Dinsmore Documentation  presents  Classics of American Colonial History

Author: Bruce, Philip A.
Title: Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Material Condition of the People, Based on Original and Contemporaneous Records.
Citation: New York: MacMillan and Co., 1896
Subdivision: Chapter III
HTML by Dinsmore Documentation * Added June 22, 2002
◄Chapter II   Table of Contents   Chapter IV►




In describing the economical methods of the Indians, I propose to confine myself in general to those aspects of the subject which throw a direct or indirect light upon the natural resources of Virginia at the time of the arrival of the English colonists in 1607. One of the most important presenting itself to consideration is the extent of the aboriginal population inhabiting the territory that was the first seat of the English settlers. This narrows the inquiry to the number of the members of the Powhatan Confederacy, who had their residence in the lower valleys of the Powhatan, Pamunkey, Pyanketank, Rappahannock, and Potomac, and on the Accomac Peninsula. There is a marked discrepancy between the general enumerations of Smith and Strachey, the two authors upon whom we have to rely. Smith calculated that the Indians to be found within sixty miles of Jamestown did not exceed five thousand in all,1 and his statement should properly carry unusual weight, because there was no man in the Colony during the time of his connection with it, with the exception of Spelman, who had enjoyed more frequent opportunities of observing the full extent of the Indian population. There is an element of uncertainty in regard to the interpretation which should be put upon the expression “sixty miles of Jamestown.” A radius of

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 360.


that length barely extends even to the mouth of the Potomac. It is plain that Smith did not intend to include Accomac, as he omitted all reference to the number of its warriors. His knowledge of that portion of Virginia lying to the south of the Powhatan was confined to the territories of the Warrasquoke, Appomattox, Quiyoughcohannock, and Nansemond Indians, who dwelt immediately on its banks. In the light of these facts, it seems proper that his enumeration should only be accepted as applying to the valleys of the Powhatan, the ancient Pamunkey, Rappahannock, and Pyanketank, and their lower tributaries.

Beginning with the valley of the Powhatan, and starting from the mouth of the river, there were, according to Smith, at Chesapeake, one hundred warriors; at Kecoughtan, twenty; at Paspaheigh, forty; at Chickahominy, two hundred; at Wyanoke, one hundred; at Arrahattock, thirty; and at Powhatan, forty. Descending the river from the Falls on the south side, there were sixty warriors at Appomattox; twenty-five at Quiyoughcohannock; forty at Warrasquoke; and two hundred at Nansemond. If these enumerations are correct, there were in the valleys of the Powhatan and its principal tributaries below the Falls, eight hundred and sixty warriors. Adopting the ratio between the size of the aboriginal population within sixty miles of Jamestown and the whole number of fighting men in the same territory, as set down by Smith, the one being five thousand and the other fifteen hundred, and there was in the valleys of the Powhatan, Nansemond, and the Chickahominy a population of Indians close upon twenty-six hundred.

Turning now to the valleys of the modern York and its tributaries, Smith calculated that the villages on the banks of the upper stretches of the Mattapony and


Youghtanund1 were able to furnish a band of ninety warriors, while the tribe having its seat near the junction of the rivers could muster three hundred. There were forty warriors at Werowocomoco, and forty at Chiskiack. The whole military strength of this portion of the Powhatan Confederacy amounted, if Smith is correct, to four hundred and seventy warriors, which, by the ratio previously applied, would indicate a population of fourteen hundred and fifty persons. At Pyanketank there were sixty warriors, or two hundred persons. On the Rappahannock there were at Corotoman thirty warriors; at Moraughtacund, eighty; at Rappahannock, one hundred; and at a second Corotoman, twenty. On the south side of the same river there were at Montaughtacund one hundred and fifty warriors. This would signify that there were in the lower valley of the Rappahannock an Indian population of twelve hundred. The total number of aboriginal inhabitants in this division of country tributary to the lower sections of the three great streams, the Powhatan, the ancient Pamunkey, and the Rappahannock, would, therefore, be five thousand five hundred.

The correctness of this enumeration depends upon the extent of the information which Smith possessed as to all the towns on the Indian Pamunkey and Rappahannock. Not only does he fail to include many of the aboriginal settlements on the Pamunkey, and in the adjacent region mentioned by Strachey, but he also makes certain statements in the course of his general narrative which do not on their face confirm the justness of his figures even as to the valley of the Powhatan. Thus he declares incidentally that a thousand savages2 were observed along the banks of

1 The modern Pamunkey.

2 The language used by Smith respecting the “plaines” along the Nansemond River is: “in these plaines are planted aboundance of houses [footnote continues on p. 143] and people; they may containe 1000.” Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 32. See also p. 430 for the large number of Indians seen in one body in the valley of the Rappahannock.


the Nansemond when it was first explored, and that those seen in the immediate vicinity of the Chickahominy about twenty-two hundred, but such expressions were probably merely designed to show that these territories were thickly seated rather than to convey an accurate account of the real number of their inhabitants. If intended to be accepted implicitly, the population on the Chickahominy alone was nearly equal in volume to the whole population assigned to the main valley of the Powhatan under the ratio furnished by Smith himself.1

There should be added to the number of Indians living on the modern Rappahannock, York, and James, and the lower tributaries of the latter two streams, those who resided near the banks of the Potomac and in Accomac. In the valley of the Potomac, as far as it was explored by Smith, there were in the different towns which he visited about eight hundred warriors, indicating the presence of twenty-five hundred savages; the number in Accomac, Smith not including the Eastern Shore in his enumeration, was subsequently stated to be two thousand,2 swelling the total population of that part of the territory of Virginia, which was the first to fall under the observation of the English, to ten thousand.

If we accept as correct the figures which Strachey has given, his calculations being confined to the number of warriors who were members of the tribes residing in the

1 Sir Thomas Dale calculated that the number of bowmen among the Chickahominies amounted to five hundred. He is also the authority for the statement, that in a few days Powhatan could summon to his side one thousand warriors ready for battle. See Dale’s letter preserved in Ralph Hamor’s True Discourse, pp. 62, 56.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 570.


country extending from the Pyanketank to the southern bank of the Powhatan and east of Orapaks,1 there was a population in this interval alone as large as the whole of the population which, according to Smith, belonged to the Powhatan Confederacy throughout its territory. Strachey asserts that there were three thousand three hundred and twenty fighting men in this part of aboriginal Virginia, which would signify a general population of ten thousand, but this was probably as much in excess of the real number of the inhabitants in this division of the Colony as the calculation of Smith was below it. Strachey, however, lived in Virginia some years after Smith had withdrawn from it, and therefore had the advantage of the greater knowledge which the English had acquired of the country by more careful exploration. The larger enumeration of Strachey arises not so much from his having attributed a greater force of warriors to the different towns mentioned by Smith than Smith does himself, as from the fact that he includes in his statement of population, towns which Smith had failed to name, doubtless because he was ignorant of their existence.2

1 Orapaks was one of the residences of Powhatan, and was situated east of the modern city of Richmond.

2 See, for instance, the list of towns situated on the modern York, the Indian Pamunkey, given by Strachey in his Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 62. With the exception of the king and werowances, who had numerous wives, it is not recorded that the families of individual Indians were large. It is well known that the aborigines began many of their wars merely to obtain a supply of women and children. The presence of venereal diseases of a virulent type among members of both sexes must have had an important influence in repressing their growth in numbers. However numerous the Indians may have been in Virginia when the English founded the Colony, they had by 1609 dwindled in the area of the settlements to seven hundred and twenty-five bowmen, representing a population which probably did not exceed three thousand. Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, p. 275.


The Indian village was, generally situated on the slope of a hill overlooking a river, and in selecting such a site, the aborigines were probably influenced to some extent by the fact that they could thus obtain a view of in approaching enemy.1 The towns of the same tribe appear to have been entirely distinct, and this was the case even in the thickly inhabited valleys of the Nansemond and Chickahominy. The health of the Indians was in no peril from overcrowding, since few of their villages were occupied by more than two hundred persons, and many by less than thirty.2 Strachey informs us that before the aboriginal settlement at Kecoughtan was broken up, the population of that place was close upon one thousand, their wigwams numbering three hundred, but there is nothing to show that all of these dwellings were built in the immediate neighborhood of each other. When Smith visited Kecoughtan it contained only eighteen houses, and the band of warriors there, as already stated, was reduced to forty.3 In general, the largest towns were not composed of more than twenty or thirty wigwams.4 At Maraswquoike, the Farrar’s Neck of the colonial age, thirty or forty were observed by Smith, and he mentions that he had seen in one village as many as one hundred dwellings, either situated together or separated by groves, but this was exceptional. There were in the vicinity of the wigwams no small and but few large trees, owing to the fact that the ground had been periodically burnt over, and much of the standing wood had been used as fagots; sufficient, however, was allowed to remain to furnish protection from the rays of the sun in summer, and to break the

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 70.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 577.

