Virginia’s William Berkeley and the Creation of the Cherokee Indians: Part Two
The institutionalization of Native American slavery
In Part One, we learned that the widespread existence of Sephardic Jewish colonies and European-dug mines in the Appalachians, as early as 1590, has been redacted from libraries and encyclopedias in the 21st century, because of their implication that the Cherokees were obviously nowhere around. There is circumstantial evidence that these colonists were families from Cartagena, Colombia, who had been heavily involved with gold mining and the slave trade before being chased out by the Inquisition. However, one tidbit of evidence from around 1600 still remains in the literature. It was discovered by Florida anthropologist, John Worth, while he was researching the Spanish Colonial Archives in Seville.
Between 1600 and 1602, Spanish authorities in St. Augustine received repeated reports of a large company of heavily armed white men on horseback, traversing back and forth across what is now the Georgia Piedmont. In 1602, a young Spanish officer, Juan de Lara, led a squad of soldiers northward along the Altamaha River to investigate. He was told at the capital of Tama near the Fall Line that if the Spaniards preceded any farther north, they would be killed. De Lara headed eastward to the capital of the Pota-le at Pota-pa (Potafa) then returned to St. Augustine.
When British settlers begin exploring the interior of the Lower Southeast from their new base in Charleston in the 1680s, they could find very few of the great towns and powerful provinces mentioned in the chronicles of the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions or even the memoir of Captain René de Laudonnière, Commander of Fort Caroline. The construction of large, pyramidal mounds had ceased. The Kingdom of Apalache still remained on the maps for another two decades, but all the powerful provinces between Apalache and the Atlantic had disappeared.
When Virginia’s Governor Spotswood in 1716 led the first party of Englishmen to see the Shenandoah Valley, they encountered an uninhabited valley that was filled with the ruins of large Native towns and large earthen pyramids. It was if a great civilization had been instantly wiped off the face of the earth. What had caused this terrible holocaust in the Carolinas and Virginia?
Use of Native American war captives as bond servants
Throughout the reigns of King James I (1603-1625) and King Charles 1 (1625-1651) the English colonists in North America became increasingly dependent on Dutch merchant ships for their survival. Neither king was particularly interested in naval affairs. While the number and quality of both England’s warships and merchant ships declined, those of the Netherlands became state of the art, even though the Netherlands was fighting a war of independence against Spain. Virginia’s economy would have completely collapsed during the English Civil War (1642-1651) had not the Dutch started buying most of Virginia’s tobacco.
The brother of King Powhatan, Opechancanough had been captured as a youth by the Spanish and lived in Spain for several years before escaping a recently founded mission in Virginia. He hated the Spanish because of the repeated sexual abuse he received from Catholic clergy. Throughout the 1600s, it was standard procedure for Catholic friars in remote missions to be provided teenage boys as “assistants” so they would not become sexually involved with Native boys or women.
Opechancanough was fluent in Spanish. The Dutch had been Spanish subjects since 1516 and so most Dutch sea captains were fluent in Spanish. It would be quite easy for the Dutch to communicate with the Powhatans.
However, there is a peculiar relationship between events in Neiuw Amsterdam and outbreaks of Indian attacks in Virginia. When Nieuw Amsterdam was officially founded in 1610, the First Powhatan War broke out and lasted for four years. This war only ended because of the intercession of Poncahontas, whose father was the High King of the Powhatan Confederacy. After she died in England, there were constant incidents, resulting from the hostility of the Virginia tribes to the continual taking of their lands or hunting on their lands.
It was during this period, when Virginia planters began using captured Indian youths and women as involuntary bond servants. This was also the period when they began killing all adult Indian males. Pocahontas was a war captive, working in John Rolfe’s tobacco fields, when he took her into his home and eventually married her.
Throughout the first half of the 17th century, Virginia had a chronic labor shortage because land owners still sought to maintain the English tradition that land owners did not do manual labor. Increasingly, wars were instigated by the British colonists in both New England and Virginia in order to obtain captives for manual labor. The New Englanders were equally guilty of this practice as the Virginians . . . perhaps more so.
