Chesapeake Creoles: The creation of folk culture in Colonial Virginia

A somewhat more complete scholarly version of this essay was originally published in The Archaeology of 17th-Century Virginia, Theodore R. Reinhart and Dennis J. Pogue, editors, pp. 107-123. The Archaeological Society of Virginia Special Publication, No. 30. Courtland.VA.

In 1749, Moravian missionaries travelling in the Virginia backcountry found English, Scots-Irish and German settlers living in wigwams made of saplings covered with bark. They wrote about their stay in one such house.

We came to a house where we had to lie on bear skins around the fire like the rest. The manner of living is rather poor in this district. The clothes of the people consist of deer skins. Their food is Johnny cakes, deer and bear is their meat. A kind of white people are found here, who live like savages. Hunting is their chief occupation (quoted in Robinson 1979:148).

Other traveller’s accounts and memoirs of the frontier settlements in the backcountry describe German and Scots-Irish communities in which women went “naked”, anointed with bear’s oil, with their hair tonsured in the Indian fashion, while men wore breechclouts and moccasins. Men put on warpaint and deerskins as they joined their Indian friends in wars against their Indian enemies (Kercheval 1986). Charles Woodmason (1953) described the frontier people as living “like Indians, whom they much resemble.” Christopher Gist tells us that George Washington, who spent much time in the backcountry, put on his “Indian clothes” when he left the “civilized” precincts of Tidewater and Rhys Isaac (1982) describes how, on the eve of the Revolution, even many of the great planters of Virginia eschewed their traditional costume in favor of the deerskin tunics and moccasins that had come to symbolize the American creole as distinct from the European.

In the year 1712, missionary Giles Rainsford (Rights 1957: 35-36) wrote:

I had several conferences with one Thomas Hoyle King of the Chowan Indians who seem very inclinable to embrace Christianity and proposes to send his son to school….I found he had some notions of Noahs flood…

Two years later, Thomas Hoyle,  living with the Chowans in the vicinity of Portsmouth, petitioned the council for a survey of his peoples’ reservation. The Chowans had spent the past two years fighting for Virginia and Carolina in their war against the Tuscaroras and on that account had suffered (and here I quote Hoyle) “considerable loss in their plantations and stocks, losing seventy five head of hogs, a mare & colt, their corn destroyed by all of which and the wearing out of their clothes, they are reduced to great poverty.”

Thomas Hoyle and his people wore English clothes and, at least in interactions with colonists, they used the English language and English names. They raised swine, kept horses, and expressed a belief in Noah’s Flood. What’s more, they fought and suffered on behalf of the English colonies against enemy Indians. Belief in the flood probably originated in the stories of Englishmen, but it had become incorporated as a natural feature of Thomas Hoyle’s worldview.  Hoyle, in fact, had learned the story from his father, and had, in turn, taught it to his own son. Does this mean that Hoyle – whose name was borrowed from the English – was an Englishman? Certainly not. Did Hoyle’s ability to speak English and to show that his education had equipped him to negotiate between his own world and that of the Virginia Colony have something to do with his position of leadership among the Chowans? Probably so.

Were Thomas Hoyle and the Chowans really English in disguise? Or what Nancy Lurie (1959) called “spin-offs”?  Or perhaps they were on their way to becoming what Helen Rountree (1990) has called “ethnic fringe people”?  Were the backcountry settlers living in wigwams and anointing their bodies with bear’s oil really confused Indians? Or another sort of ethnic fringe people?

Throughout Virginia’s history, there has been constant interaction among peoples of differing cultural backgrounds, including a great variety of Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans. And yet, our popular, and scholarly, conceptions of ourselves are as displaced English. Historians have frequently explained the uniqueness of American culture and character as somehow the product of English seeds planted in a mystical American soil. A nebulous frontier geist is often raised as the agent of an American love for independence. The particular geography of the Chesapeake and its navigable rivers is forwarded to explain divergences between Virginia’s and England’s settlement and social systems in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In a recent bold, but flawed, attempt to chart the cultural history of Colonial America, David Hackett Fischer (1989) draws a picture of Virginia’s early culture as one dominated and defined by the so-called Cavaliers who arrived here in moderate numbers following the English Civil War. This is not a new image, nor is it one that has remained unchallenged over the years. Fischer’s arguments and evidence are fresh, however, and demand a new critique. I would like to offer an alternative, if equally unoriginal, interpretation: American culture is the product of the interactions of Old and New World peoples. The 18th-century frontiersmen, described above, did not arrive on these shores, trade in their linen tow and milch cows for buckskins and a log cabin kit in Williamsburg or Philadelphia, and beat a trail for the backcountry where, on the way, they developed a taste for bear’s meat and Johnny cakes.  The mid-18th century brought a new round of settlement in the Piedmont and western Virginia which led to interactions among Germans, Northern British, Tidewater Virginians, Shawnees, Cherokees, Catawbas, Africans, and African-Caribbean creoles of diverse origins. These frontier experiences would create new ways of life that would come to dominate the American experience into the present century. But these patterns were based in part on a series of mature cultures that had developed in the Tidewater and Fall Line precincts in the 17th century: a diverse group of lifeways, beliefs, and technologies that, for lack of a better term, we may call Chesapeake Creoles.

I would like to suggest a series of contexts in which creolization emerged in 17th-century Virginia. These include, but are not limited to, sexual relations, trade relations, military alliances, frontier situations, and the particular constitution of early plantation household.  Second, I would like to suggest that there were certain groups and individuals who served as interpreters of culture in the process of creolization. From the earliest days of settlement, there had been colonists who were sent to live with Indians, to learn their languages and customs. Many of these became Indians or took Indian wives. Likewise, there were always those Indians who came among the English, learned their language and customs. Pocahontas was, of course, the most famous of these. Africans arrived in small numbers from the earliest decades of the Colonial enterprise in Virginia. By the end of the 17th century there were people who had been born in Africa, or among African-Caribbean creole cultures, who had learned, and helped create, the language and lifeways of Virginia.  Some of these had become freemen, and some remained enslaved or indentured. Some had run away to the Indian world, or, I suspect, had begun to form Maroon societies at the fringes of the colony. Some, like Anthony Johnson of Northampton County, had become successful planters in their own right – what some may call “black Englishmen” –  but they remained aware nonetheless of their distinctive identities. All these people served as interpreters and creators of cultures that were pieced together through the interactions of very diverse populations. Creole cultures are variable. Their complexions tend to reflect the varying influences of their parent cultures. Creolization tends to reflect patterns of accommodation. Out of myriads of possible ways for decorating pipes, constructing pots, or cooking dinner, creoles tend to use methods and materials that reflect common ground or behaviors shared among the cultural “parents”.

***

Captain John Smith noted that the Virginia Indians generally welcomed the newcomers with offers of food, land and women. Unlike the French and Spanish, the English seemed ill-disposed to take the Indians up on the latter offer in any formalized, legally sanctioned way. An exception, of course, was the marriage of Rolfe and Pocahontas, which brought such beneficial results to the colony. Some historians feel there was a reluctance among the settlers to form marital alliances with the Indians and they have sometimes interpreted this as a repulsion to Indian women – a conclusion not borne out by numerous descriptions of the country’s “comely wenches”.  John Lawson certainly argued that Indian women were among the great attractions of Virginia and Carolina.

Evidence for widespread encounters between English men and Indian is difficult – though not impossible – to ferret out of the historical record. Throughout the 17th century, the sex ratio of male to female colonists in Virginia varied from 4:1 to as high as 6:1. Are we then to assume that, for  seven or eight decades, Virginia was home primarily to celibates?  I suspect, instead, that the records are missing something important, and on purpose.  British policy, especially after 1646, was to minimize and control as much as possible the interactions between colonists and Indians. This policy largely evolved because it was the daily contact – the easy familiarity – between colonists and Indians that had led to the high death tolls of 1622 and 1644. It was all those Indians coming into the plantations and sitting down to dinner who managed to kill so many Virginians with their own picks and shovels. Thus, official policy was exclusion of such easy familiarity, including sexual relations. The official records of the colony seem to imply that such official policy was observed. Less official accounts, such as the chronicles of John Lawson and the secret diaries of William Byrd, suggest otherwise. By the end of the 17th century, some Indian groups in Virginia and Carolina had adapted to English interest in their women by creating a class of prostitutes, who, we are told, were identifiable by special hair-do’s.

The benefits to frontier adaptation and the Indian trade were well noted. To quote a later, rather inelegant, American Indian trader, “About the only way you could learn … most Indian talk is from a sleeping dictionary.” The traders who dealt with the Saponis and Occaneechees at Fort Christanna in Brunswick County must have sought some lessons from “sleeping dictionaries.” Among the words and phases recorded by John Fontaine, most of which were trading terms, are several which clearly connote the negotiation sexual transactions.

***

Between 1607 and 1640 or so, it is probably fair to say that the Virginia colony was dependent on Native Americans. That is not to say that English immigrants met all their needs through the Indians, but that, without Indian help and indulgence, the colony would have surely failed. At Jordan’s Journey, occupied between ca. 1620 and 1635, colonial trash deposits indicate that colonists used, broke and discarded pottery vessels of Gaston and Roanoke Simple Stamped pottery and, more rarely, of a shell-tempered, highly smoothed prototype of Colono-Indian pottery. Indian pottery was also used by the early colonists living on former Pasbehegh land near Jamestown. The pots were probably brought into the settlements filled with corn, beans, and other products of Indian fields and foraging. The Jordan’s Journey site included one building, built outside the fort, which almost certainly served as a trading post and as a barracks for Indians working on the plantation.

By the end of the 17th century, Virginia’s Indians were making pottery specifically for trade or sale to their black and white neighbors. This Colono-Indian Ware, as it is called, has been found on nearly every plantation and town site of Colonial Virginia. Traditional Native American pottery techniques were used to make vessels both in traditional shapes, and in forms designed as copies of European vessels. Indeed it seems some African slaves also made pottery, although only a few excamples have been clearly identified so far in Virginia. This pot ** for instance was discovered in the earliest slave quarter yet excavated, at Jordan’s Point. The pot was discarded sometime around 1625-1630. It can be easily distinguished from European and Indian pottery by its shape, and by the techniques used to make it. In fact it strongly resembles pottery in the African tradition still being made in jamaica, like this example ** which I purchased in Kingston just last year.  Over time, however, some of the African techniques of building and finishing pottery were adopted by Native American makers of Colono-Indian ware. By the 18th century we find numerous vessels which combine Indian and African technology with European vessel forms. These pots and pans are examples in earthenware of the sort of creolization which occurred in every aspect of life in Colonial Virginia.

Which of the 55 English persons at Jordan’s Journey in 1625 had learned, as a youth growing up in the streets of London or Bristol, to hunt the numerous deer whose bones line the early 17th-century trash deposits? Deer, in England, was a prerogative aristocracy. And Virginia deer of the period were not like the controlled herds of today; they had been hunted year-round, persistently. And yet in one deposit, we have found remains of several individuals, apparently killed, butchered, and dumped all at about the same time. The deer were apparently killed in the fall or winter, the time of the great Indian communal hunts at the fall line. Deer and other wild foods played an important part in the early diets of the colonists. I have little doubt that these deer were, for the most part, brought into the colonial settlements by Indians.

In 1624, Captain John Smith wrote

…I have much admired to heare of the incredible pleasure, profit and plenty the Plantation doth abound in, and yet it hath oft amazed me to understand how strangely the Salvages hath been taught the use of our arms, and imploied in hunting and fowling with our fowling peeces; and our men rooting in the ground about tobacco like swine.

… I understand, the Indians have become [such good shots], they are employed for Fowlers and Huntsmen by the English.

By mid-century, Virginians were ready to tackle the frontier. Early explorers and traders like Abraham Wood and Thomas Stegge began deep probes into the interior from their trading stations and frontier posts south of James River and at the Fall Line. Following initial probes were the first tentative attempts to settle the Falls and Southside areas. Here again there developed that “easy familiarity” that had bred earlier troubles. But the trade proved profitable to all concerned. Guns, iron and brass kettles, cloth and rum flowed out of Tidewater into the Piedmont country of Virginia and North Carolina. Trader Thomas Hicks moved into the Nottoway country. William Byrd I of Falls Plantation, Nathaniel Bacon of Curles, and Robert Bolling of Kippax were amiong the principal traders who allied themselves with Weyanoke, Appomattox, and Occaneechee middlemen and began sending huge pack trains into the lands of the Catawbas and Cherokees. Byrd called the workers in the Indian trade “woodsmen”; he quartered the woodsmen in his fall line garrison, and he provided a home for the Appomattox Indians in his pasture. To round out his work force, Byrd imported numerous African slaves.

The woodsmen of the 17th century frontier knew Native American lifeways, as well as the trails through the land far from the settled Tidewater region. Some took Indian wives, and some were sons of mixed marriages and more informal liaisons. These creole peoples were not as numerous as the French-Indian coureurs du bois, but they played a very significant role in transmitting English-Virginian culture to Indian peoples. Some of these people who dwelled between worlds were of African, African-English, or African-Indian parentage. The woodsmen procured the principal products of the Virginia Indian trade: deerskins and Indian slaves, both of which carried the tide of Indian culture back to the Virginia heartland. We cannot call these peoples of the frontier English, African nor Indian;  red, white nor black; because no matter what their biological heritage, their culture bore the mark of the mingling of peoples from many backgrounds.

Indian slaves, servants and tenants are far more frequent in the historic record than our history books suggest. This is particularly true in the frontier counties such as Henrico, Lower Norfolk, Surry, New Kent, and Charles City. The vast majority of Virginians of the 17th century were servants or tenants, but the living and working conditions of the period mingled persons of all ranks, races, and genders into a type of cultural cauldron unique to the 17th c. Chesapeake. They lived together in small households, generally consisting of single males only. African, English, German and Indian settlers, slaves and servants were quartered together on the scattered tobacco farms of the Chesapeake. In the second half of the century there were increasingly higher numbers of Indians and, especially, Africans sharing the quarters and lifestyles of early Virginia. Many of the earlier generations of servants, now freed, took up new lands and new batches of servants. The colonists worked the ground planting primarily Indian crops in the Indian manner, although they also kept European livestock. The servants and yeomen of Virginia shed their former cultures and assumed creolized identities as Virginians.

***

I began my own exploration of creolization with an attempt to identify Native American “contributions” to Colonial Virginia’s foodways. When we think about what we know of the more recent immigrant experience in America, there is some truth to the notion that behaviors in the privacy of the kitchen and at the home table tend to reflect more durable dimensions of “ethnicity” than many more public behaviors. Food culture does have a distinctive public dimension, however, and here we may especially view the creation of new cultural features in the interactions among diverse peoples.

