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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Experiences of a Virginia Colony

By George Percy (1580–1632)

[By George Percy, Governor of Virginia, 1809–10. Observations gathered out of a Discourse of the Plantation of the Southerne Colonie in Virginia.]

THIRTIETH day we came with our ships to Cape Comfort; where we saw five Salvages running on the shore; presently the Captain caused the shallop to be manned, so rowing to the shore, the Captain called to them in sign of friendship, but they were at first very timersome, until they saw the Captain lay his hand on his heart. Upon that they laid down their bows and arrows, and came boldly to us making signs to come ashore to their town, which is called by the Salvages Kecoughtan. We coasted to their town, rowing over a river running into the Maine where these Salvages swam over with their bows and arrows in their mouths.

When we came over to the other side there was a many of other Salvages which directed us to their town where we were entertained by them very kindly. When we came first a Land they made a doleful noise, laying their faces to the ground, scratching the earth with their nails. We did think that they had been at their Idolatry. When they had ended their Ceremonies, they went into their houses and brought out mats and laid upon the ground; the chieftest of them sat all in a rank. The meanest sort brought us such dainties as they had and of their bread which they made of their maize or Gennea wheat. They would not suffer us to eat unless we sat down which we did on a mat right against them. After we were well satisfied they gave us of their Tobacco which they took in a pipe made artificially of earth as ours are, but far bigger, with the bowl fashioned together with a piece of fine copper. After they had feasted us, they showed us, in welcome, their manner of dancing, which was in this fashion: one of the Salvages standing in the midst singing, beating one hand against another, all the rest dancing about him, shouting, howling, and stamping against the ground, with many Anticke tricks and faces, making noise like so many Wolves or Devils. One thing of them I observed; when they were in their dance, they kept stroke with their feet just one with another, but with their hands, heads, faces and bodies, every one of them had a several gesture; so they continued for the space of half an hour. When they had ended their dance, the Captain gave them beads and other trifling jewels. They hang through their ears fowls’ legs; they shave the right side of their heads with a shell, the left side they wear of an ell long tied up with an artificial knot, with many of fowls’ feathers sticking in it….

The next day being the first of May, the Werowance of Rapahanna sent a messenger to have us come to him. We entertained the said messenger, and gave him trifles which pleased him. We manned our shallop with Muskets and Targatiers sufficiently; this said Messenger guided us where our determination was to go. When we landed the Werowance of Rapahanna came down to the water side with all his train, as goodly men as I have seen of Salvages or Christians, the Werowance coming before them playing on a Flute made of a Reed, with a Crown of Deares’ hair colored red, in fashion of a Rose fastened about his knot of hair, and a great Plate of Copper on the other side of his head, with two long feathers in fashion of a pair of horns placed in the midst of his Crown. His body was painted all with crimson, with a chain of beads about his neck, his face painted blue, besprinkled with silver ore as we thought, his ears all behung with bracelets of pearl, and in either ear a bird’s claw through it, beset with fine copper or gold. He entertained us in so modest a proud fashion, as though he had been a Prince of civil government, holding his countenance without laughter or any such ill behavior.

He caused his mat to be spread on the ground, where he sat down with a great Majesty, taking a pipe of Tobacco, the rest of the company standing about him. After he had rested awhile he rose and made signs to us to come to his town. He went foremost and all the rest of his people and ourselves followed him up a steep Hill where his Palace was settled. We passed through the woods in fine paths, having most pleasant Springs which issued from the Mountains. We also went through the goodliest corn fields that ever was seen in any country. When we came to Rapahanna’s Town he entertained us in good humanity…. At Port Cotage, in our voyage up the River, we saw a Salvage Boy about the age of ten years, which had a head of hair of a perfect yellow, and a reasonable white skin, which is a miracle amongst all Salvages.

The River which we have discovered is one of the famousest rivers that ever was found by any Christian. It ebbs and flows a hundred and threescore miles, where ships of great burthen may harbor in safety. Wheresoever we landed upon this River, we saw the goodliest woods, as beech, oke, cedar, cypress, walnuts, sassafras and vines in great abundance which hang in great clusters on many trees, and other trees unknown, and all the grounds bespred with many sweet and delicate flowers of divers colors and kinds. There are also many fruits, as strawberries, mulberries, raspberries, and fruits unknown. There are many branches of this River, which run flowing through the woods with great plenty of fish of all kinds; as for sturgeon, all the World can not be compared to it. In this Country I have seen many great and large meadows, having excellent good pasture for any cattle. There is also great store of deere, both red and fallow. There are bears, foxes, otters, beavers, muskats, and wild beasts unknown.

The four and twentieth day we set up a Cross at the head of this River, naming it King’s River, where we proclaimed James, King of England, to have the most right unto it. When we had finished and set up our Cross, we shipt our men and made for James Fort. By the way we came to Pohatan’s Towre, where the Captain went on shore, suffering none to go with him. He presented the Commander of this place with a Hatchet which he took joyfully, and was well pleased.

