A Request for Assistance
By Thomas Mathew
When Nathaniel Bacon rose against the colonial government in 1676, the royal governor and his burgesses realized they needed the Queen of Pamunkey's help to staunch the insurrection amongst their own people. A remarkable first-hand account survives from all those years ago. It details the Queen's emotional reaction to their demands.
Our Committee being sat, the Queen of Pamunkey (Descended from Oppechankenough a former Emperor of Virginia) was Introduced, who entred the Chamber with a Comportment Gracefull to Admiration, bringing on her right hand an Englishman Interpreter, and on the left her Son a Stripling Twenty Years of Age, She having round her head a Plat of Black and White Wampum peague Three Inches broad in imitation of a Crown, and was Cloathed in a Mantle of dress't Deerskins with the hair outwards and the Edge cut round 6 Inches deep which made Strings resembling Twisted frenge from the Shoulders to the feet; Thus with grave Courtlike Gestures and a Majestick Air in her face, she Walk'd up our Long Room to the Lower end of the Table, Where after a few Intreaties She Sat down; th' Interpreter and her Son Standing by her on either side as they had Walked up, our Chairman asked her what men she would Lend us for Guides in the Wilderness and to assist us against our Enemy Indians, She Spake to th' Interpreter to inform her what the Chairman Said, (tho' we believed She understood him). He told us She bid him ask her Son to whom the English tongue was familiar, and who was reputed the Son of an English Colonel, yet neither woud he Speak to or seem to understand the Chairman but th' Interpreter told us, he referred all to his Mother, Who being againe urged She after a little Musing with an earnest passionate Countenance as if Tears were ready to Gush out and a fervent sort of Expression made a Harangue about a quarter of an hour, often interlacing (with a high shrill Voice and vehement passion) these Words, Tatapatamoi Chepiack, i. e. Tata- pamoi dead. Coll: Hill1 being next me, Shook his head. I ask'd him What was the matter, he told me all she said was too true to our Shame, and that his father was Generall in that Battle, where diverse Years before Tatapatamoi her Husband had Led a Hundred of his Indians in help to th' English against our former Enemy Indians, and was there Slaine with most of his men; for which no Compensation (at all) had been to that day Rendered to her wherewith she now upbraided us.
Her Discourse ending and our Morose Chairman not advancing one cold word towards asswaging the Anger and Grief her Speech and De meanour Manifested under her oppression, nor taking any notice of all she had Said, Neither Considering that we (then) were in our great Exigency, Supplicants to her for a favour of the same kind as the former, for which we did not Deny the having been so Ingrate, He rudely push'd againe the same Question "What Indians will you now Contribute" etc? of this Disregard she Signified her Resentment by a disdainfull aspect, and turning her head half a side, Sate mute till that same Question being press'd, a Third time, She not returning her face to the board, answered with a low slighting Voice in her own Language "Six," but being further Importun'd She sitting a little while Sullen, without uttering a Word between, Said "Twelve," tho' she then had a hundred and fifty Indian men in her Town, and so rose up and gravely Walked away, as not pleased with her Treatment.
Editor's note: Mr. Mathew's description comes to us by way of Thomas Jefferson. He collected early Virginia documents and history, and a friend sent him this account which he transcribed and had reprinted in the Richmond Enquirer newspaper in September of 1804. The document may be read in its entirety on the Library of Congress' site. The text may be found in other sources, including Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690, edited by Charles McLean Andrews.
About the image:
This image comes from the Library of Congress' online print and photograph collection. Its official title is "Unus Americanus ex Virginia. Aetat 23 / W. Hollar ad vivum delin. et fecit." Summary information given indicates that this is a twenty-three-year old Virginia Algonquian man, half-length portrait, wearing necklace and head ornaments, and with facial markings. It was published in Antwerp in 1645, about 20 years before this narrative. The Pamunkey are an Algonquian tribe. It has been published in several books, including Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide, by Patrick Frazier, and Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States, by Vincent Varga.