Feasting was a very important aspect of Powhatan Indian culture. Frequent feasts, usually sponsored by local chiefs, may have functioned as informal redistribution and prestige-creating occasions, somewhat like the potlatches of northwest coast peoples. Much was written of the hospitality of the Indians. Wherever the English visited, they came to expect to be lavishly feasted by their hosts. Parties of Indians could expect the same treatment.  John Smith relates that huge amounts of food were brought to him and his lieutenants in each village they visited. What they could not eat was then distributed among the remainder of his party and “commoner” Indians who gathered around the feast site.  Some foods and preparation methods were apparently reserved for feasting, and sumptuary rules limited consumption of other foods to the nobility. England in the 17th century had the remnants of feudal patronage and an extensive market system to provide security from periodic shortages. Virginia’s English had neither. Instead they developed a system much like that of eastern Virginia’s Powhatan Indians, and probably modelled upon it. They institutionalized a culture of hospitality and reciprocity. A man soon learned he could expect to be well fed by appearing at any gentleman’s door. Food was traded for prestige. Generosity was the hallmark of a great man, among the Powhatan and Virginia English alike

One can readily point to the traditional cuisine of eastern Virginia and see the influence of Native American foodstuffs. The adoption of the Indian staples – maize, beans and squash – was easily accomplished. These foods had spread throughout the world by the middle of the 16th century, although they had not been widely adopted in England. Maize was viewed by the settlers as an alternative grain, clearly related to the common field grains of wheat, rye, barley and oats. Beans were easily assimilated because other varieties had been domesticated in the Old World. Indian methods of preparing many foods did not differ significantly from English counterparts. Boiled stews based on grain and meat were typical of both cuisines, as well as to many African food systems. The denizens of Brunswick County, Virginia like to claim credit for the stew that bears their homeland’s name, but early accounts of Native Virginian foods include descriptions of slow-cooked stews of game meats, corn, and beans that most of us would recognize if we were to taste them at a volunteer fire department fair or church supper.

The slow roasting of fresh meat over an open fire is a cooking technique as old as any known, but it was a method which was not commonly used in Postmedieval England, however, again except perhaps by upper classes in preparing feast foods. This cooking method was so common in the New World that the Spanish – who relearned the technique from Caribbean Indians – graced the method with their name for the cooking rack: barbacoa  or “barbecue”. The English introduction of swine to Virginia was highly successful. Foraging on the mast of the forests, the swine increased remarkably and, in their semi-feral state, they could be easily hunted or trapped. Using the Indian method of cooking bear or venison, barbecued pork became as typical of Virginia’s cuisine as any preparation. By the end of the 17th century, most Indians relied heavily on pork as well.

Drying and smoking were methods of meat and fish preservation used widely by the Indians, while the English were more used to pickling their meat.  Salt was not easily had in Virginia, so the English adapted to Virginia conditions using Virginia methods. Salt obtained from hickory ash could be rubbed into a ham which was then allowed to smoke and dry hanging in an airy cabin. The cured ham was buried in hickory ashes to further preserve it. Today Virginia is world famous for this amalgam of Indian technology and English swine. Even more characteristic is the product of the Indian method for leavening pone (cornbread) with ashes while substituting English wheat flour for the corn meal. In a wheat dough or batter the alkali leavening, particularly in the presence of an acid like sour milk or buttermilk, creates the dramatically risen bread we call biscuits.

During the last quarter of the 17th century many of Virginia’s cooks were women who had been raised in Africa. This pattern of African-American women being primarily responsible for the preparation of food became the norm which continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in many parts of Virginia, as elsewhere in the South. African women brought gumbo, eggplant, black-eyed peas, sesame, yams, sorghum, watermelon, bananas, rice, and, possibly, tomatoes to the tables of Virginia (Hess 1984: xxix-xxxi). In addition, they introduced manners of preparing these, and other, dishes using cooking techniques, spices, and tastes developed in Africa, or learned among creole communities in the Caribbean or deep South. The process of creolization of Virginia’s foodways by African-American cooks has been very well described by noted food historian, Karen Hess:

These [African-Caribbean] creole cuisines were to color Virginia cookery to an extent which has not been fully appreciated, I think, because in addition to actual borrowings, there is the thumb print that each cook leaves on a recipe, even within the same culture, no matter how skilled she may be or how faithfully she follows the recipe… And so it was that even when thoroughly English dishes were cooked by hands that had known other products, other cuisines, the result would never be quite English… And that warmth of traditional Virginia cookery constitutes its charm.

Yams and sweet potatoes are, biologically, completely different things, yet in common folk usage the terms – and the vegetables themselves – are used interchangeably. Yams are African staples, while sweet potatoes were collected wild by Indians and grown as domesticates in Native American (including Virginian) gardens. African American cooks learned to use sweet potatoes as they had used yams, and the methods of preparing and spicing these roots were identical. We confuse the two roots because their cultural treatment has been thoroughly creolized. Another group of Native American staples is the squash family, including the winter squashes and pumpkins. Our folk terminologies – as well as those of Colonial Virginia – distinguish clearly between the yellow or orange starchy roots (Yams and sweet potatoes) and the yellow or orange starchy fruits (winter squashes), but the latter are frequently prepared in the same manner as the former. If we spice the boiled or baked meat of an Indian sweet potato, or an African yam, or an Indian pumpkin with Jamaican allspice and brown sugar, and then wrap it in an English paste, and bake it in an Indian-made pan of Old-World shape, we can call it sweet potato pie or pumpkin pie. And we can argue all day whether the result is Native American, English, or African, but, I contend, it is something which is a consummate American creole creation, and we would do better to stop arguing and start eating.

***

The challenge to archaeology is to determine ways to identify those “nearly indefinable qualities” in the material residues of foodways and other elements of culture. We are less likely to succeed by counting bones or sorting potsherds than by conscientiously seeking out plastic materials that preserve, in some way, the expressive acts of individuals and communities. Of course, clay is a most plastic medium, and one which is frequently used for expression. When fired to ceramic, it provides durable artifacts amenable to archaeological scrutiny. Among the material objects commonly excavated from 17th-century sites the locally produced tobacco pipes we call Chesapeake pipes. One pressing question archaeologists have pondered for years is “Who made these pipes?”  J. C. “Pinky” Harrington, one of the early excavators of jamestown, asked this question as early as 1951:

One of the most intriguing problems [of Jamestown archaeology] is that of the hand-molded pipes…Many are obviously of Indian manufacture, but some may have been made by the settlers following Indian styles and techniques. To further complicate the problem, some of these pipes which are most Indianlike in character, have well-formed English initials incorporated in the bowl decoration. Is this a case of the Indian copying a European idea; was the maker an “educated” Indian; or did a white man make an “Indian” pipe and put his initials on it?

A recently renewed focus on these fascinating artifacts has resulted in a greater appreciation of the multicultural social conditions of early Virginia. Now rather than asking “who made these pipes?” we are more likely to ask, “What do these pipes mean?” Tobacco was a common thread which bound together all of the peoples of 17th-century Virginia. Virtually every life was touched by tobacco. Everyone participated in the making of tobacco. Indian peoples supplicated and placated their gods with tobacco. They sealed their treaties and structured their public discourse with smoke from a shared pipe. Colonists came to Virginia to make tobacco, and they brought slaves and servants to help with its making. Tobacco smoking had spread throughout the Old World in the 16th century, and many immigrants, men and women, whether from Europe, Africa, or the Caribbean, were smokers.  Archaeological collections from 17th-century sites are rife with the evidence. Most of the pipes we recover are mass-manufactured ball clay varieties from England, Holland and France, but thousands of locally-made pipes have also been excavated.

Trade in decorated tobacco pipes among Indians reaches back well into the prehistoric period. Decorated pipes, many made in Virginia, including those with the familiar “star” and “deer” motifs, have been excavated in prehistoric Indian village sites in Pennsylvania, the Shenandoah Valley, and throughout much of the Carolina Piedmont.  By the mid-17th century, these pipes had become ubiquitous on Chesapeake colonial sites and Indian settlements. Traditional Indian decorative motifs were augmented by new decorations, many of which were copied from English and Dutch pipes, signet rings, and seals. Many of the pipes were stamped with decorative devices identical to those used to stamp furniture, silver, leather and other European goods, but these stamps appear along with traditional Indian designs and some designs that have parallels in African folk arts, as well. Most common of all are designs, like these rouletted triangles, which were commonly used by everyone. Nearly identical designs can be found on English furniture, Native American pottery and decorated Nigerian calabashes.

Chesapeake pipes are notable because they are craft items, meticulously made, and beautifully decorated. They are the most intriguing surviving examples of folk art of the early Chesapeake. The care and effort which attended the creation of these artifacts attests to their symbolic importance for those who used them. The designs on these pipes have things to tell us about life in a distant past.  Chesapeake pipes provide a nearly perfect medium for interpreting the creolization of cultures in the 17th century. They were ubiquitous. They were plastic expressive media. They were objects of personal identity and public display. They were fragile and relatively inexpensive to produce or procure. And they remain in the archaeological record. That many of them are beautiful and unique objects of art is a bonus that makes their study all the more enjoyable and compelling.

One of the most common designs on Chesapeake pipes is called the “running deer”, although some of the deer seem to be “standing” rather than “running”, and some of the figures appear to be dogs, bears, pigs, or other animals.  Deer pipes offer an excellent point of entry into the process of creolization and its expression in Chesapeake pipes.  Deer pipes typically have little decoration other than the deer figure, executed on the front and back of the bowl, in rouletting infilled with white lime, or other material. Deer were very important to Virginia’s native peoples, and deer symbolism was used in a variety of ways. Beverley , writing in 1705, described the Native Virginians’ use of “a sort of heiroglyphick, or representation of birds, beasts, or other things, showing their different meaning by the various forms describ’d and by the different positions of the figures”. Likewise, Hugh Jones noted, “they have certain heiroglyphical methods of characterizing things; an instance whereof I have seen upon the side of a tree where the bark was taken off. There was drawn something like a deer and a river, with certain strokes and dashes; the deer looking down the river…”. Much earlier, John Lederer (1671) had described the Indian’s picture writing making special note that swiftness was denoted by the symbol of a stag.

The basic Indian deer motif proved sufficiently plastic to permit other “ethnic” interpretations. The deer was not only important to Native Americans. The “running stag”, the “standing stag” and other animal symbols are also common motifs of English heraldry as well.  One Englishman of the mid-17th century observed the symbols on Chesapeake Native American shields and noted their similarities to English heraldic designs, prompting him to write a book on the universality of heraldry and its symbolism. Likewise, animals are often depicted in African folk arts.  Archaeological excavations show that colonists often relied on deer, especially early in the century.  In the later 1600s, the deer skin trade, like the beaver skin trade further north, was a major nexus of colonial and Native American interaction.

One of the Chesapeake pipe bowls recovered from Nathaniel Bacon’s Curles Plantation in Henrico County, in particular, seems to exemplify the process and the problems involved in its interpretation. Stamped around the middle of the bowl is a repeated oval cartouche containing a stamped impression of a deer. This is not the traditional Indian stick-figure “running deer”, however. Instead, it is an impression of an English stag. The cartouche is almost certainly the imprint from an English-made signet ring. An excavation of burials at the Burr’s Hill site, a ca. 1670 Wampanoag Indian cemetery in Rhode Island included a group of cast brass rings, “the designs cast in intaglio”. Among the various designs were classic English heraldry motifs identified as “Horn’d Animal, Stag Running, Stag Standing…” etc. The description and measurements of one of the rings with “stag standing on oval plaque” perfectly describes the stamped motif on the Curles Plantation pipe. The author of the Burr’s Hill study concludes that the rings were generic signets produced for the Indian trade. William Byrd included “brass rings” among his list of items traded along the Occaneechee trail in the late 17th century.

Nathaniel Bacon was an Indian trader living on the frontier, and his probate inventory included large quantities of “Indian truck”, as well as five African, one “Dutch”, one mulatto and six Indian servants. Who made the Curles stag pipe? An Englishman with a signet ring? An Indian with a trade ring and a fascination for heraldry? An African who remembered from his youth calabashes decorated with rouletted triangles? This question is difficult to answer. What does this pipe mean? Perhaps this is more clear: a creolized culture, highly influenced by Native American beliefs, values, and practices, arose in the 17th century Chesapeake. At the heart of this culture was tobacco, the use of which was adopted from Native American ritual practice to English and African societies. This pipe illustrates well both the difficulty of seeking specific ethnic identities in artifacts, and the potential rewards of interpreting Chesapeake pipes as records of the construction of creole cultures.

While Indians were adopting European pottery forms, cattle and swine keeping, frame houses, woolen cloaks, and other imported lifeways; the colonial Virginians were adopting Indian pipes, along with fringed buckskin tunics, moccasins, dugout canoes, Indian-built fish dams and wiers, African-Caribbean pepper pot and yam casseroles, African-influenced religious practices, and Indian-derived Brunswick stew. In the early 1970s, three scholarly works on Southern history were published, each of which used the theme “Red, White and Black” in its title.  Each of these books was an attempt to bring peoples whose histories had not been adequately considered into the mainstream examination of the American experience. And yet these works compartmentalized ethnic groups into red, white, and black boxes which may have well described the ethnicity issues of the 1970s, but they certainly were not suitable for understanding America of the 1670s. Our colonial history was neither comprised of separate segregated cultures each with its own heritage, nor was it a “melting pot” type blending into a homogenous unity. It was, instead, a congeries of creoles reacting to and interacting with other in mutual dependence. Not so much red, white, and black, as it was pink, beige, and shades of grey.

Rebecca’s Children

This is another chapter from my unplublished book, Digging Sites and Telling Stories: Essays in Interpretive Historical Archaeology.” As such many of the tidying-up chores of a published work, such as filling in the bibliographic details and having ready-for-press visual materials, are lacking here. What’s more, I’m “publishing” here on this blog a work originally written as a much more condensed conference paper in 1991. Times have changed. We now DO see Native Americans in Colonial Williamsburg. And that is a good thing.

Dan Mouer, September 2018

Old and new myths concerning Indians in Virginia’s history and archaeology1

Let me begin by taking an unscientific poll. Do you claim to have “Indian blood” in your ancestry? Do you feel you are a product to some extent of American Indian culture? Have you ever worn, or wanted to wear fringed buckskin or a pair of moccasins? Have you ever taken quinine when travelling to a tropical region? Have you worn silver and turquoise jewelry or owned a Navajo rug? Or lived in a place with a name like Kansas, Tennessee, or Manhattan, or on a body of water named Mississippi or Chesapeake? Have you ever used tobacco products, eaten any foods containing corn or potatoes or turkey or beans? Or participated in any way in the world-system economy which was created and driven for three centuries by the exchange of Native American blood and sweat and silver for East Indian pepper and Chinese porcelain and African slaves…?

“We don’t see any Indians in Williamsburg.”

This remark was made by a noted social historian in 1987 during a discussion following my presentation of a paper on American Indian contributions to 18th-century Virginia foodways (Mouer *). Upon hearing it, I realized that, despite many years of immersion in Virginia Indian history, I had some trouble “seeing” Indians in Williamsburg also. The purpose of this essay is to argue that the reason we don’t “see” Indians in Virginia’s colonial capitol is not because they, their handiworks, and their culture were not represented there in actual history, but because we–meaning latter-day historians and historical archaeologists–have not placed them there in our interpretations. We have parsed the Indian parcel of our history into esoteric academic boxes called “prehistory” and “ethnohistory,” and have made Indian history someone else’s problem. At the same time, we have created or reinforced the cycle of continuing mythic interpretation of the American Indian as something other than real, other than human, other than historical, and–perhaps most to the point–other than “us.”

This denial of Indian heritage would be easily discarded as ignorance or bigotry if it weren’t obvious that our profession seems staffed by people of unusually liberal sentiment, most of whom would undoubtedly identify with the general project of anthropology as increasing tolerance towards cultural variety. A less sinister, and I feel more accurate, view would see academics caught up in the popular myth thatwe—meaning white and black people–replaced them–the Indians–in rapid fashion leaving them little opportunity to participate in our history in a meaningful way, no matter how regrettable this may be. This myth contains some ironies that need exploring, however.

