I use the term “Culture Clash” facetiously. It is too timid a term for the genocide, forced migration and savage internecine warfare that occurred and continued as the white guys pushed their agenda and boundary from the Atlantic shores inland. The migration ‘over hill’ was a colonial citizen decision, not that of the British Monarch or Parliament. In fact, the British government not only opposed pioneer encroachment on Native lands beyond the Blue Ridge, but created a law banning westward expansion with the passage of the Proclamation Act of 1763. It was this law that Richard Henderson, Daniel Boone and our Bailey Smith chose to ignore and violated when they purchased Cherokee lands. The venture capitalist, Henderson, was intent on turning the over-hill wilderness into his personal kingdom of Transylvania. The colonies of Virginia and the Carolinas, as subjects of the British government, also discouraged attempts to infringe on Native lands beyond the Blue Ridge in what would become Tennessee and Kentucky.
The need to expand and move into new lands was in the DNA of our colonial ancestors. From the moment the Spanish, French, Dutch, Swedes and British stepped foot on the “American” shore; the race was on. The discovery of the fishing banks off of Newfoundland, the development of the fur industry in Ontario and New England; and the recognition that the southern Atlantic Coast shoreline would play host to a number of fine golf courses caused the adrenalin junkies among the pioneers to press southward and westward; down the St. Lawrence, up the Hudson, the Potomac and James River; over the top of the Alleghenies, the Appalachians; and through the Iroquois, Adirondack, Cherokee and Seminole. I could turn this into one of Mark Twain’s page long sentences with only a few more nouns, adjectives and verbs, but I’ll stop.
Consider the fact that my Davis family was encroaching on Native Nation lands in the 1500’s and at war with the same population in 1607. Many New England tribes were decimated by European germs before the Mayflower ever docked in Plymouth. Trappers and fishermen had already been ashore mending nets, drying cod and trading furs prior to the Pilgrim’s arrival. Their presence introduced germs for which the Native had no immune system. In relatively short time Andrew Jackson and the white guys relegated the Cherokee to Oklahoma creating a Native free zone to the east of the Mississippi. Donald Trump isn’t the first politician to suggest that we ‘unfriend’ an entire population and boot them out of our social network.
Our ancestors, grandparents many times removed from the present day, were part of the kinetic energy that propelled the population inland. The von Couwenhovens (first in New Amsterdam) warred with and lost a son to the Algonquin, the Stilles (first in New Sweden) faired better and lived more peacefully with the Lanape, the Davis boys (first in Maine and Virginia) were notorious warriors, the Whittingtons, Littletons, Southys and Smiths (pioneer families in Virginia) skirmished with the Powhatan and Nansemond, the Stilles (first in Illinois) settled on the turf of the Shawnee, the Slaymakers (first in Lancaster, Pennsylvania) kept an eye on the Native and vice versa. No they were not alone. I won’t pretend they came alone and waited for others to follow. They came to this land as a part of business ventures that transported shiploads of hearty souls; each nervously considering his or her odds for survival in a new land. And the odds weren’t good.
Our ancestors were engaged in frequent skirmishes and battles with Native populations from Maine to North Carolina. Make no mistake: both sides were responsible for the carnage. History reveals that our very own ancestors were both victim and perpetrator of crimes against man. We will look at both sides. Let’s begin with the exceptions though and there are examples of people who knew how to share a neighborhood.
Some Decent Relationships
Our Pilgrims at Plimouth Colony (Good and Bad moments)
The myth traveling through Europe in the early 1600’s painted a picture of the American Indian as a brutal cannibal. The term ‘savage’ was frequently used in literature right up into the 20th century. Rare was the European who understood that those who were here prior to ‘civilized man’ were also human and civilized in a manner that allowed their nations to flourish. If one were going to conquer the inhabitants and take over the land it was far better to think of them as savage heathens and just eradicate them. Of course, western man had been eradicating one another for a millennium and more. Why stop? It also became quite easy to consider the African as a subhuman species when it came time to populate slave quarters with necessary ‘stock’ for labor. For as long as there have been humans there has been slavery.