3 Ibid., p. 10; Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 60.

4 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cvi.


force of the storms in winter. The Indians had a special liking for the mulberry, and it was almost invariably found in the neighborhood of their habitations. At Kecoughtan there were many boskets and copses of this tree.1 When the English were returning from their exploration of the Powhatan as far as the Falls, they came upon the Indian women at Arrahattock preparing victuals for them under a great mulberry which was a conspicuous feature of the village.2 Bay and locust trees were very frequently observed in the Indian towns, and also the wild rose and the sunflower, and there the grapevine grew in the most productive luxuriance because fully exposed to the rays of the sun. In the immediate vicinity, fresh springs poured out a perennial abundance of pellucid water.3

The Indian wigwam was either oblong in shape or in the form of an oven,4 and was made by inserting saplings in the earth, the tops of which were afterwards drawn down to one point, in which position they were permanently kept by their being tied together with withes, manufactured out of fibrous roots, the coating of the hickory or strips of white oak. The surface of the saplings in the instance of the most pretentious wigwams was covered with bark in the condition in which it was torn from the tree; the ordinary dwelling, however, was protected by mats woven from bents gathered in the woods. So neatly were the mats and pieces of bark put together that the atmosphere of the wigwam remained warm in the severest weather in winter. A hole was made in either side for an entrance, and these openings were closed by

1 See, for these different details, Works of Capt. John Smith pp. 12, 18; Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, pp. 60, 70, 71, 117.

2 Relatyon of the Discovery of our River, p. 1.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 57, 67; Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 130.

4 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia. p. cvi.


mats dropped from above, and still further guarded, when the inmates of the cabin had gone away for a prolonged absence, by logs rolled against them. Upon the first arrival of the English, the wigwams were found to be devoid of windows, but at a later period an aperture was left which was only covered when the wind was blowing from that point of the compass. At the top there was a place of egress for the smoke rising from the fire kindled on the ground at the centre of the dwelling. To diminish the volume of this smoke, the Indians burnt only pine wood, if it was to be obtained. In order to illuminate the interiors of their houses in the absence of a regular fire, they used as candles the splinters of the pine, which flared very fiercely for a time but were soon consumed; for this reason a large pile of slivers was kept on hand, and as soon as one fagot was burnt up, another was substituted for it. As a rule, the fire on the hearth was not allowed to die out, because its extinction was regarded by the women as an evil sign. A lost flame was recovered by rubbing two dry sticks together in the close neighborhood of a handful of combustible moss. The beds of the Indians were drawn in a circle about the fire, and consisted of hurdles and reeds laid upon small poles, supported by posts rising only a foot from the ground. Upon these beds, mats or skins were placed, and in lying down the Indian drew over him another mat or skin, while a third skin or mat was used as a pillow. The pillow of the Emperor Powhatan was made of leather, and was carefully embroidered, and strung with beads and pearls. The mats used by the ordinary Indian as a couch were white in color, and when he arose in the morning he was careful to roll them into the shape in which he had found them the evening before. Not infrequently as many as twenty Indians slept in the same wigwam irrespective of sex;


they did not in sleeping restrict themselves to their hurdles of reeds, but in winter lay down on bear skins, spread on the floor of the wigwam, or on the floor itself if it were summer, with a mat alone to support the head. Besides the bed, the only substitute for a chair was the mat. In every town there were scaffolds, constructed either of reeds or dry willows, and it was here that the Indians most frequently sat and conversed. At the top of these scaffolds, a loft made of hurdles was built, and on it the women placed maize and fish to dry.1

The Indian town in some instances was encircled with a palisade, but in general this was confined to the rude palace of the king.2 The royal dwelling was constructed of the same material as the ordinary wigwam, but it differed from the ordinary wigwam in being longer and broader; one had to pass through many windings and turnings before the room in which the king spent his time was reached.3 The partitions were composed of mats and small poles. No architectural skill was shown by the Indians even in the construction of their temples, upon which the greatest labor was expended. These buildings were about twenty feet in breadth and one hundred in length, with the door confronting the eastern horizon so as to catch the first beams of the rising sun. There was a chancel at the western end, approached by a labyrinthine passage, and here were placed many black images with their faces turned towards the east. At Uttamussack, on the modern Pamunkey, the principal temple was situated, and on either side of it stood buildings sixty feet in length, containing effigies of devils and kings, and also the royal

1 See, as the authority for these details, Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, pp. 70, 71, 72, 112; Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 67, 68; Beverley’s History of Virginia, pp. 135, 136.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia. p. 137.

3 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cvi.


mummies. The treasure-house of Powhatan at Orapaks must have been a still more imposing structure; it extended fifty or sixty yards in length, and upon each one of its four corners was a figure of a strange and grotesque aspect, one being shaped like a dragon, another having the form and head of a bear, the third resembling a leopard, and the fourth a gigantic man.1

The Indians laid off their maizefields and gardens in the vicinity of their wigwams, always selecting the most fertile land for this purpose; in later times, it was everywhere observed that the soil which had been under aboriginal cultivation was as a rule extremely productive.2 The maizefields spread over an area that ranged from twenty to an hundred acres in extent. There is some doubt as to the character of the tenure; each tribe possessed an absolute title to the division of country in which it was immediately seated, subject only to the general proprietorship of the king, to whom an annual tribute was paid in the form of a certain proportion of maize, beasts, fish, fowl, hides, fur, copper, and beads,3 but the relation of each family to the different plats of cultivated ground is not so clearly defined. Smith declared that each household knew its own fields and gardens, while Beverley asserted that no special property in land was claimed by individual Indians, but was held in common by the members of a whole tribe. He qualified this remark, however, by saying that the area of uncultivated ground was so extensive, that there was no room for quarrels among them about the appropriation of particular plats.4 The statement of Smith seems to be confirmed by the relation which the Indian householder

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, pp. 55, 82, 90.

2 Hugh Jones’ Present State of Virginia, p. 9.

3 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 55.

4 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 66; Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 178.


bore to other forms of property; thus he could devise his wigwam to his widow, and after her death to his favorite child. Again, a theft of maize was regarded as so heinous an act that it was punished with death, an evidence that separate ownership in this grain was strictly recognized when it had been gathered.1 Furthermore, there is no record that after the annual harvest the crops were divided among the householders of the town. Being held for all practical purposes in separate tenure, the ground must have been cleared very largely by individual energy without special regard to the common interests, but this follows with certainty only in those cases in which the open fields were not spacious enough to furnish soil for the young warrior who had just established family relations of his own, or for those members of the tribe whose plats had given indications of exhaustion from prolonged cultivation. As a rule, the land originally selected was so extremely fertile that an increase in population alone led to the extension of a clearing.

The method employed by the Indians for the removal of the forest, in spite of its primitive character, is still followed in many parts of modern Virginia. It consists in running a girdle around the trunks of the largest trees, by cutting away the bark with a rude stone instrument, the object of this being to intercept the flow of the sap; and to make this still more effective, the aborigines were in the habit of kindling fires around the exposed roots, further destroying the vitality of the trees.2 The trees exposed to this treatment lost all power of putting forth

1 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, pp. cx, cxi.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 952; Williams, in Virginia Richly Valued, p. 48, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III, recommends that the newly arrived planter shall adopt this method of clearing the ground as the cheapest and the quickest.


foliage, declined rapidly in vigor and died, leaving the trunk and limbs too bare to shut out the rays of the sun. In a few years they were blown down by the wind, having become too much decayed to remain erect. The smaller trees were either broken down or severed by the blows of a stone hatchet. The preparation of the ground for planting was practically the same whether the soil was that of an old or a new field. Manure was used in neither instance, most probably because it was not required. The instruments employed in cultivation were hoes, consisting of a crooked piece of wood fashioned like a gardener’s paring iron,1 or of a stick to which the horn or shoulder-blade of a deer was attached; these rude instruments were used by the aboriginal laborers in a sitting posture, the tillers merely seeking to loosen the surface of the ground, the only object which they had in view being to dig up the weeds and grass and to remove the maizestalks. After this vegetation had been allowed to dry several days in the sun, it was brought together in small heaps and burnt, but no attempt was made to use the residuum of ashes as a fertilizer.2 If the ground consisted of virgin soil on which the belted trees were still standing, it was only sought to destroy the superficial network of roots. Beginning in one corner of the field, whether old or new, the Indian husbandmen made a series of holes, separated from each other by intervals of four feet, and in each hole four grains of maize and two beans were deposited, each grain or bean being an inch apart from its fellows, special precaution being taken that they should not touch each other.3 In

1 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cxi.

