Northumberland County appears to be something of an exception to this rule. Based on the records available, the English settlers made an effort to coexist with most of their native neighbors. The violence that occurred was with a smaller chiefdom. Still, over the next sixty years the Indians who remained had to struggle to preserve their right to their land, and in the end, for reasons that are not entirely clear, they simply faded away. This more benign mode of interaction is probably not the result of any particular kindness on the part of the settlers. They no doubt set the terms of coexistence to their own advantage. But the special case is worth exploring to gain a better fix on why it happened as it did. To set the stage, however, we first attempt to recreate the life of the people living on the piece of the American landscape which, after the arrival of Englishmen, came to be called Northumberland County.
Native American Society Before the Arrival of the English
The Indians living on lower Northern Neck at the beginning of the seventeenth century were hunters, gatherers, and cultivators using Stone Age technology. They were part of the Algonquian culture group that was spread over the Tidewater area south of the Potomac and divided into small chiefdoms that dotted the landscape. At this time, there were probably less than 1000 adult males and a total of 4000 people on the lower peninsula. (By way of comparison, in 1699 there were 2019 persons in Northumberland County alone.)
These Algonquians were themselves late-comers to what is now Northumberland County. Human habitation began there as early as 6500 BC, according to the analysis of collections of stone tools. Up until around 900 AD, these Stone Age people probably survived by hunting, fishing, and gathering. Small bands resided part of the year near the shore, where they caught mollusks and fish, and the rest of in small upland settlements, where they relied more on wildlife for subsistence. During the four centuries after 900, a major development occurred: the inhabitants added plant husbandry to their survival repertoire and their settlement pattern shifted. As archeologist Stephen Potter has shown for the Coan River area, a series of settlements, larger than those of the earlier period, popped up along the necklands while the number of small sites declined -- a trend consistent with the new mode of production. Chiefdoms emerged between 1300 to 1500. Unfortunately, we know nothing about these earlier inhabitants beyond what archeologists can divine from their meager legacy.
In 1600, there were eight separate chiefdoms on the Northern Neck. These were: --the Pissaseck, at Leedstown --the Rappahannock (or Toppahannock), who apparently two had capital towns, one near Neals Point (Richmond) and the other near modern Tappahannock (100 men); --the Moraughtacund (anglicized to Morattico), near Simonson in Richmond County (80 men); --the Cuttatawomen (anglicized to Corrotoman), southest of White Stone in Lancaster County (30 men); --the Wiccocomico (anglicized to Wicomico), north of the head of the Little Wicomico River (130 men); --the Sekakawon (anglicized first to Chickacone and then to Coan), somewhere near the Coan River (30 men); --the Onawmanient (anglicized to Nomini), on the western side of Nomini Bay, also known as the Machodoc (100 men); and --the Patawomeck (anglicized to Potomac), north of Accokeek Creek in Stafford County; (160-200 men).
The location of the Indian settlements was not accidental. There are a variety of ecological zones in coastal Virginia, but the Algonquians were most likely to be found near major bodies of water and marshlands (for food), near freshwater springs (for water), and on broad necklands that both had soils good for growing maize (sandy loams and silt loams) and sufficient elevation to see for some distance (for protection). A river or its tributary was usually the center of the settlement, providing food and communications. The nearby arable land was used for farming and housing. The woods beyond were the site of hunting and foraging. Vague boundaries with the next area of habitation was farther into the woods.
In some cases, a chiefdom was made up of only the chief's village and no more. That was the case with Chicacoan along the east bank of the Coan River. At the center of the village were the longhouse, mortuary hut, and storehouse of the weroance (the chief), eleven to sixteen basic longhouses for other families, plus ancillary storage units, sweathouses and menstrual huts. Within two kilometers of the village there were probably small clusters of other houses, perhaps near the fields. Yet not all chiefdoms were as centralized as Chicacone. Wiccocomico and Onawmanient/Matchotic had a chief's village and a subordinate hamlet (Wiccocomico's sattelite was Cinquak on Cockrell Creek). The five villages of Cuttawomen were distributed along the banks of the lower half of the Corrotoman River and along Carter Creek and Eastern Branch. The Potawomecs had a chief's village with a number of outlying hamlets. On the north side of the Rappahannock, there were five chief's villages spaced out at regular intervals along the river bank with allied hamlets in between.
