Rickahocan/Westo in Virginia

the group of Eries who migrated to Virginia in 1656, after being displaced by the Iroquois, were called the Rickahocans by English colonists
the group of Eries who migrated to Virginia in 1656, after being displaced by the Iroquois, were called the Rickahocans by English colonists
Source: John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, A New Map of the English Plantations in America (from the Blathwayt Atlas, 1673)

English colonists expanding from their initial Jamestown settlement were not the only group to force Native Americans to relocate. One group was pushed into Virginia soon after the colonists killed Opechancanough in 1646, destroyed the paramount chiefdom previously controlled by Powhatan, and forced the Algonquian-speaking tribes to abandon long-occupied townsites in Tidewater.

The Iroquois obtained weapons from the French, Dutch, and English in the 1600's. They expanded their control over the fur trade by seizing control of territory west of the Iroquois homeland. That allowed the Iroquois to intercept furs before they could be sold directly to the French at Montreal or the Dutch at Albany.

Late in the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois forced a group of the Erie to abandon their traditional territory near the Great Lakes, between modern-day Rochester (New York) and Cleveland (Ohio). The Erie, which the French Jesuits and traders called "La Nation du Chat" after the raccoon or perhaps the cougar, were also known by other Native American groups as the Alligewi or the Olighin. That name is the source for "Allegheny."

the Erie lived west of the Iroquois, and were conquered by them between 1651-1682 during the Beaver Wars
the Erie lived west of the Iroquois, and were conquered by them between 1651-1682 during the Beaver Wars
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

During the Beaver Wars, the Erie had incorporated refugees from the Huron, Neutral, and other groups disrupted by the Iroquois. The Iroquois continued to extend their power westward, and between 1651-1682 they conquered the Erie. Some of the Erie who surrendered later merged with other groups conquered by the Iroquois, and evolved into the Mingo who lived on the Ohio River.1

In 1656, 600-700 of the Arrigahaga (Erigaronon) subtribe of the Erie migrated to Virginia and settled on the Fall Line of the James River. The English colonists called the new arrivals the Rickahocan (or Ricahecrian).2

The "foreign" group appeared when Virginia's leadership had been disrupted by the English Civil War, and Puritan leaders had forced Gov. William Berkeley to leave office. Governor Edward Digges and his Council were concerned about the presence of a Native American group that was not submissive to the English, and directed Colonel Edward Hill to negotiate a peaceful alliance with the Rickahocans.

At the same time, the Puritan leaders invoked the terms of the 1646 treaty that had ended the Third Anglo-Powhatan War. They required the Pamunkey, the main tributary tribe from Opechancanough's former paramount chiefdom, to supply warriors in case there was a need to fight the Rickahocans. The Pamunkey probably viewed the Rickahocans as a threat as well, rivals for control of trade with the English.

Col. Edward Hill chose to fight rather than engage in diplomacy. The battle between about 100 Rickahocans and an equal number of colonists plus tributary allies occurred in 1656. The Pamunkey attacked first, but Col. Hill failed to bring the colonial fighters to reinforce them. The Pamunkey weroance, Totopotomy, and most of his warriors were killed. So much blood was spilled that the local stream became known as Bloody Run, and the fight was called the Battle of Bloody Run.

Bloody Run flowed from a spring on what is now called Chimborazo Hill to Gillies Creek
Bloody Run flowed from a spring on what is now called Chimborazo Hill to Gillies Creek
Source: Virginia Memory, Map of Richmond (by William Sides, 1856)

The stream flowed down the south side of what later was named Chimborazo Hill to Gillies Creek. In 1884, it was buried in a stormwater pipe by the City of Richmond as development expanded. A modern historical sign marks the location of the battle.3

Bloody Run Spring, at the southwest corner of East Marshall and North 31st streets, was buried in 1884
Bloody Run Spring, at the southwest corner of East Marshall and North 31st streets, is now buried
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

After the battle, the English and Rickahocan chose to trade with each other rather than fight. The English began to refer to the group as the Westo. They captured Native Americans from other tribes and sold those captives to Abraham Wood and other traders. The Westo obtained guns, ammunition, and gunpowder that enabled the Westo to expand their range. The captives became enslaved workers sold to tobacco growers, or shipped as slaves to Caribbean islands.

The Westo raided as far south as the Spanish mission towns in Florida. In the 1660's, the Westo left the James River and moved south to the Savannah River. Their departure enabled the Occaneechi to become the primary traders with the colonists.4

Governor Berkeley regained his office in 1660. He continued the trade with the Westo, rather than try to force them into tributary status. The Lords Proprietors of Carolina, who founded Charles Town in 1670, also decided that it was more economical to trade than to fight the Westo.

In 1670, John Lederer met four "stranger-Indians" at Akenatzy, an island that may have been on the Tennessee River, during one of his westward explorations from Tidewater Virginia. Lederer understood the Rickohocans were the last of 50 who had fled south. With optimism that he may have found a path to the Pacific Ocean, he speculated they lived on an waterway that connected to California:5

the Nation of Rickohockans, who dwell not far to the Westward of the Apalataean Mountains, are seated upon a Land, as they term it, of great Waves; by which I suppose they mean the Sea-shore.

