Category: Precolonial History

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“In wishing him well, he killed him”; excerpt from Relation of Juan Rogel (ca. 1611)

This excerpt, translated from the Spanish, is from the “Relation of Juan Rogel,” the original manuscript of which was lost but can be found paraphrased by Father Juan Sánchez Vaquero (b. 1548) in his unpublished history, Fundación de la Compañía de Jesús en Nueva España, 1571–1580. Father Juan Rogel, a Jesuit priest born in Pamplona, Spain, in 1519, here tells the story of the Virginia Indian Don Luís de Velasco (Paquiquineo), who accompanied the Spanish in 1561 to Spain, Mexico, and Cuba before returning with a mission to the Chesapeake Bay in an area the priests understood to be called Ajacán.

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

“The people of America crye oute unto us”; an excerpt from Discourse on Western Planting by Richard Hakluyt (the younger) (1584)

In these excerpts from the first three chapters of Discourse on Western Planting, Richard Hakluyt (the younger) argues why England should compete with Spain in colonizing the America. Specifically, he makes the case for converting the Indians to Christianity, and suggests that without colonies, England’s economy is at a disadvantage. The manuscript was originally prepared in 1584 at the request of Sir Walter Raleigh for Queen Elizabeth I and her advisers only. It was not published until the nineteenth century. Some spelling has been modernized.

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Huskanaw

The huskanaw was a rite of passage by which Virginia Indian boys became men. While such rituals were common among American Indian societies, the huskanaw was conducted by, among others, the Algonquian-speaking Powhatan Indians of Tsenacomoco, an alliance of twenty-eight to thirty-two petty tribes and chiefdoms centered around the James, Mattaponi, and Pamunkey rivers. Aligning it with various other religious rituals, they referred to the huskanaw as a sacrifice and told the Jamestown colonists that if they did not perform it their powerful god Okee would be angered and disrupt their hunting or cause natural disasters. Although the English colonists at first took this ceremony to be a literal sacrifice of boys, they quickly learned that the term was metaphorical. The word huskanaw refers to the youth of the initiates and to the fact that they were to be transformed into men.

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Relation of Bartolomé Martínez (October 24, 1610)

In these excerpts from a memoir, dated October 24, 1610, at Potosí in present-day Bolivia, Bartolomé Martínez recounts the story of the Virginia Indian Don Luís de Velasco (Paquiquineo). Martínez was a minor Spanish official married to a niece of the wife of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the adelantado, or governor, of the Spanish province of La Florida. While living at Santa Elena, near present-day Parris Island, South Carolina, from 1571 to 1579, Martínez heard the story of the Jesuit missionaries killed by Don Luís in February 1571. The memoir’s full title reads: The Martyrdom of the Fathers and Brothers of the Company of Jesus whom the Indians of Ajacán, in the Land of Florida, martyred, about which Father Pedro de Ribadeneyra has written briefly in the third book, chapter six, of the Life of the Blessed Father Francis Borgia. The translation from Spanish to English was done by Father Aloysius J. Owens in 1935.

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

Relation of Juan de la Carrera (March 1, 1600)

In these excerpts from a memoir, dated March 1, 1600, at Pueblo de los Ángeles, Juan de la Carrera recounts the story of the Virginia Indian Don Luís de Velasco (Paquiquineo) and a failed Jesuit mission to the Chesapeake Bay. Born in near Leoó, Spain, in 1536, Carrera worked as a merchant before entering the Society of Jesus on December 6, 1552. In 1568, his friend Father Juan Baptista de Segura, the newly appointed Jesuit vice-provincial for La Florida, invited Carrera to travel with him to America. Once there, he live at the Spanish settlement of Santa Elena, near present-day Parris Island, South Carolina. This English translation appears in The Spanish Jesuit Mission in Virginia, 1570–1572 by Clifford M. Lewis and Albert J. Loomie, eds. (1953).

