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Indigenous Peoples of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

There is substantial circumstantial evidence that this beautiful valley in northwestern Virginia and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia was the crime scene of Great Britain’s first experiment with ethnic cleansing. In 1660 it had the densest Native American population in the Mid-Atlantic Region. In the mid-1660s, a handful of Shanantoa Indian refugees reached the Colony of Pennsylvania, where they told sad stories of entire Shanantoa towns being killed or enslaved by Indians who came from the south.

After the Puritan leader of England, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, died in 1658, the exiled son of King Charles I began schemes to claim the English crown. In 1659, he traded the Northern Neck of the Colony of Virginia to the powerful Culpepper Family in return for a large sum of money to hire an army. The Culpepper Family and their friends in the Anglican aristocracy also gave him political support for his claim to the crown and reinstatement of the Anglican hierarchy. He simultaneously obtained support from the Roman Catholic monarchs of Europe by secretly promising to eventually convert to Catholicism, once the Puritans and staunch Anglicans were eradicated. That deception eventually resulted in the end of the Jacobean Dynasty in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Shortly after being crowned in 1660, Charles II reinstated Royalist William Berkeley as governor of Virginia. Soon thereafter he created the Colony of Carolina. Berkeley was named one of its eight Lord Proprietors. Carolina was originally planned as being a feudal society with a hierarchy of nobility.

Sir William “the Butcher” Berkeley stacked the Virginia House of Burgesses with wealthy planters. He then pushed through legislation which institutionalized human slavery for the first time in English history. Henceforth, Native American and African bond servants would be in livelong bondage. Their children would be born slaves.

Around 1664, William Berkeley signed a contract with his long time trading partners, the Rickohocken Indians. They were located in southwestern Virginia and northwestern North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Rickohockens were to be furnished with firearms and munitions in return for capturing an unlimited number of Native American slaves. They were guaranteed prices for these slaves. Within a few years, vast area of western Virginia and the future Colony of Carolina were depopulated.

You will be surprised!

Native American archaeological sites in the Shenandoah Valley are seldom mentioned in professional journals. However, historical documents and recent archaeological studies show surprising cultural connections in the Shenandoah Valley during various periods to the Ohio Valley, northern Georgia or southern Canada. It appears to have been a region where Native Americans in the north and south generally traded, but sometimes fought. That tradition continued to several major battles of the Civil War.

Did you know that a branch of Canada’s Huron (Wyandot) Indians originally lived in the northern Shenandoah Valley?

Did you know that the Shenandoah Valley once contained many Indian mounds and that there are stone cairn cemeteries in the northern part of the valley, identical to those in northern Georgia and northeastern Alabama?

Did you know that prior to its settlement by Europeans, the Shenandoah Valley was known for its high quality tobacco, which was exported by Native farmers living there to tribes in New England, Canada, Southeast and the Upper Midwest?

Did you know that the dominant tree species outside the flood plains of the Shenandoah Valley was the Southern Longleaf Pine? It was made extinct from excessive harvesting by settlers and European farming practices?

Did you know that in 1756 George Washington discovered a Native American cemetery in Winchester, VA that contained seven feet tall skeletons?

Did you know that the white settlers of the Shenandoah Valley were almost depopulated by repeated massacres committed by Native American allies of the French between 1754 and 1763? State historical markers scattered about the valley tell a story far more horrific than the scenes of bloodshed depicted in the 1991 movie, “The Last of the Mohicans.”

If interested in learning more about the Native American History of the Shenandoah Valley go to this detailed article.

If you enjoy American folk music, you will be mesmerized by this rendition of “Oh Shenandoah” by the internationally acclaimed Norwegian soprano, Sissel Kyrkjebø, performing live in Oslo:

“Oh Shenandoah” is one of Sissel’s favorite songs. She learned it as a girl growing up in Bergen, Norway from an old fisherman. He would sing the song when he sailed his boat into the North Sea.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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