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Gallery Exhibit, Catalog Nos. 63 & 63a & 64 & 65  & 66 & 67 & 68 & 69 & 70

Powhatan’s Deerskin Mantle with Shell Map,
ca. 1608
< Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke.”
As described on p. 47 of the catalog, Museum Tradescantianum (London, 1656). Original artifact (four pieces of tanned buckskin, measuring 2.33 meters long by 1.5 meters wide) preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Lithograph (1888) by P. W. M. Trap publishers, after a black-and-white photograph of the Ashmolean artifact, by E. T. Shelton. Plate XX in Edward B. Tylor, “Notes on Powhatan’s Mantle, Preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.” Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie 1 (1888): 215–7.

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< Drawing of Powhatan’s Mantle, outlining the decorative shell bead patterns of the original, some of which have “fallen away, leaving only thread holes to mark the original locations of two roundlets and the hind legs and tails of the two animals.” (Waselkov 307)

Printed as Fig. 8 (p. 307) of Gregory A. Waselkov’s essay, “Indian Maps of the Colonial Southeast,” pp. 292–343 in Powhatan’s Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast, edited by Peter H. Wood, Gregory A. Waselkov, and M. Thomas Hatley.

< Alternate image of Powhatan’s Mantle.

Photograph by the author, reproduced as plate V in “Virginia — from Early Records” by David I. Bushnell, Jr. American Anthropologist 9.1 (Jan.–Mar. 1907): 31–44.
Bushnell felt that a more accurate image than that given by Tylor in 1888 was needed: “‘Pohatan’s habit’ ... has already been figured and described by Dr E. B. Tylor, but in the colored plate much of the detail is lost which shows to better advantage in a direct photograph.” (Bushnell 39).

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POWHATAN’S MANTLE IS A LARGE, ornamental deerskin cloak, with shell beadwork symbolically mapping the balance of power among southeastern Indians of the Chesapeake tidewater region, circa 1608. Along with several other Algonquian Indian artifacts from early colonial Virginia (including a purse or bag embroidered with shells, and three fine bows), the deerskin mantle is part of the famed Tradescant Collection assembled in the first half of the 17th century, which passed in 1659 to Elias Ashmole, who then presented it to Oxford as the nucleus of his Ashmolean Museum some 20 years later.

Edward Tylor, who first figured and described the mantle in 1888, wrote that it measures

about 2.2 m. in length by 1.6 m. in width. The two deerskins forming it are joined down the middle; no hair remains. The ornamental design consists of an upright human figure in the middle, divided by the seam; a pair of animals; 32 spirally-formed rounds (2 in the lowest line have lost their shells); and the remains of some work in the right lower corner. The marks where shell-work has come away plainly show the hind-legs and tapering tails of both animals. It is uncertain whether the two quadrupeds represent, in the conventional manner of picture-writing, some real animal of the region, or some mythical composite creature such as other Algonquin tribes are apt to figure, (see the long-tailed bear and the man-headed panther in Schoolcraft, Indian Tribes, part I. p. 406, 416). The decorative shell-work is of a kind well known in North America. The shells used are Marginella; so far as Mr. Edgar A. Smith is able to identify them in their present weathered state, M. nivosa. They have been prepared for fastening on, in two different ways, which may be distinguished in the plate. In the animals and rounds, the shells have been perforated by grinding on one side, so that a sinew thread can be passed through the hole thus made and the mouth. In the man, the shells are ground away and rounded off at both ends, into beads looking roughly ball-like at a distance. Mr. W. H. Holmes, in his Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans, gives figures much like both forms, of a Marginella (M. conoidalis) side-perforated, and of an Olivella end-ground (Second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Washington 1883, pl. XXXII). A woollen jacket from North America, now in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, has the shells fastened on in the first manner, but with thin twine; here a Marginella is used, identified by M. Edgar Smith as M. labrosa. The habitat of all three species is the West Indies, but shells for such purposes were carried to great distances for native trade.

(Tylor, “Notes on Powhatan’s Mantle” 217)

David Bushnell, who next figured and described the cloak in 1907, gave slightly different measurements and construction information (e.g., made from four, not two, skins):

It is formed of four pieces of tanned buckskin, having an extreme length of 2.33 meters and a width of 1.5 meters.... The decoration — the signification of which is not known — is formed of small sea-shells (Marginella nivosa perforated and attached by means of a fine thread of sinew. The shells forming the human figures in the center were first ground at one end, reducing them to scarcely half their natural size.

