Sunday, 9 September 2012

In Search of the Appamattuck Indians

In Virginia and for those who study the American Civil War, Appomattox usually means the town where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending a long and bloody war. However, the name of the town comes from an Algonquian speaking Indian tribe that lived nearby. While writing the sequel to The Dreaming: Walks Through Mist, I began a quest in search of the tribe. In the first book, I had a little easier time locating the modern day areas of the tribes mentioned because both tribes, the Paspahegh and Arrohatteck, had a re-creation of their towns near where they had lived at Jamestown Settlement and Henricus Historical Park.

Initially in my search for the Appamattuck, I had two 17th-century maps. In the beginning, I found it difficult correlating where the tribe had lived to present-day locations. Fortunately, I discovered a couple of historical markers through a web search. Opposunoquonuske was a weroansqua (female chief) in 1610. After the destruction of the Paspahegh, her men ambushed English soldiers. They retaliated by burning her town and seized the land for their own.

The Appamattuck moved their settlement until the English attacked them again, where they relocated yet again to the area along the Appomattox river. A hillside that is now home to Virginia State University was an English fort in the 17th- century, and nearby, I found a river trail that at one time was the northern most part of a Native American trail that ran all the way to South Carolina. Here, I traveled to find the Appamattuck.

Except for a few birds singing and dragonflies hovering about, the river banks were quiet, but I could easily imagine the mat-covered houses and people bustling with their everyday chores. Because I visited in summer, the men would have likely been hunting or fishing, and the women foraging for greens and berries, unless they were in town weeding.

The scene would have been completely shattered in 1644 when the Powhatan chiefdom was defeated, and the tribes, including the Appamattuck became subjects to the King of England. In 1645, Fort Henry was built across the river from the tribe, and it was the only point where Indians could legally travel eastward into white territory and vice versa. Virginia Indians had to wear a badge of striped cloth to show they had been allowed into the territory or risk being killed.

During Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, the Appamattuck town was once again destroyed, and few of the tribe remained. In 1691 the weroansqua, Perecuta requested permission to live among the English. By 1705 only seven families remained, and the tribe vanished from the historical records.

Kim Murphy


Anonymous said...

I found this post absolutely fascinating and quite sad.
Now I am also interested in your books :) Thank you Kim

Kim Murphy said...

You're welcome. I've found researching most of the Native American tribes very sad, but a few have survived. And I'm glad for that.

Alison Stuart said...

Thanks for this post, Kim. I knew about the role of the Appomatox Court House in the Civil War but not the earlier history.
Any chance of you doing a post on Bacon's Rebellion (I have done some research on it for one of my WIPs but would love a contextual post from you!)

Kim Murphy said...

I've actually considered extending my current series into the era of Bacon's Rebellion. I don't know whether I will yet or not, but sure, I'll write a post on it sometime. It was a very sad time for the Native people.