A handful of African slaves were sold to the Jamestown colonists in 1619 by a Dutch ship, but they were quickly married to female Indian slaves. It was found that first generation African slaves had an extremely high death rate during the winter months, but their mixed blood offspring were much better able to survive European diseases and North American winters. The practice of mixing indigenous female slaves with African males was “standard procedure” until Native American slavery was banned in 1752.
The Indian Wars apparently linked to Dutch intrigues continued. When the West Indies Company was given complete control of the Dutch Colony of Nieuw Nederlander in 1621, the Second Powhatan War broke out. The Powhatans came very close to exterminating the colony during the opening days of their attacks.
The Third Powhatan War broke out in 1642, during the worst days of the English Civil War. Someone had tipped off the Indians that the English were militarily weak. However, this was the high point of Dutch power. The Dutch had captured over half of Brazil from the Spanish and renamed it Nieuw Holland. In 1642, they signed a peace treaty with Portugal, which for the meantime confirmed their ownership. Many Sephardic Jews were settled in New Holland.
That same year, the Dutch signed the Treaty of Axim with the two most powerful kings of what is now Ghana. The Dutch gained complete control of the Portuguese forts and slaving stations. The African kings agreed to furnish the Dutch with thousands of slaves, which were then transported to New Holland, the Caribbean Islands and North America.
The Doeg Indian War broke out in 1666 during the midst of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Nieuw Amsterdam had been captured by the English during an official period peace in 1664, but virtually all the colonists at the time of the war were Dutch.
The English Civil War (1642-1651), English Commonwealth (1651-1660) and Restoration (1660)
The majority of students in the United States are told very little about the English Civil War and the Restoration of the English Monarchy in 1660. However, the events in that violent era led to the genocide of most of the indigenous population of the Southeast’s interior, the institutionalization of slavery, the American Revolution and the American Civil War.
Charles I had angered the Protestant majority of England and Lowland Scotland when he married a Roman Catholic and subsequently put the English Navy under the command of the French Catholics in their crushing of the French Protestants at Rochelle. In 1625, Prince Charles was married by proxy to the fifteen-year-old French princess Henrietta Maria in front of the doors of the Notre Dame de Paris. She refused to attend his coronation ceremony because it was a Protestant service and therefore was never crowned Queen of England.
King Charles I was dependent on Parliament to levy taxes. Rather than let the Puritan-Calvinist Parliament determine national policies, Charles seldom opened Parliament. Therefore, few ships were built and the English army lagged far behind the rest of Europe in technology. Years of bickering, incompetent military leadership, political stalemates and even assassinations finally led Charles I to declare war on Parliament – essentially his own subjects. The English countryside was devastated in the ten year of bloody civil war that followed.
During the English Civil War and subsequent ten years of the Commonwealth when there was no king, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware officially supported the monarchists, while the New England colonies were staunch supporters of the Parliamentary forces. In between them was the Dutch colony of Nieuw Nederlander and Swedish colony of Nya Sverige. There was essentially no national government in England during the Civil War, so both the northern and southern English colonies grew accustomed to running their own affairs. The northern and southern colonies also began seeing themselves as different “ethnic groups” and antagonists. It was the beginning of the American Civil War.
William Berkeley, the entrepreneur and slave trader
Sir William Berkeley was born in Hanworth Manor, Middlesex in 1605 and died in London in 1677. At the beginning of the English Civil War in 1642 he was appointed Royal Governor of the Province of Virginia by King Charles I. Almost immediately, Berkeley began trading tobacco, rice, spirits, fruit, silk, flax, and potash through an extensive network of English, Dutch, West Indian, and colonial merchants.
Berkeley’s aristocratic political leanings are best evidenced by this statement made in 1671:
I thank God, there are no free schools, nor printing; in Virginia and I hope we shall not have these for a hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both.