The Indian Queen

It is a standing joke in Virginia that many of the older families of the Old Dominion trace their ancestry to Pocahontas as any perusal of the genealogical and local history literature will confirm. Pocahontas is, indeed, a totem ancestor for many Virginians (Figures 6.1 and 6.2). Many official and semi-official symbols in the Commonwealth contain the figure known as “the Indian Queen” (Figure 6.3). She is derived from historic trademarks or seal emblems used to identify Virginia tobacco. She once symbolized the Indian’s gift to the Commonwealth–a gift that provided the capital to power Virginia to dominance among the thirteen colonies and to finance the Revolution. The Indian Queen is also a reference to Pocahontas–who often is referred to as a “princess” in mythical histories.

Pocahontas was one of the daughters of Powhatan, the paramount chief over most coastal plain Indian groups from sometime prior to the arrival of Jamestown settlers until his death in 1618. Pocahontas, first encountered by the English at the age of 10 or 11, had an unnerving effect on some of those who described her–an effect which if explored with insight would have to be interpreted today with an X rating. One can fairly hear the deep sighs behind the chroniclers’ slim paragraphs. If I read Captain John Smith properly–and he told his story many years after his first encounter with the girl–his was a more paternal impression of the Indian maiden than some, but he was nonetheless smitten. The way in which one young Indian woman was perceived reflect a common perception at the time of the Americas as a “wanton” and “virgin” wilderness waiting to be taken by European conquest and development.2

This sentiment was reproduced in many 16th- and 17th-century paintings; a classic example is *’s Amerigo Vespuci and an American Nativedating to the early 17th century (Figure 6.4). Here “an American Native” is depicted as a voluptuous and recumbent nude female figure greeting–offering herself to?–Vespucci, a standing, male European figure. An even more telling image is a 16th-century Nederlandish work which depicts “America” as a semi-nude female holding the severed heads of male captives (Figure 6.5). Sex and violence comingle in this painting wih wild and mythical animals to create an interpretation of savagery, heathenism, and wildness all awaiting the dominating and domesticating touch of Christian civilization.

The Virginians’ love for Pocahontas stems from Smith’s tale of being saved from the head-bashing stone of Powhatan by the girl who–driven by uncanny love–threw herself around the victim and saved his life (Figure 6.6). Later, through her marriage to the inventor of sweet-scented Virginia tobacco, John Rolfe, Pocahontas helped create a decade of peace and cooperation between Indians and English which allowed the struggling colony to gain the needed foothold on what would become known centuries later as America’s manifest destiny. Head-bashing was the Powhatan manner of execution for thieves and miscreants among themselves; it was not the prescription for dealing with enemy captives–a fate that involved torture and humiliation nearly beyond comprehension and which–to compound the injury with insult–was generally left to the execution of women and children.3

Powhatan had accepted the English as his “brothers”–or, perhaps more correctly, as his “sons.” Perplexed that Smith and others could behave in ways the chief found disrespectful he elected to illustrate his power over all those chiefs of Eastern Virginia whom Powhatan held as brothers. This power rested ultimately upon the head-bashing stone and Powhatan’s ability to capture any chief and deliver him to that fate in Powhatan’s own house. The saving of Smith’s head, we must imagine, at the whim of a young girl, provided–or should have provided–a powerful message: that the fate of the English colony lay entirely with Powhatan or even, at his whim, with his child.

Pocahontas has been rendered in many ways by the historians and artists of America through time, but few of them depict what I suspect to be anyone’s early 17th century reality. Most typically we find her dressed in a deerskin shift, a long braid at her back, a neat headband holding a single feather: not unlike the Land-o-Lakes butter emblem or Howdy Doody’s Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring. Several of us who make Virginia’s Indian history a focus of study were asked for assistance by the new Jamestown Settlement Museum in interpreting Pocahontas. A sculptor had been retained and a lifesize likeness of the Indian “princess” was desired by curators to stand at the entrance to the Powhatan Indian Gallery. Helen Rountree, myself and a few others attempted to depict a daughter of Powhatan. Her dress and bodily decoration may have varied considerably depending which side of menarche we chose to interpret. The twelve or thirteen year old girl dressed–or rather undressed–for summer would have stood in the gallery rendered lifesize quite naked or, at most, her “modesty secured with a tuft of moss and a length of twine” as one chronicler described it (Figure 6.7). Her head may have been shaven or plucked nearly bald. On the other hand, the post-pubescent maiden may have worn a more ample “apron.” Her breasts, thighs, ankles and wrists may have been handsomely decorated with elaborate tattoos and a thick coating of rancid bear’s oil mixed with red pigment. Perhaps she may have been illustrated pursuing “women’s work:” weaving baskets, cooking dinner, impaling burning lightwood splinter torches beneath the skin of a male captive… But fortunately, I suppose, other interpretive devices were sought and found.

Included temporarily in the gallery’s Pocahontas exhibit was her portrait painted from life when she and Rolfe visited England following their marriage (Figure 6.8). Interestingly, “Pocahontas” is not one of the names that appears on the painting. Instead her adult or–if Woodward (*) is correct–her “secret” name, Matoaca, is given, along with her Christian name, for she was baptized Rebecca. She was painted, in all probability as she appeared at the court of James I when taken for a meeting between Virginian and British royal houses. Wearing her high ruffled collar and sitting for what must have seemed an interminable time for her portrait, it is little wonder she projected and, through the artist, we detect more than a little discomfort in her eyes. Following her part in Powhatan’s charade with John Smith, Pocahontas was kidnapped by the Potomacs and handed over to the English who kept her hostage at the frontier outposts of Henrico and Bermuda Hundred. She was tutored in English culture and religion by the Reverend Alexander Whitaker and, following receipt of a long and slobberingly sentimental letter from Rolfe who declared undying and intensely English love for the converted heathen girl, both Powhatan and Lieutenant Governor Thomas Dale assented to a marriage. Her life ended in English disease as she awaited the voyage that would return her to Virginia. Rolfe returned with his and Rebecca’s infant son, Thomas, and it is through the many children of Thomas’ descendant, Jane Bolling Randolph, the mistress of Curles Plantation in the 2nd quarter of the 18th century–that those who would be biologically descended from “the Indian Queen” chart their genealogies.

The remainder of Virginia’s Indian history as recounted through most recent texts, museum exhibits, and–if I may borrow Deetz’s term–archaeographies–involves Opechancanough’s massacre of 1622, his second massacre of 1644, and the Indian wars of 1676 more commonly called Bacon’s Rebellion, because the internal insurrection among the English is generally considered more important to history than the massacres of Appomattox, Occaneechees, Susquehannocks, Doegs, and Pamunkeys by English-speaking Virginians. In our shared histories, these Indian-White wars generally serve to provide colorful backgrounds and obstacles to be overcome in the conquest of the frontier.

Indians have not been neglected in modern historical and archaeological research and writing–far from it. It is just that their roles have been restricted to the works of archaeologists whose training, background and academic brotherhoods would define them as “prehistorians” or “ethnohistorians” (who have created yet another subdiscipline sandwiched between anthropology and history). What’s more, the subjects about which even these folks are likely to publish are restricted. The “prehistorians” write about trade goods and acculturation as revealed in excavations of post-contact Indian villages–but focusing still on issues of artifacts such as trade beads and copper, while the ethnohistorians write primarily about life in some timeless “ethnographic present,” leaving Indians with no pre-Contact past and no post-contact history. There are notable exceptions to these patterns, and I hasten to point to Helen Rountree’s on-going works on Powhatan Indian history. Other boxes of confinement include the outlets of such materials–most typically papers at meetings and in journals read by other prehistorians and ethnohistorians, but rarely by “mainstream” American historians, historical archaeologists, or the public at large.4

This is not a new problem. Historian Reginald Horseman complained long ago about the “parochial” nature of American Indian historical writing due to historians of Indians being generally methodologically backwards, and thus Indian history occupies a “backwater” in historical writing (Martin 1987). Calvin Martin feels there are more reasons than methodological ones and describes the “yawning disinterest” of most historians in the subject:

The majority of American historians seem to regard the whole issue as an endless tale of woe and atrocity committed mostly against Indians, a litany many find redundant, tiresome, and depressing. More pointedly, the Indian experience is viewed, and so treated, as a curious, even quaint sideshow within the larger panorama of Anglo-American performance and achievement in North America. (ibid: 9)

Robert Berkhofer (1987) described his attempts to submit a doctoral degree on a subject related to the history of American Indians in the 1950s. He was warned by advisors that Indians were not properly part of the field. He was told that theyshould be left to ethnologists and others. If he wrote his dissertation on Indian-white relations, he could never hope to gain professional acceptance. His dissertation was listed in Dissertation Abstractsunder “Anthropology,” even though he requested it be listed under American religious history. Berkhofer sees the field as having changed these past 30 years or so. The “New Indian History” is upon us. The field is overflowing with historians studying Indians. Berkhofer ascribes the trend to the expanding interest in and concern for the inclusion of blacks, women, and other groups formerly “omitted from the mainstream of American history” (Berkhofer 1987: 36). But the trend is still young, and the lacuna in American historiography is vast. Berkhofer asks:

Have Indians…been as significant as blacks in history books or in making a “name” for an historian? Is the Civil War more important than the French and Indian War in determining the destiny of Anglo-Americans? The former generally receives far more extensive treatment in historical surveys of the American past than the latter. (Berkhofer 1987: note 1)

To both Martin and Berkhofer a key problem in the writing of Indian history by (primarily) white historians is the inability to escape ethnocentrism. Berkhofer notes the range of approaches and comments:

I have explored some of the implications and difficulties of the effort to eliminate the ethnocentrism of the traditional Turnerian approach to the American frontier… Neither a concentration upon stages of acculturation as found in American anthropology of the 1950s, nor the repudiation of white domination of the acculturative process and the corresponding stress on creativity of the dominated … [in the 1960s and 70s], nor even the exploration of the implications of the Capitalist World-System in [the 1980s] really solves the problem of designating the who and where of tribal peoples without recourse to white-based concepts of nationalism and political understanding… (Berkhofer 1987: note 4).

Following Berkhofer we should be reluctant to speak of Monacans and Powhatans and Weyanokes and other “tribal” groups. As he states:

…the ethnocentrism of a tribal people in combination with the ethnocentrism of other tribal and Euro-American peoples determined who constituted a tribe as an ethnic identity. The power of the respective peoples vis-a-vis each other then delimited the territory and at times the lifestyles of what came to be called a tribe. Thus the historical space as well as the tribe itself are the objects of research, for the semantics of tribal identity was created through and by history (Berkhofer 1987: p39).

This is even more true when speaking of race. The problem of who is white, black or Indian is a thorny historical, theoretical, and semantic problem entirely wrapped up within the power relations of not only the past but the present, but I’ll speak of that in more detail momentarily (see also Jennings 1984: 5, 18-19, 347). Berkhofer’s essay suggests–though not as severely as Martin’s–that Indian history is all but impossible without ethnocentrism. Many feel there is a need to write a “true” Indian history that is not written from white perspectives. I would like to suggest that this idea–that white and Indian history can be separated after Contact–is itself problematic.

Anthropologists routinely confront the problem of ethnocentrism, and continually debate the question of the “other” and how to approach it. But this is not even the classical anthropological problem. I would argue, as do many anthropologists and Indian historians, that the insistence on the attempt to write a different kind of history about a different kind of world–an Indian world distinct from the world of the Non-Indian writer–is itself ethnocentrist (see, for instance, the essays by Washburn and Dorris in the Martin volume). Eric Wolf writes in his book Europe and the People Without Historyof the encompassing of peoples throughout the globe into the economy and history of the modern world-system. The spread of European influence, culture, and disease created a web of “causes and consequences” which engulfed all peoples into a common history:

In the process, the societies and cultures of these people underwent major changes. These changes affected not only the people singled out as the carriers of “real” history but also the populations anthropologists have called “primitives” and have studied as pristine survivals from a timeless past. The global processes set in motion by European expansion constitute theirhistory as well. There are no “contemporary ancestors,,” no “people without history.”.. (ibid.**check ref: 385).

Brian Fagan (*) comes to a similar conclusion. He argues forcibly that the arrival of Columbus on these shores set up interactions between Old and New World peoples which would profoundly change each. Neil Salsbury makes a similar point, and one that is especially germane to this paper:

Many historians, anthropologists and archaeologists work from a methodological inconsistency which cannot be justified by recourse to any currently acceptable scientific or humanistic premises, one which implies that Indians lack not only a past of their own but a present and a future as well. The implication might bear debating were it not for the wealth of evidence against it, much of it produced by these very scholars. At the heart of the inconsistency is the scholars’ inability to break their myth-rooted habits once and for all and, instead, approach Indian history as historians supposedly approach other subjects, that is, by envisioning events in past time as occurring in multifaceted contexts and by bearing in mind that history consists, quite simply, of the processes of change and continuity over time, processes from which no human or collection of humans can be exempt. This means, first, casting aside the patently ahistorical notions of “prehistory,” “ethnographic present,” “historical baseline” and “protohistory,” all of which qualitatively differentiate the Native American past from the European past and prevent us from seeing it on its own terms and as a continuum. (Salsbury 1987: p. 47).

The Indian has been many things to those of America and the rest of the world who do not consider themselves to be Indian. Many fine books and essays have explored the role of Indians in our own mythic histories. Some of the “New Indian Historians” could even be described as having “gone native,” seeking to find an Indian perspective to history; historians, apparently, have their Casta–edas, too. In reviewing some of the roles Indians have played for history, Martin notes:

One senses in all of this the American Indian wearing the mantle of savior, rescuing us from the disastrous course of history, or at least our rendition of it… Indians of course have a long and distinguished career in the service of European and American causes, from their duty as “noble savages” at the hands of the French philosophes, to surrogate slaves in the fervent rhetoric of antebellum abolitionists, to lost souls in the impaginations of numberless missionaries, to a cohesive influence in the “frontier thesis” of Frederick Jackson Turner and his disciples, all the way up to ecological gurus in the environmental scare of the 1960s. In each instance, Indians are pulled and twisted into a grotesque shape, a caricature of the genuine article, by those purporting to speak for or about them, or using them for this or that cause. We tend to invent Indians for all seasons; it’s one of the interesting quirks of our culture. (Martin 1987: 24).

The writing of Indian history or archaeology is not qualitatively different from writing any history or archaeology. Mostly white, predominantly male, 20th-century scholars are in no more privileged a position to interpret 18th-century plantation culture than they are in when they encounter 18th-century Indians, Classic Period Mesoamericans, Ancient Greeks, or present-day San Bushmen. Ethnocentrism and anachronism always need to be dealt with. The solution has traditionally been sought in critical analysis, an open mind, and a comprehensive mastery of the relevant scholarship and sources. In short, the problem with historiography vis-a-vis Indians is that, even with the extensive amount of research and writing being done today, Indian history is still viewed as apart from the mainstream. Nowhere is this more evident than in Virginia and Virginia’s historical archaeology.

Are there Indians in Virginia’s history after 1622? 1644? 1676?