An Algonquian house had a barrel shape, with a frame formed by saplings and covered either with bark or with mats made of marsh reeds. Mat-covered doors were at each end. Inside there was a hearth at the center where a fire was kept going at all times. The furnishings were simple and functional. The only large items were the bedsteads along the side of the house, and bedding was put away during the day. Other items -- clothing, cooking utensils, and hunting and fishing gear -- were easily stored. It was a dwelling that was easily built and, if movement to a new location was necessary, easily dismantled, moved, and reassembled. Temples and chief's houses were longer, partitioned inside, and perhaps covered with bark, but their basic design was the same. (Picture: Reconstruction of an Algonquian House; Historic St. Mary's County, Maryland)
Blessed with a favorable natural environment, and in spite of the primitive tools available to them, the Algonquian Indians were able to produce enough food to provide a subsistence living. Horticulture produced maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, gourds, sunflowers, and tobacco. This was done on land cleared by "girdling" trees, burning the roots, cutting down the dead tree and digging up the roots (a technique later employed by the white settlers). Maize fields could be as large as 200 acres. The raising of domesticated food crops was supplemented by foraging for a wide array of wild plants, nuts, and berries. Fishing was done by angling, netting, shooting, and trapping in weirs. Hunters caught their prey by trapping (for small animals), stalking, and surrounding. In stalking, a solitary hunter wearing a deerskin head followed the deer until he could take a good shot with his bow and arrow. Surrounding was a group activity in which a group of braves, some carrying torches to scare the deer and others with bow and arrows closed in on the deer or walked them into the water. When the home area of an Algonquian group became overhunted, the whole chiefdom would relocate to the fall line in the autumn in order to secure this important source of protein, clothing, and, for the hunter, prestige. Within a chiefdom, there was a division of labor between women and men. Women gathered wild plants and cultivated everything but medicinal plants and tobacco. Men raised those two items and did the fishing and hunting. Between chiefdoms, there was very little economic exchange; each provided for its own needs.
There were two ways in which an adult male Algonquian established himself in the pecking order of his chiefdom. The first was the accumulation of wealth through the acquisition of food. A brave had to prove himself a good hunter if was to get a wife, and so boys were trained in hunting by both their parents. Once married, his hunting ability and his wife's skill and horticulture and gathering brought more prestige (and the possibility of more wives). Deerskins were used not only for clothing but also as tribute to one's superior. The other mark of success and social status for an Indian man was proven ability as a warrior. This was first demonstrated by adolescent males in a ritual test of endurance and then, later as necessary, through manifesting courage and skill in combat. As Rountree notes, "The Powhatan [Algonquian] boy learned by experience that proficiency, endurance, and reckless courage were necessary to be a proessional hunter and warrior and therefore a real man. The consequence of failure as a hunter was poverty; but the consequence of failure as a warrior were ignominy at best and horrible death at worst."
Algonquians tended to go to war not for land but for women and children and mainly for revenge. The weapons were bows and arrows and clubs. Attacks usually took the form of small ambushes, but could occur on a larger scale, first firing arrows and then engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Male captives were tortured. In general, Algonquians took an us-versus-them attitude towards strangers. Although they thought it was a serious offense to steal from one's own people, stealing from outsiders was acceptable. In addition, and consistent with the value they placed on courage, they would act aggressively toward people that they saw as inferiors, constantly testing their mettle.
At the top of a chiefdom's hierarchy was the werowance, a word that is translated either "commander" or "wealthy," reflecting the two determinants of social status. The position of werowance was inherited through the mother's line, and women could become the head of a chiefdom, in which case they were called weroansqua. Chiefs could enhance their by demanding tribute in the form of skins, game, jewels, metals. They had the authority to decide what was right and wrong and inflict punishment (even death), but were bound by custom. Below the chief were the priest who was valued because of his ability to influence the gods and foresee the future, outstanding hunters and warriors who served as councilors, and "ruling families." At the bottom of the hierarchy were the ordinary people, some of whom were quite poor. Those in the higher ranks were distinguished by "the richness of their apparel (on ceremonial occasions), the refinement of their manners (at meals, at least), the labor that they did not have to perform because they had servants, the real power they possessed, the deference which was paid to them, and the amount of ceremony in their way of life."
The Algonquians were polytheists. They believed that Ahone was the great god who created the universe, but they focused more attention on Okeus, a severe deity who monitored the behavior of human beings. If he saw anything that displeased him, he inflicted punishment in the form of illness, loss of crops through storms, and infidelity on the part of wives. To ward off such disasters, the Indians tried to appease him by dedicating temples to him in which a fire burned constantly and carved images were placed. Yet they did not just propitiate Okeus. Priests made offerings to all phenomena that could bring them harm (fire, water, lightning) and tried through divining rituals to control the weather. The gods' help was also sought in the curing of illness (in addition to using herbal and other remedies and the restorative effects of sweathouses).
An understanding of the chiefdoms on the lower Northern Neck at the beginning of the seventeenth century would not be complete without noting their relationship to other groups. The Indians who lived between the Potomac and the Rappahannock were on the northern periphery of the Algonquian world. The dominant force in that world was Powhatan, who began his rise to power in the freshwater zones of the James, Pamunkey, and Mattaponi rivers to the point that he had expanded his control over all the chiefdoms in the York and James valleys with the exception of the Chickahominies. As to the Potomac groups, distance diminished the influence that Powhatan could exert over them; though generally friendly, they possessed more freedom to honor his requests or disregard them. For example, Potter concludes that the Chicacoan group was semi-autonomous vis-a-vis Powhatan and dealt with neighboring petty chiefdoms on and individual and independent basis. Algonquian chiefdoms on the Potomac were also on guard against the Susquehannocks, who were expanding down the Potomac River in league with the Massawomecks and Manahoacs.