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Bermuda Hundred during the Colonial Period

Bermuda Hundred was established by Sir Thomas Dale in 1613 at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers. Virginia Indians had occupied the site for at least 10,000 years before Dale planted a settlement there. The term “hundred” comes from the English practice of locating ten towns, or tithings (groups of ten families), at a settlement. One of Bermuda Hundred’s most famous residents was John Rolfe, who may have grown his first marketable tobacco there—Nicotiana tabacum, a West Indian plant with which he had been experimenting since 1612. Rolfe may have lived there with his wife Pocahontas, the daughter of the Powhatan Indians’ paramount chief, Powhatan. The population of Bermuda Hundred, like that of other early English settlements in Virginia, was nearly wiped out by a massive assault orchestrated by one of Powhatan’s successors, Opechancanough. The settlement survived, however, becoming one of Virginia’s first ports in 1691, the site of a tobacco inspection in 1731, and the site of a new ferry to City Point in 1732. In 1738, the General Assembly considered Bermuda Hundred for the colony’s new capital. After 1780, when Richmond became the new capital of Virginia, Bermuda Hundred began to decline.

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Bridges by Early Virginia Indians, Uses of

Early Virginia Indians built bridges in various places in eastern Virginia, although perhaps not very many. This was in part due to the fact that Indians used stone tools and did not domesticate draft animals to assist with their work. The bridges connected arterial roads that crossed waterways, parts of villages separated by water, and adjacent, heavily used points along important waterways, and were constructed according to the resources, technology, and needs of the native people. The limitations on building technology were especially apparent in an account written by the early Jamestown settler John Smith, who was led across a bridge into Chief Powhatan‘s capital at Werowocomoco. As his guides well knew, the bridge was not made for people wearing boots, and he was forced to submit to an embarrassing rescue by canoe. In this case, the bridge was a convenient diplomatic tool. The English saw the Indian technology as crude and unsophisticated, and the Indians could manipulate those impressions to gain the upper hand in formal encounters.

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Cactus Hill Archaeological Site

The Cactus Hill Archaeological Site is located on a wind-deposited (eolian) terrace of the Nottoway River in Sussex County. The site gets its name from the prickly pear cacti commonly found growing on the site’s sandy soil. Cactus Hill is one of the oldest and most well-dated archaeological sites in the Americas, with the earliest human occupations dating to between 18,000 and 20,000 years ago. It also contains one of the most complete stratified prehistoric archaeological sequences yet discovered in Virginia. Prior to the discoveries at Cactus Hill, which were made in the mid-1990s, most scholars believed that the earliest humans arrived in the Americas approximately 13,000 years ago. Representing the so-called Clovis culture, these people were believed to have come to the Americas from Siberia across the Bering land bridge. Cactus Hill has since given scholars cause to revise that theory; they now propose that people may have skirted along the glaciers located near the Pacific coast of North America, or they may have crossed pack ice from Europe to the Atlantic coast of America. Investigations done at Cactus Hill by the Nottoway River Survey and the Archeological Society of Virginia suggest that the people there may not have been the first, leading scholars to look for even older settlements.

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Ceramics, Virginia Indian

Indians have made ceramics continuously in Virginia for more than 3,200 years. Pottery manufacture in North America first arose more than 4,200 years ago in the coastal plain of Georgia and spread north from there. Pottery production was a cottage industry, conducted by families with the knowledge of manufacture handed down from mother to daughter. Archaeologists have defined more than sixty Virginia Indian wares, recording the variables in vessel size and shape, temper, surface treatment, and decoration of pottery. This wealth of pottery information provides archaeologists with ways to help date sites and to describe Indian social groups and interpret their interaction and movement.

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Chauco (fl. 1622–1623)

Chauco was one of several Virginia Indians who saved the lives of English colonists by warning of Opechancanough‘s plans to attack their settlements on March 22, 1622. He is named in no more than two known documents, leaving details about his parentage, birth, death, and tribal affiliation unknown. It is possible that he was the person referred to in 1624 as Chacrow, an Indian who a decade earlier had lived with an English colonist and knew how to use a gun. The story of a Christian Indian who, like Pocahontas, helped the Virginia colonists survive the hostilities of their own people is a popular Virginia legend.

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