In 1644 Berkeley returned to England to fight on the side of the Cavaliers in the English Civil War. He did little fighting, but Secretary of State Sir John Coke sent Berkeley to the Netherlands to persuade the queen’s mother, Marie de Medici, not to visit England for fear that her presence would aggravate the king’s mounting political difficulties. This put him in direct contact with Spanish officials. If he was not already in contact with Edward Bland, who was the English trader based in Spain (discussed in Part One) the business relationship could have begun at this time.
In 1645, Berkeley sailed back to Virginia to lead the force fighting hostile tribes. The colonists finally broke the back of the Powhatans in 1646. Hundreds, if not thousands of Native war captives instantly became slaves.
With the government of England in disarray because of the Civil War, Berkeley essentially became the ruler of Virginia, accountable to no one. He gave himself vast tracts of land along the James River that had belonged to the Powhatan Confederacy, and established plantations. About that time Edward Bland made the 500 mile journey from Jamestown to the North Georgia Mountains . . . at the same time that the Spanish were establishing a fortified trading post in the Nacoochee Valley in the North Georgia Mountains.
Meanwhile, even with the acquisition of many Powhatan war captives in 1646, Virginia’s plantations were languishing due to a lack of laborers. Ten percent of Virginia’s population had been killed in the most recent Powhatan War. Most of the casualties were laborers or the families of laborers. At the end of their mandatory seven year contract, British bond servants were moving to the frontier, where vast areas had been depopulated of Indians by horrific plagues, warfare and covert slave raids. Few apprenticed bond servants were coming from England because of the Civil War.
Berkeley began buying Indian slaves from several tribes living in the mountains to the west of the Tidewater region and selling them to planters. Ironically, the first large contingent of Indian slaves that Berkeley purchased were Appomattox Indians . . . that’s Appomattox as in the village where General Lee surrendered . . . effectively ending the American Civil War.
In 1652 a naval force, loyal to Oliver Cromwell, deposed Berkeley from office, but he continued to live in Virginia and concentrated his energies on building up his wealth. In fact, the growth of his wealth accelerated, since he didn’t have to be concerned with affairs of government. The monarchy was restored in 1660. Charles II reappointed Berkeley to be governor in 1660 in gratitude for the cavalier’s service to his beheaded farther.
In 1634, 200 Rickohocken warriors had left their “capital” near the Peaks of the Otter in southwestern Virginia and participated in the Powhatan War on the side of the Powhatans. The principal Rickohocken village was named “Otari” which means “high place” in one Cherokee dialect. However, this dialect appears to be a Uchee (Yuchi) language. Otari was also the name of a village, where Juan Pardo placed a small mission and a few soldiers. There may have been several villages named Otari.
The Virginians initially knew nothing about the Rickohockens, but were terrified by their military skills. In 1656 the Rickohockens sent a much larger force that ravaged many of the farmsteads of the James River Valley all the way to the coast. They were eventually defeated because of depleted food supplies and the superiority of the English firearms over arrows. Again, as in earlier Indian wars, the majority of white casualties had been the bond servants, working on plantations. Few had firearms.
Governor Samuel Mathews sent a delegation to Otari, which probably included former Governor William Berkeley, or one of his employees. Berkeley lived on the James River and had grown wealthy from the Indian slaves, fur & deerskin trade. By now, he had many employees to handle the day-to-day management of his trading empire. The delegation determined that the Rickohocken were part of an Algonquian tribe that had formerly lived farther north and had been pushed southward by the Iroquois. Other branches of the tribe lived in the Allegheny Mountains of what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. That is the same area from which Berkeley obtained his furs, slaves & deer skins.
Berkeley’s agents made contact with this warlike tribe in the Southwest Virginia Mountains with a Dutch name, the Rickohockens. The Rickohockens had evidently already been furnishing Native slaves to the Dutch and perhaps to the mysterious Sephardic colonists farther south in what was to become North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. The Rickohockens began furnishing Berkeley’s company, furs, hides and slaves. He furnished them some fire arms, which increased their ability to obtain more hides and slaves.