When our ancestors within the Leiden Congregation in Holland, considered a voyage to Virginia they took more than a decade before deciding that they should risk their lives in a new land. Of grave concern for them were the images they had of the Native American. They fully understood the risks. The stories of the Lost Colony at Roanoke and the struggles in Jamestown were common knowledge on the European continent. When the King of England stepped up the heat on the English Pilgrims in Holland they took his threats on their lives seriously. They understood it was time to risk the venture in the Mayflower and Speedwell. They packed their belongings, bid farewell to their community and off they sailed. Let’s ignore the fact that the Speedwell didn’t sail so well, floundered and was left for dead in Plimouth, England.
The father, John Carver, who adopted our Elizabeth Tilley, shortly before his own death in 1621, recognized the need to approach the local tribes with caution, respect and a sense of dignity. The Pilgrim goal was survival. They were not naive. They understood that they could be outnumbered, over powered and annihilated. They had no idea what kind of a population awaited them as they went ashore. They were fearful and fear made them act aggressively at times. Early skirmishes did take place before the first winter was over. Bullets and arrows flew. Pilgrims stole food from the cache of the Natives shortly after their boots hit the ground. They destroyed sacred burial sites without really understanding the harm they were causing. Natives stole tools from Miles Standish and his work force. It was all recorded in journals kept by William Bradford and Edward Winslow.
In his short term as Governor, Carver was intent on creating a peaceful alliance with the Wampanoag Nation, represented by Yellow Feather Oasmeequin [Massasoit]. Uncertain of his powers as Governor, Carver debated whether he could actually make a treaty on behalf of his village or the King of England. He had the King’s charter, but wasn’t residing within the confines of that charter. He was supposed to be establishing a colony on Manhattan or Long Island. The Pilgrims decided they were still under the jurisdiction of the King, despite location, and could only enter into a treaty between two nations—England and the Wampanoag Nation. Carver was assisted in his efforts to create a treaty by our ancestor, Stephen Hopkins. After Carver’s death in the spring of 1621, William Bradford rose from his sick bed to become Plymouth’s governor and he continued the alliance with Massasoit. Hopkins and Edward Winslow, along with Miles Standish were instrumental in acting as ambassadors to the tribes.
Squanto, who had been in England prior to the Pilgrims departure from Leiden, acted as a go between, translator and eventually political maverick manipulating circumstances to his own benefit, power and ‘income.’ All parties were interested in peace. The English were desperately dependent on the Wampanoag for their survival. The Wampanoag and Brits were allies adopting an “I’ve got you covered” promise in case any third party messed with either of them. Other tribes, as well as the French, Spanish and Dutch; all threatened Pilgrim security. Up until the time of the Pequot War in 1638, the situation was tenable. As an example of Pilgrim respect for the Wampanoag: when three Englishman killed a Native, the Pilgrim justice system found the Brits guilty and hung them.
When Chief Massosoit was considered gravely ill and on his deathbed, Edward Winslow walked for two days to be at his bedside and provided medical assistance that saved the Chief’s life. Winslow and Massosoit were largely, and mutually responsible for the maintenance of peaceful relations.
To see how these Pilgrim characters and others of Plimouth Colony fit into our family tree please click: Mayflower Ancestors.
Ancestors at Jamestown
While not related to any of us Captain John Smith was a master at maintaining peace through force with the Native communities along the James River and Chesapeake Bay. While his stay was brief in Jamestown his contributions were instrumental in getting the settlers through some very formidable circumstances. Smith was not afraid to fire his gun and intimidate any Native he found to be menacing. But he also understood that his colony could not survive without the help of the indigenous population. While he couldn’t detect any A.O. Smith grain silos on Native properties, he did know they had a substantial supply of corn from time to time. He formed alliances with the Powhatan Confederacy and counted on them for food when his own people proved they didn’t know diddly about farming in Virginia or anywhere else for that matter. When Smith left Jamestown for the last time the relationships between the settlers and local Native villages declined and ended in massacres.