Archaeologists and historians alike are constrained by their sources. If the historical and archaeological records were mute about Virginia Indians after, say, Opechancanough’s second uprising of 1644 or Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, there would be little to do but speculate vacuously about their presence, absence, importance, or lack thereof in Virginia’s history. But nothing could be further from the truth. As Gary Nash has written:

Our history books have largely forgotten what was patently obvious throughout [the late Colonial Period]–that much of the time and energy of the [French, Spanish and English colonial] governments…was spent negotiating, trading, and fighting with and against Indians of various cultures, and filing reports, requests, and complaints to the home governments concerning the state of Indian affairs. (Nash 1982: 223)

To claim that Indians were not a very significant element in the history and culture of Colonial and Antebellum Virginia requires ignoring the weight of both historical and archaeological evidence. In his essay on Chesapeake historiography, Thad Tate (*) repeatedly notes that historians have overlooked the history of the Indian peoples; Indians were far more important to Colonial Virginians than they are to today’s historians and archaeologists.

Even a minimal reading of period sources and period histories makes it patently obvious that Indians were on nearly everyone’s mind throughout the 18th century, and well into the 19th century, even in Virginia. Certainly a perusal of Kercheval’s or Doddridge’s early 19th century histories of the Valley of Virginia contain very few pages that don’t discuss Indians and Indian-white relations (Kercheval 1833). Earlier works–those of Jefferson, Hugh Jones, William Byrd II, Robert Beverley and others contain, as a percentage, a much greater emphasis on the Indian as a substantial part of Virginia’s history than do recent works–other than those specifically classifiable as “ethnohistories,” that is.

A perusal of Swem’s Index (*), the encyclopedic guide to Virginia historical sources and early writings, reveals what I would wager to be some surprising insights. Mentions of Indians in 17th-century Virginia are understandably numerous, but nowhere near as numerous as those for the 18th century. In fact, under the basic classification “Indians,” Swem’s lists several thousand separate entries. And these are distinct from the entries indexed under Indian Wars, Indian Acts, Indian Towns, Indian Houses, Indian Chiefs, and dozens of other headings. In addition, Swem’s lists more than 300 distinct Indian group names and perhaps 1,000 Indian personal names as index headings. The entries in Swem’s say nothing of the numerous 17th- and 18th-century county court and vestry records dealing with Indians incidentally or directly. Everyone who has researched properties in Virginia’s colonial records is aware of mentions of Indian towns, Indian cabins, Indian paths; lawsuits by and against Indians, wills passing Indian servants to heirs or freeing them, etc. The thousands of Indian names in the records–some clearly in Indian languages, some creolized, and some patently English–provide potential grist for the genealogical mill.

Besides the standard public documents, such as acts of the assembly, there are a number of important Indian texts extant in the literature. Like many such texts, they have often been translated, transcribed, or rendered by Indian agents, although many are verbatim records or original inscriptions. Texts such as the Queen of Pamunkey’s response to the Governor’s Council on being asked to render assistance against the Susquehannocks, or the great Delaware orator Logan’s eulogy and cry for vengeance upon having his family brutally eradicated by Virginia militia, or Cornplanter’s furtive request that Virginia permit he and his people to live as Virginians and worship the Virginian’s God…these and many other texts provide a fresh, nearly untapped source of interpretive material.

Mainstream histories of Virginia still ignore Indians. Look, for instance, at Rhys Isaac’s wonderful volume, the Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book contains one of the best accounts of 18th century Virginia yet published, but contains no hint that Indians were present, let alone important. The major theme of Isaac’s book is the social and cultural revolution that arrived with the Great Awakening in Virginia in the 1740s. The beginnings of momentous changes that lead directly to the dissolution of the Tidewater oligarchy and the American Revolution are traced to the stirrings of the Hanover dissident revolt, the Parson’s Cause, and the teachings of that magical orator, the Reverend Samuel Davies. Among Davies’ many notable contributions–and greatly stressed by Isaac–was his acceptance of black slaves into his congregations, and his teaching them to read, write, and learn the gospel. But one would think there were not even Indians in the Hanover up-country frontier of the 1740s and 1750s, and yet our recent excavations at Davies’ church recovered classical Colono-Indian ware–not surprising as the church stood on Totopotomoy Creek a short distance from the largest concentration of Indians in Virginia, even today. A reading of Davies’ sermons reveals his very strong negative, highly racist, feelings about Indians. This is simply one example where both the texts and the archaeology reveal Indians, but the historiographer doesn’t see them.

Every archaeologist of 18th-century Virginia’s towns and plantations has collections of Colono-Indian wares, and the evidence is clear that the majority of what has been classified as Colono-Indian Ware in Virginia was primarily made by Indians (Figures 6.8-6.11). Many historical archaeologists have begun to take as gospel James Deetz’s (1988*) assertion that Virginia colonoware, to use the generic term, was made by African-American slaves. While it is likely that someChesapeake colonoware pottery was produced by black slaves, this remains a hypothesis, not a well-studied conclusion. A century’s worth of archaeological and ethnographic work, and a sizeable body of historical data, clearly supports the long-established fact that most Colono-Indian Ware in Virginia is just what No‘l Hume (*) said it was: the product of local Native American craftsmen or, more likely, craftswomen (Mouer et al, in press *).

Deetz’s conclusion follows from the work of Leland Ferguson and his colleagues in South Carolina and Georgia. Since much of the locally made, hand-built, low-fired pottery excavated on early Carolina plantation sites is found in slave quarters, as it typically is in Virginia, research there began to attack the question of possible slave manufacture. Ferguson has concluded that, with the exception of a distinctive pottery known as Catawba Ware, Colono-Indian pottery in the Lowcountry was probably made by black slaves. In the West Indies, similar locally produced hand-made earthenwares are generically referred to as West Indian wares or Creole Wares. Why, one must wonder, is the diversity of such pottery, as well as the diversity of its colonial creators, easier to see in South Carolina or the Caribbean? I am convinced that the idea that African-Americans produced most, or all, of Virginia’s colonoware is a product of the recurring myth of the “disappearing” Indians.

At about the same time Deetz published his article, Matthew Emerson completed a dissertation for the University of California at Berkeley (Emerson 1988*) which asserted that another class of artifacts, the ubiquitous 17th-century decorated tobacco pipes, which Emerson named “Chesapeake” pipes, were also the products primarily of black servants and slaves. Again, this conclusion is not widely shared by archaeologists working in the Chesapeake. Identical and very similar roulette-decorated elbow pipes are well documented for the Late Woodland cultures of Virginia and Maryland. Many of the decorative motifs can be found in prehistoric pipes and in other Indian decorative arts traditions. While some of the decorative motifs have African parallels, and may have been African-inspired, the conclusion–based on comparisons of form, decorative technique and motifs–that the Chesapeake pipes were made primarily by Africans is not supported.5

Tobacco pipes and clay pots have no ethnicities, but their interpretations by historical archaeologists can have a great deal of significance for our understanding of American ethnic patterns, both historically and in the present. The attempt to find archaeological evidence of African Americans in 17th-, 18th- and early 19th- century sites by ascribing thousands of clay pot fragments to them has not furthered our understanding or appreciation of African-American culture in Colonial Virginia. We have known for 30 years that Colono-Indian pots were often purchased for use by slaves; No‘l Hume suggested as much. But denying the Indian manufacture of this widespread trade pottery which lingers in the archaeological record well into the 19th century, and in the ethnographic record into the 20th century, denies once again the very existence of Indians in Virginia’s history and even in our present life.

The problem of 17th-century Chesapeake tobacco pipes is more complex. Emerson has riveted our attention on these fascinating artifacts–many of which are truly museum quality specimens of folk art. His research on these pipes has provided a valuable catalogue of the rich variety of their decoration and distribution. Nonetheless, his conclusions seem to systematically deny the importance of Indian culture in these magnificent artifacts. Many of the key features of African art that Emerson finds in these pipes occur in prehistoric American Indian specimens. To suggest that these pipes were made by primarily by African slaves is to suggest that social conditions conducive to the development of a coherent folk art tradition existed when, in fact, the few Africans living in the 17th century Chesapeake were probably from differing homelands with widely disparate cultural traditions. In the 17th-century Chesapeake they were primarily parcelled out one or two per homestead in a highly dispersed settlement pattern with little opportunity for close interaction and communication. At the same time, Indian groups were coalescing, forming new alliances, and undergoing the throes of attempts at cultural revitalization in the face of massive pandemic plagues and cultural intrusions.

There can be little doubt that these pipes embody a transformation of a once sacred tobacco-related Indian trade system into a craft industry that assisted Native peoples in their adaptation to a world at first shared with but eventually dominated by a culture which viewed itself as separate from, and superior to, their traditional world. Pipes may not have ethnicities, but they can carry symbolic import in their decoration and use that negotiates among a plethora of cultural meanings–both then and now. These pipes, like the tobacco they contained, originated in Virginia’s Indian cultures and represent wonderfully the gift of the “Indian Queen.” They were, in some cases, transformed by English manufacturing techniques, English and African decorative motifs, and they were probably smoked by male and female English, African and Indian servants and tenants in 17th-century towns and plantation quarters throughout the Chesapeake. They contain a nearly perfect symbolic record of the creolization of Virginia’s early Colonial peoples. They beg the question of the disappearing Indian, and they deconstruct the notion that our culture has developed from separate red, white and black histories.

There have been a great many archaeological sites recorded in Virginia which are almost certainly habitations of late 17th-century, 18th-century or 19th-century Indians. Lewis Binford and Gerald Smith both recorded a number of 18th-century sites along the Nottoway and Meherrin drainages. Some of Westwood Winfree’s sites on the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers are certainly historic Indian settlements. The highly important Camden Site, tested by MacCord, has now been more completely surveyed and listed in the National Register by Hodges and McCartney (*), but very little intensive excavation has yet been undertaken. Hodges demonstrated the remarkable potential of historic Indian sites with her excavation of a 19th-century trash deposit on the Pamunkey reservation that was filled with both Colono-Indian and European ceramics of the late 18th- and early 19th-century period. MacCord’s (*) early test of the 18th-century John Green site has never been followed up by a major study, nor has Beaudry’s (*) initial work at Fort Christanna. Prehistorians have debated the possible relationship between the so-called Luray Focus of the Shenandoah Valley with the historic Shawnees for decades, but there has been little attempt to identify and excavate 18th-century Indian-related sites in western Virginia. MacCord recorded a number of French and Indian War forts but, with one exception, there have been no systematic excavations. The fact seems to be that the state’s “prehistoric” archaeologists don’t “see” Indians when European artifacts become common in the sites, and the “historical” archaeologists lose interest if the site proves to have anything to do with Indians. A valuable history keeps falling through the intra-disciplinary cracks.

The blind spot towards Indians in modern historical writing has been perpetuated by archaeological interpretations. I can perhaps best illustrate the “yawning disinterest” many historical archaeologists have in the subject of Indians with a true story. At an annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, which contained a fascinating session on Hudson’s Bay Company posts and forts, I overheard a conversation between two Chesapeake archaeologists which, I presume, embodied a common sentiment. Speaker 1, looking over the program for the following day, opined sarcastically “Oh great! I really can’t wait to go to this session and hear about a bunch of guys selling blankets to Indians.” Upon which Speaker 2 answered, “Why aren’t they giving this paper in some prehistoric meeting. Nobody in the SHA cares about this stuff.” Of course the session was well-attended, indicating that Speaker 2 knew not whereof she spoke. But both spoke volumes about the biases of some of Virginia’s historical archaeologists. If Indians were to be involved, the paper belonged in a “prehistoric” meeting. And I doubt that the bias stops at the Virginia state line.

I also recall hearing a story from a colleague–a former Virginian–a historical archaeologist who found herself perplexed at first when a survey in Alabama had revealed “European” artifacts and pearlware pottery in a place and time where records had recorded only inhabitants of the Creek Nation. This colleague was smart enough to recognize that her training in historical archaeology had not prepared her to know what she should expect from early 19th-century Native American sites in the Southeast. I wonder just how many unrecognized Native American dwellings have been recorded throughout the region as 19th-century “farmsteads” and late 18th-century “tenant houses.” I am heartened to see a slow but steady increase in the number of papers dealing with Native Americans at conferences of the Society for Historical Archaeology. Unfortunately, it seems that a great many of these result from studies done by archaeologists who would probably classify themselves as “prehistorians,” and the result is that these studies are often less than successful examples of historical archaeology.

Perhaps if the effects of blindness towards Indians on the part of historians and archaeologists were confined simply to limiting the usefulness or truthfulness of academic writings, there would be little need to concern ourselves. Those interested in Indians could simply continue to write about them and publish their works in journals read by other scholars interested in Indians. But the effects of scholarship are more profound than that. By maintaining the myth that Indians disappeared or dissolved in the face of a massive onslaught of European and African disease and culture, our works continue to inform erroneous public interpretations of American culture.

Not only do we see no Indians in the Colonial Williamsburg of today, where conscientious scholars may differ in opinion about the importance of such an interpretation, we see no Indians in the Museum of American Frontier Culture in Staunton, Virginia. The frontier museum has already acquired and reassembled farmsteads from Ulster, England, Germany and the Shenandoah Valley at their site in Staunton. The message the museum tells is that the American farm is the product of a cultural blending of these Scots-Irish, German and English traditions. These farms are staffed by living-history interpreters who present to hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, a view of life on the Shenandoah and Appalachian frontier. The problem is that the American farm is a mid-19th century farm. In the mid-19th century, the American frontier was in New Mexico, Oregon and Hawaii. The settling of the Valley frontier lasted between ca. 1720 and 1790, and every day of that seventy-year period was a day that involved Indians (refs: Kegleys Va. Frontier, Kercheval, Doddridge**).

The Frontier Museum includes no Indian traders or Indian hunters, or Indian agents, or blockhouses to defend against Indians. Traveller’s accounts and memoirs of the frontier settlements in the backcountry describe German and Scots-Irish communities in which women ran around quite naked, anointed with bear’s oil, while men wore breechclouts and moccasins. Men also put on war paint and deerskins as they joined their Indian friends in wars against their Indian enemies. And yet the Frontier museum depicts women in bonnets and aprons, and men in traditional “English” peasant clothes: the hard-working yeoman who, having vanquished the heathen along with the primordial forest, have become our mythical ancestors.

Nearly every frontier settler in the Virginia backcountry knew Indians by name, traded with Indians, fought alongside and against Indians, fortified his or her homestead against Indian attacks, and personally experienced or knew of neighbors and relatives captured or killed by Indians. The Valley literally teemed with Shawnees, Catawbas, Delawares, Susquehannocks, Senecas and Cherokees for at least three seasons out of every year of the 18th century. But it seems we can’t even see Indians on the frontier anymore, and this is not simply regrettable as an oversight, it is a whole-cloth Disneyland fabrication of our history and culture.

Nor were Indians confined to the frontier. In the 1720s, one-third of the scholars at the College of William and Mary were Indians. In the 1770s Indians frequented the marketplace and waterfront in Richmond, and in the 1780s Catawbas and Shawnees came to Richmond to draw supplies from the public stores. In October of 1768, Governor Botetourt paid 2 shilling 6 pence “to the Indians for earthen pans”–this being just one of dozens of documentary mentions of the Colono-Indian pottery trade. At Colonial Williamsburg the last royal governor is remembered primarily for having removed the powder from the magazine, but in 18th century Virginia he was most resented for his protracted and bloody war against the Shawnees under Chief Cornstalk–a war that most Virginians felt was designed to detract them from their growing Revolutionary sentiments.

