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Cockacoeske, Weroansqua of the Pamunkeys, and Indian resistance in seventeenth-century Virginia.

In August 1676 Nathaniel Bacon brought his campaign to "ruin and extirpate all Indians in general" to the Green Dragon Swamp on the upper Pamunkey River. (1) While there, he attacked and massacred nearly fifty Pamunkey Indians, who had been at peace with the government of Virginia for thirty years. Having once formed the backbone of the mighty Algonquian-speaking Powhatan Chiefdom, the Pamunkeys now numbered fewer than two hundred warriors and had lived in a state of dependence and subjection to the Virginia government since the end of the Anglo-Powhatan Wars in 1646. From the time of her accession to the position of Pamunkey weroansqua in 1656, the Pamunkey leader, Cockacoeske, had spent twenty years of her life navigating the tangle of policies, proclamations, customs, and expectations that constituted Virginia's complex political and legal system to achieve her ends. (2) Now in the space of a few short weeks, an army made up of nearly six hundred western Virginians who blamed her people for the attacks of Iroquoian Indian groups from Maryland had nearly destroyed all of her progress. (3)

In the first assault on the camp, the swampy terrain (made worse by the recent rains) slowed Bacon and his men enough to allow Cockacoeske to issue orders to her people. She instructed them to flee and not to fire on the Virginians under any circumstances. Having lived up to their treaty obligations for more than thirty years, the Pamunkeys refused to play the aggressors now. Bacon and his army failed to appreciate the gesture. While the majority of the Indians in the camp escaped, Bacon captured as many as forty-five Pamunkeys and killed eight, including one of Cockacoeske's retainers whom they had captured and ordered to lead them to the now-fled weroansqua. After a day and a half in which the woman led them in every direction but that in which the Pamunkeys had fled, the Virginians decided they had little use for her. According to one eyewitness, "Bacon gave command to his Soldiers to knock her in the head, which they did, and they left her dead on the way." For her part, Cockacoeske wandered nearly two weeks in the swamp before she dared reemerge for fear of suffering the same late as her former servant. Fortunately for her, Bacon had left the swamp long before Cockacoeske emerged from hiding. News that the royal governor, Sir William Berkeley, was moving against him ratcheted the rebel leader's attention back to the east. His efforts to defeat Berkeley prevented him from further attacks against Indians. (4)

Ironically, of the principal actors involved in Bacon's Rebellion, Cockacoeske exerted the most lasting impact on Virginia's future. The Queen of Pamunkey managed to survive the rebellion and signed the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation, which effectively ended hostilities between the Virginians and area Indian groups. That Cockacoeske achieved this is no accident of late. Rather, she represents one in a long line of Indians in general and Virginian Algonquians in particular who "sought cooperation rather than conflict" and "coexistence on shared regional parches of ground rather than arms-length contact across distant frontiers" who but sought to do so on Native terms. (5) In the short term, Cockacoeske's success in bridging the gap between her people and the Virginians angered individuals like Nathaniel Bacon. However, in the long term, though she died without realizing it, the concessions she extracted from the king's commissioners in that treaty saved her people from annihilation and form the legal backbone of the present-day relationship between the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes and the Virginia government. The particular experience of Virginia Algonquians as a group well versed in preserving internal unity while defending themselves against the encroachments of outsiders long before the arrival of the English, combined with Cockacoeske's own experience as a Virginia Algonquian woman, account for her and the group's ability to persevere in the worst of circumstances.

Cockacoeske's importance cannot be grasped simply by examining her life and career in isolation. Instead, we must begin long before her birth with the forging of the paramount chiefdom led by her kinsman Powhatan in the late sixteenth century. The generations of external and internal strife between the creation of the Powhatan Chiefdom and Cockacoeske's rise to power provide considerable clues as to the nature of Powhatan leadership. Additionally, the particular combination of gender and spirituality that underlay Powhatan leadership offers a very powerful explanation for why it was that only a woman such as Cockacoeske could fill the leadership void created by the chiefdom's defeat in 1646. In short, the very spiritual weaknesses endured by men during the latter half of the seventeenth century brought opportunities for leadership to Powhatan women.


Much of the scholarship that focuses on early Indians in Virginia tends to center almost solely on the Algonquian-speaking Powhatan chiefdom at the expense of the area's Iroquoian- and Siouan-speaking groups as well as various Algonquian groups that swore little or no allegiance to Powhatan. The reality of seventeenth-century Virginia's tribal configuration in fact was much more complex than accounts that present a monolithic Powhatan Empire dominating the landscape from the Chesapeake to the Appalachians. While the loosely organized paramount chiefdom headed by Powhatan represented the largest group in the area, an examination of the group in relation to its neighbors reveals that the Powhatans were neither monolithic nor dominant. Specifically, internal conflict between Virginia Algonquians themselves combined with the external threats of Siouan and Iroquoian invaders to create a precontact Virginia characterized by warfare, uneasy truces, and shifting alliances. Even within his own domain, Powhatan did not exercise full control over the various subchiefdoms, and beyond the borders of Tsenacomacah, as the Powhatans referred to the area of Virginia under their control, lurked various Iroquoian and Siouan enemies who often encroached upon the Powhatans' territory. Aid in the form of guns, metal, and soldiers could easily tip the balance in favor of the mamanatowick, or great chief, as Powhatan was known, in his struggle not only to preserve the unity of his organization but also to defend it against encroachment from outsiders. In light of this precontact reality, Powhatan's, and Cockacoeske's, postcontact actions toward the English reflect a level of sophistication and diplomatic savvy that the English failed to recognize.


The nature of military and foreign relations between the peoples of precontact America provides a useful starting place from which to unravel Powhatan's motivations regarding Englishmen. Early observers of Indian warfare in North America dismissed it as motivated only by a desire for flamboyant displays of bravado. (6) However, nearly thirty years ago, various scholars began to reexamine these assumptions about warfare in the late prehistoric period. While the desire for revenge, personal status, and military knowledge all remain valid reasons for individual warriors to join a war party, they fail to explain the strategic reasons why the leaders of the group would want to commence such a war party in the first place. Native American groups in late prehistoric America went to war with one another for a variety of reasons, many of which corresponded with European reasons for warfare. According to anthropologist Lewis Larson, groups in the Southeast during the late Mississippian period went to war over arable land and to ease the pressure of population growth. The authors of a recent study of a late prehistoric Oneota burial location in Illinois argue that warfare between Native groups in the area sprang from competition over precious natural resources and traditional hunting grounds. Additionally, others point to the desire to defend or establish trade networks as a motivation for intergroup warfare in the precontact era. (7)

Therefore, logic dictates that these multiple motivations for warfare, some personal and some societal, necessitated a very dynamic and fluid sociopolitical landscape. New alliances, new polities, new conflicts, and new enemies appeared and reappeared on a regular basis. Powhatan's paramount chiefdom constitutes a prime example of this phenomenon. Ethnographic, archaeological, and historical sources all agree that Powhatan did not inherit the paramount chiefdom but rather created it by enhancing his original inheritance of six districts split between the York and James Rivers. He did so via an effective combination of intimidation and force. Furthermore, he embarked upon this policy of expansion not out of a desire to create a "pan-Indian" resistance mechanism to European encroachment but rather for reasons having little or nothing to do with the very periodic visits of small groups of these outsiders during the latter half of the sixteenth century. The need to defend himself from Iroquoian and Siouan raiders as well as his desire to enrich his wealth via a lucrative trade in copper make much more sense than the Eurocentric notion that he immediately feared the small groups of bumbling and transitory Europeans such as those who failed twice to establish themselves at Roanoke. (8)