2 Hariot, p. 15.

3 They make a hole in the earth with a sticke and into it they put foure graines of wheate and two of beanes.” Works of Capt. John [footnote continues on p. 152] Smith, p. 357. See Devries’ Voyages from Holland to America, for the methods followed by the Indians of the New Netherlands in planting maize.


some instances the beans were sowed in the interval of four feet between the holes in which the maize was placed, and in this interval there were also planted the seeds of peas, pumpkins, gourds, cymlins, and May-apples, doubtless upon some plan of alternation, as the soil would otherwise have been choked with vegetation.1 These seeds were not put in the ground until the blades of maize had not only risen above the surface, but also attained to a moderate size. The cymlins were planted in May, and the other seeds probably about the same time.2

The first plantation of maize began in April and the second in May, and this was continued with interruptions until the middle of June, the object of this deferred planting being to secure until the arrival of frost a constant supply of roasting ears, of which the Indians were inordinately fond. The crop which was put in the ground in April was harvested in August; the May planting was harvested in September, and the June planting in October. As the young maize expanded in size, it was protected from the encroachments of weeds, the interval between the rows being kept as clean and well-ordered as a garden-bed, and when the stalks had risen to one-half of their expected height, hillocks of earth were drawn around their roots. The average number of ears found on a plant were, according to Smith, two; three were occasionally observed, but four very rarely.3 Spelman, however, states that there were commonly four or five attached to a single stalk.4 There were from two hundred

1 Hariot, p. 15.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 63.

3 Ibid., p. 62 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, pp. 112, 117.

4 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cxii.


to five hundred grains on each. Four varieties of maize are said to have been cultivated by the Indians, two of which were only distinguishable from each other by the difference in the size of the ear and stalk, the time for the ripening of both being the same. The remaining varieties were unlike only in the size of the grain; both were frequently yellow, red, white, blue, and streaked.1 The Indians did not place any scarecrows in their fields; near the centre of each they raised a scaffold, and upon this they erected a small cabin, in which a young Indian was stationed to protect the crops from every form of damage by birds or animals.2 Enjoying an extensive view from this elevation, he was able to detect the depredators at once. The beans put in the ground with the maize sprang up and were allowed to attach their vines to the stalks; their pods were smaller than the pods of the English bean, of greater diversity of color, and very different in the shape of the leaf. The peas were not so large as the beans, but were similar in their form. Both were sufficiently developed at the end of ten weeks to be eaten, and were therefore gathered before the last of the grain was harvested. The maracocks matured in July, and remained on their vines until September, while the pumpkins required a heavy frost to ripen them. Many maracocks or squashes were in a ripe condition in September, and this vegetable continued to mature in turn until the end of October.3

A field of maize on the Powhatan, long before the vessels of the first English explorers appeared upon its waters, was almost the exact counterpart of the same

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 115.

2 See the picture of such a scaffold given in the illustrated edition of Hariot, plate No. XX.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 63; Hariot, pp. 14, 15.


field, planted with the same grain, three hundred years afterwards by the modern Virginian farmer. There would be some difference in the height of many of the stalks on account of the rule which the Indians followed of planting their maize in relays, with a view of obtaining a continuous supply of roasting ears during the summer and early autumn, but in other particulars the aspect of the field, under the Indian and Virginian ownership respectively, would be substantially the same. There would be the same number of stalks to the hill,1 with the vines of beans clambering up the stalks, peas running over the ground between the rows, and pumpkins, bulky and yellow, peeping through the mass of green leaves. The May-apple alone would be absent. John Taylor, of Caroline, in his treatise on Virginian Agriculture, takes occasion to indulge his sarcastic humor at the expense of the farmers of his day, by declaring that as late as the nineteenth century the cultivation of maize in his native State remained as it was borrowed from the aboriginal planters of America, except “that if product was the test of science, the latter must be allowed to have been more accomplished husbandmen than their imitators.” An accurate conception of the productiveness of an acre under Indian tillage is to be obtained from the statement of Hariot, that the average yield was, by London measure, two hundred bushels of maize, peas, beans, and pumpkins.2

In the late autumn, when the grain was ripe enough to

1 It is highly probable that for many years the colonists followed the rule of the Indians in allowing an interval of four feet between the holes in which the seed corn was planted. Owing doubtless to the decline in the fertility of the soil, the interval had by the Eighteenth Century been extended to six feet. See Smyth’s Travels, 1773, Va. Hist. Register, vol. VI, No. II, p. 81; Ibid., No. III, p. 132.

2 Hariot, p. 15.


be gathered, the women and children entered the fields with hand-baskets manufactured from hemp, the bark of trees, or the blades of the maize stalk; the ears as they were pulled were cast into these receptacles, whose contents were afterwards poured into still larger baskets,1 which in turn were emptied on mats that had been placed in the sun, the maize being left there to dry thoroughly. At night it was collected into large piles, over which the mats were drawn to protect the grain from dew. When the maize had seasoned, the shucks were stripped from the ears, the grain rubbed from the husks, and subsequently deposited in long baskets in houses built especially for the purpose.2 In some instances, in its final state, it was concealed by the heads of families, the women and children being kept ignorant of the locality in the forest in which it was buried, but the inconvenience of such an arrangement would appear sufficient to have made it exceptional.3

If the Indians had been scattered over the face of the country, their fields of maize would hardly have been noticeable, but as these fields were concentrated for the most part on navigable streams,4 the English were led

1 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cxii.

2 The question has been raised as to whether the maize was stored away before or after the grain was removed from the cob. See article by Dr. Edward Eggleston in the Century Magazine for April, 1894. It would be inferred from the following passage in Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cxii, that the grain was “shelled” before it was placed in the baskets which formed the final receptacles: “When the corn is sufficiently weathered, they pile it up in ther howses, dayly as occation serveth wringinge the cares in peises betwene ther hands and so rubbinge out the corne, do put it into a great baskett.” It will be observed that it was the ear and not the “huske” which the Indians wrung in “peises.”

3 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 113.

4 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 67.


rather to exaggerate than to underrate the area of land under cultivation. Dale, writing to Salisbury only four years after the foundation of the Colony, mentions incidentally, that in the stretch of country lying between Point Comfort and the Falls there was a spacious and fruitful soil, and that at all points, both upon the one and the other shore, grain grew in abundance.1 The Indians of Kecoughtan, who were pronounced by Strachey to be admirable husbandmen,2 had, when they were first visited, as many as three thousand acres of cleared land, a large part of which was planted in maize. In the excursion which the voyagers made, a few days after their arrival in the Chesapeake, to Rappahannock, situated not far from Kecoughtan, they had to pass through a series of the most luxuriant maizefields before they could reach the village.3 Captain Smith, in his expedition up the Chickahominy River, discovered the greatest area of cultivated ground that he had seen in Virginia, on a peninsula to which the Indians had given the name of Moysonicke.4 Very extensive fields of maize were also found by him on the Nansemond. In the first voyage to the Falls of the Powhatan, special note was made of the plain stretching from the palace of the werowance to the banks of the river, and planted for the greater part in maize. The queen of Appomattox, who resided near the stream of that name, also had many fields in the same grain, one of these fields, in which vegetables and tobacco were also planted, spreading over an area of one hundred acres, and a field covering an equal area was also observed

1 Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 505.

2 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 60. “Better husbands then in any parte else that we have observed.”

3 “Wee also went through the goodliest corne fieldes that ever was seene in any countrey.” Percy’s Discourse, p. lxv.

4 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 13.


at Opechancanough’s residence on the Powhatan.1 The most striking evidence, however, as to the extent of surface that the Indians had under cultivation at the time of the first discovery appears from the fact that after the massacre of 1622, the survivors consoled themselves for that sanguinary event with the reflection, that thereafter the settlers would be relieved of the exacting task of removing the forest, because they could now take possession of the open ground of the Indians, which constituted the most pleasant and fertile places in the country. Williams also described the Indian fields as being so numerous, that they would furnish ample cleared soil for the English colonists until they had increased to a large population.2

At the time of the first colonization, before there had arisen any foreign drain upon their stores, the different tribes possessed a great abundance of garnered maize, although, with the exception of the Accomac Indians, who were remarkable for their prudence and foresight, it was the custom of the Virginian aborigines only to produce as much as the needs of twelve months required.3 The English in the malarious confines of Jamestown were on several occasions saved from starvation by the generous supplies, principally in the form of this grain, received from the natives. In the records of the earliest excursions up the rivers and bays of Virginia there are many references to the large quantities of maize in all of the towns. When, in 1609, Captain Martin attempted to take possession of the country near the forks of the Nansemond, the Indians, who had fled on the first attack, returned, killed several