In today’s Williamsburg, Peyton Randolph is remembered as the builder of one the town’s finer houses and as president of the Continental Congress, but Randolph made his reputation as a leader partly through his more youthful venture of raising a militia of gentlemen to fight Indians in the Piedmont and Valley during the so-called French and Indian War (Isaac: 154). Of course that war had little to do with the French as far as Virginians were concerned. It was yet another in a string of Indian wars that ran unbroken by as much as a single decade of peaceful relations between 1622 and 1790.

The Mythic Structure of Indian History and Archaeology

It is by now axiomatic that western thought is dualistic: some, of course argue that all human metaphysics are dualistic at root. But Jacques Derrida has, I think, provided an interesting insight into “Western” metaphysics since the mid-17th century: that being that the terms of the binary opposition are unequal. Ours is not simply a white and black structure, but one in which the second term of the opposition is conceived as a lacking of, a negation of, or as less than, the first. One can be dressed or undressed, but not “unnaked.” Perhaps one of the most fundamental dualisms is us:them. In this case theyare “not us.” And this is the root of the mythic cycle of Indian history written by those who consider themselves to be “us” about those considered to be “them.” Indians are “the other,” and are forever approached as outside, distinct from, and, in the last analysis, less than, us.

Francis Jennings (1975) put his finger on the problem when he identified the running theme of Indian-white relations as perceived by, and somewhat driven by those who considered themselves to be civilized, versus those they considered to be uncivilized (savage, or barbarian). (Note that one can be “uncivilized,” but not “unsavage”). Jennings further notes that the attributes of the “civilized” cannot be pinned down to anything other than the “us” of the us:them dichotomy. Other authors (see Jordan 1968) have tried to argue that color was important; that a basic white:non-white dichotomy was inherent in English culture of the 16th and 17th centuries, or that the real dichotomy was Christian:heathen. Jennings, however, astutely points to English attitudes towards the Irish, who were white, Christian and, in nearly every respect, culturally, economically and socially similar to the English, except they did not have a single over-arching, nearly omnipotent monarchy. Thus they were distinguished as different, as savage or barbaric. Primarily, however, they were other. They were “them,” not “us.”

Today, Virginia myth still tends to conceive of Virginians as “English,” a gloss that carries throughout most of these United States to characterize the dominant subculture. Virginia Colonial history is, therefore, “English” history. And this despite the fact that “by the end of the colonial period, as the Revolution loomed on the horizon, roughly half the inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies had no English blood in their veins” (Nash 1982: 200-201).

If Indians are very clearly present in the historical record and historical writing of the 18th century and early 19th century, but are largely absent today, perhaps we can recognize a time period in which our conception of our history–the “us” in the us:them: dichotomy–came to be defined. If I return to Swem’s Index, it is apparent whenthis change occurred. As I mentioned, the Colonial and early Federal records are brim-full of Indian references. There is, however, a severely sharp decline in Indian reference after the beginning of the 19th century. Perhaps the passing of the 18th century, after all, is what really marks the passing of Indians from our history. Perhaps the conclusion of the Revolution, the end of Pontiac’s Rebellion, the fixing and immediate breaking of the permanent boundary at the Allegheny Front, the successful thrust of Virginia’s land speculators into the Kentucky and Ohio countries…perhaps all of this represents the end to Virginia’s “Indian problem.” No doubt all of this figures into the equation, but I feel there is something else at work here. Something structural as well as historical. With the dawn of the 19th century, we began to define ourselves as Americans. In that definition we had firmly installed the fundamental concept of liberty, but we installed it–especially in the South–in a system with a terrible internal conflict: race slavery.6

In post-Revolutionary southern America, the us:them became white:non-white. In fact, the racial category “white” is largely a fabrication of this period. During the Colonial period people belonged to a variety of ethnic groups and social categories: better sorts and lesser sorts, Germans, Jews, Scots, English, Negroes, Catawbas, Iroquois, Civilized, Savage, Doctors, Lawyers, Slaves and Indian Chiefs. But nobody was “white.” “White” as an ethnic entity was constituted at the end of the 18th century, along with its “inferior” complement, “black” (or Negro), as a pole in a structural pair. The term “white” is very rare in earlier documents, but it rapidly became common after the Revolution. The new dichotomy differed from the old us:them structure in that now it meant, quite simply, free:slave, white:black. This was the origin of racism as we’ve come to know it in American life, and its genesis is not some Colonial or ancient heritage, but a newly interpreted modern concept born with the origins of American nationhood. Southern Indians were caught up in this racism. There was too little room for “coloreds” or “creoles” in much of the South, including Virginia. Shades of gray were eliminated in the white:black constructs of the Sambo Laws.

The more dynamic Indian peoples were subject to harsh “removals” throughout the South. Where remnant communities exist many local whites, even today, consider the Indians to be blacks. Exceptions occur with the Cherokees and Catawbas who were among those considered to be “civilized tribes” in the 19th century. William S. Willis (1971), among others, has argued that throughout the 18th century explicit white policy promoted black hatred among some southern Indian groups–notably the Cherokees and Catawbas–as a “divide and rule” strategy. It worked. Many Cherokees and some Catawbas took black slaves, which is one of the reasons they were called “civilized” by their white neighbors.

Many southern Indians even today are biased strongly against blacks and strongly deny and resent any implication of black-Indian or white-Indian “mixing.” This makes for a difficult situation in trying to understand biological and cultural creolization among whites, blacks and Indians. Throughout the 19th century and, especially, during the Jim Crow days of our present century, Indians were forced to choose acculturation to white status, or be forced into legally inferior “colored” status, or be removed forcibly from their lands if they persisted in maintaining a strong ethnic identity, or to remain hidden, quiet, and largely undemonstrative of their “otherness.” Many of Virginia’s Indians responded with this last choice. The “disappearing Indian” did not fall solely in the face of pandemics and land-hungry colonists. They faded into the population. They became white or black, but not Indian.

Some of Virginia’s Indians are only now reasserting their Native identities. While some have remained on their ancestral lands, lands which have been honored as Indian lands by the Virginia government formally since the 17th century, their public images today tend towards Pan-Indian identities emergent in the various 20th-century Neo-Indian revitalization movements. Many Northeastern Indians retained relatively clearer ethnic identities even though contact has been as long and as destructive. I suggest it is because the harsh legalized racism of the South was absent. Virginia offered little choice, especially after Nat Turner’s revolt. One was white or colored. Shades of gray were rarely permitted. Indians living on the reserves remained legally viewed as Indians by the state government, but those who left the reservation had to fight for white status or be considered non-white, and therefore, subject to enslavement. 7

It is only in recent years that members of the Amherst County Indian “band” have come to identify themselves as “Monacans.” Early 20th-century ethnologists, who found these folks living on marginal, hilly lands along small tributaries to the James, reported that they were known as “Issue,” a name which was viewed by the Indians and their white neighbors alike as a derogatory term meaning “mixed-blood.” The name–especially as it would be pronounced by a country Virginian–probably derives from Isha (or Iswa, Esaw, Issa and other cognates), a Siouan term meaning “river people.” It is the name which the Catawbas and some of their Piedmont Siouan relatives have called themselves for many centuries. Some of the Amherst Indians have claimed that they were driven from a village home on the James River by the flu epidemic early in this century. The place they describe as their home is near the traditional location of a major 17th-century Monacan Indian settlement. Even today, few Virginians know of the existence of this group, and yet it seems likely they have been in or near their present location since before the coming of white and black peoples to the Virginia Piedmont.

As Helen Rountree conducted research for her excellent study of Powhatan Indian history, she “discovered” a group of Nansemond Indians living in the City of Portsmouth. Though unknown as Nansemonds to outsiders, this family group has kept their identity through genealogical reckoning in their ancient family bible, through which they trace their descent from *, King of the Nansemonds in 17*. Many other groups living beyond the reservations, such as the Rappahannocks, have long made us aware of their existence, but there seems to be a new pride in Indian identity with each passing year and each new state-wide gathering. Virginia’s pow-wows are attended annually by more people who are more and more willing, anxious even, to proclaim their Native American heritage.

What to do?

A plural history needs plural interpretation. Historical archaeologists, with few exceptions, are white. That need not be a complete roadblock to our recognition and interpretation of Native American culture history. Changing the complexion of those who work in the field is something we must hope for, and work towards, but the position that white and black archaeologists cannot interpret Indian history is an invitation to continue ignoring the Indian portion of our common culture. Such an idea is not only a throw-back to outmoded Whorfian hyper-relativism, it’s a colossal ethical cop-out. Our self-identification as historical archaeologists, as distinguished from prehistorians isa real problem. The segregation of Indian history into separate compartments, subdisciplines, journals, and readings of the past is ideologically conditioned behavior stemming from a mythic view of the world and the academic enterprise. We need to teach a different culture history, and to teach it, we need to interpret it. To interpret it, we need to divest ourselves of–or at least critically scrutinize–certain beliefs concerning Indians, their disappearance, their non-existence, and their very nature in the creolized world we inhabit. To redirect the future, we must rewrite history, and to leave behind violent mythical constructs, we must replace them with new ones. We need to come to an understanding that, in terms of our shared histories and commingled cultures, “we” and “they” are one.

***

Three years ago a “white” couple appeared at my excavation in progress at Curles Plantation. They were pilgrims in search of a past, an identity, roots, as we’ve come to call the sense of history that comes from recognizing that each of us is entitled to a genealogy. The man, a retired military gentlemen, was paying homage to his ancestor, Richard Randolph of Curles Plantation on James River in Virginia, a descendant, as was he, of Pocahontas. There had been three generations of Richard Randolphs of Curles, but his ancestor was one who had moved to Georgia in 1787 and had established himself as the founder of a town there…the town in which my guest had grown up. This Richard had arrived with a substantial fortune and had purchased two plantations. Eventually he had built himself a fine home in the town as well– a home that still stands as an historic landmark.

His grand-daughter Maria–a name descended through the Curles line from Maria Beverly Randolph–had lived to 100 or more, and is still a character remembered by some of the town’s ancients. While Richard has become a totem ancestor, Maria provides the flesh of memory that makes ancestors real. She was very tall, of a dark complexion, and, until her death, retained her jet-black hair that, according to the denizens of this Georgia town, marked her as a descendant of Pocahontas. My problem was this: I could account for all three generations of Richard Randolphs who had been masters of Curles during the 18th century. The first had died at Bath in England. The son and grandson had lived their entire lives and had died in Henrico County, Virginia. Who was this Richard of Curles in Georgia? It didn’t take a heroic effort to solve the puzzle.

Ryland Randolph, the brother of the second Richard of Curles, son of the first, inherited the family’s ancestral estate known as Turkey Island, adjacent to Curles (Figure 6.12). He had tended the family cemetery, assumed the role of family genealogist and had devoted his adult life to embellishing the mansion until it became perhaps the greatest estate ever to sit on the James River. The official genealogies list Ryland as having died unmarried and without issue, but the truth is that he had taken a slave woman as his wife–a not uncommon act of the time. By his wife Aggie, Ryland had borne two sons. Though their names are not recorded the naming practices of the Randolphs suggest they were Ryland and Richard.

Upon is death in 1784, Ryland left a life estate to Aggie his widow and his total bequest to his two sons. Thus the family estate and graveyard of one of the wealthiest and most powerful of the Virginia gentry families passed to two “illegitimate” mulatto children. Also not uncommon was the response of Ryland’s brother Richard who contested the will, and took Aggie and her sons into slavery at Curles. Two years later Richard’s health grew weak and he made his will. He gave to the sons of his brother Ryland their freedom, and some unspecified settlement–with the proviso that they leave the state and make no further claims on Turkey Island or other family properties. The following year a Richard Randolph of the plantation called Curles on the James River in Virginia arrived with his fortune in Georgia where he established a town, a lineage of families, and a reputation that persists to this day.

This Richard and his grand-daughter Maria were as they said–born of the great houses of Curles and Turkey Island, true descendants of Pocahontas–that is, Rebecca. They were also the children of Aggie, whose fate remains unknown but imaginable. This Richard Randolph of Georgia and his Maria are, to me, what we all have become. For we are a nation of mongrels, half-breeds and creoles. We are all Rebecca’s Children. Not Pocahontas, the mythical Indian princess, but Rebecca, the real woman whose life bridged the divide between two worlds and changed all of our histories forever.

1. This chapter grew out of a paper prepared for the session “Is Historical Archaeology White,” chaired by Carol Cowen-Ricks, at the 1991 Society for Historical Archaeology Conference in Richmond.

2. The name “Pocahontas” has been translated as “little wanton,” and the term is used by Strachey as he described her cavorting with young Englishmen in the fort yard at Jamestown.

3. Gender role distinction among most Woodland Indian groups was severe. It is clear from numerous accounts that the role of women and children in captive torture was, indeed, meant as an insult to the captive and his people. When senior males were captured and held as prisoners rather than being put to death, they were sometimes referred to as “women,” just as the Iroquois referred thus to the Delawares, whom they dominated, in the 18th century.

4. Some remarkable ethnohistorical writing exists for Virginia’s Indians, almost exclusively dealing with the Powhatans in the early 17th century period. Of particular note are the writings of Lurie (**), Fausz (**), Feest (**), and the recent work of Rountree (**) whose second volume is the first modern attempt to acknowledge the presence of Indians in Virginia history up to the present. Earlier ethnologies of importance include those of Speck (*) and Stern (*). A very well researched historical work by Woodward (1969) is flawed by the author’s thoroughly biased perspective on Indians. Nonetheless, her book uses some primary materials not found elsewhere.

5. The paper referenced above (Mouer et al, in press *) also deals at length with these pipes. In contrast with the pottery, which appears to have been made in a few Indian settlements and marketed throughout the colony, there is ample evidence that the Chesapeake pipes were made on plantations during the 17th century. This simply underscores the documentary evidence for intensive, nearly daily transactions between Indians and colonists, including the quartering of Indians as laborers, servants, and slaves on plantations.

6. Slavery in southern America was race slavery. A number of students have compared slavery systems throughout the world and have found, in each case, that slave status was nowhere else as tied to a racial category as in the southern United States of the Antebellum era. Degler (*) stresses “that the liberal ideology of the United States drew a sharp line between freedom and slavery which was all too easily transferred into another duality between black and white (*).” Degler compares southern American slavery with Brazil’s slave system. and finds that manumission in the American South was far less common, creole communities were smaller and more rare. There was little tolerance in the South for “people of color,” and slavery was more typically defined along racial lines. Dunn (*) makes the Point that treatment of slaves was harsher in the Carribean and South America , but it was generally easier to get out of the state of slavery, and free blacks were not feared or hated. In the Southern U. S., manumission was infrequent, slave culture more restrictively defined, but internal treatment of slaves generally milder. In sum, slavery in the southern U. S. was more racially defined. This all follows Nash’s (*) observations on higher rates of creolization–and generally higher status of creoles -elsewhere in the hemisphere as compared with the Southern states. One striking parallel to the American South is the Cape Colony of South Africa, which had no plantation system as such, but had racially defined slavery (*). The point is made again and more specifically by Kolchin (*) who compared Southern slavery with Russian serfdom and other world slavery systems. He concluded that the Antebellum South was the only place in his comparative sample where racism was such an important part of the slave system, and he suggested a racist continuum from white serfdon through creole systems of Jamaica, St. Domigue and Brazil, with the American South at the racist extreme.