Whatever the reason, we can safely say that the chiefdom Powhatan led in 1607 represented a recent creation forged through the crucible of tensions and conflict that surrounded his initial inheritance. Elements of the Powhatan cosmology and religion support this notion. (9) The male right-of-passage ritual known as the huskanaw, practiced by all of the mainland groups of the Powhatan chiefdom, also indicates a society embroiled in frequent conflict with outside enemies. (10)


The political relations amongst Virginia Algonquians located in different geographies also support the idea of disunity in the immediate precontact period. The Indians of the Eastern Shore shared basic Algonquian characteristics with Powhatan's mainland chiefdom. However, their geographic isolation created significant political and cultural fissures between them and their mainland kinsmen. At the time of the Jamestown expedition, Eastern Shore Algonquians only nominally recognized the authority of Powhatan. (11)

Additionally, the groups of Virginia's Eastern Shore exhibited distinct cultural and political traits that distinguished them from the Algonquians of the mainland. None of the Eastern Shore groups practiced the huskanaw ritual. Furthermore, their subsistence systems and their political structures differed in many ways from those of the Powhatans. For example, no evidence exists to suggest that the priesthood operated the same on the Eastern Shore as on the western side of the Chesapeake. In fact, some Eastern Shore groups utilized a political system in which the district weroances ruled together as equals, while others reproduced the Powhatan system, in which district weroances remained subordinate to an overall paramount chief. Finally, only the paramount chief who governed the Accomac and Occohannock people swore allegiance to Powhatan. (12)

Groups even closer to Powhatan's central territory of Tsenacomacah not only exhibited differing political and cultural characteristics but also challenged the mamanatowick's authority. Ten years before the Jamestown expedition, Powhatan assaulted the village of Kecoughtan, located at the extreme southeastern tip of the peninsula between the James and York Rivers. Apparently, the growing strength and independence of the Kecoughtans threatened Powhatan, and he seized upon the opportunity presented by the death of their weroance to make an example of them. In 1612 William Strachey included the event in his History of Travel into Virginia Britannia: "Upon the death of an old Weroance of this place some 15 or 16 years since (being too powerful neighbors to side the great Powhatan) it is said Powhatan taking the advantage subtly stepped in, and conquered the people killing the Chief and most of them." To prevent the survivors from threatening him in the future, Powhatan relocated them to villages intensely loyal to him. (13) By 1608 the strategy seems to have worked. When Powhatan once again destroyed another Algonquian group, this time the Piankatanks, he allowed the remnants of the Kecoughtans to resettle their lands. (14)

The year before this attack on the Piankatanks, Powhatan completely wiped out the Chesapeakes who had occupied the territory south and east of the James River near what is now Virginia Beach. The Chesapeakes had never been a part of Powhatan's chiefdom and were traditionally regarded as enemies. Furthermore, this particular act also seems to have been religiously based. William Strachey mentioned a prophecy told to Powhatan by his chief priests. According to the prophecy, "from the Chesapeake Bay a Nation should arise, which should dissolve and give end to his Empire." The Chesapeakes' long-standing refusal to succumb to his rule coupled with the coincidence of their location and that mentioned by the prophecy sealed their doom. Therefore, Powhatan "destroyed and put to the sword, all such who might lie under any doubtful construction of the said prophecy." (15)

The various Algonquian groups living in the northern reaches of Virginia near the Potomac River also offered frequent resistance to Powhatan's rule. Particularly after the English arrived, the loyalty of these groups tended to decline. For example, in 1610 Henry Spelman, a young Englishman who lived among the Powhatans for a time, began to sense that the deteriorating relationship between his countrymen and the Powhatans had placed him in a dangerous position, and he feared for his life. It would seem that his intuition was correct, as Powhatan had decided to kill him. Ultimately, Spelman survived by exploiting one of the existing divisions within the paramount chiefdom. In an act of open defiance, the Patawomecks, one of the Potomac River groups, helped Spelman escape and sheltered him from Powhatan's wrath. Their considerable distance from Powhatan's seat at Werowocomoco, their military strength, and the considerable wealth derived from their trading activities allowed them to follow Powhatan's directives only when it suited their interests. As English power in the region grew, the Patawomecks increasingly cast their lot with the newcomers and began to defy Powhatan more often. (16)

The Chickahomonies provide another excellent example of the very limited scope of Powhatan's power and thus the fragmented unity of his chiefdom. Powhatan governed his chiefdom via a three-tiered, feudal-like system of leadership. As mamanatowick, or "great king," be represented the top level. Below him, regional vassals called weroances, sworn to loyally serve the mamanatowick, governed each satellite chiefdom. Lesser weroances then governed the various towns within those regional chiefdoms. However, the Chickahominies, described by Strachey as a "warlike and free people," insisted on an equal relationship with Powhatan. While they paid "certain duties to Powhatan," they nonetheless insisted that they govern themselves. They did so via a council of elders as opposed to a weroance. The payments they made to Powhatan were not the normal tribute that subject chiefdoms owed him but more a diplomatic exchange designed to buy his friendship. For his part, Powhatan could not order the Chickahominies to participate in any of his military campaigns. Instead, if he wished to utilize Chickahominy warriors, he was forced to hire them and pay for their services with copper. Much like the Patawomecks, the military strength of the Chickahominies allowed them to dictate these terms to Powhatan. (17)


In addition to these variations and conflicts among Virginia's Algonquian-speaking peoples, the Iroquoian and Siouan speakers who represented the primary (non-English) threats to Algonquian hegemony provide further proof of the nature of precontact relations among Virginia Indians. A Siouan-speaking Mannahoac captured by John Smith on one of his exploratory expeditions in 1608 provided the Englishman with a glimpse of the precontact realities of Virginia. According to Smith's account, the Englishmen asked the captive "how many worlds he did know, he replied, he knew no more but that which was under the sky that covered him, which were the Powhatans, with the Monacans, and the Massawomecks, that were higher up in the mountains." Rather than a landscape dominated by an all-powerful Algonquian polity (the Powhatans), the Mannahoac captive provided the Englishmen, had they been willing to listen, with a clear explanation of the triagonal struggle they had landed amongst. The Iroquoian groups, represented by the Massawomecks in this case, and the Siouans (Monacans and Mannahoacs) interacted and conflicted with one another and the Algonquians to form the basis of Virginia's Indian world. (18)

The Iroquoian Massawomecks who attacked the chiefdom via the Potomac River from the north constituted an ever-present threat to the security of the Powhatan Chiefdom. According to John Smith, the Massawomecks frightened the Powhatans greatly. Not long after he arrived in Virginia, they even attacked Smith himself on one of his exploratory voyages to the Potomac River area. Both Smith and Spelman noted that the Massawomecks had been particularly hard on both the Kecoughtans and Patawomecks. Early accounts (told to the English from the Algonquian point of view) largely characterized the relationship between the Powhatans and the Massawomecks as one in which the Iroquoians mounted unprovoked and unanswered attacks on the peaceful Algonquians. However, anthropologist Helen Rountree is inclined to believe otherwise: "Given the warlike and vengeful character of the Powhatans, it is likely that they returned the Massawomecks' raids with interest." After all, Strachey cited revenge as the principal reason for Algonquian warfare in early seventeenth-century Virginia: "So vindictive and jealous they be, to be made a derision of, and to be insulted upon by an enemy." Therefore, Rountree's conclusion that the Powhatans must have engaged in similar attacks on the Massawomecks seems likely. Furthermore, if this was indeed the case, then the pressure exerted on his chiefdom by the Massawomecks could not have been far from Powhatan's mind in 1607 when he learned of the arrival of the Englishmen. (19)