1 Relatyon of the Discovery of our River, pp. xliii, 1, ii.

2 Virginia Richly Valued, p. 13, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

3 Ratcliffe’s Letter to Salisbury, Works of Capt. John Smith, p. xcix. See also p. 570.


of his men, rescued their king, and carried off one thousand baskets of grain which were stored in the houses. In the attack on Kecoughtan, whither Captain Smith and a small party of soldiers had gone in search of food for the colonists not long after the foundation of Jamestown, great baskets of maize were discovered, upon which they seized with eagerness. In a subsequent voyage to Moysonicke on the Chickahominy, a hundred savages came down to the banks carrying baskets of maize in expectation of the arrival of the English, and at Mamanahunt, another village on the Chickahominy; the Indians assembled with three or four hundred baskets of the same grain. So anxious for trade were these latter, that they followed Smith in their canoes, and were ready to dispose of their corn for the smallest trifle in return. From this voyage he returned to Jamestown with seven hogsheads of maize, and could easily have obtained a shipload if he had possessed the means of transporting it. In a number of instances we are incidentally informed that three or four hundred bushels were purchased from the Indians at a time, as on the occasion of the visit of Newport and Smith to Powhatan at Werowocomoco. In the expedition to the Nansemond, Smith forced the tribes in suing for peace to consent to deliver in the following year four hundred bushels of maize. Captain Argoll returned from the Potomac after a short voyage with his ship loaded down with over one thousand bushels of the same grain. At certain seasons of the year the tribes were compelled to rely to a large extent on their stored maize for subsistence, and any cause, however remote, which might lead to its destruction or removal, they regarded with natural objection. We have few more pathetic scenes in the early history of Virginia than that of the lamentation raised by the women and children, when the English in 1609 seized upon all the


grain remaining in the villages of Mattapony and Youghtanund; even the hearts of the ruthless and famished colonists were moved by the outcries of the helpless savages.1

The use of maize among the Indians was not confined entirely to food. It was employed by the priests and conjurers in their mystical ceremonies. This is shown by an incident in the life of Smith not long after his capture on the Chickahominy; he was suddenly interrupted on the occasion referred to by the entrance into the house in which he was detained as a prisoner, of an Indian priest, dressed in a fantastic costume of skins, who immediately with many violent gestures and strange invocations began to encircle the fire kindled on the ground with a line of meal. At this moment three other priests rushed in, and these were followed by three more, each one colored partly red and partly black, with red or white bars of paint on each check, and with strokes of red or white about the eyes. After dancing around Smith they took seats on a mat opposite him, the chief priest in the centre, and three of the minor priests on either side of him. The whole number then began a song, shaking their rattles loudly as they sang, and when this was ended, the chief priest deposited on the ground outside of the ring of meal fire grains of maize. This act was followed by a brief invocation, uttered with many strange demonstrations, which was greeted at the close with groans from his six companions. The chief priest then laid down three grains, and this ceremony was repeated until the fire was encircled by two lines of grain, a hand’s breadth apart, in addition to the line of meal. With the same invocations, groans, and rattling of gourds, a succession of small sticks were deposited between the maize at intervals of every

1 See, for these different incidents, Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 12, 97, 463.


five grains. For twelve hours these performances were continued, and were renewed on the second and third day. While the ceremonies were in progress, neither Smith nor the priests partook of food, but when night arrived there were feasts and dances. It had been the object of the priests to discover whether Smith entertained evil designs against their countrymen.1 The gardens of the Indians were situated in the immediate neighborhood of the wigwams, and, in general, each extended over an area from one hundred to two hundred feet square.2 In these plats were found the plants and vegetables not cultivated in the maizefields, such as muskmelons, gourds, and tobacco. Jefferson has called attention to the fact, that the first colonists failed to record whether tobacco was of spontaneous growth in Virginia, or whether tillage was always necessary to its production; he ventured the surmise that it was of tropical origin, and had been gradually transmitted from tribe to tribe until it reached this quarter of America.3 Whether indigenous or not, tobacco was held in the highest esteem by the Indians, and was considered to be a special gift from the Great Spirit; this seems to be all the more remarkable when it is recalled that the plant could be produced by the proper expenditure of labor in unlimited quantities, differing in this respect from copper, pearl, and puccoon, by which the aborigines set the same extravagant store. It was looked upon as possessing mysterious virtues, which led to its being cast by priests on sacrificial fires in the form of dust, or it was arranged in a circle of leaves, from the centre of which adoration was offered up to the sun.4 These acts were accompanied by

1 Works of Capt John Smith, p. 399.

2 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 72.

3 Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia, p. 41.

4 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxxi.


eccentric gestures and distortions of the body, by dances, stampings, and mutterings, and by an uplifting of the hands, and by fixed starings towards the sky. The object of this use of tobacco was to propitiate an evil intelligence, for the same tribute was paid to guns and swords. Crushed into a powder, it was sowed to the wind when a drought prevailed, or when a tempest was brewing on the water; or it was sprinkled over the weirs when the fish began their annual migration from the sea. Air, water, fire, the sun,—these were the terrible natural elements, the presiding genius of which demanded the most precious gifts as the condition of his favor.

Tobacco seems to have been also employed to give expression to the feeling of gratitude; it was for instance tossed into the air after an escape from some unusual danger, or when the warriors returned to their town after a successful war, hunting expedition, or long journey in which they had been exposed to many perils and hardships.1 According to the Indian conception, there was a heaven beyond the western mountains and close to the setting sun, which was an abode where kings, werowances, and priests, who alone after death were admitted to its portals, were always singing and dancing, with their hair decorated with feathers of varied and brilliant hues, their bodies anointed with oil and painted with puccoon, and an inexhaustible quantity of beads, hatchets, copper, and tobacco forever near at hand.2 The dried corpse of a king was stuffed with copper, beads, and pearls, and by its side was laid the pipe the monarch had used in life.3 The Indians attributed medicinal qualities to tobacco; thus they believed that it had the power to increase virility:

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 165.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 78.

3 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 89.


the warriors who were in possession of several wives indulged in it freely, while those who were unmated either partook of it sparingly, or not at all.1

Tobacco as cultivated by the tribes of Virginia was inferior in size and flavor to the same plant in the West Indies. In Virginia it rarely exceeded a yard in height. It bore a small yellow flower resembling that of henbane, and had short, thick leaves, which were discovered, when tasted, to be weak in flavor, but at the same time very biting to the tongue. The plant of the West Indies, on the other hand, sprang up to the height of nine or twelve feet, with very expansive leaves, and with a flower as large as the bell flower of England. The difference in size and flavor was probably attributable to the difference in climate rather than to any difference in methods of cultivation.2

The authors of the first Virginian narratives have left a detailed account of the manner in which the Indian land was prepared for maize, and the system pursued in planting and cultivating it, but they failed to give a full description of the aboriginal methods respecting the corresponding processes for tobacco. Hariot informs us that the natives in the region of Roanoke, a division of country in which the same original customs prevailed as in Virginia proper, sowed their tobacco apart, but he did not intend by this to convey the notion that the seed were scattered broadcast.3 There is no reason to doubt that the first settlers of Jamestown, who very soon began the production of tobacco for sale in England, adopted their general manner of planting from the Indians, which consisted of inserting the seed in the pulverized soil of their garden plats at regular intervals, as was done in the

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 122.

2 Ibid., pp. 121, 122.

3 Hariot, p. 16.


instance of maize.1 The plan of sowing broadcast in a separate bed and then transplanting, the plan which has come down to the present day, was suggested to the colonists by the rule followed in the case of so many vegetables in England. Forty years after the foundation of Jamestown, there was no information extant as to the aboriginal method of cultivating tobacco when it had attained a considerable size, beyond the fact that there was a tradition that the Indians permitted each stalk to run to seed, and that they removed the suckers in order to give it a somewhat greater bulk.2 When the plant began to show signs of ripeness, the leaves were pulled from the stalk and dried by the heat of the fire or the sun. In the use of fire, they set an example which the English colonists for a hundred and fifty years failed in the manipulation of their annual crop to follow, being content simply to hang it up in barns, where it was exposed to a free circulation of air. When the tobacco was thoroughly cured, stalk and leaf were crumbled together. It was turned to account in various ways. Among the Indians, however, enjoyment of it as a stimulant seems to have been confined to smoking. Their pipes were constructed either of clay or wampum peak, a species of shell, and differed in size and in length of stein among the several tribes. During the visit of Smith to the country of the gigantic Susquehannocks, he observed in their possession pipes with stems nearly a yard from end to end, upon which figures of birds and animals had been carved with great dexterity. So large and heavy were these stems that a well-directed blow with them was sufficient to brain the strongest man.3

1 See picture in Hariot of an Indian village with a plat planted in tobacco. No. XX.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 116.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 54.


Among the most valuable treasures of each town was the peace-pipe, which, upon the arrival of a stranger, was filled in his presence with tobacco, and the tobacco ignited; first the chief drew several whiffs and then offered it to the visitor, who, if his intentions were peaceful, accepted it, and after drawing several whiffs in turn passed the pipe to the second most important person of the village.1 When the adventurers reached Appomattox in the course of their first voyage up the Powhatan, they were confronted on the shore by a werowance, who stood with his bow and arrow in one hand, and a pipe full of tobacco in the other, intending thus to announce that the choice of war or peace was left to the English.2 During the visit of Smith to the Rappahannock in 1608, four kings on one occasion came to meet him, bearing only pipes and tobacco, and bows and arrows, signifying that the same alternatives were presented for his decision.3 The tobacco pouch was tied to the belt, but was easily detached. One of the most conspicuous portions of the dress of the conjurer was a bag of the same kind, in which, however, other articles of equal value in his estimation were doubtless carried.