(Bushnell, “Virginia — from Early Records” 39)

Gregory Waselkov, the most recent scholar to publish on Powhatan’s Mantle (in 1989), follows Bushnell’s measurements, sizing the garment at 233 cm x 150 cm, and describing it as

four tanned deerskins pieced together with sinew to form a cloak or mantle and decorated with thirty-seven figures made from numerous small marine shell [“identified as Marginella nivosa by Tylor ... They are probably Prunum apicinum.” (336n21)] beads sewn onto the garment. The figures include a centrally placed human in front view flanked by two animals shown in profile. The animal on the right, which probably represents a white-tailed deer, has cloven hooves, a short, thin tail, and large ears, while the other animal has claws, a long tail, and relatively small ears — perhaps it is a wolf or mountain lion. The remaining thirty-four design elements are spirally formed roundlets placed in approximate symmetry on either side of the midline. Many of the shell beads have fallen away, leaving only thread holes to mark the original locations of two roundlets and the hind legs and tails of the two animals.

(Waselkov, “Indian Maps of the Colonial Southeast” 306–7)

Exactly how Powhatan’s “habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke,” as cataloged in 1656, came to be part of the Tradescant Collection remains something of a mystery.

Edward Tylor first made the connection with Captain John Smith, suggesting that “this barbaric robe” was

a relic of the expedition fraught with world-wide consequences, which sailed to colonize Virginia in 1606. In this expedition the famous Captain John Smith had a conspicuous part, and it is in great measure from his picturesque writings that its details have been preserved.
In the district between James River and Chesapeake Bay, in the present State of North Carolina, the colonists found the group of Algonquin tribes who were known to them as Powhatans, the same name being given to their Chief or Weroance. On consulting, as the most convenient authority, the modern collection of Captain John Smith’s writings, we find several passages relating to the kinds of cloaks used by these Indians.
“For their apparell, they are some time covered with the skinnes of wilde beasts, which in Winter are dressed with the hayre, but in Sommer without. The better sort use large Mantels of Deare Skins not much differing in fashion from the Irish mantels. Some imbrodered with white beads, some with Copper, other painted after their manner .... We have seene some use mantels made of Turky feathers, so prettily wrought and woven with threads that nothing could be discerned but the feathers.” (p. 361). On the occasion when Captain Smith was to have been put to death, but was saved by Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas, it is related that “Before a fire upon a seat like a bedsted, he [Powhatan] sat covered with a great robe, made of Rarowcun skinnes, and all the tayles hanging by.” (p. 400). At another time, when the Englishmen put on Powhatan a scarlet cloak and apparel and crowned him, it is mentioned that “he gave his old shoes and his mantle to Captain Newport.” (p. 124).
From these passages it appears that there were in use among the Powhatans three kinds of mantles, viz. of dressed skins embroidered with beads (the term would be used of shell-work)[,] of furs, and of feather-work. Tradescant’s original catalogue (printed in 1656) of his collection, shows that he had specimens of all three kinds. He enters (p. 47) “A Virginian habit of Beares skin”; “A Match-coat from Virginia of Feathers”; “Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke; A Match-coat of Virginia made of Racoune-skins”. Here it is to be noticed that match-coat is a not unusual corrupt form of the native Virginian word written matchcore (= skin or garment, Vocab. in Smith’s Works, p. 381; = stags skin, Vocab. in Strachey’s Virginia): roanoke (apparently the same word as in Roanoke Island, &c.) was a term commonly used for worked shell, especially strung shell-beads or wampum, or a particular variety of such (“Ronoak or Porcelan, which is a sort of Beads they make of the Conk-shells” Lawson’s Hist. of Carolina, p. 191–3). How these specimens reached Tradescant is not known. That they came from Smith is suggested by the fact that in his Will (Works, p. 970) he bequeaths books to Tradescant “and the other halfe parte of the bookes I give unto Master John Tredeskyn”. On the other hand, his name cannot be clearly identified in the list of donors at the end of Tradescant’s catalogue, which contains a “Sir John Smith” and a “Mr. Smith” but no “Captain John Smith”. Of the group of Virginian mantles in Tradescant’s collection, there only now remains the shell-embroidered one. It is entered as follows in the M.S. Catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum, in the handwriting of the Keeper, Dr. Plot the well-known antiquary, about 1685: “205 Basilica Pohatan Regis Virginiani vestis, duabus cervorum cutibus consuta, et nummis indicis vulgò cori’s dictis splendidè exornata.” He had at first written “Roanoke”, but struck his pen through this word, and wrote “cori’s” (i.e[.] cowries) above, thus by no means improving the accuracy of his description.

