By Anita Harrell
Tsenacommacah was a political alliance of Algonkian-speaking nations in south-eastern Virginia, sometimes referred to as the Powhatan Chieftaincy or the Powhatan Confederacy. It was led by paramount Chief Wahunsenacawh, frequently spoken of as Chief Powhatan. Tribal holy men told Wahunsenacawh of a prophecy in which a nation would come from the East and defeat him. He concluded the prophecy referred to the Chesapeakes, the largest tribe to the East, and either killed or forcibly relocated almost all of them, replacing them with families loyal to him.
He was wrong, of course. What actually came from the East in 1607 and caused his destruction was the English.
The reconstituted Chesapeakes, or a smaller related band farther east, were those who drove off the Jamestown settlers when they landed initially at what is now Virginia Beach. Apparently one of the first things the English did was to plant a large cross on the beach, annoying the residents. The three ships then stopped at Kicotan, where they were welcomed and fed by the Natives there. All of that area, and considerably more to the west, was part of Tsenacommacah.
Some of the English proceeded to establish James Cittie, which later became Jamestown, in 1609. At first it was believed the English remaining at Kicotan had come to trade. But in 1610 they pretended to invite the Kicotan to a celebration. They sent a merry piper to the village, who beckoned for everyone to follow him. When they arrived the English killed most of the Kicotan and drove the rest away, acquiring in the process 6,000 acres of cultivated land that later became part of the City of Hampton. Hampton celebrates 1610 as the year of its founding. From 1610 through 1614 the English killed many Natives and burned their homes and cornfields, and it became clear they weren't planning to leave.
Chief Wahunsenacawh was succeeded by his younger brother, Opitchapam, who was considered weak and was by 1618 replaced by the next oldest brother, Opechancanough. Opechancanough eventually understood that rather than move on or stay to live in harmony, as Natives would do, the English wanted to take the land exclusively for themselves. (Ownership of land, like that of air and water, was an unknown concept in Native America.) He and his subordinate chiefs planned a raid to eliminate the English once and for all on March 22, 1622. While the raid did succeed in killing almost 400 settlers, they were betrayed the night before and the main settlement managed to protect itself. The Episcopal Church, descended from the Church of England, currently runs a camp and conference center named in honor of the Native boy, Chanco, who warned the English of the pending raid.
What the English did from 1610 through 1614 is usually called a “war.” March 22nd of 1622 is almost always referred to as a “massacre.” The period after 1622 is called “retaliation,” in which the English burned more houses, boats and cornfields, indiscriminately ran Natives down with horses, pursued them with greyhounds, and called their mastiff war dogs, known to weigh up to 250 pounds, to attack and kill them. There was a reason the English had always refused to trade metal knives and guns for the goods supplied by the Natives; they knew they had an advantage over arrows and clubs made of wood.
In May of 1623, Opechancanough asked to negotiate a truce. The English agreed. When they met, the English offered the warriors wine for a toast. The wine had previously been poisoned by the settlement's doctor, and 200 Natives died immediately. An additional 50 were murdered with the knives and guns the English wouldn't trade. Chief Opechancanough escaped and tried again in 1644 to rid his territory of the English invaders. This attack also failed. He was captured in 1646 and shot in the back by one of the men assigned to guard him.
And lest we forget, Virginia was built not only on the land of Natives but also on the backs of Africans and of the Natives enslaved both before them and with them. Virginia Beach, like the rest of the Commonwealth, was solidly part of the Confederacy, the 11 states that seceded from the Union to preserve a way of life based on slavery, thereby precipitating a war. Almost from its earliest beginnings, Virginia's wealthiest citizens profited from the unpaid labor of both Africans and Natives.
It is on this ground that the October conference is to be held.
We ask that all attending be mindful of the healing needed for both the land and its people.
Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, business and life coaches, consultants, clergy, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health, social justice and innovative practices. A pre-conference is also available. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.
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