The Susquehannocks, an Iroquoian group living even farther north, also presented a challenge to Powhatan dominance in early Virginia. According to Strachey, the Susquehannocks lived in palisaded towns and boasted a fighting strength of nearly six hundred men. Strachey also wrote that both those few Englishmen that had encountered them as well as the Algonquians of the Potomac River area regarded them as giants. While there is little evidence to suggest that the Susquehannocks regularly raided Tsenacomacah in the early seventeenth century, it seems likely that Powhatan knew of them and their strength. (20)

While the Iroquoians to his north caused Powhatan tremendous difficulties, the Siouan groups to the west of his chiefdom presented an even more serious and constant threat. The Mannahoacs of the upper Rappahannock Valley along with the Monacans of the upper James River raided Powhatan's domain annually. The animosity between the Powhatans and their western Siouan neighbors must have weighed heavily in the councils of the Powhatans. Strachey mentioned the conflict more than once: "Powhatan had many enemies, especially in the westerly countries ... and those Monacans have been deadly enemies ever unto Powhatan." Later be wrote: "There was every Enmity, and open wars between the High- and Low Country, going by the names of Monacans, and Powhatans." (21)

Furthermore, the anthropological evidence suggests that the Monacans may have been larger and even more centralized than the Powhatan chiefdom. In other words, the most powerful and monolithic society in the precontact world may not have been the Powhatan Confederacy but the Monacans. However, since the English did not penetrate the western reaches of Virginia until much later in the century, and because the Monacans adopted a strategy of avoidance concerning European invaders, the historical accounts from the immediate contact period cite the Powhatans as the power of the region. (22)

One study has found that the Monacans numbered as many as fifteen thousand at the time of English colonization. Throughout the Piedmont region, anthropologists have discovered a striking unity among their burial mounds that, in the words of anthropologist Martin Gallivan, indicates "physical evidence of a shared Monacan ideology." In the Blue Ridge and Valley regions (the other area of Monacan existence) similar studies have discovered evidence of specialized agriculture, trade, social stratification, and palisaded villages. Furthermore, the Monacans lived in close proximity to various deposits of copper that were in much demand during the precontact and postcontact eras. The evidence suggests that when not at war, they traded the commodity with the Powhatans. These findings indicate a complex society of wealth, mobility, and military power. Once again according to anthropologist Gallivan, "these are precisely the archaeological attributes associated with a centralized political economy and social inequality that archaeologists have had difficulty identifying in the Coastal Plain and in the Piedmont." Whether the English fully recognized it or not, the Siouan-speaking Monacans represented a substantial threat both to the lives of Powhatan's people and to his hold on the leadership of the chiefdom. In light of both the external and internal conflicts outlined above, the idea that Powhatan needed to constantly cultivate new allies and reinforce his authority over his people makes tremendous sense. However, the geopolitics of maintaining the chiefdom's territorial control represents only part of the explanation for his actions. (23)


By the time the English arrived in 1607, Powhatan had managed to maintain his precarious hold on the region for at least twenty years. In doing so, he initiated a tradition among Virginia Algonquians of leadership that combined diplomatic, spiritual, military, and economic power with traditional Algonquian practices of consent, custom, and kinship. Powhatan utilized whatever means he found most effective to keep his chiefdom, which was neither a complete dictatorship nor a democracy, together. At times that meant violence, and at other times it meant negotiation. Powhatan sought to tie the fate and fortunes of his potentially rebellious male subjects to his own by emphasizing the need to protect the chiefdom from outsiders such as the Monacans and feed the population. By inculcating in them a common belief in the need for military victory and success at hunting, both of which could only be achieved on a large enough scale via communal efforts, he sought to retain their loyalty. However, as important as Powhatan's military and political power was in keeping the various elements of the chiefdom loyal, if we were to end the analysis there, we would fail in the most basic of the historian's tasks. To attribute Powhatan's status as paramount chief solely to his political and military prowess makes much sense to the Western mind, but to understand the Powhatans on their own terms requires a deeper sensitivity. (24)

The political skill and military prowess that propelled Powhatan into the position of mamanatowick stemmed from spiritual rather than secular sources. Similar to many Native societies, coastal Algonquians like the Powhatans recognized no line between the spiritual and physical worlds. In fact, they predicated their beliefs on the opposite premise, that every individual possessed a particular connection to the supernatural world. That connection, and therefore that individual's spiritual well-being, was a direct result of his or her particular relationship with spirits. Thus, all members of the group located their particular actions in the physical world within their own understanding of the requirements of the personal spiritual message they received as opposed to a universal standard of requirements set forth in a document such as the Bible or the Koran. Given this intimate connection between the spiritual and material, success in the physical world flowed directly from an individual's spiritual status. In the words of Frederic Gleach, "Power--the ability to act rightly--was derived from the individual's connections with the various spirits." (25)

Within this worldview, Powhatan's rise to leadership and his success in creating the paramount chiefdom marked him as a man of considerable spiritual power, so much so that he as well as the lesser weroances who governed the outlying districts and the chief priests were all accorded the status of quioccosuks, or "gods on Earth." While cognizant of a godlike quality in Powhatan's bearing, the English were generally unaware of the spiritual underpinnings of Powhatan's power. They therefore ascribed his authority to a kind of absolutism similar to that which under-girded their own kingships. William Strachey's writings upon encountering Powhatan demonstrate this misconception: "It is strange to see with what great fear and adoration all these people do obey this Powhatan, for at his feet they present whatsoever he commands, and at the least frown of his brow, the greatest punishing such as offend him." The failure to understand Powhatan cultural foundations such as this explains much of the resulting conflicts that ensued between the two groups. (26)


Since alliances represented one of the primary tools Powhatan utilized to maintain his chiefdom, and given the connection between spirituality and leadership discussed above, Powhatan's strategy had to have taken on a meaning far beyond the geopolitical connotations it assumes in Western cultures. In other words, Powhatan would have credited his decision to shore up his authority and territory via the use of strategic alliances not by the strategy's particular practical utility but by its adherence to the specific spiritual instructions he received via his own interactions with the supernatural world.

The Powhatans sealed relationships such as trading agreements and alliances via the creation of a kinship tie between the two individuals or groups involved. Since they could only form that kinship tie (being matrilineal) through a connection to a female member of the group, these spiritually imbued alliances also indicate much about the role of gender in Powhatan society. Specifically, the most famous instance of the female role in Powhatan alliances, Pocahontas's alleged rescue of John Smith and her subsequent marriage to John Rolfe, provides us a model through which we can analyze the later actions of Cockacoeske.