So, when English settlers arrived in Virginia generally and the lower Northern Neck in particular, the differences between the two peoples were fundamental. It was not simply a matter of appearances, that the Algonquians painted their faces and shoulders and that their men plucked the right side of their head and let the other side grow long, both for ease in firing a bow and arrow and also because they believe that Okeus had ordained it. (Surely, the Indians must have found the appearance of the English equally curious.) In most respects, the essentials of the Algonquian society contrasted sharply with the cultural blueprints that the new arrivals carried in their heads. The Indians hunted, fished, and grew crops merely to ensure their subsistence, whereas the English sought to produce commodities to sell on the international market. The Europeans had very precise ideas of the ownership and use of property, while Indians had a vaguer sense of territorial differentiation. As such, they would think little of walking on the white man's land (trespassing being an alien concept) or disturbing his livestock. Both peoples ranked their members primarily by wealth, but English society was much more finely graded, and those on top had a well defined gentlemanly ideal to which to aspire and a pattern of conspicuous consumption to go with it. Indian descent was matrilineal; English patrilineal. Promiscuity was present in both societies but more accepted among the natives. The Indians were polytheists who propitiated whichever god might protect them under the circumstances. The English believed in one God who conferred personal salvation on those who confessed their sins. The settlers regarded themselves as the outermost extension of a political empire seated in London and ruled through a well established set of institutions. The Indians of Northern Neck constituted small chieftans which, with distance and modest power, were able to preserve their autonomy vis-à-vis the growing Powhatan confederation. The English acknowledged at least nominally that they were governed by a set of written laws and subject ultimately to the power of the King and/or Parliament across the ocean. The Indians were subject to the authority of their local weroance.
The settlers would probably view these cultural and social differences through a special lens, that is, their ideas about peoples whom they regarded as more primitive than they and how to treat them. Most relevant in this regard were views about the Irish, formed during the previous century of English expansion and subjugation of Ireland. From this perspective, the Irish were not only pagan (because the Christianity in Ireland so superficial) but also uncivilized. They were regarded as uncivil, disorderly, unclean, nomadic, cannibalistic -- everything that the advanced English were not. This cultural backwardness justified the harsh treatment that English conquerors inflicted on the Irish, and provided one guide to action when other English came to live among another "primitive" people. The Virginia Company had begun with a different premise, that the Indians were simply pagan and that conversion was the key to cultural coexistence. That hope was diminished by the wars of the first decades of English settlement in Virginia, and and increased the temptation to deal harshly with the Indians. "It was argued that the Indians were an unsettled people who did not make proper use of their land and thus could be justly deprived of it by the more enterprising English. Both Indians and blacks, like the Irish, were accused of being idle, lazy, dirty, and licentious."
Yet it was control over the right kind of land that was the most important seed of conflict. As noted above, the settlers and the natives had very different ideas concerning how to exploit land and how to define control over it. But they had certain things in common. English settlers looked for three things when picking their seat: proximity to the water for ease in transporting their produce, access to fresh spring water for drinking, and availability of good-quality silty and sandy loam soils suitable for hoe cultivation. As Potter has noted, "these three factors are identical to three of the five possible factors involved in selecting the site of an Algonquian village."
The chiefdoms of what are now Northumberland and Lancaster Counties were peripheral areas during the first three four decades of English settlement in Virginia. The Cuttatawomen, the Wiccocomico, the Sekakawon (hereafter termed the Chickacone), and the Onawmanient (also known as the Machodoc) were far from the Jamestown area, where Powhatan and the leaders of the Virginia company were facing off. Indeed, in the early seventeenth century the Potomac Algonquians worried more about the southward expansion of the Susquehannocks.
The Indians of the lower Northern Neck were not left completely alone however. As early as the summer of 1608, John Smith led an expedition up the Potomac both to explore the region and to gather intelligence on the various chiefdoms. His party probably made contact with the Wiccocomico, the Chickacone, and the Onawmanient. The latter two chiefdoms may have received orders from Powhatan to give the English a hostile reception in 1608, and the Onawmanient did ambush the English party on June 16, 1608 near the Nomini Bay. When the reception was more friendly, the visitors often received a loud greetings by the townspeople. They then were brought to meet the chief, and sat across from him on a mat. A formal welcome complete with passionate oratory was extended. There then might follow a meal and a smoke, a dance performance, and then, to pass the night, a bed to sleep in and a women to share it.
The main result of Smith's expedition was the beginning of trade relationships with willing Indians in the upper Chesapeake and Potomac. Most important for the Jamestown settlement was its success in enlisting the Patowomekes as a source of maize in case Powhatan was either unable or willing to provide what the English needed. One of the maize traders was Captain Henry Spelman; another was Henry Fleet.