7. For a blood-curdling example of one the power of one determined and doggedly racist bureacrat to erase Indian identity in 20th-century Virginia, see Rountree (*) and *.

Monumental Decisions

 

Some Timely Thoughts for August 18, 2017

In 1996, I was asked to participate in a panel of scholars and prominent citizens in an open forum as the Commonwealth of Virginia struggled to decide whether the time had come to ditch its official state song, a slightly modernized version of Carry Me Back to Old Virginny, composed by African American songsmith, James Bland in 1878. Many found the song to be offensive due to its romanticization of slavery and its lyrics that used minstrel-like parodies of of African American speech. On the other hand, it was at that time the only state song in the country that had been written by an African American. My advice at the time was that a work of art that offends a substantial portion of the population should be somehow honored for what it is, but demoted from its public pedestal. It could not properly represent all the people of Virginia. Virginia decided to designate the song as “state song emeritus,” retired it, and went on to seek a new state song more suitable to Virginia at the turn of a new millennium.

One and a half centuries after the end of the Civil War, much of the South—the former Confederacy—struggles to decide what to do with symbols that trouble many citizens. One of these is the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. This so-called “Confederate Flag” was never used as an official flag of the Confederacy, but it has nonetheless come to be viewed as symbolic of the South as a distinct “nation” within the larger United States rather than as a bottle flag of an Army that raised arms against the United States.

Similar symbols of the South are the numerous statues of leading generals and statesmen of the Confederate States of America that are found throughout the South. Like the old battle flag, they too have become bones of contention between folks who find them to be offensive reminders of a not-so-grand historic era of White supremacy, slavery and racism versus those for whom they are romantic and honorable memorabilia of a time and culture that formed the South into a distinctive cultural region of the nation.

Today the South deals with this question: Is it time to “retire” the monuments and symbols of the Confederacy? Nowhere is this question more important than here in Richmond, Virginia, the former Confederate capital, and no other display of public art and artifact in Richmond can begin to compete with the grandeur, beauty and intensity of feelings generated by Monument Avenue. Depending on who you are and what you know about the grand avenue and its monuments, you may view them as commemoratives to honor Confederate leaders, especially military leaders, or you may view them as disgusting and reprehensible reminders of the evils of racism. Perhaps you have never really thought about them in depth and they are simply the decorative artifacts of Richmond’s grandest public avenue.

It helps to understand what they were built for, and at this point I believe most knowledgable scholars would argue that they are clearly the product of the so-called “Lost Cause,” a massive cultural mythos evolved in the hope to have the South “rise again” after the period of Union occupation and Reconstruction. Southerners had it found humiliating and degrading to be forced to permit African Americans to vote, to own property, to get education, and to hold public office. No sooner had the occupation ended than the South immediately launched the oppressive Jim Crow era which aimed to undo the progressive actions of Reconstruction and to institute laws and extra-legal sanctions against African American (and other non-White) citizens. Thus began the long ugly rein of lynch mobs, the Klan, and segregation.

Richmond’s mayor, Levar Stoney has created a commission of scholars and prominent citizens of the city to address the possibility of finding acceptable ways to “contextualize” the monuments on Monument Avenue and, perhaps, elsewhere in the city as well. The mayor’s vision was to seek a solution that would teach the actual history of the monuments, warts and all, without having to take the extraordinary move of decimating an enormously important historic district and its unparalleled artifacts of both the beauty and the beastliness of Gilded-Age Richmond.

I was personally glad to hear about Mayor Stoney’s commission, because as an archaeologist-historian I am a firm believer in preserving our cultural artifacts precisely so that different communities and different eras have their opportunities to appreciate, interpret, loath, and/or love the manifold meanings such artifacts can elicit. I was equally glad to hear that the mayor extended the mission to include gathering public comment and input on the possibility of removing the monuments, especially because he added that he finds them personally offensive. He is African American and does understand what they meant to those who erected them and what they mean to many Richmonders and other Virginians today. Like that old state song, how can a landscape that is so public be permitted to stand when it is offensive to so many citizens.

So to return to my original question: who owns these artifacts of history and culture? Legally they belong to the City of Richmond, I suppose, but I question whether or not the Mayor or City Counsel have the ethical right to remove these monuments without some sort of city-wide, and perhaps even state-wide or nation-wide referendum. At the very least we need a long, ongoing, serious public discussion. As the Mayor’s commission discovered in its first public meeting, this will be a loud, emotional, not always rational discussion. There will be lots of heat before there is any clear light to light the way to a decision that can be broadly supported.

I find the so-called Confederate Flag offensive because it represents institutionalized racism. It always has done and it always will do, ever since it was taken up by the KKK and then again by post-1964 redneck racists opposing integration and civil rights enforcement. My thought about the flag is that if you view it primarily as a romantic icon of the South and Southern culture, then hang it on your living room wall and enjoy it. But keep it out of my face in public places.

I find the question of monuments to be a much thornier thicket, especially the monuments of the Confederacy on Monument Avenue. There is no question that these are major elements of the city’s architecture, landscape and history. They define a major central neighborhood—a neighborhood designated as historic and significant by the national, state and city governments. The monuments have stood for nearly a century and have, therefore, played a very significant role in the spirit and culture of Virginia’s capital. Most Richmonders, I suspect, can barely imagine what a loss they would feel if the city were to have them removed.

Nonetheless, it cannot be denied, that they, like that battle flag, came into being through the post-Reconstruction institutionalization of White supremacy in Virginia. It should not surprise anyone that some of our city’s citizens and visitors who understand that truth find them as offensive as I find the “Confederate” flag to be. Nothing could be more “in your face” than these huge bronzes of generals, an admiral and a president of the rogue nation Confederate States of America parading endlessly down the grandest boulevard in town.

My recommendation to the Mayor and his commission is this. Recent history reminds us pointedly that we have not outgrown the hunger by some to keep alive a state of White supremacy in Virginia and elsewhere in this country. Richmond has been making some very fine progress in conquering that evil in recent years. I am proud of my city, my home and its people for that reason. Let’s not make any rash decisions in the current environment of political rancor, the rise of the “alt-right” and the beyond-the-fringe element of White supremacists currently stirring their long-simmering pot in the Federal government. If the City feels a need to take some action sooner rather than later, then please don’t make it an irreversible one.

Let’s try something like this first. The City could seek help—financial help and planning help—from both the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service which has designated the district as a National Historic Landmark. The effort would be to continue considerably extend the mayor’s original plan of seeking the best practices for contextualizing the monuments. I would personally love to see fairly prominent signage at the major entries to the district on and adjacent to the Avenue. Such signage would state unequivocally that the district began shortly after the Civil War as a search to erect a monument to General Lee upon his death. That initial idea lay mostly dormant until after Reconstruction when it became perhaps the most prominent urban-art expression of The Lost Cause. Further signage at each statue could address both appropriate histories of the persons represented there, but they should also detail the complex meanings of the Lost Cause, the rise of the myth of Southern honor and chivalry as well as the unambiguous effort to subjugate African Americans and codify White supremacy in the South.

Perhaps the messages of such signage could be more extensively interpreted through a Monument Avenue museum: a small but purpose-driven institution perhaps run or advised by the Virginia Historical Society, the Valentine or the City, funded, one would hope by both private benefactors and public governments up to and including the National Park Service or other appropriate Interior Department entity. The mayor’s current commission might best give way to a permanent entity responsible to the city’s public for the ongoing interpretation of Monument Avenue.

This is just one citizen’s ideas, not even fully formed. That said, they are the ideas of someone who devoted most of his adult professional life to discovering, conserving and interpreting the history and culture of Richmond and its surrounding region of Central Virginia. I have probably given as much thought as anybody to the meaning of our material artifacts and how they can be used to help our communities progress towards an ever more enlightened understanding of our shared histories and destinies.

A True Story of the Ancient Planter and Adventurer in Virginia, Captaine Thomas Harris, Gent., as Related by his Second Sonne

Published as  “Archaeology Through Narrative: Captaine Thomas Harris, Gent,” in Historical Archaeology, Volume 32, Spring 1998. Tucson: Society for Historical Archaeology.

The day before he was to die at the hands of Chickahominy Indians in the Summer of 1678, Major William Harris visited the widow of the rebel General Bacon at Curles, once his father’s plantation and the place of William’s childhood. The ancient seat was now nearly destroyed by the depredations of the Governor’s men in retaliation for the late uprising, but the home he best remembered–his father’s greatest pride–had been levelled by fire twenty years earlier. More than a year had passed of her widowhood, but Elizabeth Bacon, with her Black, Indian and German servants lived on in the mud and ashes of the Curles estate. His recollections jarred by the visit, and by a dread premonition of his coming expedition, Major Harris sat in the Indian’s house and told the boy servants his father’s life story, which comes to us in the form of a petition from Harris to the acting governor of Virginia. I have taken some care to transcribe the document using modern usages and spelling only where needed for clarity. I have likewise spelled out some words abbreviated in the original, and these instances are marked with brackets ({}). In a very few instances I have extrapolated a likely word or phrase which was illegible in the original, and these are denoted by square brackets ([]).

THE PETITION OF WILLIAM HARRIS

To His Excellency The Hon’ble Acting Governor and High {Commissioner} of His {Majesty’s Plantation} of Virginia, Colonel William Jeffreys from your most obdnt Servant, Will: Harris, Major and Deputy of the Combined Militias of Henrico and Charles City pray permit me through whatever intermediary this comes to you to petition your exlcy on behalf of an Indian Boy named Tom, of 18 yrs of age, presently a Servant in the estate of the former Rebel and Scourge of our country, Nat’l Bacon, Jr. now deceased. This Boy dwells at present with the widowed relict of the sd rebel at his late plantation, known as Curles, in the Coty of Henrico, said estate {presently} in the sizen of your exlcy on behalf of his majesty due to the treason of said Bacon. This Boy is remarkable in these parts even were he Christian, yet he is a Heathen of the Pamunkeys, a nephew, I believe, of the noble Queen of that tribe with whom we have at long last made of late a peace.

The boy is well learned in our ways and language and he is as capable a scribe as any clark or barrister. {With proper nourishment} of his soul, and some further tutoring in Classics, the boy would serve well as an {ambassador} of his people. He will without doubt bring more boys from the Indians to live among us, to hunt and plant, and to take instrucion in true religion and be baptised, {thereafter} to become fine Citizens of this Country. Mrs. Bacon will soon leave here to attend on Mr. Jarvis, to whom she has become betrothd, at his {plantation} in the lower parts of Nansemond. Unless you make some dispensacion for this Boy and his young brother, a Boy about 12 years named Nat’l, they will be sold as slaves, and of late many Indians have been sold to the Carolina Savages who use them poorly. And t’were in my estimacion a strange Oeconomie where we send our Indian’s boys to them and they send their captured Boys to us, and an injustice to Ourselves to so {jeopardize} the peace by sending forth such a one as this who could only by resentment turn his learning to our detrimnt through [treachery.]

I have only met this Boy to=night. I came to lodge at Curles in the hospitality of Mrs Bacon due to a violent Gust and Torrent that has swoln all the creeks of the upper parts of James His River. The night fell early and I feared my horse would mis=step. Knowing the road to Curles was at hand I entered this anciente plantacn, once my father’s own, and the Home of my youth. After a meager meal with the rebel’s Widow (and her having no man at home other than a Dutch servant), she directed me to a quarters house where I should lie the night with her Indian Servants, she having seven of these as well five Negroes from Africa and Brazil. As I entered the small wooden House this young Man arose respectfully and, in the Indian manner, he made no talk, nor did I, but he took a Pipe and {Pouch} from a small trap in the floor filled it with fine sweet=scented tobacco, brought the Ember to it and passed it me. Nor he nor I spoke a Word til all the smoke was extinguisht from his Pipe. Then he spoke first saying he knew me, and welcomed I should take his Bed and bolster.

He asked if I had fought against his great grandfather, the old divil King Opechancanough wherein I told him I was then too young, but that my father had done so, {notwithstanding} I had seen the great Chief before he was murthered in James City. This boy then asked where my father’s House was, and I near was brought to tears, for it had once stood not a stone’s throw from the servant hut where we spoke and these words are written. He asked I tell him about my Father which I did to pass the time and to educate these boys–though I know not the younger understood a word–about the history of our time in this Country. As I spoke he wrote near every word, and this, his writing of my words, I have placed with this letter that you may read it. I do not presume to entertain you with my story=telling as I have done this night to educate these Heathens, but only to shew the Cleverness of this servant who I pray you to save from slavery so that he might serve his people and ours in an adventure of a peaceful Communion. What follows are my words true as spake to the Indian lads.

THOMAS HARRIS HIS STORY

My father, Captaine Thomas Harris come hither aboard the Prosperus from England, a land I know not, in the year of sixteen hundred and eleven to serve with Sir Thomas Dale his Government. He told me in my youth that he had no estate in England and that his only hope was as a soldier of fortune in the plantacions or as a soldier to fodder the Canons in Holland. He chose then to be a Planter rather than himself to be planted in the ground at so young an age, and he came to decide between signing for Ireland or Virginia, and he swore he would not go among the savage Irish or ever live in a Hovel of mud and sticks, for that is how he dreamed of the Irish plantation. And he reasoned that should he have to die at the hands of Salvages, better it would be of a heathen Indian than an uncivilized Christian who knows no King, but only a cardinal Bishop. And so he purchased his stock as an Adventurer in the Company and came hither after a terrible voyage wch near killed all in a Tempest or Hurricano.

The year he came to this plantation twas the Starving Time for English and Indian alike, and there was no house in useful repair in James City, and the walls of the Ffort were nearly tumbled in the dust. Governor Dale made mends to James Fforte and then, seeking a safer and more healthful seat up the main River, he took near all the Companie to build the City of Henrico, and having barely laid the plan of the towne and paled it in he took them all again to build a city called the New Bermudas, wherein he commissioned my father {Lieutenant} of Digges His Hundred in that City. Here my father and my mother came to live in an old Indian house long since abandoned, blackened by smoke, a Hovel of sticks, but at least not an Irish Hovel. At the end of the first year he builded him the House in which I was born at the foot of this neck of land along the main river. The House had one room, no windows and a chimney of sticks plastered with mud. Here we lived when Opechancanough and all the Indians rose against us and slaughtered near 400 in one day of 1622. In my father’s charge three were lost to the Indian treachery, and that House was burned to the Ground. For many years we lived as tenants on the lands of others, in one of the fortified settlements. We had another small wood House to ourselves and our servants, but the {Tobacco} we made on a landlord’s field, and it were no Benefit to us. The year 1630 the Governor released us from the Indian-imposed bondage to return to our ruined {plantations} and tenancies and we come back then to Curles Neck where, finally, my Father said we should have a proper English house, near twenty years after he come to this country.

My Mother had died and now with a new wife my Father and Brother and I began to build the finest House in Henrico wch was the among the first shires ands courts of the country. We labored terribly in the Summer of that year to dig a Cellar 18 feet by 24 feet and full 5 feet below the earth but rising eight to the plaistered silling overhead. On the side walls we erected stout posts, nogged between with bricks fired by the house, and on the chimney wall we builded only of brick. The House raised a full room and a garret above the lowroom Cellar, where stood the Kitchen which served also as a Brewhouse, Buttery, and Bakehouse as well our Magazine and Armory. The house was covered with cypress shingles and on one end rose a [massive brick chimney,] the finest of its kind in the upper parts. Nestled against the hearth, half within and half without the house, was a large stone oven for my new mother to bake fine bread for all those of the {neighborhood} who would answer the perfume of its baking. This fine Hall, my father would say, was no Irish Hovel.

