Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Opechancanough, 1644

April 18, 1644: Forces under 99 year old Opechancanough, a leader of the Powhatan Confederacy, attacks the English along the Pamunkey and York rivers, 22 years after his first attack at Jamestown. His followers will kill almost 400 Virginia colonists.

BACKGROUND: Excerpted from Jordan Dill's website at http://www.dickshovel.com/500.html

The initial English (and Dutch) settlers began the process of purchasing land, supplemented as always with armed force against vulnerable Indigenous nations (such as those decimated by disease or already engaged in wars with more powerful First Nations).

It remains unclear as to what the First Nations understood of the local purchasing process, but some points are clear; there was no practise of private ownership of land, nor of selling land, among or between the Peoples prior to the arrival of the colonialists; there were however agreements and pacts between First Nations in regards to access to hunting or fishing areas. This would indicate treaties were most likely understood as agreements between First Nations and settler communities over use of certain areas of land, as well as non-aggressiveness pacts. In either case, where First Nations remained powerful enough to deter initial settler outrages the treaties were of little effect if they turned out to be less than honourable, and there was enough duplicity, fraud, and theft contained in the treaties that they could not be considered binding. Practises such as orally translating one version of a treaty and signing another on paper were frequent, as was taking European proposals in negotiations and claiming that these had been agreed upon by all -- when in fact they were being negotiated. As well, violations of treaty agreements by settlers was commonplace, particularly as, for example, the Virginia colony discovered the profitability of growing tobacco (introduced to the settlers by Native peoples) and began expanding on their initial land base.

Gradually, First Nations along the Atlantic found themselves dispossessed of their lands and victims of settler depredations. One of the first conflicts that seriously threatened to drive the colonialist forces back into the sea broke out in 1622, when the Powhatan Confederacy, led by Opechancanough, attacked the Jamestown colony. Clashes continued until 1644, when Opechancanough was captured and killed.


>From http://www.csulb.edu/projects/ais/nae/chapter_1/001_002_1.27.txt

Opechancanough, uncle to Pocahontas, was considered a master tactician. He led the Pamunkey tribe for twenty-five years, following the death of his brother, Powhatan. For the first six months following Powhatan's death, Opechancanough reassured the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, of their safety. However, Opechancanough saw that the settlers were beginning to encroach on his tribe's hunting grounds by clearing the trees to make tobacco fields and driving away the game. He saw a pattern building which he wanted to stop. In 1622, on Good Friday, the Indians struck, killing nearly 350 settlers and destroying the town's iron works. Opechancanough was captured during a peace council with the colonists, but managed to escape soon afterward. The attack had so effectively curtailed the community's growth that Opechancanough did not attack again until 1644. Soon after this assault, the chief was taken prisoner for the last time.


>From http://www.learner.org/biographyofamerica/prog02/transcript/page02.html

In 1600, the forests of the Chesapeake Bay area were the home of Algonquin-speaking tribes who belonged to a powerful confederation ruled by a single chief, Powhatan. The Powhatans were warlike, recklessly courageous, and suspicious of strangers. For them, the most humiliating defeat was not death in battle, but the loss of their ancestral lands.

Into these lands, in 1607, came three small ships carrying 104 Englishmen, all of them men. They were employees of the London Company, a joint stock enterprise created to find gold and other riches in the American Eden. English America began as a business proposition.

The strangers sailed up a broad river and landed on a small peninsula they named Jamestown. It was a perfect place for defense, but it turned out to be a death trap. The mixture of salt water and fresh water in this mosquito-infested swamp became filthy from the settlers' waste matter, and this triggered raging epidemics of typhoid, dysentery, and salt poisoning. The Englishmen died like flies.

They also died because they wouldn't work. The company had sent over a collection of colonists that was a disaster about to happen--lazy gentlemen who'd never worked; London street urchins too worn down to work; craftsmen whose skills were pathetically unsuited to pioneering: goldsmiths and jewelers, barbers and glassblowers. So in bountiful Virginia, with the forests and rivers filled with game, they starved. Only 38 were alive, 9 months later.

Indian Relations

They might all have died had it not been for John Smith. The son of a yeoman farmer, Smith had left England at an early age, in the pattern of De Soto, to fight the Moors in Hungary. He was captured in battle and made a slave in Turkey, but escaped to Russia and found his way back to London just in time to sail with the first ships bound for Virginia.

Smith was too low born to command the respect of the rich lay-abouts who governed Virginia. But in desperation, the company made him virtual dictator. Smith divided the settlers, including a few women who had arrived, into labor gangs and ordered them to work or starve. Then he took over negotiations with the Indians.

