(Submitted by PACJ1945@aol.com on VA Southside Mailing List, submitted for Gill web page by Sue Gill)
Disregard for the aboriginal occupants of Virginia called forth anew the question of "right and title," a problem subject to discussion in England even before Jamestown. To allay these attacks, several proponents of colonial expansion attempted to justify the policy of the crown and the London Company.
Sir George Peckham in "A true reporte of the late discoveries" pointed out as early as 1583, relating to the discoveries of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, that it was "lawfull and necessary to trade and traficke with the savages." In a series of subsequent arguments, he then expounded the right of settlement among the natives and the mutual benefit to them and to England. This theme was later extended by the author of "Nova Britannia", who maintained that the object of the English was to settle in the Indian's country, "yet not to supplant and roote them out, but to bring them from their base condition to a farre better" by teaching them the "arts of civility." The author of "Good Speed to Virginia" added that the "Savages have no particular propertie in any part or parcell of that countrey, but only a generall residencie there, as wild beasts have in the forests." This last opinion, according to Philip A. Bruce, prevailed to a great extend and was held by a majority of the members of the London Company in regard to the appropriations of lands.
In spite of these views entertained by the company, there were several instances in which the natives were compensated for their territory. This was done primarily through the initiative of local authorities, for they were usually better informed concerning Indian affairs. They were in much closer contact with the natives than the company's Council in London and realized that the goodwill of the aborigines could be cultivated by giving only minor considerations for the land occupied by the English. On other occasions the Indians voluntarily gave up their land such as the present from Opechancanough in 1617 of a large body of land at Weyanoke. At still other times land was seized by force. When any attempt was made to justify the seizure, it was done on the basis of an indemnity for damage inflicted upon the colony or for violations of agreements by the natives. By 1622 settlements had been made along the banks of the lower James River and in Accomac on the Eastern Shore, the land having been obtained by direct purchase, by gifts from the natives or by conquest.
Any attempt to determine the extent of the areas acquired by purchase in Virginia is hindered by the indefinite nature of the Indian holdings and by the lack of complete records for the early periods. Thomas Jefferson thought much of the land had been purchased. Writing to St. George Tucker in 1798, Jefferson stated:
"At an early part of my life, from 1762 to 1775, I passed much time in going through the public records in Virginia, then in the secretary's office, and especially those of a very early date of our settlement. In these are abundant instances of purchases made by our first assemblies of the indi[ans] around them. The opinion I formed at the time was that if the records were complete & thoroughly searched, it would be found that nearly the whole of the lower country was covered by these contracts."
Jefferson overestimated the amount of land that was purchased by Virginia during the early years. While the records now extant show that the colony often purchased lands, they likewise indicate that frequently land was appropriated without compensation. Especially during the years following the first massacre of 1622, "The Indians were stripped of their inheritance without the shadow of justice." The greater part of the Peninsula between the York and James rivers was taken by conquest; the right of possession was later confirmed by a treaty with Necotowance in 1646, without, however, any stipulation for compensating the natives for the land they relinquished.
The treaty of 1646 with the successor of Opechancanough inaugurated the policy of major historical significance of either setting aside area reserved for Indian tribes, or establishing a general boundary line between white and Indian settlements. Influenced by the desire of individual settlers to fortify their claims and by the opposition of the natives to white encroachment, the colony designated definite lands for the Virginia Indians and began to follow more closely the custom of purchasing all territory received from the natives. To see that this was done, the Assembly passed numerous laws, pertaining in most cases only to the specific tribes of Indians mentioned in each act.
In 1653 the Assembly ordered that the commissioners of York County remove any persons then seated upon the territory of the Pamunkey or Chickahominy Indians. At the same time both lands and hunting grounds were assigned to the red men of Gloucester and Lancaster counties. The following year the Indian tribes of Northampton County on the Eastern Shore were granted the right to sell their land to the English provided a majority of the inhabitants of the Indian town consented and provided the Governor and Council of the colony ratified the procedure. Soon other tribes were given the same privilege. So anxious were they to dispose of their land when allowed to convey a legal title, that it became necessary for the colony to forbid further land transfers without the Assembly's stamp of approval. Such a step was taken in order to prevent the continual necessity of apportioning new lands to keep the natives satisfied.