Hostility in the Jamestown area was almost inevitable, and war broke out once in 1609 and again in 1622. The chiefdoms of lower Northern Neck were apparently not involved in the first conflict, and they chose trade over war in the second. Spelman was trading near the Chicacoan village when one of the Indians came on board his vessel and informed him that Indians in the James-York peninsula, on orders from Powhatan's successor Opechancanough, had mounted a coordinated attack on English settlements. The Chicacoan brave also confided that his chiefdom had refused an order from Opechancanough to attack Spelman but "them of Wighcocomoco" were preparing an attack. Spelman sailed to Wicocomoco and made a display of force. The Indians "suspected themselves discovered, and to colour their guilt . . . so contented [satisfied] his desire in trade, his Pinnace was neere fraught."
Spelman was not so lucky with the Patowomekes. For some reason, English relations with them deteriorated in the fall of 1622, and an Englishmen slaughtered thirty or forty Patowomekes and took the chief captive. In March 1623, Spelman and nineteen others were killed somewhere near today's District of Columbia (although it is not clear whether the Patawomekes or another tribe was responsible). Henry Fleet was the sole survivor, and detained by the Nacotchtanks for five years. By the time of his release, he spoke the language of his captors very well, and went into the fur trade.
The English Penetration of the Lower Northern Neck
Peace soon returned and lasted for more than a decade. In the early 1640s a new stage in the relations between the English and the Indians of lower Northern Neck began, as white men began to settle in what is now Northumberland County. The first arrival was John Mottrom, a trader who had lived in St. Mary's City, Maryland, and York County Virginia. With Machywap, the werowance of the Chicacoans, Mottrom bartered for land on the Coan River and built Coan Hall. The Indian chief and the English trader had a good personal relationship that increased the chance that the cultural gulf between the two very different peoples might be bridged in friendly fashion. An example of Mottrom's cooperative approach would occur in May 1650 when the Northumberland Court heard a case in which six men took two Indian women, 90 deer skins and 3 beaver skins from the King of the Patuxents. John Mottrom undertook to compensate the king with "six Tradinge Cloath match Coats," with each man ordered to provide one coat.
In the Chesapeake area generally, however, the early 1640s were a time of conflict. To the north across the Potomac, the Susquehannocks were drawn into a conflict between William Claiborne and the Calverts, and they continued to fight the Maryland English for a decade. To the south, Opechancanough launched another Powhatan attack on the English. Apparently, the Northern Neck Indians remained neutral, for Claiborne would argue before the governor and council of Virginia that the war should not be prosecuted against them. The English residents of the Chicacoan-Wiccocomico area said the same thing: they were not involved in this latest Indian war and so should not have to contribute funds to underwrite it.
The latest fight in Virginia was over land, and the Virginia authorities. actually sympathized with the Indians situation. In the peace treaty of 1646, Governor William Berekeley sought to regulate English access to unsettled land to ensure that the natives would be able to provide for themselves undisturbed. And on paper it appeared that the Indians of the lower Northern Neck would be among the protected. In the treaty, Necotowance, the new head of the Powhatan confederation, ceded claims to lands between the York and the James below the falls in return for an English pledge that the Indians received exlusive right to the land and hunting north of the York and that unauthorized colonists in those areas would be criminally liable.
This was a pledge, however, that the colonial government did not have the capacity -- or perhaps the will -- to enforce. Settlers were kept out of the Rappahannock area initially, but that only diverted them onto the shores of the Potomac. Englishmen who desired a new seat on virgin lands would sail along the coast of lower Northern Neck, looking for an ideal spot. The presence of "three or foure Indian Cabbins" was no deterrent to their ambition. Sometimes, settlers would "pay" for the land they wanted: for example, in 1650/1, six whites bought a neck of land from the Onawmanient in the Yeocomico River area. Yet they offered only a modest price (three match coats in this case), and no doubt made payment in order to solidify their legal claim.
Payment or no, waves of white settlement were spreading over the Northumberland landscape and beyond, gradually constraining the Indians and their way of life. The General Assembly established Northumberland County as early as 1648. By 1653, the county already had 450 tithables, or a white population of around 900, a rapid rate of increase. An enlarged version of Lancaster County was created in 1652, and Westmoreland was formed in 1653. In Northumberland itself, the potential for friction between settlers and natives was compounded by the migration of the Yaocomacos from southern Maryland. They had come under pressures from both the Susqueahannocks and the English, and, having crossed the Potomac, occupied land between the Chicacoans and the Onawmanients and received protection from the latter. Clearly, new steps were required to regulate the relations between the two groups.
Those steps came in 1652. Early in the year, at the same time that Virginia came to terms with the new Commonwealth government in London, of the General Assembly ordered that fifty acres be set aside for each bowman among the tributary Indians (the same amount of land allocated to each headright) before any other land was patented for Englishmen. It was also stipulated that the "the proportion [of land] of each perticular towne [is] to lye together." In November, the Assembly sought to prohibit Englishmen from duping the Indians into selling their land for prices that were below market value. It mandated that Indians may "hold and keepe those seates of Land that they now have," and that there could be no acquisition of the land without consent of the governor, council, or local commissioners. These steps were done in part to prevent Indians from undertaking "some Desperate Course for themselves." Also it sought to take account of the fact that the natives had no concept of permanent land purchase. Instead, they thought that according to their custom land that had been transferred but was not being used reverted to the control of the original group.