Smith's rescue by the "Indian princess" Pocahontas (who had become a celebrity in London by the time of his writing of the account) sold books and has continued to inspire feature films, but is any of it true? By far, the largest group of scholars agrees that it is highly likely that if Powhatan had wanted Smith to die, he would not have attempted to kill him in the manner Smith described. Given the available evidence, it seems most likely that the events of his rescue by Pocahontas (or perhaps another Indian female) may actually have occurred but that they were part of an Algonquian adoption ritual. According to the available ethnographic information on the Powhatan and other similar Algonquian groups, the ritual sought to admit Smith and the Englishmen to the Powhatan physical world and to create a kin relationship between the two men. In the Algonquian worldview, such a relationship would not only assure peaceful relations between the two groups but would also commit the Englishmen, and their very powerful weapons, to join Powhatan in his wars against the many enemies that surrounded his chiefdom. (27)

Whether an actual ritual occurred or whether Pocahontas participated in that ritual is in many ways irrelevant to understanding the future of English-Indian relations in early Virginia. However, the apparent agreement made between Powhatan and John Smith in which Smith agreed to provide hatchets and copper in return for food constitutes the real key to understanding the years that followed. (28) The sources also indicate that both Smith and Powhatan later referred to an agreement existing between them. At subsequent meetings between the two, Powhatan chastised Smith for failing to live up to his kinship relations to the paramount chief. Furthermore, years later in England, Pocahontas herself admonished Smith in the same fashion but also revealed her father's still-abiding faith that Smith, as a kinsman, would reveal to her and her traveling companion, an Algonquian holy man named Uttamatomakkin, Powhatan's chosen emissaries, the truth: "You did promise Powhatan what was yours should be his, and he the like to you.... They did tell us always you were dead, and I knew no other till I came to Plymouth; yet Powhatan did command Uttamatomakkin to seek you, and know the truth, because your countrymen will lie much." (29)

In light of the preponderance of evidence, John Smith seems most likely to have entered into a kinship relationship with Powhatan. Furthermore, in order to do so, Smith would have had to either marry an Algonquian woman (an event for which there exists absolutely no evidence) or obtain the sponsorship of a Powhatan female through which he could obtain membership in the group and also a kin relationship to Powhatan himself. Pocahontas seems a likely candidate to have provided him that entree, but so were any number of Powhatan's female kin. The identity of the female through which Powhatan hoped to establish the kin relationship is decidedly less important than the fact that such a relationship could only be achieved via a woman. We know that Powhatan based much of his authority on his access to a tremendous amount of spiritual power and that alliance through marriage or adoption represented one of his most utilized tools for the maintenance of that authority. We can therefore rest assured that Powhatan women played a crucial role in both the geopolitical success of the chiefdom and the preservation of Powhatan's relationship to his spiritual guides. (30)

The next major episode from Pocahontas's life also supports this conclusion. In addition to her interaction with Smith and the early settlers of Jamestown, Pocahontas also gained fame through her conversion to Christianity and her marriage to John Rolfe. Her English acquaintances, early historians, and the general public traditionally interpreted these events from her adult life as indication that she, unlike her recalcitrant father and uncle, eventually realized both the error of her savage ways and the benefits of adopting an English lifestyle. Both English colonists and later Americans viewed these events in this manner because of what historian Daniel Richter has referred to as their "westward-facing perspective." Given both the early colonists' extremely limited knowledge of Powhatan traditions and the preference of later generations for a romantic brand of nationalism, it is not surprising that a more nuanced interpretation based upon the Algonquian culture that produced Pocahontas failed to appear. (31)

If we follow Richter's advice, however, and "face east," then Pocahontas's marriage to Rolfe, her conversion to Christianity, and her fateful voyage to England take on an entirely new meaning. By the time of her marriage, her father certainly realized that his attempt to create an inviolable kinship between himself and the English through John Smith had failed. Even if Powhatan held out hope that the Englishman would one day live up to the obligations of that bond, Smith's return to England in 1609 due to burns suffered in a gunpowder explosion robbed the mamanatowick of the conduit through which to utilize the relationship. A new hope for such a kinship tie appeared when John Rolfe proposed to marry Pocahontas in 1614. According to Richter, both sides viewed the marriage "as an act of diplomatic alliance--vastly strengthening already existing connections." With this fictive kinship established via the marriage, "the ceremonial, political, and economic basis for peace, as the people of Tsenacommacah understood the concept, became possible" In this light, both Powhatan's willing acceptance of the match (despite the fact that it occurred while the English held his daughter captive) and his encouragement of her visit to England represent more an attempt (of her own behest or under orders from her father) to offer the English an opportunity to relate to the Powhatans on Algonquian terms. In the words of Richter, "when Pocahontas took the name Rebecca and went to live among Europeans, she did so not to abandon her culture but to incorporate the English into her Native world, to make it possible for them to live in Indian country by Indian rules." (32)

Of course, events intervened in Pocahontas's attempt to forge a peace based upon Algonquian notions of kinship. The peace sealed by the marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas barely outlasted the marriage itself. Pocahontas died while visiting England in 1617 with her husband and young son Thomas. Her father, having since relinquished titular and de facto leadership of the chiefdom to his brothers Opitchapam and Opechancanough, respectively, died in April 1618. (33)


Virginia governor William Berkeley's capture of Opechancanough and the dismantling of the Powhatan Chiefdom in 1646 seriously damaged notions of masculinity among the men of the surviving Powhatan groups. The 1646 treaty, which placed the remnants of the chiefdom in a tributary relationship to the Virginia government and confined them to reservations, referred to a man named Necotowance as "King of the Indians." Little evidence of him exists both before and after the signing of the treaty, but the combination of his designation as the leader of the Indian delegation and the likelihood that he ascended to that position via a kinship connection to the now-dead Opechancanough indicates that he was more than likely a Pamunkey. Since the Pamunkeys were Opechancanough's natal group, their leaders exercised the most significant amount of authority over the other tributary groups during the next forty years. They therefore represent the best group among which to investigate the aftermath of the chiefdom's defeat. (34)

Until recently, most scholars have assumed that the reservation (like most throughout history) represented the worst possible and therefore least desirable piece of land in the area. Certainly, from an English standpoint those accounts are correct. The English had little use for the swampy area at the lower end of the land between the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers known as Pamunkey Neck that eventually became the Pamunkey Reservation. However, recent work argues very convincingly that far from "getting stuck" with their particular reservation, the Pamunkeys very skillfully selected the site because it offered them the best hope of retaining the greatest amount of their traditional lifeways. The Pamunkey Neck area provided ready access to the ecosystems that had produced many of the flora that Virginia Algonquians had relied upon as a vital component of their subsistence long before the arrival of the English. The Pamunkeys had also lived in the general area of the Pamunkey Neck (albeit on more acreage than they were granted after the Powhatan Wars) for generations and were therefore adept at growing crops there. However, the traditional Pamunkey subsistence system relied on an additional component beyond foraging and agriculture. The tributary relationship between Virginia and the Pamunkeys as outlined in the 1646 treaty severely restricted the movements of Pamunkey men to the point that they were often unable to engage in the hunting and fishing that had from time immemorial represented the male contribution to a balanced subsistence. Their inability to do so created a spiritual imbalance and threw Pamunkey gender relations into crisis. (35)

As discussed earlier, spirituality permeated all aspects of Algonquian culture. Any idea, ceremony, or item considered important in the material world had to be accounted for and connected to the spiritual world. This also applied to Pamunkey gender concepts. In general, the Indian groups of the Southeast all adhered to a gendered division of labor, and the Pamunkeys were no different. Despite English and later American interpretations that southeastern Indians considered women as "drudges," this sexual division of labor actually flowed directly from spiritual sources. Much like most Native American cultures, southeastern Indians conceived of the world as a place rooted in dualities. That duality, ordained by their creator, manifested itself in such things as the sun and the moon, peace leaders and war leaders, angry deities and peaceful deities, and women and men. In order to live according to the directives of the powerful spirits that created them, the group and the individual had to maintain a balance between all of the opposing forces in the universe. Therefore, when their cosmologies iterated different roles for men and women, those differing roles reflected the very powerful and opposing spiritual forces found within each gender. (36)