Smith’s accounts of living in Jamestown provided an embellished version of his adventures. Yet, historians acknowledge that much of what he reported was at least based in fact and guaranteed to sell books. He reported that his life was saved when a young Pocahontas pleaded with her father to spare the man from death. There are many who believe Smith was being exposed not to death but a team building exercise, a ritual among the tribe to test his courage. Pocahontas is found as a close relation of the Fleming family that intermarried and often with the Peter Smith of Westmoreland clan. Pocahontas’ marriage to John Rolfe united two nations, Powhatan and British, just as a marriage between a King of England and a Queen of France would do. It gave the promise of a peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, in the lyrics of Billy Joel, “The good they die young….” and with her death at age 22, we see the relationship between tribe and settler unravel. Her death to a European germ magnified Native fears of the toxic powers that these white guys possessed. European disease was wiping out the population of Native Americans all along the eastern seaboard. The Natives were confused by what appeared to be an other worldly power possessed by these white guys.
This is always a tough one for me. Do we recognize these guys as kind hearted preachers who meant well or do we malign them as naive, ethnocentric zealots whose efforts promoted capitalism, destroyed a Native culture and led to the annihilation of a people? Certainly, the need to bring Christ to the Native was a necessary ingredient in the strategic plan of the British crown. Charters granted to early settlers referenced the usual needs for colonization: economic, militaristic and religious. Spreading Christianity was part an parcel of every Crusade in the Middle East and advancement of European civilization from India, the South Pacific and the Americas. The obvious threat of the ‘savage’ in the New World would be diminished if the European could bring the Bible to the American continents: Catholicism in South America, Protestantism in North America. The motivation and the repercussions became obvious in time. Hindsight is 20/20 and we have advanced to the point where the church is now apologizing for the manner in which it inflicted Christian faith on a people who already had a very strong belief in God: Not our God, but a Great Spirit never-the-less.
Since some of these guys were our relatives we will give them the benefit of the doubt. One example does stand out as appearing to be a decent and loving many-times-great grandfather found in Nancy’s Whittington tree: Abraham Pierson whose work among the tribes included his learning their language and writing a Bible and other materials in their tongue in a manner that he felt would benefit their lives. His work also engendered the mutual respect one would hope to find among people with disparate life styles and cultures.
Conflicts, War and Barbarism
Without going into a four hundred page litany on each of these topics let me point out that there is plenty of literature now found online that one can probe for greater detail. I will point to the conflicts in which our specific ancestors were involved and provide links to pages that cover lengthier narrations. I will also interject stories that are documented online that actually involve or name our ancestors. There are a number of people and items to report. I must caution you, some are ghastly.
Let’s begin with the Lost Colony of Roanoke and work our way up the Atlantic Coast before turning inland and through the years. This information can be found by Googling names of ancestors and other biographical information and combing through the clues in search of reality.
The Lost Colony of Roanoke and the Grenville Family
Sir Walter Raleigh convinced Queen Elizabeth of the need to colonize the Virginia coast in 1584. The Spanish had tried several times to plant settlements on the Carolina and Florida coast. Native Americans had eradicated each attempt. In 1586 Raleigh sent a party of 100 soldiers, miners and ‘scientists’ to Roanoke Island. The ship’s captain was Richard Grenville (Whittington family). He dropped the settlers/troops off and headed back into the ocean to play pirate for a year. He promised to return the following year with supplies. Grenville occupies a branch in the Whittington tree. Raleigh has ties to great grandparents in the Whittington tree.