He and Powhatan settled into an uneasy relationship based on mutual self-interest. Powhatan wanted English iron goods and guns; Smith wanted Indian corn, the only thing that kept the colonists alive. But there was always tension. On one occasion, when trade negotiations broke down, Smith grabbed the chief's brother, Opechancanough, pushed a pistol into his chest, and threatened to kill him unless he got his corn quota.

Not long after this, Smith was injured in a gunpowder accident and had to return to England. That winter the 500 colonists ran out of food and began dying again. Some turned to cannibalism. One man chopped up his wife and salted down the pieces. Another dug up fresh graves to feed on the corpses.

When summer arrived, the 60 survivors boarded several ships and headed up the James River, abandoning Virginia. But on reaching the mouth of the river they ran into a relief ship from England and were ordered to turn back. For a time, things got better. More colonists were brought in, and what looked like a permanent truce with the Indians was reached when a settler named John Rolfe married Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, and took her back to England to meet the king.

But when Pocahontas and her father died within a year of one another, Opechancanough led a surprise attack on the colony, slaughtering almost a third of its population. In retaliation, parties were sent out on Indian-exterminating missions. At one bogus peace parley, the English negotiators served poisoned wine, killing over 200 Indians.

Opechancanough struck back again 22 years later, in one final, furious effort to wipe out the colony. He was captured and killed, however, and his defeated people were expelled to the Virginia frontier. By this time, the London Company had gone bankrupt and Virginia had been taken over, in 1625, by the Crown. Death rates remained appallingly high, but the colonists had found a lucrative crop.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Matoaka = Pocahontas

On this day in history, April 14, 1614, Englishman John Rolfe married Pocahontas. Why this is important is because it is one of the roots of the real Pocahontas story:


From http://www.powhatan.org/pocc.html

In 1995, Roy Disney decided to release an animated movie about a Powhatan woman known as "Pocahontas". In answer to a complaint by the Powhatan Nation, he claims the film is "responsible, accurate, and respectful."

We of the Powhatan Nation disagree. The film distorts history beyond recognition. Our offers to assist Disney with cultural and historical accuracy were rejected. Our efforts urging him to reconsider his misguided mission were spurred.

"Pocahontas" was a nickname, meaning "the naughty one" or "spoiled child". Her real name was Matoaka. The legend is that she saved a heroic John Smith from being clubbed to death by her father in 1607 - she would have been about 10 or 11 at the time. The truth is that Smith's fellow colonists described him as an abrasive, ambitious, self-promoting mercenary soldier.

Of all of Powhatan's children, only "Pocahontas" is known, primarily because she became the hero of Euro-Americans as the "good Indian", one who saved the life of a white man. Not only is the "good Indian/bad Indian theme" inevitably given new life by Disney, but the history, as recorded by the English themselves, is badly falsified in the name of "entertainment".

The truth of the matter is that the first time John Smith told the story about this rescue was 17 years after it happened, and it was but one of three reported by the pretentious Smith that he was saved from death by a prominent woman.

Yet in an account Smith wrote after his winter stay with Powhatan's people, he never mentioned such an incident. In fact, the starving adventurer reported he had been kept comfortable and treated in a friendly fashion as an honored guest of Powhatan and Powhatan's brothers. Most scholars think the "Pocahontas incident" would have been highly unlikely, especially since it was part of a longer account used as justification to wage war on Powhatan's Nation.

Euro-Americans must ask themselves why it has been so important to elevate Smith's fibbing to status as a national myth worthy of being recycled again by Disney. Disney even improves upon it by changing Pocahontas from a little girl into a young woman.

The true Pocahontas story has a sad ending. In 1612, at the age of 17, Pocahontas was treacherously taken prisoner by the English while she was on a social visit, and was held hostage at Jamestown for over a year.

During her captivity, a 28-year-old widower named John Rolfe took a "special interest" in the attractive young prisoner. As a condition of her release, she agreed to marry Rolfe, who the world can thank for commercializing tobacco. Thus, in April 1614, Matoaka, also known as "Pocahontas", daughter of Chief Powhatan, became "Rebecca Rolfe". Shortly after, they had a son, whom they named Thomas Rolfe. The descendants of Pocahontas and John Rolfe were known as the "Red Rolfes."

Two years later on the spring of 1616, Rolfe took her to England where the Virginia Company of London used her in their propaganda campaign to support the colony. She was wined and dined and taken to theaters. It was recorded that on one occasion when she encountered John Smith (who was also in London at the time), she was so furious with him that she turned her back to him, hid her face, and went off by herself for several hours. Later, in a second encounter, she called him a liar and showed him the door.