We possess very little direct evidence of Powhatan cosmology, and what we do have was written by European men and therefore contains virtually no information regarding the spiritual origins of gender roles. However, as people of the larger southeastern Indian culture area, the Pamunkey gender divisions observed by colonists more than likely stemmed from the same spiritual sources as those found among the better-documented groups such as the Cherokees. Furthermore, in every other aspect of their cosmology, the Powhatan groups adhered to a dualistic conception of the universe. Thus, it seems highly probable that this spiritually designed duality applied to the relationship between male and female as well. (37) Finally, Powhatan women exhibited a degree of control over their own produce as well as sexual freedom that one would not expect to find among women under the domination of men. Once again in the words of Helen Rountree, "Far from being unwilling victims who were made to do the farming by lazy males, they knew their work, made doing it a social occasion and reaped a reward of power in the family for their efforts." (38)

Given this spiritually mandated division of Pamunkey labor, the latter half of the seventeenth century must have been very difficult for Pamunkey men and by extension the rest of the people. The provisions of the 1646 treaty that placed limitations on their travel denied them the opportunity to fulfill their spiritual obligations of hunting and fishing. The fact that later in the century the Pamunkeys petitioned the government of Virginia for permission to fish outside their reserved lands demonstrates the distressing nature of the situation for Pamunkey men. (39)

In similar situations, eastern woodlands Native cultures interpreted events similar to the subjugation and breakup of the Powhatan chiefdom as the result of the loss of spiritual power. This interpretation often gave rise to nativistic religious movements such as those associated with the Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa and the Delaware holy man Neolin. These movements often represented desperate attempts to restore the lack of spiritual power by correcting the original imbalance. With the exception of the negative effects caused by an imbalance in their world, Pamunkey women in the tributary era managed to perform their traditional roles in much the same fashion as before the English arrived. Common Pamunkey women directed the foraging and agricultural activities of the village. In the mid-1650s a member of the Pamunkey ruling family, much like her more famous kinswoman Pocahontas, seized an opportunity to fulfill the traditional Algonquian female role of diplomat and through that role reestablish both the chiefdom as a political unit and its attendant spiritual power. (40)


Within three years of the conclusion of the Anglo-Powhatan Wars in 1646, Necotowance disappeared from the historical record. Virginia records refer to his successor, a Pamunkey man called Totopotomoy, as "King of the Pamunkeys" rather than "King of the Indians," the moniker they applied to Necotowance. The change in title as well as a legislative act from the same year that redistributed Indian lands equally among all the remnants of the Powhatan chiefdom had to have hammered home the totality of the Pamunkeys' rapid fall from power and the depths to which their access to sources of spiritual power had plunged. Less than fifty years before, the Pamunkeys occupied a preeminent place among the leadership of one of the most powerful Native polities in North America, but by the middle of the seventeenth century they paid tribute to the English governor of the colony of Virginia. (41)

By all accounts, Totopotomoy, fully grasping the reality of the Pamunkeys' situation and more than likely reeling from the effects of the attendant gender and spiritual crisis brought on by it, saw obedience to the colony's leadership as the surest way to ensure his people's long-term existence. The English failed to appreciate his fealty. By 1656 large numbers of English settlers had invaded the territories of the tributary Indians, further shrinking their land base and, more importantly, depleting what little game was left on Pamunkey lands. The situation on the Pamunkey Reservation now included not only gender and spiritual calamities but also starvation. That same year, in his last act of fidelity to his English overlords, Totopotomoy led a group of Pamunkey warriors on a joint expedition with the Virginians against a western Indian group the colonists referred to as Richahecrians that had recently settled near the falls of the James River. The ensuing battle cost Totopotomoy his life and thrust his wife, Cockacoeske, by all accounts a blood relative of Opechancanough, into the leadership of the Pamunkey people. (42)

Cockacoeske's ascendancy coincided with the nadir of Pamunkey masculinity. As already noted, the inability of Pamunkey men to contribute to the group's traditional subsistence system had produced a spiritually rooted masculinity crisis among them. Now in 1656 the almost complete annihilation of Totopotomoy's war party at the falls of the James River had to have compounded that crisis considerably. All avenues for male Pamunkeys to demonstrate their connection to spiritual power in the same way as Powhatan during the golden age of the chiefdom were now closed. The only routes to the kind of spiritual and temporal power once wielded by Powhatan now left were those controlled by women. Therefore, Cockacoeske's rise to power occurred at a most opportune moment.

Despite the fact that Pocahontas occupies a significant space in the collective memory of Americans, Cockacoeske represents the more successful example of Algonquian female diplomacy. Specifically, Cockacoeske possessed two distinct advantages that eluded her ancestral kinswoman, though both at least partially represented a direct result of Pocahontas's sacrifice. In the fifty years since the English arrived, the Algonquians of Virginia had learned a considerable amount about the ways in which English colonial politics, social relations, familial relations, and economic relationships worked. Additionally, Cockacoeske, through the advantages that derived from her position as a female Pamunkey leader, was able to embark upon a decidedly ambitious agenda that was simply not possible for her late husband. She aimed to restore the Pamunkeys to overlordship of the area tribes and re-create the paramount chiefdom as much as possible. The knowledge handed down to her over the years regarding English gender relations and political institutions proved invaluable to her in this mission.

Either immediately after Totopotomoy's death in 1656 or very likely while he was still alive, Cockacoeske gave birth to a son, whom she named John West after the boy's father, Col. John West, who owned a nearby plantation on Pamunkey Neck. Colonel West was no average tobacco planter either. His grandfather, Sir Thomas West, also known as the 12th Baron De La Warre, served as governor of Virginia from 1610 to his death in 1618. On the surface, one might today interpret Cockacoeske's sexual relationship with West as simply nothing more than another example of the unequal power relationships between colonizer and colonized in which a male colonist sees not only the land as his to dominate but also the women of that land. Conversely, many colonists at the time more than likely viewed her relationship with West as proof of the sexual depravity rampant among heathen savages. A careful examination of the written as well as the ethnographic evidence suggests another interpretation. (43)

Cockacoeske's relationship with Colonel West constituted a culturally based diplomatic strategy on her part that was aimed to provide her with a kinship connection to a powerful Virginia figure, but one that would not require her to surrender any of her own personal autonomy, as Pocahontas had done by marrying Rolfe on Anglo-Christian terms. If Totopotomoy were still alive when she and West conceived their son (and a comparison of the date of the child's birth with that of Totopotomoy's death seems to indicate that he was), he was more than likely aware of the liaison, as it was a common practice among Virginia Algonquians. Not only did they practice polygyny, but Virginia Algonquian marriages also allowed women and men a considerable amount of sexual freedom. This was particularly the case among chiefly marriages, which were often arranged pairings that according to traditional practice required the couple to separate after the birth of their first child. According to Rountree, "affairs, permitted to women with husbands' permission (apparently often given) and seemingly free for men to engage in, were less likely to cause jealousy if husband and wife were not even supposed to be emotionally close." Thus, Cockacoeske's engaging in sex with a man outside her marriage was in keeping with Algonquian cultural norms. (44)