There are many evidences that the aboriginal inhabitants of Virginia were in the full enjoyment of tobacco when the first adventurers arrived in the country. In the course of the earliest interview of the English with them, after the hunger of both parties had been satisfied, this article was proffered the strangers, the Indians themselves smoking it in large clay pipes, with bowls held firmly together by pieces of fine copper. In the subsequent visit to the town of the Rappahannocks, situated on

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 144.

2 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxvi.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 429.


the southern banks of the Powhatan, the werowance began the audience by gravely seating himself on a mat and lighting his pipe. In the excursion to an Indian village, which a number of the colonists participated in soon after the landing at Jamestown, leaves were gathered by the natives from the tobacco stalks growing in the Indian gardens, and distributed among the members of the party,1 probably to gratify their curiosity rather than for use, as it was in May, when the plant had only reached a moderate size. In the different voyages of exploration, tobacco was always added to the generous presents of food which the Indians were constantly making, being coupled with gifts of nuts, mulberries, strawberries, and raspberries, as if it were regarded as a relish. The aborigines, in the valleys of the Powhatan and Pamunkey, continued to produce their usual amount of maize long after it had become possible to purchase their annual supplies from the English colonists, who were gradually taking possession of so much of the country. They ceased, however, to plant tobacco as soon as their white neighbors began to cultivate it on an extensive scale, contenting themselves with obtaining as much by exchange as they wanted; they were probably, in a measure, led to adopt this course by the superior quality of the leaf which the colonists grew.2

In addition to the varied supplies derived from the cultivation of the soil, the Indians made use, as food, of many natural products requiring no tillage. They obtained bread not only from the grains of maize, but also from the seed of the sunflower and the mattoom, the cakes manufactured

1 Percy’s Discourse, pp. lxiv, lxv, lxvii.

2 Campbell is the authority for this statement. See his History of Virginia. The Indians who lived at a distance still produced their own tobacco. See Hugh Jones’ Present State of Virginia, p. 40.


from the flour of the mattoom seed being eaten with deer suet.1 The principal root which they converted into food was the tuckahoe. Thus was found in the freshwater bogs, and resembled the flag in its growth. It was so abundant that it was said that one individual could gather in a day a sufficient quantity to furnish him a subsistence for a week. To prepare tuckahoe for consumption, the Indians laid the roots together in a pile, and having covered the whole with leaves and ferns, threw loose earth over it in a mass. A fire was then kindled on either side of the mound and allowed to burn for twenty-four hours. In its raw state the tuckahoe was thought to be very poisonous, but roasted in the manner described, it was palatable and nourishing; it had to be tender when cooked; if not, unless sliced and dried in the sun after roasting it, it prickled and tormented the throat when eaten. It was generally mixed with meal and sorrel, this having the effect of lessening its strength.2

It was not the custom of the Indians to use any species of herb or leaf alone; for onions or hazel nuts, which the English valued so much, they had a special distaste. In the autumn they were always careful to gather a great quantity of persimmons, drying them on hurdles, and afterwards storing them away after the manner of preserved dates or figs. They also collected a berry that reminded the colonists of the English capers; this they also dried in the sun, and then kept in hot water many hours to remove its poisonous acid. The acorns of the white oak were gathered and boiled for the purpose of extracting the oil, which was used by the Indians in the anointment of their joints and limbs. The kernels were also ground into meal

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 139; Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 58.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 58.


for the manufacture of bread.1 Oil was also obtained from the walnut. The aborigines gathered a great abundance of hickory nuts, and, placing them in mortars into which water had been poured, pounded shell and kernel until a milky liquor, known as pohickory, had been made. This was used either as a refreshing drink, or as a sauce for a mess of boiled beans, peas, maize, and pumpkins.2 The kernels of the chestnut and chinquapin were considered to be great dainties when dried, beaten into flour, and converted into bread, in which form it was reserved for the most important feasts, and for the enjoyment of the werowances.3 The only salt in use among the Indians was the ash of stick weed and hickory; and, except the juice sucked from the crushed fibre of the maizestalk, they had no knowledge of any spirits, whether natural or manufactured, unless the infusion of hickory nuts with water can be regarded as such. The liquid they preferred for drinking purposes was the water that had long been standing in

1 See, for these details, Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 140; Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 56, 58.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 140; Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 129. This liquor seems to have been used also in preparing hominy for consumption. During Colonel Norwood’s detention among the Indians of the Eastern Shore in 1650, he was treated to this dish thus seasoned: “It was a sort of spoon meat in colour and taste, not unlike to almond milk, tempered and mixed with boiled rice. The ground was Indian Corn boiled to a pap, which they call Homini; but the ingredient which performed the milky part was nothing but dry pohickory nuts, beaten shells and all to powder, and they are like our walnuts . . . being beaten in a mortar and put into a tray, hollow’d in the middle to make place for fair water; no sooner is the water poured into the powder, but it rises again white and creamish, and after a little ferment . . . it becomes a rarity to a miracle.” A Voyage to Virginia, p. 37, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. According to Captains Amadas and Barlow, the Indians of Roanoke Island (1584), “while the grape lasted, drank wine.” Hakluyt’s Voyages, vol. III, p. 304.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 57, 58.


pounds exposed to the sun. Water, when carried to their wigwams, was kept in gourds, which served as the flagons of the aboriginal Virginians.1

The Indians obtained an important proportion of their supplies of food by fishing and hunting, this being the province of the men, as agriculture was that of the women and children. Their manner of fishing consisted of angling, spearing, netting, and trapping. The hook was made of a grated bone carefully bent in the form of a crooked pin. To this hook the bait was tied; the thread of both the fishing line and the net was spun by the women from the bark of different trees, from the sinews of the deer, and from the fibre of grasses. In spearing fish, the Indians either employed a long arrow secured to a stout string, or a strong javelin headed with bone or with the prickles of certain varieties of fish. The habit of spearing fish by night was practised among them very extensively, the canoe used in this operation being many feet in length, and capable of carrying many persons in safety. A large fire was lighted in the centre of the boat, which cast a glare over the surrounding water, the steadiness of the flame being maintained by the fagots that two Indian children or women were constantly adding to the fire as the material upon which it fed was consumed; at either end of the canoe, an Indian fisherman stood with his spear poised in his hand, prepared to strike as soon as the light brought a fish in the stream below to view. The sturgeon was in many instances so enormous that it was difficult to kill with a spear, and in a case of this kind the Indians were only able to secure their

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, pp. 139, 140; Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 62. A liquor was also made from the kernels of acorns, chestnuts, and chinquapins. This could be preserved for some time. Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 57.


prize by slipping a noose over its tail and dragging it ashore.1

The Indian weir consisted of a hedge of small sticks uniform in size, or of reeds not larger than the thumb; and these were formed into a stable and impenetrable barrier by strips of oak carefully run crosswise in the shape of wickerwork. One end of this artificial hedge was pitched above water mark, while the other was attached to a large post in the middle of the stream at a point where it was frequently eight or ten fathoms in depth. Near the centre of the hedge there was a large opening leading into a pen constructed of the same wickerwork, and this in turn led into another, the series ending in an enclosure from which it was impossible for the fish after entering to escape. The largest contrivances of this kind were placed at the entrances to the principal rivers. When Smith and his companions sailed into the mouth of the Nansemond for the purpose of exploring its course, they found six or seven Indians actively employed in erecting a weir.2 The aborigines also threw a hedge across a small stream at high tide, so that when the water had fallen they could at their ease take out the fish which had been cut off from return. There was still another method; at the falls in the rivers, loose dams of stones were built through which the great body of water was left to pass in sluices, and at the mouth of each sluice a pot of reeds, fashioned like a cone and containing a number of chambers, was placed. A fish driven into this trap by the rush of water found it impossible to escape.3

1 For these particulars as to the methods which the Indians used in catching fish, see Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 69; Hariot, plate XIII. For the plan followed in making their boats, see Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 183.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 431.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 119.


The chief instrument used by the Indians in hunting was the bow and arrow. The bow was manufactured from the locust tree or witch-hazel, because either could be cut with ease when green, and became extremely tough when seasoned by exposure to fire or the sun. It was fashioned into shape with a shell. The arrows were made either of sprigs or reeds, according to the character of the game to be shot, and were tipped with pieces of flint and other varieties of hard stone, or with the spur of the wild turkey, or the bill of a bird, these heads being two or three inches in length, and often smeared with poison.1 The Indian always carried about with him a bone which he used at a moment’s notice in shaping his arrow head; the latter was attached to the staff by means of a deer sinew, or was glued on with a preparation of boiled deer horn.