The Northumberland leadership did not take action on the Assembly's mandate until late in 1655. When it did act concerning the Chicacoan and Wiccocomico, it did so in a creative manner that probably exceeded the spirit and the letter of the law. For the commissioners did not simply survey the requisite number of acres in areas of the two chiefdoms near Chicacoan Creek and the Great Wicomico and then vest them with title to the land. They in fact proposed to relocate and consolidate the two groups--each of which had its separate identity--in a completely different location south of Dividing Creek. Regarding the Onawmanient in the Yeocomico River area, it is unclear whether the Assembly's order was ever carried out. As that situation unfolded, it would be fateful for the natives.
Why did the Northumberland commissioners take the innovative approach that they did? A desire for land in the right location was no doubt the main one. Samuel Matthews and Henry Fleet would benefit from the departure of the Wiccoccomico from their area (Mattews got the main settlement and Fleet the satellite village in Cinquack). Isaac Allerton coveted the territory of the Onawmanient. But we can speculate that two other factors were at work. First was the death in 1655 of John Mottrom. He had a benevolent outlook towards the original inhabitants of Northumberland and appears to have tried to accommodate their concerns and interests. The coincidence of his death and the court's policy of relocation and consolidation suggests that he may have been an obstacle to the English impulse to encroach on good Indian lands. Finally, Northumberlanders' brief involvement a conflict with the Rappahannock Indians may have contributed to their approach to managing their own Indian population. In November 1654, the militias of Northumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancaster (which included the Rappahannock chiefdom's area), were called out to deal with the Indians' reactions to English penetrations. There was a fight and the Rappahannock chieftan was killed.
During the winter of 1655-56 Gervais Dodson surveyed 4400 acres near Dividing Creek for the Chickacoan and the Wiccocomico. This was done, the court said "at ye request of Machawapk of Chickacone & the Indians living at Wicocomico." Based on the 50 acres per bowman mandate, the two chiefdoms thus had 88 bowmen at the time and a total population of around 352 people. (That represents a decline of almost 50 percent since the initial contact with the English, when the two groups had about 160 bowmen combined.) The Northumberland commissioners also took it upon themselves to name Machywap, the Chicacoans' werowance, "so ancient and known a friend to our English Nation," as head of the combined group. Then in May 1656, the court ordered Dodson to survey land for the Onawmanient (Machoatick), at that time on Nomini Bay. (There is no evidence of any thought of moving them).
In less than a year, however, the county leadership faced serious problems in implementing its plans -- and had to face those problems at around the same time. To the south, the Wiccocomico Indians did not wish to submit to the leadership of the Chicacoan werorance, Machywap, and had issued threats against him. To the west, the Onawmanient were complaining that Isaac Allerton was intruding on what they regarded as their land, and wanted him and his servants removed.
The account of the court session of January 20, 1657 describes the commissioners' reaction to the first problem:
"Whereas . . . the Comrs: of the sd. County being authorized to order the affaires of the [new Indian] Towne & to settly Mackywap to be Werorance there; the Cort: conceiveing him to be in great danger of his life by the sd. Wicocomoco Indians as he hath given informacon to this Cort: & ____ for some assistance from us, . . . It is therefore ordered that six able men be forthwith: pressed to guard & p:serve the p:son of the said Mackywap at ye sd. Towne untill the last day of Novem: next, the charge thereof to be defrayed by the County, and the siad Machywap is hereby required (in case hee findes himselfe in want of further assistance from us) that hee repaire to Capt. Richard Budd, whoe is hereby authorized & impowered to goe wth: a p:rty of soe many men as hee shall thinke fitt & convenient to assist the saide Machywap against his enemies. And further Mr. William Cooke is requested to give notice to all such Indians as belong to the Towne of Wicocomoco (wheresoever he shall see them) that they (within one month hereafter) shall acknowledge themselves obedient to the said Amachywap's Government And what Indians ___ (belonging to the said towne) do refuse their obedience as afresaid shall be Reputed as Enemies to our English Nation and to the said Machywap And all their Land, Corne and what else of theirs to be Confiscate to him their Weroance.In short, the court threatened to put the use weight of its power to enforce its arrangement.
One month later, the court addressed the conflict between the Onawmanient and Isaac Allertaon. The commissioners received a report from a delegation (made up of George Colclough, John Rogers, James Hawley, William Presley, and William Nutt) that it had commissioned to negotiate with between the two parties. On February 6, the delegation had concluded an agreement with Peckatoan, the werowance. The Onawmanient accepted Allerton's presence "so long as the Land (whereon he liveth already cleared) be useful, Provided that no more Housing be there built than what is now uppon it and to keep his cattle and Hoggs on the other side of the Machoatick River." The Indians had dropped their initial demands and sought to contain Allerton's expansion.