Nevertheless, the acceptability of extramarital sexual relationships among the Powhatans does not in itself prove that Cockacoeske's affair with West represented a concerted political strategy on her part. However, combined with previously discussed Powhatan customs regarding the role of females in establishing political and economic relationships (which in Pocahontas's time were usually only achieved either through sponsoring adoptees or through marriage), the crisis in gender relations among the Pamunkeys discussed above, the rise of the "go-between" as a preferred means of diplomacy between Native groups and Europeans during this period, and the very credible evidence we have of Cockacoeske's considerable political acumen, it seems possible that she engaged in the relationship for more than sex. (45) A relationship with a powerful colonist like West gave her access to inside knowledge of colonial affairs. The product of the relationship, her son, John, provided an opportunity to create her own go-between who could straddle the line between the cultures. Yet, unlike Pocahontas, since the affair was a sexual one and not an English marriage, Cockacoeske did not have to acquiesce to the repressive gender norms codified in European ecclesiastical and legal strictures regarding marriage. Whereas, in Pocahontas's time, marriage represented a diplomatic and political strategy and extramarital affairs functioned as a way of ameliorating the negatives of that strategy, Cockacoeske's experience points to a new formulation based upon her understanding of European legal and social structures. For her, sex represented a viable political strategy when dealing with Virginians both because of its lack of the restrictions that came with English marriage and because of the very real possibility of producing a cultural go-between. (46)

In addition to her knowledge of English gender relations and the perils of becoming enmeshed in them, Cockacoeske demonstrated over the course of thirty years as weroansqua a deep understanding of the workings of Virginia's political and legal systems, two more areas in which she possessed considerable advantages over Pocahontas, Powhatan, and Opechancanough. In addition to acting as the official emissary of her people to the colonial government on several occasions, she seems to have used the occasions of her trips to Jamestown to cultivate political relationships with such powerful individuals as Deputy Governor Francis Moryson. This relationship would serve her quite well when he returned in 1677 as a member of the commission sent by King Charles II to deal with the aftermath of Bacon's Rebellion. The fact that Sir William Berkeley called on her for support very early on during Bacon's Rebellion also indicates her political connections. Finally, her demeanor upon addressing the assembly in response to Berkeley's request bespeaks a confidence on her part that could only have come from the knowledge that she was a very powerful political figure not just among her own people but among the Virginians as well. However, in this instance, she seems to have overestimated that power, and it nearly cost her her life. (47)

According to a contemporary account, Cockacoeske, dressed in traditional Algonquian ceremonial attire, "entered the chamber with a comportment graceful to admiration." She also brought her son, John West, now twenty years old. During this audience she spoke only through her personal interpreter despite the fact that she was more than likely very fluent in English. When asked how many warriors she would supply to an expedition against the foreign Indians involved in the initial raids of the rebellion, she let forth with an emotionally charged "harangue [that lasted] about a quarter of an hour, often interlacing with a high shrill voice and vehement passion these words, 'Tatapatamoi Chepiacke,' i.e., Totopotomoy dead." According to one historian, this reference was surely meant to remind the assembly that her husband and his entire party had died under the exact same circumstances, which seems logical, but the few interpretations we have of this very interesting audience do not go far enough. They fail to answer the question of what exactly Cockacoeske hoped to gain by responding to the assembly's request in this manner. According to the ethnographic evidence, she had been forced to marry Totopotomoy and therefore felt little emotional connection to him; by that point, he had been dead for twenty years. Surely, her emotional reaction to the request did not stem from grief. Her eventual contribution to the campaign against the Susquehannocks provides a possible clue to her motivations. Despite the fact that she had at her command as many as 150 warriors, Cockacoeske in the end contributed only 12 of them to the campaign, and there are indications that she demanded compensation for them. In this light, her emotional outburst seems more a shrewd political stratagem designed to satisfy the Virginians of her loyalty while at the same time incurring the least possible amount of loss to her own warrior base and ensuring that her people would receive some measure of economic settlement for whatever losses they suffered. Her husband had done none of these things in 1656, and it nearly destroyed the Pamunkeys as a people. Whereas his goal had been simply to survive by pleasing the English in every way possible, hers was the reconstruction of the paramount chiefdom and the Pamunkey role in its leadership structure. She could not accomplish this goal if her Warriors took massive casualties every time the Virginians got their blood up against other Native groups. This kind of shrewd political maneuvering foreshadowed the very savvy ways in which Cockacoeske manipulated the Treaty of Middle Plantation, which was signed after Bacon's Rebellion to the maximum benefit of herself and her people. However, in the immediate future, this strategy might have caused her more harm than good. It played right into the hands of a man like Nathaniel Bacon, who to motivate his "people's army" only had to point to the female Pamunkey who seemed to have gotten away with the kind of impertinence toward the colony's patrician leadership that would have earned any member of the nonelite classes a severe reprisal. If the elites whom she rudely addressed would not teach her a lesson about the proper place of a woman and Indian, he reasoned, then he and his men would. (48)

Yet, as stated previously, Virginia Indians did not completely disappear but managed to maintain a legal foothold for continued existence there. The origins of this persistence lie in the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation, which served as the official negotiated settlement between patricians, plebeians, middling Virginians, and Indians at the close of Bacon's Rebellion. In the negotiations that led to the signing of the treaty, Cockacoeske made use of her recognized stature as a spokesperson for Virginia's tributary Indians, her son's status as a cultural go-between, and her previous relationship with Francis Moryson to win the king's commissioners to her position that the other tributary groups should be placed under her leadership. In their official report, Moryson and the other commissioners referred to her as "a faithful friend to and lover of the English." Two months after that report, Cockacoeske was summoned to the official signing of the Treaty of Middle Plantation. Article XII of the treaty held particular interest for her. (49)
   That each Indian King and Queen have equal power to govern their
   own people, except the Queen of Pamunkey to whom several scattered
   Indians do now again own their ancient Subjection and are agreed to
   come in and plant themselves under power and government who with
   her are also hereby included in this present League and treaty of
   peace and are to keep and observe the same towards the said Queen
   in all things as her subjects as well as towards the English. (50)

In addition to this provision, an earlier one stipulated that Cockacoeske and the other Indian leaders held their land and their titles as so-called kings and queens as dependents of the king of England. Therefore, the two passages taken together demonstrate that Cockacoeske had managed to reestablish her people's leadership over the remnants of Powhatan's chiefdom by careful manipulation of English legal and political structures. Rather than reestablishing the chieftainship by force, as Powhatan or Opechancanough might have done under the same circumstances, she skillfully maneuvered the English government into doing it for her. Obviously, the nature and extent of her rule over the former Powhatan groups differed considerably from that of her forebears.

She experienced considerable resistance from the groups she was to rule over and from various colonists who refused to live up to their part of the agreement as well. However, the simple act of getting the language inserted into the treaty represents a significant victory for a people considered completely dominated and without recourse by many historians and for an oft-forgotten woman operating in the extremely foreign and male-dominated world of late seventeenth-century Virginia politics. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, thanks to her, Cockacoeske's people still endure today in the land her kinsman Powhatan once ruled as paramount chief. (51)


I would like to extend my sincere thanks to many individuals who contributed to the evolution of this article, including Helen Rountree, Margaret Holmes Williamson, Paul Kelton, Theda Perdue, Tai Edwards, and Christina Gish-Berndt, all of whom served as either commentators or copanelists with me at the two meetings of the American Society for Ethnohistory at which many of the ideas in this article were presented. Additionally, many thanks are due to Texas Tech colleagues Aliza Wong and Julie Willett and the anonymous readers and editors of American Indian Quarterly for their suggestions and unwavering support of this article.

