This Day (Opechancanough Redux Edition)

On this day in 1677, the Treaty of Middle Plantation was signed. In the past year, a misunderstanding between traders and Indians had blown up into a guerrilla war, and that guerrilla war had almost been forgotten about while the English turned on each other. That part of the mess was called Bacon’s Rebellion, and while the governor, Sir William Berkeley, had won, his royal masters were displeased. So now the new bosses had arrived, and on the exalted occasion of the king’s birthday, they decided to make nice with the Indians once and for all.
The remnant of Powhatan‘s old paramount chiefdom was there, including the Nottoways, the Nansemonds, the Appamattucks, and the Pamunkeys. The so-called queen of the latter answered to the name Cockacoeske; she had been weroansqua, or chief, for something like thirty years, since not long after the English captured her elderly kinsman Opechancanough and then, in a Jamestown jail, shot him in the back.
Her husband later died while fighting on behalf of the colonists (the General Assembly only shrugged when she asked for compensation), and another relationship had made her mother to the great-grandson of the former governor, Sir Thomas West, twelfth baron De La Warr. During Bacon’s Rebellion, Cockacoeske had once again thrown her lot in with the English, but the fighting had forced her to flee into the swamps, where she nearly starved to death.
If Cockacoeske had any leverage at Middle Plantation it came from her much-commented-upon regal bearing, uncommon political savvy, and the guilt that even cold-blooded English bureaucrats felt now and again. When she asked for something, they were likely to give it to her, and—thinking like Powhatan and Opechancanough—she asked for power … and got it. The English noted that Cockacoeske “not only came in [to the treaty negotiations] herself but brought severall scattered nations of Indians whome we afterwards reduc’d (as she desired) under he subjection, as anciently they had beene.
Two of those groups were the once-powerful Chickahominies and Rappahannocks. They did not bow long before Cockacoeske, post-treaty, but give the queen a little credit. She grabbed, and for a fleeting moment, something of the old chiefdom was hers.
IMAGE: Cockacoeske’s mark on the Articles of Peace


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