The arrow butt was notched with a bear or beaver tooth, and the haft was balanced with turkey feathers. The quiver as made of the skin of a fox or wolf, the tail not being detached. In addition, the tail of the panther or buffalo was often tied to the end, and suffered to drag behind. The Indian could discharge an arrow forty yards on a level, and in some cases brought down game with it at a distance of one hundred and twenty yards; some conception of the force of the discharge may be obtained from the fact, that on one occasion at Jamestown, not long after its foundation, a Paspaheigh Indian drove an arrow a foot into a target which a pistol-ball had failed to pierce; an arrow that struck a steel target, however, was dashed to splinters. Its great force was largely due to the use in the manufacture of the bowstring of the stoutest stag gut, or thongs of carefully prepared deer hide. The bow and arrow, however, was not the only

1 Relatyon of the Discovery of Our River, p. xlviii. See also Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 68.


weapon of the Indian hunter. He carried at his back a sword, consisting of a wooden handle to which the horn of the deer was firmly fastened, and wore in his belt a heavy tomahawk, an instrument of stone sometimes sharpened at both ends.1

The most destructive plan adopted by the Indians in hunting was to hem the game in with a circle of fire. Establishing themselves in small parties at points which had been selected beforehand, they ignited the leaves, and, as the belt of flame contracted, the deer fled to the centre, where, in the tumult of voices, and confusion produced by the smoke, they were easily slain. In this way many were taken at one time. The Indians also ran deer into narrow angles of land surrounded on all sides but one by wide streams; when the animals took refuge in the water they were seized by hunters, whose boats had been floating in ambush by the shore. According to a third method, the hunter covered himself with the hide of the animal, his arm being thrust through the skin of the neck as far as the stuffed head, which was thus held upright; crawling on his knees from tree to tree, and carefully keeping the open side of the head concealed from the gaze of the intended victim, the hunter, by pausing occasionally as if to browse, was able to approach near enough to use his bow and arrow with certainty.2

During several weeks of the spring the Indians abandoned their towns to go on hunting excursions in the less frequented parts of the country; the women accompanying

1 For these particulars as to the Indian instruments for hunting, see Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 129, and Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 68, 69, 70. For incident at Jamestown, see Ibid., Introduction, p. lxviii, where it is referred to in Percy’s Discourse.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 70. For other methods adopted by the Indians, see Norwood’s Voyage to Virginia, p. 39, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


the men, and bearing the mats, acorns, corn, mortars, and every form of baggage. In the places where game was generally found, temporary wigwams were erected, and every preparation was made for a long stay. The same lodges were, in some instances, used for many years. Every kind of wild beast was slaughtered, without regard to age, sex, or condition; the old were destroyed as well as the young, and the pregnant female was struck down as thoughtlessly as the male.1 The Indians showed a particular fondness for bear meat, and always refused to barter it with the English except for the articles which they valued most highly, such as beads and copper. The tail of the beaver they also considered to be a great delicacy. They had no domestic fowls, although so many wild ducks, turkeys, and geese were found in the rivers.2

In dressing fowls, the Indians were always careful to remove the feathers and entrails, but the scales and entrails were allowed to remain in the case of fish, being thrown away as the fish were eaten. In cooking the flesh of beasts, they either laid it directly on the live coals, or placed it on parallel sticks resting on four small posts inserted in the ground at the four corners of the fire, the heat of the fire gradually drying up the juices. The aboriginal method of cooking fish was either to lay them on hurdles raised above the fire, or to suspend them to sticks, and thus expose them to the flame, or to cover them with live coals and hot ashes; both fish and flesh were also broiled together in large earthen pots placed on heaps of dirt, the fire being kindled around the sides. Many kinds of vegetables were added to the mess, such as maize on the husk, peas and beans. The Indians also boiled

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 579.

2 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, pp. 72, 123, 124.


oysters, mussels, and meal into a broth. The dried oysters which had been carefully smoked were a common form of food, and subjected to this treatment could be kept for a long time.1

In preparing maize for consumption, it was the custom of the Indians to steep it in hot water for a period of twelve hours, and then to pound the grain in a mortar until a meal was made, which was sifted in a small basket as a substitute for the European sieve, the grains which did not pass through being again pounded in a mortar and undergoing the same subsequent treatment. The meal, mixed with hot water, was kneaded into a consistent mass, and then rolled into balls and cakes, which were put into a pot of hot water and thoroughly boiled. Or they were taken and laid on a smooth stone to harden, and afterwards, without having been boiled, were covered with leaves and then deposited in the open fireplace, the hot ashes drawn over them, and finally live coals. When fully cooked, they were withdrawn from the embers and cleansed. Instead of converting the grains into meal, the Indians frequently boiled them into a broth or porridge, which has kept its original name of hominy to the present day. A dish of hominy and beans was considered to be a special delicacy. The cakes that were cooked in the ashes also retain their Indian name, with a slight mutilation, appones having been contracted into pones.2

The custom which the Indians followed in eating their meals was very simple; a mat was spread on the ground, and on this the dish was placed, the broiled fish and the roasting ears being laid near at hand. Roasted flesh was always served separately from broiled, and bread and

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 127; Beverley’s History of Virginia, pp. 139, 141; Hariot, plate XV.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 62, 63.


meat were never eaten together.1 According to Spelman, each Indian had his own dish,2 but other writers represent individuals of the same sex, or both sexes, as taking their meals from the same receptacle, the man seated on one side and the woman on the other.3 Before an Indian began to eat, he took a small piece of food from the dish and threw it into the fire as an offering to the evil spirit, and he also mumbled out a short grace with the same intention of propitiation. The remains of the bread and meat were gathered up, either to be served again, or to be given to those who were destitute.4 All the formalities of the meal were strictly regarded even in the presence of the English; when the adventurers stopped at Kecoughtan, on their voyage up the Powhatan, their Indian hosts would not suffer them to eat until they were seated on the mats spread out on the ground, on which the food had been placed.5 During the visit of Smith to Werowocomoco in 1608, in the absence of Powhatan, he was entertained by the women at a great feast, consisting of fruit deposited in baskets; of fish, fowl, and venison in very large platters, fashioned from blocks of wood skilfully burnt, and afterwards scraped with a shell; and of beans and peas in quantities that would have furnished an ample meal for twenty hogs. Smith and his four companions were served by some of the women, while the rest sang and danced for their amusement. Doubtless the same provision was made for the Englishmen which Powhatan required at his meals, to whom a platter of water was brought, both before and after he had dined, for the

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 138.

2 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cxiii.

3 See pictures in Hariot’s and Beverley’s works.

4 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cxiii.

5 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxiii.


cleansing of his hands, a bunch of feathers being used as a napkin.1

So bountiful had nature been to the Virginia of the aborigines, that they were only compelled to provide by manual labor a subsistence for one-fourth of the year; during the remainder they adapted themselves to the seasons, and lived on what the country spontaneously afforded. They were thoughtlessly described as an idle, improvident, and vagabond people;2 if this were so, it was to be attributed to the happy character of the region in which they resided, that permitted them to obtain their food without the necessity of exerting themselves to an unusual degree. Long after the foundation of Jamestown, when every opportunity had been opened to the whites to convert the country into a productive garden, it was admitted by intelligent observers that the only thing accomplished was to make the native pleasures more scarce, and this was partially shown in the statutes to protect what remained of certain species of fish and wild animals.3

The general system of life which the Indians adhered to was as follows: in March and April, when fish were running in the streams, they depended very largely upon their weirs for food, and they also shot, with bow and arrow, turkeys, pheasants, and squirrels in the woods. In May they subsisted principally on strawberries, mulberries, oysters, fish, and beasts of the forest. It was at this season that they dispersed in their hunting excursions. In June, July, and August they fed on fish, the roots of the tuckahoe, berries, and roasting ears; in September and

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 80, 124.

2 Ibid., p. 148.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 126; Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, p. 487; vol. III, p. 180.


October, they obtained their main support from the nuts which grew in such teeming abundance in the woods, the grain of their maize, the vegetables maturing in the early autumn, roots, berries, deer, fish, and oysters. When November arrived, the wild fowl had returned to the rivers and estuaries, and in winter there were oysters and the stores of maize to supply the deficiencies of the chase.1

It was remarked of the Indians that they grew fat or lean according to the season.2 When the season furnished an abundance of food, they stuffed themselves night and day, falling to as soon as their eyes were opened, and unless compelled by unforeseen emergencies to arouse themselves, dropping to sleep as soon as their stomachs were filled.3 So ravenous were their appetites that a colonist employing an Indian was forced to allow him a quantity of food double the amount that was given to the English laborer.4 In a period of want and hardship, the warrior simply drew his belt more tightly about his waist to appease the pangs of hunger. It was rare, however, that the products of the country were curtailed by natural causes, and this is the true explanation of the aboriginal improvidence and apparent lack of foresight. As their maize was planted in the moist and fertile soil of the land along the streams, the most severe drought had but little effect in shortening the crops; a heavy wind and hail storm might inflict serious damage, but its force was always lessened by the barrier of the surrounding forests. There was no hostile influence whatever to diminish the vast abundance of fish and wild fowl. The early wild fruits

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 68.