(1.) Nathaniel Bacon, "Manifesto Concerning the Present Troubles in Virginia," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 1 (1894): 55-58.

(2.) The term weroance was used both by the English colonists and by later scholars to refer to both the village-level leaders of the Powhatan Chiefdom as well as the leaders of the various remnants of that same chiefdom after their defeat by the Virginians in 1646. Weroansqua constitutes the term utilized to denote a female occupying such a position of power. Alternatively, Cockacoeske has also been referred to as the Queen of Pamunkey. Therefore, I have chosen to use the terms interchangeably with the caveat that the latter title certainly represents a European misunderstanding of the nature of her authority. See Helen Rountree, Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 6, 8, 98; and Martha W. McCartney, "Cockacoeske, Queen of Pamunkey: Diplomat and Suzeraine," in Powhatan's Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast, edited by Gregory A. Waselkov, Peter H. Wood, and Tom Hatley, revised and expanded edition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 243-66.

(3.) "A True Narrative of the Rise, Progress and Cessation of the Late Rebellion in Virginia most humbly and impartially reported by his Majesty's Commissioners appointed to enquire into the affairs of the said Colony" (ca. 1676), CO 5/1371, Public Record Office, National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England; Wilcomb Washburn, The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), 74-75; Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: Norton, 1975), 268; Anonymous, A Narrative of the Indian and Civil Wars in Virginia, in the Years 1675 and 1676, published from the original manuscript, in the first volume (second series) of the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston: Printed by John Eliot, No. 5, Court Street, 1814), 23.

(4.) "A True Narrative"; Washburn, The Governor, 76; Anonymous, A Narrative, 21-31.

(5.) Daniel Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History, of Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 200l), 109. I quote from Richter's masterful synthesis of early American history, which challenges lay readers and scholars alike to reimagine the colonial period from the perspective of those Native people who looked east and met the colonizers at the water's edge. When we do so, the motivations of Native actors such as Cockacoeske take on more complex and dynamic meanings and thus, I think, bring us closer to their realities.

(6.) Garcilaso de la Vega, Florida of the Inca, edited and translated by John Varner and Jeannette Varner (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1951), 487-89; Jon L. Gibson, "Aboriginal Warfare in the Protohistoric Southeast: An Alternative Perspective," American Antiquity 39 (January 1974): 130-33; Alfred Kroeber, Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953), 148; Lewis H. Larson, "Functional Considerations of Warfare in the Southeast during the Mississippi Period," American Antiquity 37 (July 1972): 383-92.

(7.) D. Bruce Dickson, "The Yanomamo of the Mississippi Valley? Some Reflections on Larson (1972), Gibson (1974) and Mississippian Warfare in the Southeastern United States," American Antiquity 46 (October 1981): 909-16; Larson, "Functional Considerations," 383-92; George Milner, Eve Anderson, and Virginia G. Smith, "Warfare in Late Prehistoric West-Central Illinois," American Antiquity 56 (October 1991): 581-603.

(8.) Helen Rountree and E. Randolph Turner, Before and after Jamestown: Virginia's Powhatans and Their Predecessors (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002), 36-51.

(9.) Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage, 3rd ed., 954, available from Early English Books Online. According to Helen Rountree, "All of the English writers who mentioned the matter agreed that Powhatan's 'empire' had been a recent development and was, to some extent, still forming. Powhatan originally inherited chiefdoms in the upper James and York river basins; from there he either conquered other groups or intimidated them into joining his organization. Kecoughtan was added through conquest around 1597. The Chesapeakes were known--or remembered, since their conquest date is uncertain--as enemies. Powhatan was also willing to attack the Piankatanks, one of his own chiefdoms whose loyalty he doubted" (The Powhatan Indians of Virginia [Norman: University of Oldahoma Press, 1989], 140).

(10.) Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage, 952; Frederic W. Gleach, Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 38-40; Rountree provides the most detailed explanation of the huskanaw ceremony itself (The Powhatan Indians, 80-84); Gleach, Powhatan's World, 42-43.

(11.) Smith, "A Map of Virginia," in The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, edited by Philip L. Barbour (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 1:150; Helen Rountree and Thomas E. Davidson, Eastern Shore Indians of Virginia and Maryland (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997), 32.

(12.) Rountree, The Powhatan Indians, 141; Smith and Davidson, Eastern Shore Indians, 30-43.

(13.) William Strachey, History of Travel into Virginia Britannia, edited by Louis B. Wright and Virginia Freund (London: Hakluyt Society, 1953), 68; Rountree, The Powhatan Indians, 118-19.

(14.) Rountree, The Powhatan Indians, 119; Strachey, History of Travel, 44.

(15.) Rountree, The Powhatan Indians, 120-21, 140; Strachey, History of Travel, 104-5.

(16.) Rountree is the main scholar to have characterized the Potomac River Algonquians in this fashion: "The chiefdoms of the southern shore of the Potomac and of the Eastern Shore were, according to Powhatan's accounts and occasionally to their own, officially part of the empire, but in fact they were a 'fringe' on the new ethnic group that the paramount chief was trying to create" (The Powhatan Indians, 4, 147-48).

(17.) Strachey, History of Travel, 68-69; Rountree, The Powhatan Indians, 122, 8; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 10.

(18.) John Smith, "The General History of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles," in Barbour, The Complete Works, 2:175-76; Martin Gallivan, James River Chiefdoms: The Rise of Social Inequality in the Chesapeake (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), 11.

(19.) Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 25; Helen Rountree, "The Powhatans and Other Woodland Indians as Travelers," in Powhatan Foreign Relations, 1500-1722, edited by Helen Rountree (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia), 22; Smith, "A Map of Virginia," 1:160; Strachey, History of Travel, 104.

(20.) Strachey, History of Travel, 47-48; Rountree, The Powhatan Indians, 120; Thomas Davidson, "Relations Between the Powhatans and the Eastern Shore," in Rountree, Powhatan Foreign Relations, 151.

(21.) Strachey, History of Travel, 35, 106-7.

(22.) See Jeffrey Hantman, "Between Powhatan and Quirank: Reconstructing Monacan Culture and History in the Context of Jamestown," American Anthropologist, n.s., 92, no. 3 (1990): 676-69; Gallivan, James River Chiefdoms, 34-37. If these newer estimates of Siouan population in the region are accurate, one immediately wonders what happened to them. Why are the Powhatans (who numbered somewhere around fourteen thousand) considered the dominant group in immediate precontact and contact era Virginia? That they were the group closest to Jamestown represents one possible and very logical answer, but, as mentioned above, John Smith made contact with the Siouans of western Virginia as early as 1608. The idea that since Smith and the other colonists' more frequent interaction with the eastern Algonquians of Powhatan's chiefdom explains the almost complete disappearance of such a large group from the postcontact historical record seems therefore incorrect or at least incomplete. Not long after Smith encountered them, Capt. Christopher Newport led 120 men on an expedition to Monacan territory. Before he turned back due to his disappointment at not having found any large-scale deposits of gold, he had visited two principal Monacan towns and mapped three others. His expedition provided the background for Smith's inclusion of the Monacan towns on his 1608 map of the lands west of the James River. Seventeenth-century Virginia colonists had to have been aware of the relative location and size of the western Virginia Siouan groups. See Rountree and Turner, Before and after Jamestown, 36-51; Strachey, History of Travel, 35, 106-7. Clues to the late of the seventeenth century western Virginia Siouan groups are spotty at best. Beyond the initial contacts made by Smith and others in the first months of the Jamestown expedition, the English did not penetrate the western reaches of Virginia until much later in the century. Furthermore, the Monacans adopted a strategy of avoidance concerning European invaders, thus further shrouding the historical record of their existence, and by the time Virginians began to conduct semiregular forays into the foothills of the Blue Ridge and beyond, the Siouan population of Virginia had plummeted precipitously. A 1669 census of Virginia Indians included the Monacans as the only western Siouan group. According to the count, only 100 to 120 individuals remained of a group that has been estimated at approximately 15,000 in 1607. Recent work by Paul Kelton suggests that their ensnarement in the growing Indian slave trade being run out of Virginia doomed western Siouans via a fatal combination of warfare and disease (Epidemics and Enslavement: Biological Catastrophe in the Native Southeast, 1492-1715 [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007], 216-17).