Lederer was intrigued by a mineral they used to paint their faces and interested in learning the geography of lands to his west and north, but conflicts between the Rickohocans and their Native American hosts caused him to move on:6

The next day after my arrival at Akenatzy, a Rickohockan Ambassadour, attended by five Indians, whose faces were coloured with Auripigmentum (in which Mineral these parts do much abound) was received, and that night invited to a Ball of their fashion; but in the height of their mirth and dancing, by a smoke contrived for that purpose, the Room was suddenly darkned, and for what cause I know not, the Rickohockan and his Retinue barbarously murthered. This struck me with such an affrightment, that the very next day, without taking my leave of them, I slunk away with my Indian Companion.

explorer John Lederer encountered Native Americans west of the Blue Ridge that he labelled Rickohocans (note: west is towards top of the map)
explorer John Lederer encountered Native Americans west of the Blue Ridge that he labelled "Rickohocans" (note: west is towards top of the map)
Source: University of North Carolina, The Discoveries Of John Lederer

The Rickohocans/Westo who lived on the Savannah River controlled the trade with the English in Carolina for a decade. They effectively blocked the English in Charles Town from dealing with other tribes in the area until a faction of colonial traders allied with a group of the Shawnee. The 1680 Westo War ended their monopoly on trade, which the Shawnee then controlled. The captured Westo were sold as slaves for the sugar plantations in the Caribbean, while those who escaped blended into the Coweta tribe.7

The Rickahocans/Westos victory over the English and their Native American tributary fighters at the Battle of Bloody Run had an impact 20 years later in Virginia.

Cockacoeske, the wife of Totopotomy, became the leader of the Pamunkey after he was killed. At the start of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, Governor Berkeley demanded that Cockacoeske supply men to fight, invoking the 1646 treaty again. She repeated the Pamunkey's complaint about receiving no compensation after Bloody Run, and committed to provide just a token number (12) of warriors.8

Links

  • Westo Indians
  • Peach State Archeological Society
  • SciWay
  • References

    1. Eric E. Bowne, The Westo Indians: Slave Traders of the Early Colonial South, University of Alabama Press, 2005, p.39, https://books.google.com/books?id=t3CtB3yXk00C; Michael McCafferty, Native American Place Names of Indiana, University of Illinois Press, 2008, p.212, https://books.google.com/books?id=n8uvs6Qw3pEC "Lost Nation of the Erie Part 1," The Chattanoogan, January 21, 2016, http://www.chattanoogan.com/2016/1/21/316430/Lost-Nation-of-the-Erie-Part-1.aspx (last checked January 11, 2018)
    2. April Lee Hatfield, Atlantic Virginia: Intercolonial Relations in the Seventeenth Century, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004, p.25, https://books.google.com/books/about/Atlantic_Virginia.html?id=KELg0NCW5-sC (last checked January 11, 2017)
    3. "Battle of Bloody Run-Richmond," Clio, https://www.theclio.com/web/entry?id=21759; "The Battle of Bloody Run," Church Hill People's News, December 2, 2014, https://chpn.net/2014/12/02/the-battle-of-bloody-run/; Robbie Franklyn Ethridge, Sheri Marie Shuck-Hall, Mapping the Mississippian Shatter Zone: The Colonial Indian Slave Trade and Regional Instability in the American South, University of Nebraska Press, 2009, pp.90-91, https://books.google.com/books?id=dFNI9935DNwC (last checked January 12, 2018)
    4. Kristalyn Shefveland, "Indian Enslavement in Virginia," Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, April 7, 2016, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Indian_Enslavement_in_Virginia (last checked January 11, 2018)
    5. John Lederer, The Discoveries of John Lederer, 1672, p.14, posted online by Research Laboratories of Archaeology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, http://rla.unc.edu/Archives/accounts/Lederer/Lederer.html (last checked January 12, 2018)
    6. John Lederer, The Discoveries of John Lederer, 1672, p.14, posted online by Research Laboratories of Archaeology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, http://rla.unc.edu/Archives/accounts/Lederer/Lederer.html (last checked January 12, 2018)
    7. Spencer Tucker, James R. Arnold, Roberta Wiener, The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 16071890: A Political, Social, and Military History, ABC-CLIO, 2011 p.841, https://books.google.com/books?id=JsM4A0GSO34C; "Westo Indians," Peach State Archeological Society https://peachstatearchaeologicalsociety.org/index.php/11-culture-historic/402-westo-indians (last checked January 11, 2018)
    8. Alfred A. Cave, Lethal Encounters, Praeger, 2011, p.151, https://books.google.com/books/about/Lethal_Encounters_Englishmen_and_Indians.html?id=teEOqdkXMVYC (last checked January 11, 2018)

    refugees of the Erie called Rickohocans migrated from the Great Lakes to the headwaters of the Tennessee River, as well as to the Falls of the James River
    refugees of the Erie called "Rickohocans" migrated from the Great Lakes to the headwaters of the Tennessee River, as well as to the Falls of the James River
    Source: John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, A New Discription of Carolina By Order of the Lords Proprietors (published by John Ogilby from John Lederer's map, 1672)


    Native American Tribes in Virginia Since Contact
    "Indians" of Virginia - The Real First Families of Virginia
    Virginia Places