But yet the Salvages murmured at our planting in the Country, whereupon this Werowance made answer again very wisely of a Salvage: “Why should you be offended with them as long as they hurt you not, nor take anything away by force? They take but a little waste ground, which doth you nor any of us any good.”

I saw bread made by their women which do all their drugerie. The men takes their pleasure in hunting and their wars, which they are in continually, one Kingdom against another.

The manner of baking of bread is thus:—after they pound their wheat into flowre, with hot water they make it into paste, and work it into round balls and cakes; then they put it into a pot of seething water. When it is sod thoroughly, they lay it on a smooth stone; there they harden it as well as in an Oven.

There is notice to be taken to know married women from Maids. The Maids you shall always see the fore part of their head and sides shaven close, the hinder part very long, which they tie in a plait hanging down to their hips. The married women wears their hair all of a length, and is tied of that fashion that the Maids’ are. The women kind in this Country doth pounce and race their bodies, legs, thighs, arms, and faces, with a sharp iron, which makes a stamp in curious knots, and draws the proportion of Fowls, Fish, or Beasts; then with paintings of sundry lively colors, they rub it into the stamp, which will never be taken away, because it is dried into the flesh, where it is sered. The Salvages bear their years well, for when we were at Pamoukie’s we saw a Salvage by their report was above eightscore years of age. His eyes were sunk into his head, having never a tooth in his mouth, his hair all gray, with a reasonable big beard which was as white as any snow. It is a Miracle to see a Salvage have any hair on their faces. I never saw, read, nor heard any have the like before. This Salvage was as lusty and went as fast as any of us, which was strange to behold.

The fifteenth day of June, we had built and finished our Fort which was trianglewise, having three Bulwarks at every corner like a half Moon, and four or five pieces of artillery mounted in them. We had made ourselves sufficiently strong for these Salvages; we had also sown most of our corn on two mountains—it sprang a man’s height from the ground. This Country is a fruitful soil, bearing many goodly and fruitful trees, as mulberries, cherries, walnuts, cedars, cypress, sassafras, and vines in great abundance.

Monday, the two and twentieth of June, in the morning, Captain Newport in the Admirall, departed from James Port for England. Captain Newport being gone for England, leaving us (one hundred and four persons) very bare and scanty of victuals, furthermore in wars and in danger of the Salvages. We hoped after a supply which Captain Newport promised within twenty weeks. But if the beginners of this action do carefully further us, the Country being so fruitful, it would be as great a profit to the Realm of England, as the Indies to the King of Spain. If this river which we have found, had been discovered in the time of war with Spain, it would have been a commoditie to our Realm, and a great annoyance to our enemies. The seven and twentieth of July the King of Rapahanna demanded a Canoa which was restored, lifted up his hand to the Sun, which they worship as their God, besides he laid his hand on his heart, that he would be our special friend. It is a general rule of these people when they swere by their God which is the Sun, no Christian will keep their Oath better upon this promise. These people have a great reverence to the Sun above all other things; at the rising and setting of the same, they sit down, lifting up their hands and eyes to the Sun, making a round Circle on the ground with dried Tobacco; then they began to pray, making many Devillish gestures with a Hellish noise, foming at the mouth, staring with their eyes, wagging their heads and hands in such a fashion and deformitie as it was monstrous to behold….

Our men were destroyed with cruel diseases as swellings, flixes, burning fevers, and by wars, and some departed suddenly; but for the most part they died of mere famine. There were never Englishmen left in a foreign country in such miserie as we were in this new discovered Virginia. We watched every three nights lying on the bare, cold ground, what weather soever came warded all the next day, which brought our men to be most feeble wretches. Our food was but a small Can of Barley sod in water to five men a day, our drink cold water taken out of the River, which was at a flood very salt, at a low tide full of slime and filth, which was the destruction of many of our men. Thus we lived for the space of five months in this miserable distress, not having five able men to man our Bulwarks upon any occasion. If it had not pleased God to have put a terror in the Salvages hearts, we had all perished by those wild and cruel Pagans, being in that weak estate as we were, our men night and day groaning in every corner of the Fort most pitiful to hear. If there were any conscience in men, it would make their hearts to bleed to hear the pitiful murmurings and out-cries of our sick men without relief, every night and day for the space of six weeks, some departing out of the World, many times three or four in a night, in the morning their bodies trailed out of their Cabins like Dogs, to be buried. In this sort did I see the mortality of divers of our people.

It pleased God, after a while, to send those people which were our mortal enemies to relieve us with victuals, as Bread, Corn, Fish, and Flesh in great plenty, which was the setting up of our feeble men, otherwise we had all perished.