(23.) Gallivan, James River Chiefdoms, 34-37.

(24.) Gleach, Powhatan's World, 27-31; Rountree, "Who Were the Powhatans and Did They Have a Unified 'Foreign Policy'?," in Rountree, Powhatan Foreign Relations, 1-20.

(25.) Gleach, Powhatan's World, 36-37. Gleach bases his analysis of Algonquian culture on other major anthropological studies of Algonquian peoples, including William S. Simmons, Spirit of the New England Tribes: Indian History and Folklore, 1620-1984 (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England), and A. Irving Hallowell, "Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior and World View," in Contributions to Anthropology: Selected Papers of A. Irving Hallowell, edited by Raymond D. Fogelson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).

(26.) Gleach, Powhatan's World, 31; Strachey, History of Travel, 59-61.

(27.) Camilla Townsend, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 52-57; Gleach, Powhatan's World, 112-22; Margaret Holmes Williamson, Powhatan Lords of Life and Death: Command and Consent in Seventeenth-Century Virginia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), 65-72; Kathleen Brown, "In Search of Pocahontas," in The Human Tradition in Colonial America, edited by Ian Steel and Nancy Rhoden (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1999); Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000); Richter, Facing East; Philip L. Barbour, Pocahontas and Her World (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970). For her part, Helen Rountree does not preclude the possibility that an adoption or admittance-type ritual involving John Smith and Powhatan occurred. However, she remains adamant that the sequence of events involving his near death by clubbing and Pocahontas's speaking out for his life could not have occurred.

(28.) Camilla Townsend has likewise recently argued that the idea of Powhatan establishing a kinship tie with Smith makes sense regardless of the validity of Smith's account of his supposed rescue: "Adopting Smith would have been in keeping with Algonquian culture" (Pocahontas, 56).

(29.) Smith, "The General History," 2:150-53, quote from 261.

(30.) This same configuration of matrilineage, kin-based alliance networks, and female power has also appeared in works dealing with the Cherokees, the Indians of precolonial Texas and the desert Southwest. See Theda Perdue, Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999); Juliana Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); and James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

(31.) Richter, Facing East, 76-77.

(32.) Richter, Facing East, 78.

(33.) While Opitchapam was the next brother in the matrilineage and therefore acceded to the title of mamanatowick, be was regarded as too old and mentally unstable to lead the chiefdom. Opechancanough seems to have made nearly all major decisions for his older brother until Opitchapam's death sometime in the 1630s, at which time Opechancanough exercised both titular and practical leadership of the chiefdom. See Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 66, 81.

(34.) William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in 1619 (New York: R. & W. & G. Bartow, 1823), 2:323; Gleach, Powhatan's World, 178-81.

(35.) Helen Rountree, "How Natural Resources Have Directly Affected Pamunkey Indian History," paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Ethnohistory, Williamsburg, Virginia, November 1-5, 2006; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 110-13; Helen Rountree, "Powhatan Indian Women: The People Captain John Smith Barely Saw," Ethnohistory 45, no. 1 (1998): 1-29.

(36.) Gleach, Powhatan's World, 35-37. For an excellent example of this spiritually mandated gender division, see Perdue, Cherokee Women, 13-15.

(37.) Rountree, The Powhatan Indians, 126-39; Gleach, Powhatan's World, 35-39.

(38.) Rountree, "Powhatan Indian Women," 20.

(39.) H. R. McIlwaine, Journals of the House of Burgesses (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1915), 2:89.

(40.) For more on the connection between the loss of spiritual power as a Native explanation for physical defeat, see Greg Dowd, A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Joel Martin, Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees' Struggle for a New World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993); and Alice B. Kehoe, The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization, 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2006).

(41.) McCartney, "Cockacoeske, Queen of Pamunkey," 245; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 91.

(42.) Hening, The Statutes at Large, 2:402-3; McCartney, "Cockacoeske, Queen of Pamunkey," 245; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 93.

(43.) McCartney, "Cockacoeske, Queen of Pamunkey," 255; Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 112.

(44.) Rountree, "Powhatan Indian Women," 22.

(45.) Rountree, "Powhatan Indian Women," 22. For more on the rise of the "go-between" form of diplomacy in North America, see James Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York: Norton, 2000). For an example of the multitude of ways in which women possessed particular characteristics that aided the process of intercultural exchange and peacemaking in North America, see Brooks, Captives and Cousins; and Barr, Peace Came. Additionally, there has been significant work done on the singular ability of Native Women to serve as cultural brokers not only in North America but also in Latin America and Canada, including Frances Karttunen, Between Worlds: Interpreters, Guides, and Survivors (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994); Alida C. Metcalf, Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500-1600 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005); Camilla Townsend, Malintzin's Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006); and Bunny McBride, Women of the Dawn (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).

(46.) The evidence seems to indicate that Col. John West was actually more invested in the emotional aspects of the relationship than Cockacoeske. In fact, his descendants acknowledge a family story handed down through the years that West's English wife left him because of his continuing attachment to the Queen of Pamunkey (Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 112). Rountree cites the fact that both Cockacoeske and her son used a W as their official mark as evidence of a similar emotional attachment on their part. While I don't discount this possibility, it could just as easily signify Cockacoeske's realization that displaying her and her son's relationship to West represented their entree into the political power structure of the colony.

(47.) McCartney, "Cockacoeske: Queen of Pamunkey," 246-47; Peter Force, Tracts and Other Papers Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America, vol. 1, bk. 8 (Gloucester, VA: Peter Smith, 1963), 14-16.

(48.) Force, Tracts, vol. 1, bk. 8, 14-16; McCartney, "Cockacoeske: Queen of Pamunkey," 246-47; "A True Narrative," 187-205; Thomas Mathew, "The Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon's Rebellion, 1675-1676 [1705]" in Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690, ed. Charles McLean Andrews (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1915), 25-27; Hening, The Statutes at Large, 2:341-65; Washburn, The Governor, 54-55; Morgan, American Slavery, 263-64.

(49.) McCartney, "Cockacoeske, Queen of Pamunkey," 249-51.

(50.) "Treaty of Middle Plantation," in Samuel Wiseman's Book of Record, edited by Michael Leroy Oberg (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005), 134-41.

(51.) "Treaty of Middle Plantation"; McCartney, "Cockacoeske, Queen of Pamunkey," 250.
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Author:Schmidt, Ethan A.
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Jun 22, 2012
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