How to Deal with Indians Who Steal In 1663 Virginia Colony

Dateline: Virginia, 1663. Some Indians used to steal livestock and crops from the English plantation settlers. Here’s how the authorities handled it. Short post of primary source.

Edmund Scarburgh (Scarborough) was the High Sheriff and sometimes member of the House of Burgesses. Here is his report and how the Grand Assembly dealt with the issue of Indians trespassing and stealing.


Modernized transcription begins:


There are thefts committed daily on the south side of James River by the Indians: as stealing hogs, robbing of hedges in the night, stealing tobacco and corn out of the fields and our neighborly Indians being taxed therewith, say that it is by the Tuscarodoe [sic] Indians that lie skulking about our English plantation[s], and there covertly have underhand dealings with the English and can never be taken by reason the law prohibiting the Indians to come within the English bounds without badges does only inflict a punishment upon the Indians so coming but no molestation  [?] upon the English for not taking such Indians as come in without badges, so by reason of the sinister ends [goals] the law is seldom put into execution for prevention of which mischief or peradventure [perhaps or possibly] a greater if not timely prevention put a stop to it:

It is humbly proposed that if any Indian or Indians shall be found at the house of any English within the English bounds not having a badge with him or them according to law, that then the Englishman so entertaining such Indian or Indians pay the like value as is amerced for the Indians to pay and the one half of both to the informer.

And I will thank, praise and go on with them in the work,

Your honors’ most humble servant,

Edmund Scarburgh

Transcription ends.

Was it appropriate for Indians to wear or carry badges when they went on to English lands? Would they have had been required to do this if there was no stealing or general mischief? Why would the Englishman have to pay a fine if he entertained a Native? Is this reasonable in the circumstances?


Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1659/60-1693, ed. H. R. McIlwaine (Richmond: 1914), p. 23

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