2 Ibid., p. 363.

3 Hugh Jones’ Present State of Virginia, p. 10.

4 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 77.


alone were exposed to destruction by lingering frosts. Actual famine among the Indians was unknown, although occasionally after the arrival of the English, there were years when the supplies of grain were very much shortened. The aborigines divided the year into five seasons according to its varying character; the first was known as Cattapeuk, that is to say, the season of blossoms; the second as Cohattayough, the season when the sun rode highest in the heavens; the third as Nepenough, the season when the ears of maize were large enough to be roasted; the fourth as Taquetock, the season when the leaves began to fall and the grain was ready to be gathered; and the fifth as Cohonk, the season when long lines of wild geese appeared from the north uttering the cry which suggested the name it bore.1

The feasts of the Indians were adapted to each season. A day was solemnized in spring in anticipation of the annual hunting expedition, and another at the same time of the year in commemoration of the ripening of certain varieties of fruits. It was in autumn, however, that the principal festivals took place, because that was the season of the greatest abundance. There was one feast to celebrate the return of the wild fowl, and another to mark the completion of the maize harvest. The last was the chief revel of the whole year, and was prolonged for several days; on this occasion the inhabitants of many towns came together to express their joy that the grain had been gathered in, that there was food enough for the women and children, and that the warriors could now amuse themselves with the chase, or gratify their love of war.2 At this crowning feast, a fire was kindled either in a long wigwam or in a field, and a ring was formed, with posts erected at short intervals along its

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 166.

2 Ibid., p. 165.


line having faces carved at their tops. Between these posts the Indians danced. Some were clothed in the branches of trees thrust through their belts, some held in their hands twigs and sprays of maize; others brandished their gourds or cymlin shells, which rattled as the stones and peas that they contained struck the sides in the violent motion. These instruments were so graduated that they represented a great variety of notes, the base, the tenor, the counter tenor, mean and treble, and to their sound were added not only the voices of the performers in the ring and at the centre, at which point three Indian girls stood in loving embrace, but also the piping of recorders fashioned from reeds, and the beating of drums constructed of deep wooden platters, over the mouths of which skins had been drawn taut by a contrivance of walnuts and thongs.1

The early narratives throw a very pleasant light on the great plenty in which the Indians passed their lives before the English intruded on their domain. On the second day after a landing was made in the vicinity of Cape Henry, a party sent out to explore the neighborhood came upon a fire which had been kindled by the hunters, and roasting upon the embers they found a large quantity of oysters of an excellent flavor.2 At Kecoughtan and Rappahannock, places visited by the voyagers on their way up the Powhatan, they were entertained with feasts that included a great variety of fruits, vegetables, fish, fowls, and wild beasts. In the first expedition to the Falls, groups of natives met Newport at every turn in the

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 73, 76. See also the picture in Hariot representing one of these public dances. In Virginia proper a man was very frequently the figure in the centre. See the reception given to the voyagers at Kecoughtan, Percy’s Discourse, p. lxiv.

2 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxii.


river, proffering him and his companions a great store of victuals; the English at many points went on shore and purchased the dried oysters, mulberries, beans, fruits, and nuts which the savages were so eager to sell. One Indian attracted special attention by his persistency. With two women, he followed the ships for many miles. Having disposed of his baskets of dried oysters, he left, but shortly reappeared in the same company with baskets of parched maize, beans, peas, mulberries, strawberries, and chinquapins. Stopping at Arrahattock on their return to Jamestown, the voyagers were presented with balls and cakes of bread, parched maize, beans, strawberries, and land tortoises, and they dined under a spreading mulberry tree, the fruit of which was dropping into their laps as they ate. At Appomattox they were offered tobacco, cakes, and fruit. In several instances during this voyage, the werowances who were visited gave them not only tobacco, melons, and bread, but deer roasted whole.1 When the werowance of Paspaheigh sent word to the colonists that he would soon call on them, he accompanied the message with the announcement that he would bring a fat deer, upon which they would feast at their leisure.

The abundance of food observed at Werowocomoco and Pamunkey, the residences of Powhatan and Opechancanough, made a deep impression on the English. Smith and Newport, during their visit to Pamunkey, were on a single occasion presented with bread and meat in quantities sufficient to satisfy the hunger of thirty men. While stopping at the same place in the following year, Smith obtained without difficulty two hundred pounds of deer suet. When he arrived at Werowocomoco in 1609, Powhatan performed his first act of hospitality by sending to his guest as many platters of venison as ten of his

1 Relatyon of the Discovery of our River, pp. xlii, xliii, xlix, l.


strongest warriors could carry. During the course of a visit which Smith and Newport paid to this monarch, they were on one occasion unable to dine with him, and Powhatan directed that bread and venison should be taken to them on board of their vessel, and the gift was found to be too much for the consumption of fifty men at one meal. When they proceeded to the residence of the king, they saw, as they drew near to the door, forty or fifty platters of bread arranged in regular lines on either side of the approaches. At Powhatan’s request, a short time subsequently, Smith ordered his men to enter the house in companies of two; each man as he came in was presented with four or five pounds of bread, and at the conclusion of the interview, each one was also given as much food as he could carry on his back. Smith himself received a large basketful, and Newport the same quantity. A few hours later the monarch set before Smith a supper which was too abundant for twenty men, and seeing that he could not devour it all, commanded that the remainder should be distributed among the English soldiers.1

Hamor, who also visited Powhatan, has left an interesting account of the character of the royal meals. The breakfast of the king and himself consisted of a large bowl of sodden peas and beans, and a mass of bread that would have been ample for a dozen persons; an hour later, boiled fish was served, and shortly afterwards roasted oysters and crabs were brought to them in a wooden platter. At ten o’clock on the day to which Hamor was specially referring, the hunters returned with a buck, several does, and a turkey cock, and the last remnant of these was devoured by the royal household

1 For these different incidents, see Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 24, 25, 28, 31, 455.


before night arrived. On the morning of the Englishman’s departure, he breakfasted on a broiled turkey, and a turkey and three baskets of bread were given him to satisfy his hunger during his journey to Jamestown.1 This abundance was not confined to the royal palace. On one occasion Smith and his companions, who were on their way to Werowocomoco, stopped at Kecoughtan, being detained by the wind and snow, and there they spent Christmas among the savages in the enjoyment of as excellent oysters, as much fish and wild fowl, as good bread, and as roaring fires, as if they had been in old England.2

It is interesting to observe the use which the Indians made of the products of the earth in adorning and clothing their persons. The poorest individuals among them were in the habit of covering their bodies in winter with deer skins from which the hair had not been removed, and in summer they occasionally threw over their shoulders the dressed skin of the same animal, but in general they wore at this season only a belt of leather, in which blades of grass, or leaves of trees, had been thrust before and behind. This belt was also made of silk grass. The opulent Indians wore mantles manufactured from the skins of the squirrel, the raccoon, the beaver, and the otter, the last being held in the highest esteem. The aboriginal shoe was fashioned out of buckskin, but it was not universally used. Until the girls had passed their twelfth year they remained in a state of nudity, with the exception of a small bunch of moss in front of the thighs, but after that age they wore a leathern apron dropping from the waist to the knee. The women were clothed in large mantles of skin carefully dressed, and

1 Ralph Hamor’s True Discourse, p. 45.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 449.


tastefully fringed and shagged at the skirt, and these mantles, like the mantles of the warriors, were generally embroidered with white beads and links of copper, or they were beautifully painted with the images of beasts, birds, tortoises, fruits, and flowers. Very frequently the mantles were made of the feathers of ducks, swans, geese, and turkeys, so skilfully woven that the threads uniting them were concealed, and these feathers were dyed red or blue as fancy suggested. In the expeditions which were sent out to hunt, or to gather wild fruit, or the grass from which the mats were manufactured, individuals of both sexes put on leather breeches and stockings, secured by strings to the waist as a shield against the weeds and shrubs.1

The king had no characteristic dress. On one occasion when visited by the English, Powhatan had donned a mantle of raccoon skins fashioned in a manner to retain the tails, which hung down around his body. The dress of the priest was still more conspicuous; he wore a short mantle composed of the furs of the weasel and other vermin, with the tails still attached, and the stuffed skins of

