All surviving contemporaneous sources report that several Indians alerted colonists to the imminent danger in 1622, but surviving documents from that year do not name any of them. English and colonial writers described the informants as men or boys, presumably from one of the Powhatan tribes and sometimes referred to as converts to Christianity. The assigned motive for informing was usually a feeling of friendship or gratitude toward a particular colonist. In the first and only official publication about the uprising, A Declaration of the State of the Colony and Affaires in Virginia (1622), Edward Waterhouse, the secretary of the Virginia Company of London, summarized what was then known and wrote that the attack might have achieved the Indians’ purpose of “utter extirpation, which God of his mercy (by the meanes of some of themselves converted to Christianitie) prevented.”
Waterhouse’s account described “one of them alone which was made a Christian” as an Indian “belonging to” one of the colonists (possibly William Perry) and living with Richard Pace, across the James River from Jamestown. That Indian’s brother told him that they had received orders to kill Perry and Pace as part of the coordinated attack throughout the colony on Friday morning, March 22. During the night of March 21, according to Waterhouse, “Perries Indian rose out of his bed and reveales it to Pace, that used him as a Sonne.” Pace prepared the defenses of his own house and before daybreak rowed the three miles to Jamestown “and gave notice thereof to the Governor.” Thus, “the rest of the Colony that had warning given them, by this meanes was saved.” Subsequent published narratives by Captain John Smith and others followed Waterhouse’s account almost word for word, added no new information, and did not identify any informant.
The only extant document to name any informant is a seventeenth-century transcription in the Library of Congress of a letter, dated April 4, 1623, that the governor and Council sent to the Virginia Company about routine business and to inform the company officers of steps taken to keep the peace during the winter and spring following the 1622 uprising. Negotiations for the release of some captives had been carried on by two Indians, “one of which Called (Chauco) who had lived much amo[ng]st the English, and by revealinge that pl[ot] To divers uppon the day of Massacre, saved theire lives.” The letter does not indicate that Chauco had converted to Christianity or had lived with Pace, and it does not state which colonist or colonists he had warned. Another seventeenth-century transcription of the same letter, this one dated April 3, 1623, is in the British Public Record Office. It does not include the two words, “Called (Chauco).” The original letter does not survive.
In August 1622 company officials recommended that the governor treat “those Indians whom God used as instruments of revealing and preventinge the totall ruine of you all” with “a good respect and recompence” and suggested that they be given “a good and carefull education.” At the company’s Preparative Court held in London on April 26, 1624, William Perry presented “an Indian Boy … for whome a motion was made for some Contribution towards his mayntenance, wherby to bring him up in Christianitie and some good course to live by.” The record does not name him or identify him as one of the informants. It is highly unlikely that Chauco, the presumably adult negotiator in April 1623, was the “Boy” who accompanied Perry to London in the spring of 1624.
The first historian to give a name to Pace’s informant and Perry’s Indian boy was William Stith, who in his History of the First Discovery and Settlement of Virginia (1747) repeated the essence of Waterhouse’s account of the uprising. Perhaps having access to other documents since lost or perhaps misreading the April 4, 1623, transcription, Stith wrote that “Chanco” was responsible for saving “James-Town, and all such Plantations, as could possibly get Intelligence in time.” Subsequent generations of writers, including many historians, uncritically repeated and embellished Stith’s version, and in some instances conflated all the references to the informants and the boy who traveled to London in 1624.
The story has become one of the most popular Virginia legends and appears in scholarly histories and school textbooks. Community organizations and land developers have used the name Chanco, and in the twentieth-century tablets honoring Chanco were placed in Surry County, near where Richard Pace lived, and in the wall of the reconstructed church on Jamestown Island. Many Americans have embraced the story of a Christian Indian who, like Pocahontas, helped the Virginia colonists survive the hostilities of their own people, to serve the national belief in providential support for a superior culture that conquered a continent and continues to police the world, convinced of its manifest destiny to do so. It is ironic that the real Chauco, who liked the English with whom he lived, has been forgotten, even though his actions did, indeed, save some of the English from death on March 22, 1622.