The garrison was doomed from the start. As with so many expeditions this one failed to take into consideration the need to eat food. A simple survival skill, consuming food, was taken for granted. The settlers arrived too late in the growing season for planting, and the supplies were dwindling rapidly while the colonists were in transport. Replenishing the food pantry wasn’t going to happen. Any chance for survival blew away in the Carolina wind when the military commander, Ralph Lane, murdered the Roanoke Indian Chief Wingina. The Lane family is found in the family tree of Smiths and Whittingtons.
Sir Francis Drake stopped at Roanoke after plundering Spanish ships in the Carribean. Lane and the Lane Gang were ready to go home. They convinced Drake they needed to get back to England and soon. They and Drake had no idea where Grenville was at the time. Drake had been seaborn and out of contact with England for much of the year. Lane left behind a fort and no clue as to his where abouts. Less than a week later two supply ships arrived at Roanoke from England. Finding the island deserted, Grenville left behind about 15 of his men to hold the fort while he returned to England. The Drake family is found in the Whittington family tree. Francis is not hanging on a tree branch where one can find him. Betsy Drake and her famous grandparents are however, and viewed upline from the Littletons. I will have to create a graphic image of that part of the tree (Drakes and Grenvilles) some time after the Bowling Season comes to an end. Oh that’s right bowling is a year round activity. I’ll find another excuse.
In 1587 a group of 150 arrived on the island and found the 15 soldiers had been killed by the still angry Natives. These folks would become the Lost Colony of Roanoke. They vanished into the wilderness leaving behind a singular clue: “Croatan” scrawled on a post.
James Davis and his brother Robert (a navigator) captained ships that brought setters into Jamestown and took some home to England. In 1609 James directed the construction of stockades along the James River and commanded one of those: Fort Algernon. Ironically, the folks at his fort survived the famine that nearly decimated the population at Jamestown. His men grew fat on seafood while the folks in Jamestown, thirty six miles upstream, died. Davis pleaded ignorance when asked why he didn’t provide Jamestown with food. Others suspected that he despised Smith and was not about to reach out and save Smith’s pride and joy, Jamestown. Davis gained additional notoriety when he armed his troops and cruised the James River, slaughtering native villagers in reprisals. One of several down sides of his nature.
Ye Kingdome of Accawmacke
This is one of the dark places hidden away in an abyss of the Whittington closet and American history. A sign on the door reads: “Don’t Open This.” It was 350 years ago. The event was ghastly and staged by a man who was viewed as Emperor of the Kingdome of Accawmacke, a pet name given to the plantations on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was powerful, wealthy and would run over his mother with a forklift, if only the forklift had been invented. I will go into greater detail on this guy when I related the details of the Whittington ancestral tree in Accomack. It is extensive and involves many big names in early Virginia history, wealthy aristocrats, entrpreneurs, politicians, you name it. As for now I will introduce Colonel Edmund Scarburgh. Long story short and detailed elsewhere:
Scarburgh became pathologically enraged when he thought the Indians had done him some wrong. In 1651 Scarburgh and a party of locally recruited soldiers surprised some Indians at Occahannock Creek, ‘where the Virginians shot at and slashed them with their sabers and long hunting knives. several Indians were dragged back in chains.
There were many white citizens who were shocked and outraged by this grievous act. Scarburgh claimed he was protecting the settlers from the savages who were plotting another Jamestown styled massacre. The region had been rocked by reprisals that effected our very family in the 1640s. However, the colonists did not buy Scarburgh’s alibi. They knew him too well, but feared his reprisals if they crossed him. His attack put the colonists at risk of an Indian reprisal, counter attack.
1. “Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia 1607 1624/5”, 4’hEdition 2004; Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD
2. “The Sagadahoc Colony”, by Henry 0. Thayer; Printed for the Gorgas Society, Portland, Maine, 1852
3. “Founding the American Colonies 1583 1660”, by John E. Pomfret with Floyd M. Shumway;
Harpers & Row, New York, NY, 1970