1 For these various particulars, see Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 66, 361; Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, pp. 65, 66; Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 128. Strachey gives the following description of the apparel of an Indian princess whom he had seen “I was once early at her house,” he writes, when she was hayed without dores . . . herself covered with a faire white drest deare skynne or two, and when she rose, she had a mayd who tetcht her a frontail of white currall and pendants of great but imperfect coloured and worse drilled pearles which she put into her eares, and a chayne, with long lyncks of copper which they call Tapoantaminais and which caine twice or thrice about her neck likewise her mayd fetcht her a mantell which they call puttawus, which is like a side cloake, made of blew feathers, so artificyally and thick sowed together that it seemed like a deepe purple satten, and is very smooth and sleeke, and after she brought her water for her hands and then a braunch or twoo of fresh greene asshen leaves as for a towell to dry them.” Historie of Travaile into Virginia, pp. 57, 58.


sixteen or seventeen snakes; the snake skins and the tails were drawn up over his head, where they were united in a knot, the ends dangling on all sides like the strands of a great tassel. The conjurer, who was the Indian Mercury, for he was always in motion and in haste, was much more scantily clothed, the only article of dress about his person being a girdle, from which his bag or pocket depended, and a skin in front of the thighs, while a blackbird, with outstretched wings, was fastened to his ear.1

The hair of the Indians was arranged in keeping with their rank. The priest shaved the right side of his head, leaving only a small lock at the ear; the head of the warrior was also shaved on the right side, but the lock was omitted in order that there might be no obstruction to the free use of his bow and arrow; his hair was allowed to grow on the left side, being drawn up and tied into a knot. The unmarried women cut their hair close in front and on either side, while behind, it was plaited, and suffered to hang down; the hair of the married women, on the other hand, was permitted to grow at length, but was also plaited behind. The men stuck in the knot of hair on the side of their heads objects of various kinds, such as the antlers of the deer, the dried hand of a dead enemy, and plates of copper; or they attached to it a hawk carefully stuffed, with pinions extended, or the outspread wing of the cluck or buzzard; and to these objects little bunches of loose shells were tied which rattled as the head was moved. The Indians perforated the ear in two or three places, and in these holes inserted strings, to which chains of bone, pearl, and copper were bound, or the legs of hawks, eagles, and turkeys, or the claws of bears, raccoons, and squirrels. In some instances, small

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 70; Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 167.


green snakes, still alive, were secured to the strings, and permitted to twist and twine themselves around the necks of the wearers.1

The werowance wore on the left side of his head a chaplet of deer skin which had been dyed crimson, and on the right, a broad plate of thin and flexible copper; two large feathers were stuck in the centre of his crown, which from their leaning in different directions resembled the horns of an animal.2 From the necks of werowance, warrior, and squaw, pearls in strings and copper in chains of many small links were suspended. When Newport visited Opechancanough, he observed that the neck of that chief was encircled with triple strings of pearls, and that many of these pearls were as large as a pea in size. The wives of Powhatan, also, wore double and triple strings of pearl, not only around their necks, but also over the left shoulder and under the right arm. The bracelets were composed of copper and pearl. The Indians used both oil and paint on their bodies. It was their occasional habit to smear the skin with oil, and then to apply to the whole surface the soft down of bluebirds, red-birds, and white herons; which gave them the appearance of being clothed in a great variety of laces. In painting, they had several purposes in view; by this means they sought either to keep off the swarms of troublesome insects, or to increase the charms of their personal aspect, or to render themselves more terrible to their foes in battle. If the end to be gained was simply adornment, the head, neck, and shoulders were painted red, but if a war was in progress, the body was colored black or yellow, while the forehead, cheek, and right side of the head were

1 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cxiii; Percy’s Discourse, pp. lxiv, lxx; Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 66.

2 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxv.


dashed with red puccoon or terra sigillata. The Indian women were accustomed to tattoo their arms, breasts, thighs, and shoulders with the images of flowers, fruits, insects, serpents, and birds. The instrument employed in the operation was a piece of metal which had been heated in the fire. The figures were burnt in the skin, and the colors dropped into the newly seared lines; so thoroughly were these colors absorbed, and so tenacious were they, that neither exposure nor the passage of time was able to obliterate them.1

In consequence of the steps taken to foster the physical vigor of the boys, and of the active life in the open air which the adults both male and female led, the Indians of aboriginal Virginia were fine specimens of physical strength and grace. There is no instance of a single deformed individual being observed among them by the English.2 They differed in size very much. Until the Susquehannocks were discovered, the Rappahannocks, who resided on the southern banks of the Powhatan, presented the noblest type of physical development which the adventurers had seen in the new country.3 The Susquehannocks were gigantic in frame, the calf of the leg of one warrior measured by Smith being three-quarters of a yard in circumference, and their voices sounded from the chest like a deep and hoarse echo from a vault or cave.4 The people of Wicocomico, on the other hand, were diminutive in stature. The Indians, whether large or small in size, were erect and comely in figure, and alert and agile in movement. Their noses were broad and flat, their lips full, their mouths wide, their hair straight, black,

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 66.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 127.

3 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxv.

4 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 40.


thick, coarse, and long; and their beards, when worn at all, thin and straggling. Two exceptions only to these characteristics were observed by the first settlers. At a point on the Powhatan, to which the name of Point Cotage was given, an Indian boy was seen who had a shock of yellow hair and a comparatively fair skin, while the Indian guide of Smith, on the Potomac, wore a dark, bushy beard, causing him to resemble a Frenchman.1 Both were probably the offsprings of European fathers, and may have come into Virginia from the neighborhood of the former colony on Roanoke Island, or have been begotten by Spanish voyagers, who had visited the country previous to the arrival of the English. The impression prevailed among the early settlers that the Indians were born with a white skin, and that they gradually darkened to a brown color, not so much as the effect of internal physical influences, as from constant exposure to sun, storm, and wind, and from the continued use of paint.2 Not a gray or a blue eye was seen among them. Their eyes were intensely black, and capable a great variety of expression. The women in general were regular in feature and graceful in figure, with symmetrical legs, slender arms, and small and shapely hands, and their voices when they sang were not lacking in sweetness. The general health of the aborigines was sound, and they frequently lived to a great age, showing but few signs of decrepitude. An Indian was observed at Pamunkey on the Powhatan, who, according to the assertions of his tribe, was one hundred and ten years old;3 he was still strong and erect,

1 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxviii; Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 424. Captains Amadas and Barlow had observed at Roanoke in 1584 children “that had very fine aburne and chestnut coloured haire,” probably the children of European sailors who had visited the coast. Hakluyt’s Voyages, vol. III, p. 303.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 361.

3 Relatyon of the Discovery of our River, p. li.


although his chin and body were covered with thin white hairs, and his mouth was entirely devoid of teeth. Powhatan, when he first came to the knowledge of the English, was supposed to have reached his eightieth year, but he had lost but little of his youthful vigor, his figure was still unbent, and he was still capable of enduring every form of hardship.1

The medicines of the Indians were few and simple, consisting of barks and roots which were used with discrimination in the ease of special diseases. Thus for the pox, an affection to which the Indians were subject, they employed sassafras, the virtue of that shrub having been tested to advantage.2 All medicines, whether taken internally or applied externally, were first reduced to powder and then diluted in water.3 The Indians had many physicians, who, in addition to their prescriptions of barks and roots, used several means of curing their patients. If, for instance, it was a case of ordinary swelling, the morbid spot was burnt with a piece of touchwood until blisters had been raised, thus drawing the inflammation to a head, or it was scarified with a splinted stone. If the wound had been caused by a tomahawk, sword or other sharp instrument, the juice of certain herbs was poured into it, but for a wound attended with a fracture of the bone, or for ulcers, the physician appears to have had no remedy that was effective.4 In applying his cure, he placed a bowl of water between himself and his patient; scooping up the fluid with his hands, he sucked it into his mouth, and

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travails into Virginia, p. 49. It was thought that Opechancanough was nearly one hundred years old at the time of his death. New Description of Virginia, p. 7, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II.

2 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 110.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 172.

4 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 108.


then spewed it out again over his arms and breast. Taking his rattle, he agitated it with great violence, and at the same time continued to strike his breast with his disengaged arm. While this was in progress he remained in a kneeling posture. Rising, he carefully shook the rattle over the prostrate sick man, passing it backwards and forwards, and around and around, all the while sprinkling the body, and muttering, as he did so, strange and unintelligible words. This ceremony being completed, he proceeded to apply his medicines or use his instruments, according to the character of the illness from which the patient was suffering.1

In every town there was a sweating-house. When this was to be used by an Indian afflicted with a dropsy, ague, or kindred affection, the physician first placed in it four or five large stones which had been kept in the fire until they were very hot. Physician and patient then shut themselves in, and water was poured over the stones, raising a great cloud of steam. Remaining until perspiration rolled from his body, and the atmosphere had grown to be too stifling to be borne any longer, the patient groped his way out and plunged into the nearest stream, whether it was winter or summer.2 It was a pathetic fact in the history of the Indians of Virginia that they sought to use this drastic remedy when overtaken by the strange diseases which had been introduced by the English. The deaths of many by small-pox were thus hastened, to the great bewilderment of the survivors.

1 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cix

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 173.

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