Within a couple of years, in a process that is fairly opaque, the balance of power at the Dividing Creek settlement shifted in a way contrary to what the court mandated in January 1656/7. We do know that during 1656 and 1657 Cuttatawomens were moving gradually north and eventually became part of Wiccocomico-Chicacoan town. With only thirty bowmen in the early 1600s they soon lost their identity and disappeared from the historical record. More consequentially, the Wiccocomicos to depose Machywap and replace him with one of their own, Pekwem. How was Machywap removed? Was it the Wiccocomicos' greater numbers? Was violence involved? Unfortunately, the records are silent. All we know is that from that time on, all the Indians living south of Dividing Creek were known as Wiccocomicos and that the arrangement that the Englishmen has proposed to Machywap did not prevent his undoing.
The situation at the western end of the county in 1659 was far more serious. In February of that year, the Onawmanient carried out a raid on the English settlers. They beat John Cammell to death and may have killed other Englishman as well before the militia could be mobilized and order restored. Soon the leaders of the Onawmanient handed over two braves who were said to have killed Cammell. The court so charged them but, in view of the tense situation, sought the advice of the governor Samuel Matthews on what to do next. In August, he authorized them to proceed with the trial "with all due circumspection and faythfullnes to the publique peace with respect of due justice to be done upon the Murderers at such place & time as you shall find most convenient." Matthews also instructed the court to secure information on other murders but to assure the Onawmanient that "wee shall not proceed to any Vengeance against the whole Nation." The trial was held immediately: George Caquescough pled not guilty but the jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
In the meantime, the rest of the Onawmanient chiefdom had left their "town." Apparently, they had not given up their fight with the English settlers, for the Northumberland commissioners believe that they were "endeavouring (with the assistance of other Indians) to make a Warr upon us." Then in May 1660, the court learned that the Onawmanient were returning to their lands. It ordered that "if any of them bee already (or hereafter shalbe) seated or live upon the sd. Land (within this County) they then forthwith Mr. Francis Clay, Mr. Wilkes Maunder & Capt. Lt. Jno: Powell (with the assistance of tenn or more of their Neighbours as occasion whall require) command their pr:sent depture from off the sd. Land, otherwise to burne their Cabins and cut up their Corne."
Outmatched, the Onawmanient -- one of the three original chiefdoms residing in the territory that became Northumberland County -- left never to be seen again. They moved to their up-river territory on Upper Machodoc Creek in Westmoreland County only to face more settlers. They remained through 1669 but then disappeared. They had sought to challenge the English penetration with violence and had to back down in the face of overwhelming force.
Simultaneously, the Wiccocomico, who had chosen the path of relative accommodation, were facing problems of a different sort. There began in early 1660 a struggle with Robert Jones that would continue intermittently for the next twelve year for the land to which they had relocated. In April 1660, the Wiccocomico councilors -- Pewem and Owasewas -- alleged to the court Jones had encroached their land so badly that the Indians could not eke out a living. The next month the court ruled in their favor. Jones was ordered not to do any more planting or building on the Indian land so that "they shall peaceably & quietly enjoy their owne Land & Interests." Then in June, Jones was told to ensure that his "Cattle & Hoggs shall not trespasse nor endammage the sd. Indians until the governor could rule on Jones's appeal." Thereafter, there appears to have been some process for mediation, for two and a half years later, in November 1662, the Wiccocomico leaders, working through attorney Thomas Hobson, sold Jones the neck of land that he was already on for the price of "twelve machcoates." Perhaps it was believed that a legalization of Jones's current presence would ensure a permanent coexistence.
That proved not to be the case. In the spring of 1669, Robert Jones complained in court that the Wiccocomicos had broken into his house. The Indians had a complaint of their own, and charged that the Dodson survey of 1656 was flawed. The Indians also complained to Governor Berkeley, who instructed the Northumberland court to "doe Right" concerning any trespass on Indian land. The court ordered James Gaylard to do a new survey of 4400 acres for the Indians, for which they would pay him 2000 pounds of tobacco. That was done by November, and in the next summer Peter Knight and Edmund Lyster were named to view the boundaries and see what damages either has received. Then Jones tried again in late 1672, asserting in court that the Indians had left their land. The Indians countered that this was merely a ruse to get their land. Again the court ruled in the Indians' favaor, saying that they "may inhabite & quietly injoy all ye Land layd out as aforesd."
What is striking about these series of episodes is the trust that the Wiccocomicos placed in the alien judicial system. Having accepted relocation from their traditional lands, and facing challenges from settlers who sought to intrude on their new lands, they appealed to the county court for protection and justice. And, by and large, the Northumberland leadership stood by their commitments.
Although access to land was the important issue in the interaction between English settlers and the Indians, there were others as well. One that preoccupied the Northumberland leadership soon after the creation of the county was control over firearms. In November 1652, the court issued a prohibition against inhabitants "imploy[ing] Indians with guns and powder and shott . . . to the great danger of a Massacre." Those who provided guns were to get get them back. Two years later, therefore, the court instructed John Haney ordered to return to Col. John Mottrom a gun of Mottrom's which was taken from the Indians "about two of [sic] three years ago." At the very same time, however, General Assembly was relaxing the ban: with county court approval, Englishmen could employ Indians in tasks that involved firearms. Then in March 1657/58, the Assembly reversed itself and allowed both arming Indians under the employ of Englishment and permitted the sale of guns, powder, and shot to the Indians. The reasons? The wolf population was increasing; other colonies and foreigners were making selling weapons to Indians; and Virginia was being hurt in the beaver trade as a result.
