Early English Settlers in Virginia – 1607

 

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

Part 2 of 3

On 29th April 1607, a cross was raised at Chesupioc Bay and they named the place Cape Henry. On 30th April, they left Cape Comfort. Five Native Americans were seen running along the shore; the shallop was launched and rowed towards them. They were “Very Timersome” but were reassured when the captain “lay his hand on his heart”. At this point the local people became less wary and made signs for the shallop crew to follow them to their town, “Which is called by the savages Kecoughtan.”

On arrival at Kecoughtan they were entertained with food and dancing. After this they were given “Their tobacco, which they took in a pipe made artificially of earth as ours are, but far bigger, with the bowl fashioned together with a piece of fine copper.” While they sat smoking the pipes, they were entertained with singing and dancing. When this had finished, the Captain presented them with some beads and small jewellery items. Their hosts are described as having heads shaved on the right side, but having long hair on the left side adorned with bird feathers. Many had painted their bodies in red or black with knot work decorations of colour that altogether impressed the English party.

On 4th May, they met the King or Werowance of Paspihe, where they were again entertained. On 5th May they were invited to meet the Werowance of the Rapahanna tribe. This ruler met the English expedition at the water’s edge “coming before them playing on a flute made of a reed, with a crown of deer’s hair coloured red, in fashion of a rose fastened about his knot of hair, and a great plate of copper on the other side of his head, with two long feathers in fashion of a pair of horns placed in the midst of his crown. His body was painted all with crimson, with a chain of beads about his neck, his face painted blue, besprinkled with silver ore as were thought, his ears all be-hung with ‘bracelets’ of pearl, and in either ear a bird’s claw through it beset with fine copper or gold”.

After the meeting the whole party went to the town “he went foremost, and all the rest of his people and ourselves followed him up a steep hill where his palace was settled.”

Sailing further on, by 12th May they had reached a point of land they named Archer’s Hope and on the next day continued to a place suitable for the ships to moor at. They at once set to making fortifications and posted guards. On 18th May, another tribal ruler came with 100 warriors but the meeting was an uneasy one. This situation continued with another attempt by the locals offering a deer, but the English party “would not suffer them for fear of their treachery”. An example of the power and deadliness of the native weapons is given here: “one of the company placed a target up against a tree and invited an Indian to shoot at it with his bow and arrow. The Indian took from his back an arrow of an elle long (an old Scottish measurement of 37 inches) and drew it strongly to his bow.” The arrow passed a foot through the target, which they found strange because a pistol could not pierce it. After this the target was replaced by a steel one and he was invited to try again. This time the arrow shattered on impact, much to the annoyance of the archer.

A description of the country they saw follows, in which the diverse and beautiful surroundings are noted. To a European the spectacle seemed to be amazing and to use the wording written about this is sufficient to try and understand just what they saw:

“Where so ever we landed upon this river, we saw the goodliest woods as birch, oak, cedar, cypresses, walnuts, sassafras and vines in great abundance, which hang in great clusters on many trees, and many trees unknown, and all the grounds spread with many sweet and delicate flowers of diverse colours and kinds. There are also many fruits as strawberries, mulberries, raspberries and fruits unknown, there are many branches of the river, which run flowing through the woods with great plenty of fish of all kinds, as for sturgeon all the world cannot be compared to it. In this country I have seen many great and large meadows having excellent good pasture for any cattle. There is also great store of deer both red and fallow. There are bears, foxes, otters, beavers, muskrats, and wild beasts unknown.”

On 24th May, the English party placed a cross at the head of the river they were sailing on and named it King’s River, or “where we proclaimed James King of England to have the most right unto it”. They went back to the James’ Fort, and on the way the ship’s captain visited the Pohatans’ village and offered the chief a hatchet, “which he took joyfully, and was well pleased”. The actions of the colonists did not meet with the general approval of the majority of the Native Americans and the chief had to speak to them to reassure their suspicions.

In his narrative, Percy described the difference between the local married women and maids. They were distinguished by their hairstyle. Thus maids “you shall always see the fore part of their head and sides shaven close, the hinder part very long, which they tie in a pleate hanging down to their hips”, whereas the married women wore “their hair all of a length, and it is tied of that fashion that the maids are”. They also decorated their bodies, in some ways similar to tattooing today. “The women kind in this country doth pounce and race their bodies, legs, thighs, arms and faces with a sharp iron, which makes a stamp in curious knots, and draws the proportion of fowles, fish or beasts, then with painting of sundry lively colours, they rub in into the stamp which will never be taken away, because it is dried into the flesh where it is sered.”

In my next post, I will use Percy’s account to describe what happened to the early settlement in Virginia. This will take the story up to 1612, including problems caused by starvation, disease and political arguments.

Adrian Skipp

 

 

 

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