Rolfe, his young wife, and their son set off for Virginia in March of 1617, but "Rebecca" had to be taken off the ship at Gravesend. She died there on March 21, 1617, at the age of 21. She was buried at Gravesend, but the grave was destroyed in a reconstruction of the church. It was only after her death and her fame in London society that Smith found it convenient to invent the yarn that she had rescued him.

History tells the rest. Chief Powhatan died the following spring of 1618. The people of Smith and Rolfe turned upon the people who had shared their resources with them and had shown them friendship. During Pocahontas' generation, Powhatan's people were decimated and dispersed and their lands were taken over. A clear pattern had been set which would soon spread across the American continent.

Chief Roy Crazy Horse


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Black Sparrow Hawk

(Painting by George Catlin, 1832, courtesy of the Smithsonian)

April 5, 1832: After being removed from Illinois in 1831, Black Hawk, and his Sac followers lived in Iowa. Wanting to return to their old home land, today, Black Hawk and almost 1000 of his tribe will cross the Mississippi River back into Illinois. Not much later, they will be attacked by the whites.


From http://www.riverroads.com/grr/blackhawk.html

Chief Blackhawk and the Blackhawk War

Black Hawk, who's full name was Black Sparrow Hawk, was born in 1767, at Saukenauk an area three to five miles north of where the Rock River in Illinois meets the Mississippi River located near present day Rock Island, Illinois. . This location is near present-day Rock Island, Illinois. In his native tongue, his name was Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak. Contrary to popular belief, Black Hawk was never a chief. He was a warrior and a recognized leader among the Sauk and Mesquakie (Fox) nations, but he never achieved the rank of chief. Black Hawk was married to a woman named Singing Bird. Together they had two daughters and three sons. Among Black Hawk's descendants was legendary athlete Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was Black Hawk's great-grandson.

In the early 1800s the Sauk and Fox Indians lived along the Mississippi River from northwestern Illinois to southwestern Wisconsin. Black Hawk fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812. He and his followers, known as the British Band, were responsible for the victories at Campbell's Island and Credit Island. Black Hawk had done his best to force American settlers off the western frontier.

In 1830, seeking to make way for settlers moving into Illinois, the United States required the Sauk to move and accept new lands in present-day Iowa. There they struggled to prepare enough acreage for their crops. The winter of 1831-1832 was extremely difficult. In April 1832, Black Hawk led about one thousand Sauk and Fox people back to northern Illinois. Black Hawk hoped to forge a military alliance with the Winnebago and other tribes. They intended to plant corn on their ancestral farmland were they had been forcibly removed to the year before. Fearing the Sauk, Illinois settlers promptly organized a militia.

Observing the military forces organizing against him, Black Hawk reconsidered his actions and decided to surrender. Yet an undisciplined militia ignored a peace flag and attacked the Sauk. The Indian warriors promptly returned fire. The militia retreated in a panic, many forgetting their firearms. The Sauk collected the weapons and retreated northward along the Rock River into Wisconsin. The Black Hawk War had just begun.


>From http://members.tripod.com/~RFester/bhawk.html

Words Spoken - Blackhawk: "Blackhawk is an Indian. He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to feel ashamed."


In the year 1767, in the village of Saukenuk, located a few miles north of the confluence of the Rock River with the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois, a child was born. This was Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, which means "Black Sparrow Hawk" in the Algonquin language of the Sauk. Whites would later call him Black Hawk. He would become one of the most fearsome yet respected Native American warriors to be born in what is now the state of Illinois.

At the age of just fifteen, Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak joined a raid against the Osage. He succeeded in killing and scalping an enemy warrior, which entitled him upon return to Saukenuk to join in the scalp dance. At this early age, Black Hawk had become a Sauk warrior. A short time later, he led seven Sauk warriors in an attack against an encampment of 100 Osages. Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak killed an enemy, then escaped without losing a man. In a very short time, he became one of the most influential warriors in the Nation.


Sometime in early historic times, the Sauk, feeling pressure from the French and Chippewa, migrated southward out of central Wisconsin, into southwestern Wisconsin, Northwestern Illinois, and northeastern Iowa. Some settled at the rapids of the Mississippi, near what is today Keokuk, Iowa. Another group settled near the mouth of the Rock River in Illinois. A third group settled on the Osage and Missouri Rivers in the late 1700s. The Sauk were allied with the Meskwaki (known to whites as the Fox) and often lived among them and vice versa. Principal native enemies of the Sauk included the Minnesota Sioux (Santee Dakota and Yankton Nakota), Osage, and Chippewa.