By 1658 the Assembly had received from several Indian tribes so many complaints of being deprived of their land, either by force or fraud, that measures were again adopted to protect the natives in their rights. No member of the colony was allowed to occupy lands claimed by the natives without consent from the Governor and Council or from the commissioners of the territory where the settlement was intended. To decrease the chances for cheating the Indians, all sales were to be consummated at quarter courts where unfair purchases could be prevented.
Efforts to protect the Indians in the possession of their lands were subject to modification from time to time. The treaty of 1646 designated the York River as the line to separate the settlements of the English and the natives. But the colony at that time was on the eve of a great period of expansion. With an estimated population of 15,000 in 1650, the colony increased by 1666 to approximately 40,000, and by 1681 to approximately 80,000. To stem the tide of the advancing English settlement was apparently an impossibility. Therefore, Governor William Berkeley and the Council, upon representation from the Burgesses, consented to the opening of the land north of the York and Rappahannock rivers after 1649. At the same time the provision making it a felony for the English to go north of the York was repealed. This turn in policy, based upon the assumption that some intermingling of the white and red men was inevitable, led to the effort to provide for an "equitable division" of land supplemented by attempts to modify the Indian economy which had previously demanded vast areas of the country.
Endeavoring to provide for this "equitable division" of land, the Assembly in 1658 forbade further grants of lands to any Englishmen whatsoever until the Indians had been allotted a proportion of fifty acres for each bowman. The land for each Indian town was to lie together and to include all waste and unfenced land for the purpose of hunting. This provision did not relieve all pressure on Indian's lands, partly because some of the natives never received their full proportion and partly because some had been accustomed to even larger areas. But it did serve as a basis for reservation of land for different tribes.
Two years later the Assembly in 1660 took definite steps to relieve the pressure of English encroachments upon the territory of the Accomac Indians on the Eastern Shore. Enough land was assigned to the natives of Accomac to afford ample provisions for subsistence over and above the supplies that might be obtained through hunting and fishing. To insure a fair and just distribution of these lands, the Assembly passed over surveyors of the Eastern Shore and required that the work be done by a resident of the mainland, who obviously would be less prejudiced against the aborigines because of personal interest. When once assigned to the natives, the land could not be alienated.
By 1662 this last provision, forbidding the Accomacs to alienate their lands, was extended to all Indians in Virginia. The Assembly had realized that the chief cause of trouble was the encroachment by the whites upon Indian territory. Efforts, therefore, had been made to remove this cause of friction by permitting purchases from the natives provided each sale was publicly announced before a quarter court or the Assembly. But the plan had not been a complete success. Various members of the colony had employed all kinds of ingenious devices to persuade the natives to announce in public their willingness to part with their land. Dishonest interpreters had rendered "them willing to surrender when indeed they intended to have received a confirmation of their owne rights." In view of these evil practices the Assembly declared all future sales to be null and void.
Twenty-eight years later in 1690 the Governor and Council in accord with this restriction nullified several purchases made from the Chickahominy Indians. By order of the assembly in 1660 this tribe had received lands in Pamunkey Neck. Since that time several colonists had either purchased a part of their land or encroached upon their territory without regard for compensation. In neither case were the white settlers allowed to remain. All leases, sales, and other exchanges were declared void by the Governor and Council, and all intruders were ordered to withdraw and burn the buildings that had been constructed. George Pagitor, being one of the settlers affected by this order, had obtained about 1,200 acres in Pamunkey Neck from the natives. He had built a forty-foot tobacco barn and kept two workers there most of the year. When his purchase was declared void, he was ordered to return the land to the natives and to burn the barn that had been constructed. Accompanying this executive decree was an order to the sheriff of New Kent County authorizing him to carry out the will of the officials of the colony and to burn the barn himself, if necessary
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