5 More Odd Facts About the Difficult, Tortured History of Virginia Indians

Wikipedia / Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967.

The Chickahominy Obligation to Fight the Spanish

The Chickahominy have less than a thousand souls still maintaining tribal relations, and about 15 percent of those broke off in 1983 to become a separate tribe, the Eastern Chickahominy. The very first Chickahominy treaty with the English settlers in 1614 obligated the Indians to provide 300 warriors every year to fight the Spanish settlers. If they divide this obligation, the Eastern Chickahominy will owe 45 warriors every year, which will be a heavy lift when they have less than 150 tribal citizens.

Wikipedia / English depiction of the 1614 treaty.

The Adams Family Tribe

The Upper Mattaponi tribe traces its origins to James Adams, interpreter between the English and the Mattaponi between 1702 and 1727. In the 19th Century, their principal settlement was called Adamstown. It is a myth that the chief is named Morticia.

The Tribal Identity of Wayne Newton

The Patawomeck dropped out of historical sight in 1666 while at war with the English. They next show up in the 1990s, under the leadership of Robert “Two Eagles” Green, who reorganized the tribe and began to agitate for state recognition. The Virginia Council on Indians disapproved the application because the Patawomeck could not prove continuous existence as an Indian community.

Two Eagles then proceeded directly in the legislature and at the hearing in 2010 on his recognition bill, the star witness became Wayne Newton, who testified that his father was half Patawomeck and his mother was half Cherokee. The bill passed and the tribe was reborn, danke schoën to Wayne Newton. Two Eagles served as chief until 2013, at which time he became chief emeritus.

The Black Woman in Loving v. Virginia Was Rappahannock

Richard Loving, a white man under the laws of Virginia, married Mildred Jeter, a colored woman under the laws of Virginia, specifically the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which recognized only two races, white and colored.

The two were having an affair and when, at age 18, Mildred became pregnant, they drove to Washington, D.C. to tie the knot in anticipation of becoming parents.

They returned to their home in Central Point, Virginia, where an anonymous tipster turned them in. The police conducted a surprise night raid, hoping to catch the couple having sex, since that was another crime. Failing that, they did find them in bed together.

Mildred pointed to their marriage certificate hanging on the bedroom wall and the police confiscated it for evidence. At their trial for violation of the racial integrity of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Judge Leon Bazile famously opined:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Judge Bazile apparently overlooked that Virginia had reduced God’s five races to two, but the Lovings saw the writing on the wall and changed their pleas to guilty. They were both sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for 25 years on the condition they leave Virginia.

The ACLU took up their case, and in 1967 Chief Justice Earl Warren cut to the chase in his opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court:

The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.

Because of the issues playing out in national news, and because of the Virginia law that made Mildred Loving “colored,” her race was reported as “Negro.” In fact, she identified herself as a Rappahannock Indian, which made no difference under the Virginia law and would have made no difference in the 16 states that banned interracial marriage.

Mildred and Richard Loving, their daughter Peggy, Mildred’s sister Garnet, and Richard’s mother Lola, on the front porch of Mildred’s mother’s house, Caroline County, Virginia. Photo by Grey Villet, April 1965.

“These people aren’t Indians.”

Indigenous Peoples in the eastern United States, where the non-Hispanic settlements began, faced a set of historical challenges even more deadly to their tribal identities than the challenges that faced peoples colonized by the Spanish or the Portuguese.

The Spanish and the Portuguese may have been just as racist and just as cruel, but they all served the same Church, and between the Church records and the colonial records Indians always had written proof of their historical existence even as their lifeways were twisted by forcible conversions to Roman Catholicism.

Indians of the Great Plains, who had to confront the colonists in shooting wars that lasted almost to the turn of the 20th century, suffered less from disease because they kept their distance and suffered less from colonial law because they would not submit to it until the warring ceased.

These differing historical experiences lead to misunderstandings among surviving tribal peoples, and there is no place these identity issues are more difficult than the Commonwealth of Virginia.

This is not to say that any particular individual is or is not an Indian or any particular organization is or is not a tribe. The point is one that we should always bear in mind: When the colonists arrived, no part of this continent was empty. Unless there was a perfect genocide, the descendants of Virginia Indians still live, their very existence a rebuke to genocidal intent.

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