Friday, February 20, 2015

Questions about a Killing

George Percy’s narrative refers to the Indian children’s mother as a "Quene," but she was not a queen by birth. (English colonists were ignorant of native people's social ranks and customs. "Kings" to them, "werowances" to the natives, were not at all the same thing.) The children's mother was  the wife of the werowance of Paspahegh, an Indian village about six miles upriver from Jamestown. In a raid against that village, Captain George Percy’s men had seized “the Quene and her Children.”  After some discussion it was agreed to put the children to death “by Throweinge them overboad and shoteinge owtt thir Braynes in the water. . . .” --presumably while their mother looked on.
Percy claims that he tried to save their mother’s life, but that the governor ordered him to have her killed. She was finally taken into the woods by an English officer and two soldiers. That it took three men to handle her suggests that she did not go passively. Once into the woods, the officer “put her to the sworde.” The manner of her execution raises intriguing questions. Why take the trouble to remove her to a remote place? Why not simply shoot her, as they had her children?  Did they feel that the wife of a king was entitled to a special death, or did her behavior infuriate the Englishmen? Was she swiftly run through--or was she savagely mutilated? 
The historical record is silent: Another Jamestown mystery.

English as well as Indians knew the meaning of vengeance. Both sides would keep a deadly see-saw of violence in motion until almost the end of the seventeenth century.

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