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Conflict and Cooperation in the Southeast
Digital History ID 660

Author:   Powhatan
Date:1609

Annotation: Responding to rumors that the English were intent on destroying his confederacy, Powhatan, Virginia's leading chief, asked the English to cease threatening to use force against the Indians. Otherwise, Powhatan threatened to cut off the food supply that the English depended on for subsistence.


Document: Captain Smith, you may understand that I, having seen the death of all my people thrice, and not one living of those 3 generations but my self, I know the difference of peace and war better then any in my Country. But now I am old, and ere long must die. My brethren, namely Opichapam, Opechankanough, and Kekataugh, my two sisters, and their two daughters, are distinctly each others successors. I wish their experience no less then mine, and your love to them, no less then mine to you: but this brute [rumor] from Nansamund, that you are come to destroy my Country, so much affrighted all my people, as they dare not visit you. What will it avail you to take that perforce, you may quietly have with love, or to destroy them that provide you food? What can you get by war, when we can hide our provision and flie to the woods, whereby you must famish, by wronging us your friends? And why are you thus jealous of our loves, seeing us unarmed, and both doe, and are willing still to feed you with that you cannot get but by our labors? Think you I am so simple not to know it is better to eat good meat, lie well, and sleep quietly with my women and children, laugh, and be merry with you, have copper, hatchets, or what I want being your friend; then bee forced to fly from all, to lie cold in the woods, feed upon acorns roots and such trash, and be so hunted by you that I can neither rest eat nor sleep, but my tired men must watch, and if a twig but break, every one cry, there comes Captain Smith: then must I fly I know not whether and thus with miserable fear end my miserable life, leaving my pleasures to such youths as you, which, through your rash unadvisedness, may quickly as miserably end, for want of that you never know how to find? Let this therefore assure you of our loves, and every year our friendly trade shall furnish you with corn; and now also if you would come in friendly manner to us, and not thus with your guns and swords, as to invade your foes.

Source: Samuel G. Drake, Biography and History of the Indians of North America (Boston, 1841), 353.

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