In March 1661/62, the General Assembly passed a law "concerning Indians" that pulled together previous legislation and serves as a useful inventory of the points of friction in the natives' interaction with white people. The Burgesses had a clear enough understanding of the fundamental reasons for ethnic conflict:
The mutuall discontents, complaints, jealousies and ffeares of English and Indians proceed cheifly from the violent intrusions of diverse English made into their lands forcing the Indians by way of revenge to kill the cattle and hogs of the English, and by that meanes injuries being done on both sides, reprorts and rumours are spread of the hostile intentions of each to other, tending infinitely to the disturbance of the peace of his majesty's country; and . . . the laws prohibiting the purchase of any Indians lands unles acknowledged at Generall courts or assemblys . . . are made fruitles and ineffectuall.But in addition to trying to protect Indian property against encroachment and improper purchase, the Assembly took several other steps to ensure Indian rights. We can read these orders as solutions to existing problems in the interactions between natives and settlers.
Northumberland records provide evidence that over the last half of the seventeenth century, there was occasional friction in the county between the Indian town and its neighbors and that whites regarded Indians as a means of making up the shortage of labor in their frontier society. In May 1656, John Clarke was summoned before the court concerning a canoe that he had in his possession. He first said that he had bought the canoe from an Indian but later admitted that the boat had belonged to Jacob Contanceau. The implication was, of course, that the Indian had stolen the canoe from Contanceau. Clarke was ordered to return it.
Sometime in late 1665 or early 1666, some of John Lee's servants went "into Wicocomako Towne in ye night & did kill a Hogg, & did ruedely & riotously beate & abuse diverse of ye Indians." Presumably the Indians complained to the authorities, for in January 1665/1666, the county court ordered a meeting about Indian affairs, to be attended by the justices on both sides of the Great Wicomico, the people who charged with harming the Indians, and the Indians themselves. As a result of this session, the court determined that indeed John Lee's servants were in the wrong, and that Indians should be compensated for the hog. The justices also ruled that the servants should be whipped until they bled but suspended execution of the sentence.
In the fall of 1668, the shoe was on the other foot. Andrew Pettegrew complained that the Indian Noroas had "entertained" one of his maidservants who had run away. The Indians had been ordered to turn over the maid but had not done so; nor had she appeared. The court therefore ordered the sheriff to put certain Indians in custody until they produced the maid.
In the summer of 1670, the court examined George Whitthorne because it was alleged that he had killed his master's hog. Whitthorne told the justices that one Phillip Peyton had encouraged him to kill the animal because his master would blame either the Indians or the wolves. The implication here is that the Indians killed hogs often enough that it would be natural to blame them -- and not the white servant -- in this case.
The fact that servants figured in most of these episodes of communal friction indicates indirectly why some white property owners saw the Indians as a potential source of labor. English servants were unruly and ill-disciplined, often ran off, and wanted to establish themselves once their indenture was completed. The natives, it was thought, might be an alternative. (Of course, there were never enough Indians to meet the growing demand for workers, and black slaves increasingly filled the gap).
There is no question that white Northumberlanders employed their Indian neighbors and perhaps even possessed them as slaves. One version of the inventory of Symon Overzee's estate indicates that he had several English servants and "2 Indians, a boy & a girle servants," but another version describes the one Indian boy and girl "as slaves." A 1667 episode indicates the price whites would pay for Indian labor. Hanah Abram, it was reported, went "to ye Indian Cabbin & she did tell ye Indian" that she would give him a new hatt, a new pair of French Falls, and a new suit of clothes if he would come live with them again and "soe upon" her land.
One way that settlers sought to acquire Indian servants was to recruit them when they were still children. In March 1654/5, the General Assembly permitted the employment of Indian children as servants but only on the condition that their parents approved, that two justices endorsed the covenant, and that the youngsters be brought up in the Christian religion. Three years later, the Assembly prohibited whites from transferring Indian children who had been placed in their care "for what cause soever" to other whites. Moreover, the Indians were to be freed at age twenty-five.
At some point, the governor delegated to the county courts the task of approving the employment of Indians by settlers. From the summer of 1667, there are regular entries in the Northumberland Order Book of white residents receiving such permissions, but always after "having been cautioned," presumably about ensuring that security be preserved when firearms were involved. "Mr. Fran:ker" was the first of such cases, and he was followed by William Shoares, George Knott, Edward Sanders, William Downing, Robert Munden (twice) in1669, Timothy Green and John Hughlett in 1670, and Thomas Mathew in 1671.
By and large, however, it appears that by the mid-1670s the white settlers of Northumberland County, now around 1170 in number, and the remaining Indian natives, now about 280, had learned to get along. This state of coexistence had come about within thirty-plus years of initial settlement and twenty years of the relocation of two chiefdoms and the expulsion of another. Relatively little violence was involved. Elsewhere in the Chesapeake basin, however, relations were not so easy.