The Greate Room was plaistered of mud and lime and washed with ochre, and the walls were hung heavy with French clothes to keep the warmth of the hearths within. My new mother would cook on the great hearth of the lowroom with the help of my sister. We had then but two servants who worked the fields, made and mended all our tools. as well serviced our Meate, Meale and Beer within the hall. Mother, father, sister, brother and I all stooped over the hoe in the fields beside the servants to bring in the crop each year and to plant the next, except when my father was about his Business of soldiering, for he was above all, before a Farmer or a Father, a Soldier. His great pride, beside his brick house, was his rank of Captaine which they {commissioned} him at the time I speak of. I remember how, as a youth, it struck me with great dread to see him transformed in his armor gorget and tassets, a great steel helm on his head, a broadsword in his sash and rapier to hand, his legs and feet bound in Indian clothes and moccasins of coarse deerskin.

We lived well in that single Hall, low room and Garett for many years, and we builded more buildings, in the manner of the co’try, in our yarde. A tobacco house was the first, and then a small barn for the Cattle, a Granary and a dovecote. About the year 1640, my father resolved to enlarge the house. Another year we dug a long passage to serve as a Buttery beside and beyond the great hearth and opened it to another room as large as the Lowroom below the hall. Above ground were new chambers for he and my mother, one for my brother and I, and another for our Sister. In the gartt dwelt a maidserv’t from France and a Negro girl, not a slave, for my father would have no truck with the selling of flesh into perpetual servitude. When her time was passed, and she had been brought to the Church, she married a baptized Indian and they raised their plantacion on fifty acres a Gifte from my father.

And we builded this little wood house wherein we now huddle as this be spoke and written. Here lived the men and boy servants. I befriended one Indian named Dick. He was my age and he made smoking pipes, beautifully cut out and polished, decorated with Deer and the compass=rose. He made Pipes for all our neighborhood. for men and women, some with their Ciphers emblazoned in fine dentacions made by the artfull cut of a great shark’s tooth. He would roll out claye dug from the white Marl in the riverbank into tubes and bury it for many days to season. To this he would add small measure of quicklime. He burned them in the bread oven, and Mother–for I came to know her as my mother– was much put off until he gave her pipes with her own cipher, which she showed to all, smoking proudly with great billows at the Court or Churchyard.

In the year 1644, the old King of Pamunkey, Opechanough, raised another warre against us. That day near 700 men women and children were delivered by sauvages to their maker’s judgment. The old Indian was blind and more than 100 years old, and he was soon captured. I can remember well the militia with my father at its Head brought him before the parade at Henrico for all to see. It was no more than a few weeks after he was imprisnd in James Cittie that a knavish rogue among the guard shot the anciente enemie in the Back, ending his fearful reign. Though Pamunkey served the work of the divil, he knew no better, for he had not been instructed in the ways of our Lord; it were a treachery worthy of the Salvage himself to have been murthered so infamously.

They burned three plantacions in these partes and killed nearly fourscore in Henrico, but by God’s will, we were saved and our houses were unmolested. But then the government resolved to stop the fearsome ravages once and for all, and we had a long revenge upon yr people. I saw my father very little for nearly two yeares as he led rangers against the Appomattox, the Arrahatox, the Weyanokes, and the Manahoax. He was busy too in the work of building new fortes at the Falls and at {Chickahominy,} and commaunding them and their garrisons. My brother being gonne from the country for his learning, the management of this plantation fell to me.

In the year 1654, in the 69th year of his Life, my Father fell ill of the Ague and Fever. Of all he was the most seasoned of the ancient plaunters, yet the agues laid even him low. In those evenings of his last days we would talk when the fever permitted. He told me again his stories of coming hither, and how glad he was he had done so. He was never a rich man, though our lives were {commodious} and we wanted for naught. I had already builded my own house across the neck in Charles City, but I never failed to think of Curles as my home. He reminded me in his dying of what to him was important: that he hoped he had pleased God and served his King and his fellow men: that he had provided some small portion of an Estate for me and my brother and a Dowrie to secure my Sister an honorable husband: And he had lived to see the plantation of Virginia survive, even flourish: not the home of dandies the likes of which inhabit the Isle of Barbados, but rather as a place where a man’s hands with Will and Fortune and Blessing could raise a living. And he gestured weakly to the brick walls surrounding us, and said

“At least I did not die in a Netherlandish Myre or an Irish Hovel.”

OUR COUNTRY SPOIL’D

This your exllncy can see is the scribework of a talented young man. It breaks my heart to see this plantacion, long since deprived of my Father’s brick House by the act of God and the Neglect of Tenants, now ruined further by the rebellion of Bacon and the retribution of our former govnr on his estates. The neighbors hereabouts daily plunder this place and the Widow is helpless to defend it. The destruction and thievery has so far been of the Crop and the buildings and their furnishings: but soon they must spoil as well the cattle and servants for these are nearly all of value that remain on the plantacn, save the bricks from Mrs. Bacon’s own house and many timbers yet standing of the Rebel’s great Ffort. For this reason I beseech you take this Indian boy as your servant and godson, have him instructed in Faith and in the artes he might learn of a cultured Tutor. He, or someone like him, may yet serve as the emissary to bring forever a lasting peaceful co=habitacion between the Indians and ourselves.

I would deliver this request and my Compliments in person save I am to muster our county troop on the Morrow at Henrico Court to ride out with Col. Eppes to the plantation of Rowland Pace where several Indians have of late been marauding and it is reported they have stole a Pig and killed some chickens. These sauvages tolerate not the encroaching upon their champion and meadows by the Planters in these parts who have late drained the marishes wherein the Indians are used to hunt. Nor do our own Citizens take lightly theft of Swine whereon so many of the desperate ones might feed a familie for a season or two. I would it were not too late to avoid the letting of more human bloode.

God protect our country and God save the King.

yr most humble etc.

(signed) Wm Harris

Given at Curles this day, 23rd Augst 1678

Telling Captain Harris’s Story

The assignment Mary Praetzellis gave to those who participated in the “Archaeologists as Storytellers” session at the 1997 SHA meeting was to tell a story about a person, a family, or a place using “data” from an archaeological excavation as source material. Discussion of archival or archaeological research was not to impose itself upon the story. When constrained by the “rules” of narrative (and, in the case of the live delivery at a conference, the rules of performance), I found, not surprisingly, that competence in archaeology’s language and styles is no guarantee one can be a decent story-teller in the strict sense. But the experiment was instructive. In seeking a “voice” and a “face” to present the story, I realized how little we know of language, costume, gesture, or other aspects of daily social life on late 17th-century Virginia’s frontier. It made the detailed groundedness of archaeological insight seem, somehow, all the more important.

From the beginning, even before choosing a character or plot, I knew I wanted to set my story at Curles Plantation, a site I have worked on annually since 1984 (Figures 1 and 2). The Curles Plantation Site, in Henrico County, Virginia, was settled about 1630, although earlier colonial settlement as part of Digges’s Hundred is suggested by documents but not yet confirmed by archaeology. Thomas Harris lived at Curles until his death in the middle of the century, after which the plantation became a tenanted quarter of merchant Thomas Ballard. In 1674, Ballard sold the plantation to Nathaniel Bacon, Jr. who, in the three years he resided in Virginia (the last three of his life) led a war with the Indians and a revolution against the colonial government. By the time the dust settled, a long-time governor had been unseated, colonial laws had been rewritten, and the local Native American societies had been reduced to subjugation to English and Virginian authority. The plantation was seized in 1677 by Bacon’s nemesis, Governor William Berkeley, and it remained abandoned and wasted as a government holding until 1699. For the next century, Curles enjoyed a rebirth and flourished as the seat of one of the most powerful families in Virginia. The plantation entered a long period of decline beginning about 1810, and the last of the remaining buildings were dismantled by Federal troops during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.

Curles brick house-overhead.jpg

Figure 1. Excavations of Nathaniel Bacon’s “little brick house” and fortifications at the end of the 1989 season. The fragmentary foundation in the upper center of the picture is the 18th-century Randolph kitchen. This structure was added to the “Old Hall,” constructed by Thomas Harris in The 1630s.

 

Curles Plantation 1996 season.jpg

Figure 2. Excavations in 1995 of the Thomas Harris house underlying the 18th-century Randolph kitchen. Students in the upper left and upper center portion of the picture are excavating portions of what I believe to be Nathaniel Bacon’s fort.

WmHarris_Pipestem.jpg

Figure 3. A typical 17th-c “Chesapeake” pipestem decorated with the rouletted cipher “WH;” presumably for William Harris. Among the hundreds of Chesapeake pipes and fragments from Curles are two with initials of William Harris and one marked “JH,” probably for Joan Harris, William’s stepmother.

 

With assistance from a grant from the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, I located and surveyed the site of the manor house complex in 1984. Each year since then my students and I have conducted excavations at Curles through the summer Field Archaeology program at Virginia Commonwealth University. The Curles project is “unfunded” in any traditional sense; the hard work (and ample tuition) of students has been the main source of sponsorship. Enormous support has been offered by VCU’s Archaeological Research Center (VCU-ARC), which has provided much staff assistance and virtually all of the field and laboratory supplies needed for this enormous, on-going project. We have periodically had generous assistance in the field from the owner of Curles Neck Farm, Mr. Richard Watkins, as well as from Virginia Power Company and TARMAC, an international construction-materials firm.

The first couple of years of full-scale excavation work were dedicated to digging the 18th-century Randolph mansion and some associated structures and features. In 1987 we discovered the small brick house Nathaniel Bacon had constructed at Curles in 1674. We excavated the house in 1988, and, the following year, we began to uncover the remains of what appears to have been a huge fortification complex Bacon had constructed around his home. By 1990, while excavating the 18th-century plantation kitchen, we had stumbled upon the extensive remains of the Thomas Harris house. These four structures–the Randolph kitchen, the two 17th-century houses, and Bacon’s fort–have taken most of the efforts of the field school over the past decade, although we have also excavated 18th-century gardens, 18th-century slave quarters, a 17th-century brick clamp, and an assortment of drains, ditches, wells, and other typical (and some not-so-typical) plantation features.

Over the years a great many students have undertaken independent-study projects and internships that have contributed extensive documentation about the site’s history, as well as bringing order to the vast collections. While my debts are too many to mention, I must take special notice of the tremendous contributions to this project by Beverly Binns, VCU-ARC’s Laboratory Director and the field director at Curles for most of recent history. I also want to acknowledge the tremendous trove of documentary source material recovered from around the world and transcribed by Katherine Harbury during her years as staff historian at the Center.

While I have presented findings from Curles regularly in papers delivered at local, regional and national meetings (Mouer 1993b; 1992a; 1991b, c; 1990a, b; 1989a, b; 1988b; 1987; 1985; Mouer, Wooley and Gleach 1986), little has been published, largely because it is an on-going project. Articles about Bacon’s house at Curles have appeared in Archaeology (Mouer 1991a) and in the Henrico County Historical Magazine (Mouer 1988a), and I have included chapters related to the Harris, Bacon and Randolph occupations at Curles in my forthcoming book for Plenum (Mouer 1998).

My views of the 17th century in the upper reaches of the tidal parts of the James have also been influenced by my work (with Douglas McLearen) over three seasons of excavation at a complex of sites on Jordan’s Point. These represented the fortified master compound and some tenancies associated with the early-17th-century settlement known as Jordan’s Journey (Mouer and McLearen 1991, 1992; McLearen and Mouer 1993, 1994; Mouer 1994). I have also researched the 17th-century history of the Fall-Line area for my projects at Rocketts (Mouer 1992, 1993c) and Falls Plantation (Mouer and Kiser 1993). Certainly I owe a considerable debt to all my colleagues who have devoted so much time to digging and interpreting 17th-century Virginia. A few outstanding works require special mention: William Kelso’s (1984) Kingsmill Plantations, Ivor Noel Hume’s (1979) Martin’s Hundred, and James Deetz’s (1993) Flowerdew Hundred.

Thomas Harris is someone we know primarily from official documents, which reveal quite a bit, because he left a pretty good paper trail thanks to his various land dealings and military activities. Still, much remains unknown about Thomas Harris, although genealogists have contributed considerably to the facts–as well as some fiction and confusion–surrounding Harris’s life in England and Virginia. He and his two wives were officially designated with the status “ancient planter” due to their having been in Virginia during the tenure of Sir Thomas Dale. That gave him access to an additional 150 acres of land over and above the 50-acre headrights they each earned for themselves, and any additional headrights for servants imported to the colony.

We know that Dale assigned Harris Lieutenant of Digges’s Hundred, and that he was living on the “Neck of Land” during the 1622 massacre. His patents place him at Curles Neck by 1630, the year that many who had moved into Jamestown or one of the large fortified villages erected after the massacre returned to earlier habitations. He held a number of militia posts and commissions and was, for much of his adult life, the senior military official in what was then known as “the upper parts” of the colony. While the evidence isn’t conclusive, it appears he never owned slaves. He was certainly one of the longest-lived of the “ancient planters” in Virginia.

While the historical literature on the 17th-century Chesapeake is huge, and there is an especially good basis of recent scholarship in social history and archaeology, there are few works that, on their own, stimulate for me the “historical imagination” needed to reach into that distant culture. One of the best such pieces, in my opinion, is still Morgan’s (1975) American Slavery, American Freedom. While Morgan sketched out a broader thesis, he drew on the emerging literature in archaeology and social history to elicit at least some sense of everyday life.

Another work I have long admired is the Rutmans’ (1984) experiment in creating an evocative historical ethnography: A Place in Time. The Rutmans draw a convincing picture of colonial Middlesex County, but their account of this lower Tidewater area does not square with what I have come to sense about the Fall-Line frontier up river. Many years of archaeological work have driven home to me the fact that the Fall Line was different from the tobacco-raising heartland of the early colony in many important ways. Throughout the 17th century this area was the center of the Indian trade. Many of the settlers here were not typical English planters; there were also French sheepherders and Irish millers. They depended on industry, commerce or military positions as much as or more than they did on agriculture. Servants were as likely to include Native Americans as Africans or English. Cultural and economic interactions among colonists and Indians were far greater here, and when wars and skirmishes broke out they were likely to be within these precincts. It was in Henrico County that Bacon’s Rebellion was fomented. It was in this cauldron of peripheral “multiculturalism” that many of the important historical events and cultural developments of early Virginia were centered. This intensive variety and interaction created creolized cultural forms which I have discussed at some length elsewhere (Mouer 1987, 1993a, in press).

William Harris, the narrator of the story, was probably as typical as anyone in these parts in the later 17th century, which means he was neither extraordinarily rich, nor poor; neither very powerful, nor by any means without his own sphere of influence (Figure 3). The son of an “ancient planter,” he had a small tobacco farm that was worked by his family and, occasionally, one or two servants. So far as I can tell, like most second-generation Virginians, he probably never saw England. He was a creole colonial. He was a landowner, but his holdings were modest. He rose to the rank of major as second-in-command of the combined militias of Charles City and Henrico Counties. He was what I once called a “local elite:” one of the peasantry living in the colonial periphery that rose to a modicum of local power, but whose wealth and influence did not extend to the colonial core, nor were they nearly as great as the colony’s core elites (Mouer 1987).

