Defending against the Rappahannock Indians in 1654 Virginia

Dateline, Virginia: 1654. The earliest Anglican settlers were harassed by the Natives on certain occasions. How would the earliest Americans respond?

In 1654 the Grand Assembly of Virginia decided to respond to injuries and “insolence” of the Rappahannock Indians against the colonists in three coastal counties. The injuries might be signs of an upcoming war, initiated by the Natives.

When Indian offenses took place, the people demanded leadership from the House of Burgesses and Grand Council and revenge, to show the Natives they could not act with impunity.

Weakness would provoke more attacks (they believed).

One hundred and seventy colonists are to be rallied and commissioned to receive satisfaction for the several injuries, but without “using any acts of hostility but defensive in case of assault.”

But the march must take a defensive, not aggressive approach. Military action would happen only if the Natives attacked first.

In other words, don’t initiate a war, but self-defense in an attack is permitted.

Modernized transcription begins:

Orders of Assembly

Concerning the March against the Rappahannock Indians

Whereas divers [various] complaints have been made by the inhabitants of the counties of

Lancaster, Northumberland and Westmoreland [on the coast] concerning divers injuries and insolences offered and done by the Rappahannock Indians, unto them the said inhabitants, and have refused to give satisfaction though often demanded by the commissioners of the said counties, which gives just occasions of jealousies and fears of an intended war;

It is therefore ordered by this present Grand Assembly, that the said counties bee associated and joined together in and concerning the affairs of their neighbouring Indians;

And that for this present expedition there be rallied in the county of Lancaster one hundred men sufficiently furnished with armies, ammunition and provisions, with boats and other necessaries for their voyage to the said Rappahannock towns;

Likewise the county of Northumberland 40 men qualified as aforesaid;

Also in the county of Westmoreland thirty men qualified as aforesaid;

And that the said men be rallied and pressed in such manner as the first man in commission in each county with the assistance of the commissioners of the respective counties direct and think fit for the most easy accomplishment of this employment;

And that the nomination of the leaders of the said men in the counties of Northumberland and Westmoreland be at the appointment of their several courts respectively;

All which said men so rallied and pressed in the said three counties are hereby required to repair on the first Wednesday in February next to the house of Thomas Mead’s in Rappahannock River which is thought the most convenient place of general rendezvous;

And from thence Maj. John Carter who is hereby appointed commander-in-chief [and] is hereby required and authorized to march with all the aforesaid men to the aforesaid Indian town and demand and receive such satisfaction as he shall think fit for the several injuries done unto the said inhabitants not using any acts of hostility but defensive in case of assault;

And it is further ordered that the said Maj. John Carter give account of his proceedings unto the honorable the Governor who is hereby authorized with the advice of his council to determine of peace or war in this and all other emergent occasions concerning the said Indians.

And it is further ordered that Capt. Henry Fleet and David Wheatliff attend the said service as interpreters, the charge of the service aforesaid to [be] borne by the three counties above specified.

Transcription ends.


Journal of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619-1658/9, ed. by H. R. McIlwaine, Classic Reprint Series (orig. Richmond: 1915), p. 94.

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