in a slave society that increasingly viewed race in terms of black and white. Perceptions aside, Indians survived in Virginia beyond the colonial era and beyond the American Revolution. Virginia Indians survive still today.

55 Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 104-05.


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