Berkeley creates a curse on the South
Almost immediately after being appointed Royal Governor of Virginia, Berkeley elevated his personal business relationship with the Rickohocken Indians to being clients of the Province of Virginia. In early 1661, he signed a treaty with the Rickohockens in which they agreed to provide the Virginia slave traders and planters with as many Native American slaves as possible, in return the government of Virginia would furnish the Rickohockens with all the firearms, lead balls and gunpowder they needed. Berkeley’s employees would be the middle men.
The Rickohockens set the pattern for the slave raids that would eventually be carried out by many tribes in the Southeast. All males above the age of puberty were killed as were nursing babies and children, who were too young to make the march from the interior of the Southeast to coastal slave markets. Elderly men and women were either left to starve or were killed outright. Women in their 30s and 40s were either kept as slaves to do especially hard work in Rickohocken villages or else were killed. In short, a Rickohocken raid was equivalent to the extermination of a village.
As more and more African slaves arrived in Virginia, an increasing percentage of Indian slaves were shipped to Caribbean sugar plantations, where they endured short, miserable lives. The life expectancy of an Indian slave shipped from the Southeast to the Caribbean was two years, because they had no immunity to tropical diseases; were worked incessantly and were provided very poor quality food.
Later in 1661, Governor Berkeley presented to the Virginia House of Burgesses the first of several bills that institutionalized the slavery of American Indians, Africans and the mixed-blood descendants of these unfortunate persons. This was the first time in the history of English Common Law that slavery had been institutionalized. Anglo-Saxon and Norman feudal laws limited slavery to non-Christian war captives, but they were still considered a type of serf and HUMANS. In the new Virginia laws, only free Christian Indians were exempted from slave raids. If an Indian or African slave became a Christian, they would still remain in slavery. Slaves could even be seized from tribes at peace with the English as payments for debts or as punishment for misdemeanors in courts of law.
Until 1661, both American Indian and African laborers had been legally classified as bond servants. Once the purchase price of these people had been worked off, they were theoretically free. Their children could only be worked to age of majority and then they were free. Thus, in all likelihood the majority of Africans, originally purchased from the Dutch at Jamestown had eventually become freemen.
It has been well documented that many of these freed Native, African and mixed blood bond servants got the hell out of Tidewater Virginia and settled in Southern Virginia, North-Central North Carolina, Southwestern Virginia or Northeastern Tennessee. That is the region where the Cherokees would suddenly appear in the early 1700s and many Melungeons live today.
After the passage of the series of Slave Acts by the Virginia House of Burgesses between 1661 and 1665, a child born into slavery was to be a slave all their life, unless freed by a master. The only exception was the children of white women, whose father had been an Indian or African slave. Within a few years, an American Indian or African slave in Virginia was considered little more than livestock. By 1700, a Virginia slave master could rape, shackle, torture, beat, maim or kill a slave with little or no consequences from the law. Bond servant families could not be separated or sold separately. Breaking up of families became commonplace when the institutionalization of slavery was established.
There are many ironies to this period. The American Civil War occurred exactly two centuries after the institutionalization of slavery in Virginia. The land of the Powhatan Confederacy between the James River and the Potomac became drenched with the blood of young men from the North and South. The Civil War essentially ended at Appomattox, the location where William Berkeley obtained his first large batch of Indian slaves. Oh what fools, we mortals be.
In Part Three, we will describe the ethnic genocide of the Southeast carried out by slave raiders and the relationship between the Sephardic colonists, Rickohockens, Westos and Chiskas of the 17th century with the Cherokees, Bohurans, Melungeons and Creeks of the 18th century. You will be surprised. Between 1661 and 1700 vast areas of the Southeast were almost completely depopulated. The maps at the beginning and end of this horrific period display very different ethnic patterns.
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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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