In 1670 he ventured west beyond the Fall Line with a troop of mounted rangers accompanying John Lederer (1966 [1671]), a Swiss explorer with a governor’s commission. His fear of Indians and of going beyond what had been the boundary of the Virginia colony for 70-some years led him into a conflict with Lederer. He finally abandoned the explorer just 50 miles from the Fall Line and returned home with his troop and announced that Lederer had been killed by Indians. A year later, John Lederer returned to Virginia having mapped and documented his travels throughout a huge section of the American Southeast. Harris was shamed. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, he died impoverished. His probate inventory include a lump of melted pewter, a bedstead, and an old mare considered to have no value.

My principal documentary and secondary sources for William Harris’s era are those dealing with Bacon’s Rebellion. The central published works include Wertenbacker (1940), Washburn (1957), and Webb (1984), as well as a very useful and extensive compilation of documents and abstracts concerning the rebellion compiled by Neville (1976). We have few primary sources for Curles Plantation in this period other than deeds, wills, and some other court papers. The cream of the crop is an extensive room-by-room inventory made under the commissioners sent to investigate the rebellion (Anon. 1677). They charged surveyors to inventory rebels’ plantations that had been seized by Governor William Berkeley. From this document we get a very good picture of the estate as it existed right at the end of the rebellion in May of 1677, including a detailed list of Bacon’s Indian, Black, and European servants.

I chose Harris, and his story about his father’s life, because I wanted to present a chronicle of events at Curles that could embrace more than a single lifespan. William Harris lived through the period of the 17th-century occupation at Curles, and he is a credible first-hand observer of events on, and surrounding, the plantation. I wanted to contrast the physical world the Harris’s built at Curles with what we have come to know about the preceding period of the 1610s and 1620s, and William Harris was a subject who might have had reliable second-hand knowledge of that time from his father.

I chose the device of a written document primarily because we have very few sources that permit us to infer the speaking manner of a frontier-dwelling, native-born Virginian of the later 17th century. We have writings of men like Nathaniel Bacon and William Bird, but these were much more powerful elites, raised and educated in England, whose lives revolved around Jamestown and London, despite their geographic locations at the Falls of the James. What we do have in plenty are petitions, court papers, etc. Their language is conventional, somewhat formal, and immediately familiar to any who have spent much time reading papers of the period. By “reading” a fictitious “document,” I avoided having to act out a character whose clothing and language I can scarcely imagine. For the written version presented here, the reader’s suspension of disbelief is aided by the use of approximations of 17th-century spelling, orthography, capitalization, abbreviation, and all the usual inconsistencies in each of these found in period documents.

References Cited

Anonymous

1677 An Account of the Estate of Nathaniel Bacon, Jr., Dec’d. C.O.5/1371, Pt.II, 227vo-230, May 11, 1677. Colonial Records, London.

Deetz, James

1993. Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation, 1619-1864. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Kelso, William M.

1984 Kingsmill Plantations, 1619-1800: Archaeology of Country Life in Colonial Virginia. Academic Press.

Lederer, John

1966 [1671] The Discoveries of John Lederer. Readex Microprint.

McLearen, Douglas C., and L. Daniel Mouer

1993 Jordan’s Journey, Volume II: Report on the 1992 Excavations at Archaeological Sites 44PG302, 44PG303, and 44PG307. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society.

1994 Jordan’s Journey, Volume III: Report on the 1992-1993 Excavations at Archaeological Site 44PG307. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society.

Morgan, Edmund S.

1975 American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

Mouer, L. Daniel

1998 Digging Sites and telling Stories: Essays in Interpretive Historical Archaeology. Studies in Global Historical Archaeology series, edited by Charles Orser. Plenum Publishing, New York.

1994 “…we are not the veriest beggars in the world:” The People of Jordan’s Journey. Presented at the Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Vancouver, B.C.

1993a Chesapeake Creoles: An Approach to Colonial Folk Culture. In The Archaeology of Seventeenth-Century Virginia, edited by Dennis J. Pogue and Carter Hudgins. Special Publication of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Richmond, pp.

1993b An Update on the Curles Plantation and Jordan’s Journey Projects. Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Jamestown.

1993c Telling Stories About Rocketts: Community and Diversity on Richmond’s Early Waterfront. Paper presented at the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Kansas City.

1992a Curles, Rocketts, and Jordan’s Journey: A progress report on three major excavations. Paper presented to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Fredericksburg.

1992b Rocketts: The Archaeology of the Rocketts #1 Site, Technical Report. Report in 3 volumes prepared by the VCU Archaeological Research Center for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

1991a Digging a Rebel’s Homestead: Nathaniel Bacon’s fortified plantation called “Curles” Archaeology magazine, July/August, pp: 54-57.

1991b Three Centuries on the James: Archaeology at Rocketts, Curles, and Jordan’s Journey. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Roanoke.

1991c Jordan’s Journey and Curles: the 1991 Season’s Finds. Paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Washington’s Birthplace National Landmark.

1990a Progress Reports: Jordan’s Journey, Rocketts Port, and Curles Plantation Excavations. Paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeology Fall Conference.

1990b “An Ancient Seat Called Curles”: The Archaeology of a James River Plantation: 1984-1989. Paper presented to the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Tucson.

1989a The Rebel and the Renaissance: Nathaniel Bacon at Curles Plantation. Paper delivered to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware.

1989b The Curles Plantation Project at the Five Year Mark: Retrospect and Prospect. Paper delivered to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Jamestown.

1988a The Excavation of Nathaniel Bacon’s Curles Plantation. In The Henrico County Historical Society Magazine, Vol. 12, pp: 3-20.

1988b Nathaniel Bacon’s Brick House and Associated Structures, Curles Plantation, Henrico County, Virginia. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Hampton.

1987 Everything in Its Place: Locational Models and Distributions of Elites in Colonial Virginia. Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Savannah, Georgia.

1985 What are you looking for? What have you found? What will you do with it now? Paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeological Conference, sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Jamestown.

Mouer, L. Daniel, and R. Taft Kiser

1993 Falls Plantation and the Confederate Navy Yard: An Archaeological Assessment of Richmond’s Eastern Waterfront. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for the William Byrd Branch, Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

Mouer, L. Daniel, and Douglas C. McLearen

1991 “Jordan’s Journey”: an Interim Report on the Excavation of a Protohistoric Indian and Early 17th Century Colonial Occupation in Prince George County, Virginia. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

1992 Jordan’s Journey: A Report on Archaeology at Site 44Pg302, Prince George County, Virginia, 1990-1991. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society.

Mouer, L. Daniel, Jill C. Wooley, and Frederic W. Gleach

1986 Town and Country in the Curles of the James: Geographic and Social Place in the Evolution of James River Society. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware.

Neville, John Davenport

1976 Bacon’s Rebellion: Abstracts of Materials in the Colonial Records Project. The Jamestown Foundation.

Noël Hume, Ivor

1979Martin’s Hundred. Alfred Knopf, New York.

Rutman, Darrett B., and Anita H. Rutman

1984 A Place in Time: Middlesex County, Virginia, 1650-1750. Norton, New York.

Washburn, Wilcomb

1957The Governor and the Rebel. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Webb, Stephen Saunders

1984 1676: The End of American Independence. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Wertenbaker, T. J.

1940Torchbearer of the Revolution: The Story of Bacon’s Rebellion and its Leader. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

 

Archaeology of the Rocketts #1 Site

The link, below will take you to the complete Phase III excavation report of from a three-year urban archaeology project in Rocketts, the 18th- and 19th- century port of Richmond, Virginia. For my colleagues and I at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Archaeological Research Center, this was, by far, the largest, most complex, and most satisfying urban excavation we undertook in the 21-year tenure of the Center. Thanks to VDOT archaeologist Mary Ellen Norissey Hodges for providing the .pdf versions of the report.

Rocketts Archaeology (Dan Mouer)

Four Papers on Prehistory and Ethnohistory in Central and Eastern Virginia from the 1980s

 

Here you will find links to four papers concerning work my colleagues in two multi-year survey and excavation projects called The James River Survey and The Henrico Project. Thanks much to Lyle Browning for helping me recover these works from publications that are now ancient artifacts themselves. These are all somewhat longish papers that are stored on WordPress as .pdf files. Feel free to read online or download them to your own hard drive if you like.

 

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Down to the River in Boats: the Late Archaic/Transitional in the Middle James River Valley. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia (senior author with R.L. Ryder and E.G.Johnson), 1981

The Elk Island Tradition: an Early Woodland regional society in the James River piedmont. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia (senior author with R.L.Ryder and E.G.Johnson), 1981.

Powhatan and Monacan Settlement Hierarchies. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia, 1981.

Monacan Archaeology and Ethnohistory, from Piedmont Archaeology, ed. byMark Wittkofski, Virginia Historic Landmarks Commision, Richmond, 1984.

 

A Pocahontas For All Seasons

A Review of Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend, by William M. S. Rasmussen and Robert S. Tilton. Originally published in 1995. William and Mary Quarterly, Institute of Early American History, Williamsburg. Winter 1995.

By L. Daniel Mouer, Ph. D.

It is ironic that the only image we have of Pocahontas which has any claim to having recorded an “authentic” vision taken from life was made at the end of that short but astonishing life. The engraving by Simon van de Passe, made in 1616, only a year before her death, portrays Pocahontas already transformed into a mythical figure. The Virginia Historical Society exhibit, Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend, and the exhibit catalogue which bears the same title, attempt to counterpose the life, the “reality” of Pocahontas, over against the “legend,” the imagined, culturally charged suite of stories and images which have gained mythical proportions in America’s historical identity. But it is no more possible to separate the life from the legend of Pocahontas than it is to do so for Marilyn Monroe or Attila the Hun. Some lives were lived as legends; none more so than that of Pocahontas.

In his foreword to the exhibit catalogue, Virginia Historical Society Director Charles F. Bryan, Jr. asks, “How accurate is the story [of Pocahontas]? Is more myth than reality?” From my perspective–that of an anthropologist–the contrasting of “myth” with “reality” is a peculiar one. All human worlds have their myths: the stories known to some degree by all members of a culture, whether they are believed to represent real persons and events or not. Myths are quite as real as anything created by the human imagination, and their power to influence, direct, and inspire collective identity and action is immense.

Historian Calvin Martin once noted:

Indians of course have a long and distinguished career in the service of European and American causes… In each instance, Indians are pulled and twisted into a grotesque shape, a caricature of the genuine article, by those purporting to speak for or about them, or using them for this or that cause. We tend to invent Indians for all seasons; it’s one of the interesting quirks of our culture. (Martin 1987: 24).

There are few Indians who have been invented and re-invented as frequently, and to such varied effects, as Pocahontas. Her image was well under construction by the time William Strachey wrote of the naked youth turning handsprings in Jamestown fort at the age of 11. Certainly, Captain John Smith’s accounts of her life–including the mythically proportioned epic of her saving his life at Werowocomico–were written many years after her death and, most scholars agree, with Smith’s concerns reaching beyond the recording of unvarnished “reality.”

Her portrait from life depicts her in all probability as she appeared at the court of James I when taken for a meeting between Virginian and British royal houses. Wearing her high stiff lace collar and sitting for what must have seemed an interminable time for her portrait, it is little wonder she projected and, through the artist, we detect more than a little discomfort in her eyes. Interestingly, “Pocahontas” is not one of the names that appears on the engraving. Instead her adult name, Matoaca, is given, along with her Christian name, for she was baptized Rebecca. The Lady Rebecca was within her own lifetime a creation of myth-makers including, in no small part I suspect, her own manipulations of the legend. Nobody can separate the life from the legend: not I, and not the authors of this fine catalogue and curators of the wonderful exhibit it refers to.

The authors/curators should be commended for bringing together a very fine series of representations–in historical documents, literature and, especially, in visual arts–of both European and American re-inventions of Pocahontas, “for all seasons,” from the 17th century to the present. The images run the temporal gamut from John White’s sumptuous watercolors of late 16th-century Carolina natives to the picture which, undoubtedly, will form the persistent archetypal image of the Powhatan “princess” for the rising generation: the ochre-skinned, olive-eyed, two-dimensional beauty swept in a blue wind-blown mist, the animation frame which served as the PR advance of Disney’s 1995 movie version of the Pocahontas story.

Many of the images are unabashedly romantic; particularly, but not exclusively, some of those of the 19th century. In some of these works Pocahontas looks not so much like a willing pawn in games of 17th-century colonial politics, but like the Land-o’-Lakes Butter lady, or Howdy Doody’s Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring. Many artists have taken to heart the apparent meaning of Pocahontas’s childhood name, and have depicted her as something of a “wanton,” with clinging deerskin shifts falling from her shoulders, often with a single breast exposed. Others, seeking genealogical authentication from ancestral portraits have pictured Pocahontas as the perfect, if perfectly exotic, English lady. Many of these works, we learn from the text, were made by artists consumed with a passion to recover the “authentic” Pocahontas. Pocahontas has been used to symbolize and defend the South, to lay claims to lofty family status, and to sell tobacco. Each of these, and many, many more “grotesque shapes” into which we have twisted Pocahontas and her legend lay equally eloquent claims to “authenticity.”

The authors tell us, for example, of the quest of painter John Gadsby Chapman, through Britain and America, for portraits, artifacts, and documents which would permit him to bring a detailed authenticity to his 1830s work, “The Baptism of Pocohontas,” which presently hangs in the U. S. Capitol rotunda. Despite this intense will to represent the real, the resulting image is a monumental romance of post-classical space and gesture, mingled with a mock-Renaissance light and palette. The effect to modern eyes is impossibly dreamed-up. Perhaps the most recent attempt to re-interpret the van de Passe portrait is Mary Ellen Howe’s “Pocahontas,” completed in 1994 and shown, I believe, for the first time in this exhibit. Ms. Howe, too, brought a nearly manic intensity to her search for an image of the “real” Pocahontas. She examined the facial structures of a contemporary Rappahannock woman, and studied details of early 17th-century embroidery and beadwork. The result, the authors tell us, “is probably the most accurate portrait of Pocahontas that has been or can be painted” (p. 49). This quest for accuracy, for reality, for authenticity defines the construction of legends, and this book and exhibit are no more, and no less, than a recent and important re-invention of a grand American myth. It is, nonetheless, a smart telling of the story, and one which offers a refreshingly insightful alternative to Disney’s visions.

The authors end their exploration of the life and legend “confident that artists from different eras and cultures will continue to invoke for their own purposes the woman whom poet Vachel Linsey respectfully called ‘our Mother, Pocahontas’.” (p. 51). Artists, more than historians, have reminded us of the many names of Pocahontas: her childhood moniker by which we know her best; her adult name, Matoaca; and her Christian name, Rebecca; and her married name, Mrs. John Rolfe. To me, this fine collection of contributions to the myth underscores that we are all Rebecca’s children. Not Pocahontas, the mythical princess; or Matoaca, the adult Indian who never had a chance to exist as such; but Rebecca, the real woman whose life bridged the divide between two worlds and changed all of our histories forever.

Reference:

Martin, Calvin

1987 In The American Indian and the Problem of History, edited by Calvin Martin, Oxford University Press, Oxford.