Indian Wars; Bacon's Rebellion
Governor William Berkeley had sought to minimize the possibility of conflict between whites and Indians by keeping the two groups apart and reducing the sources of rivalry. That was the thrust of the law "concerning Indians" of March 1661/62. He had hoped to keep Englishmen east of line that ran through the Tidewater and was punctuated by forts. But there was a limit to his ability to restrain the surging settlement or the incidents that contact stimulated. When fighting occurred, the counties like Northumberland where the settlers had already achieved overwhelming dominance were expected to provide men or resources to those that were less peaceful. Thus in December 1666 the county levy included 7107 pounds of tobacco to meet charges for the war against the Doeg and Potomac Indians.
The Indian war of 1675-76 began with a raid in July 1675 on Thomas Mathew's plantation in Stafford County by a group of Doeg and Susquehannock Indians. A party of Virginians crossed into Maryland to retaliate. In August, Governor Berkeley and that Council ordered John Washington and Isaac Allerton (the same Isaac Allerton who benefited from the expulsion of the Onawmanient) to investigate the situation and take action accordingly, to include "executions upon the Indians as shall be found necessary and just." Washington and Allerton mobilized the militias of Northern Neck, secured help from Maryland, and with around a thousand men laid siege to the Indians' Piscataway fort in late September. Seven weeks later the Indian weroances came out of the fort seeking peace, but the Maryland leaders of the siege murdered them. Soon the Indians escaped the English siege and began raiding up and down the frontier.
In March 1675/76, the General Assembly met to craft a response to the new threat. It ordered that men be "drawne out of the midland and most secure parts of the country[,] be entred into standing pay and placed on the heads of the rivers." It required that 34 men from Northumberland County, 25 from Lancaster, and 25 from Middlesex be sent to a defensive position on the Potomac in Stafford County.
Five months later, on July 4th, the Assembly called for forty-nine more men to be drafted from the Northumberland militia to be sent out of the county to fight the Indians (any volunteers who came forward would replace the draftees). One eighth of men were to be horsemen and the detachment was to bring two months' provisions and two pounds of shot for each man. As a sign of the the Northumberland Court's confidence in the loyalty of the Wiccocomico Indians, it stipulated that "all Indian men yt are fitt for service . . . may be drawn out to goe the march as shall be thought convenient."
Yet this war with the Indians became more important for the fissures it exposed in white society. There was a large body of opinion in Virginia that Governor Berkeley was pursuing a flawed Indian policy and that more aggressive action was necessary. The emerging leader of that view, Nathaniel Bacon, then mounted a rebellion against the colonial elite that drew on class resentment as much as feelings about the Indians.
Governor Berkeley might have looked to Northumberland County as a model for managing relations with the Indians who had chosen to live within the pale of expanding white settlement. The majority of the natives had agreed to relocate to what amounted to an early reservation (the Onawmanient, it should be recalled, had chosen confrontation and were driven off). Thereafter, once the boundaries of the Wiccocomico town had been fixed, there had been relatively little conflict. The aggressiveness towards outsiders for which the Indians were known, and the strong English prejudice against pagan and uncivilized people do not seem to have been driving forces. And limited evidence suggests that this pattern of coexistence continued with little interruption into the early eighteenth century.
Behind this apparent tranquillity was another trend. Most scholars believe that by the beginning of the eighteenth century, William Taptico had very few Wiccocomicos Indians to lead. Robert Beverly's 1703 estimate indicates that there were only ten members of the group left. Moreover, the few Wiccocomicos left were tenants of John Smyth, who had encroached on Indian land.
The Wiccocomico and Chicacoan chiefdoms which relocated to the Dividing Creek reservation had 88 braves in 1655 when the first land survey was done. They were soon joined by perhaps 15 Cuttawoman braves soon thereafter. By 1669, however the number of braves had dropped to 70, a decline of around two braves a year. In the next thirty-four years, the number of braves declined to three, again, around two braves a year. What is the explanation for this gradual yet relentless decline?
We can speculate on several factors which, in combination, would bring about the virtual disappearance of Northumberland's native population. The first is migration by those who were unable to adapt to the complexities of cultural coexistence and therefore moved beyond the frontier of English settlement to join Indian chiefdoms there. The second is assimilation, whereby Indians who had grown up in English households and worked for English masters chose to abandon the culture of their parents and blend in to the society of the new arrivals. (As we have seen, even William Taptico, "King of the Wiccocomoco Indians," had chosen to adopt the material life of the English even as he sought to preserve some vestige of Wiccomico identity). The third factor is disease. Although there is only modest evidence of Virginia Indians suffering pandemics caused by bacteria for which they had no immunity, it is hard to believe that they were not. Even the English in the colonies, who were relatively isolated from the world of European diseases, would gradually lose their immunity to smallpox and then die in great numbers when the next epidemic struck. The English encounter with the Indians may have been more benign and less violent in Northumberland County than it was elsewhere. But it had the same ultimate result.
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