(Tylor 216–7)

Bushnell, writing in 1907, found Tylor’s argument that Powhatan’s Mantle passed to Tradescant by way of Smith persuasive. However, Gregory Waselkov has offered two alternative explanations which I find more persuasive than Tylor’s assumption concerning Smith’s more central role.

Waselkov first surmises that the Tradescants, elder and younger, both of whom visited Virginia, may well have acquired the cloak themselves, without Smith serving as intermediary.

John Tradescant, Sr. (ca. 1570–1638), was a member of the Virginia Company (he owned at least two shares of stock) and a partner in Samuel Argall’s project to transport twenty-four persons to Virginia in 1615, and in Argall’s Virginia plantation of February, 1617. Reputed to have been of Flemish origin, John Tradescant the Elder traveled extensively through Europe and in the East (including Russia), collecting natural curiosities as he went, before settling in England. He continued to travel, and his passion for “rarities” knew few bounds: in 1620, for example, the elder Tradescant went on the expedition of Mansell and Argall against the Algerine corsairs, in order to obtain a specimen of the Algier apricot.

He was in the service of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and July 31, 1625, he wrote to Edward Nicholas that it was the duke’s pleasure for him to deal with all merchants from all places; but especially from Virginia, Bermudas, Newfoundland, Guinea, Binney, the Amazon, East Indies, etc., for all manner of rare beasts, fowls and birds, shells, stones, etc.; afterwards [he was] in the service of Charles I....

(from the biography given in Alexander Brown,
Genesis of the United States ii:1032)

Together with his son, John the Younger (1608–1662), also a botanist of international renown, the elder Tradescant introduced dozens of plant species into English cultivation, and established a “physic garden” wherein he cultivated herbs from abroad for their unique medicinal properties. The elder Tradescant’s collection of rare creatures, shells, and minerals from around the world inevitably developed into a celebrated botanical museum, located at his residence in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames. The Tradescant natural history museum, formally cataloged by John the Younger in 1656, was widely visited by scholars and tourists alike, and was known to contain the finest collection of American flora and fauna anywhere in England (most likely Europe, as well).

Tradescant’s growing international reputation led Charles I to designate John the Elder royal gardener in 1630, placing him in charge of the gardens and silkworks at Oatlands Palace. Housed in a building designed by Inigo Jones, the royal silkworks dated from 1616, when the Hugeunot, John Bonoeil, was appointed silk master to James I. The strong connection of silk and silk-making with colonial Virginia dates from this Stuart’s reign, although there were hints made by Hariot about the benefits of developing such “natural goods of the land” as “grasse Silke” and “Worme Silke” into social goods or “marchantable commodities” as early as 1588:

There is a kind of grasse in the countrey uppon the blades where of there groweth very good silke in forme of a thin glittering skin to bee stript of. It groweth two foote and a halfe high or better: the blades are about two foot in length, and half inch broad. The like groweth in Persia, which is in the selfe same climate as Virginia, of which very many of the silke workes that come from thence into Europe are made. Here of if it be planted and ordered as in Persia, it cannot in reason be otherwise, but that there will rise in shorte time great profite to the dealers therein; seeing there is so great use and vent [i.e., sales] thereof as well in our countrey as els where. And by the meanes of sowing & pla[n]ting in good ground, it will be farre greater, better, and more plentifull then it is. Although notwithstanding there is great store thereof in many places of the countrey growing naturally and wilde. Which also by proof here in England, in making a piece of silke Grogran, we found to be excellent good.

(Thomas Hariot, section on “Silke of grasse or grasse Silke” — the first category “Of Marchantable Commodities” in A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, as rpt. by Theodore de Bry [Frankfurt, 1590], p. 7)

In manie of our journeyes [ca. 1585] we found silke wormes fayre and great; as bigge as our ordinary walnuttes. Although it hath not beene our happe to have found such plentie as elsewhere to be in the cou[n]trey we have heard of; yet seeing that the countrey doth naturally breede and nourish them, there is no doubt but if art be added in planti[n]g of mulbery trees and others fitte for them in commodious places, for their feeding and nourishing; and some of them carefully gathered and husbanded in that sort as by men of skill is knowne to be necessarie: there will rise as great profite in time to the Virginians, as there of doth now to the Persians, Turkes, Italians and Spaniards.

(Thomas Hariot, section on “Worme Silke” — the second category “Of Marchantable Commodities” in A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, as rpt. by Theodore de Bry [Frankfurt, 1590], pp. 7–8)

After establishing the first permanent English colony in America at Jamestown in 1607, policy makers continued to promote sericulture as a promising new industry for Virginia planters. Not only Tradescant the Elder, but also the Virginia Company’s Virginia Ferrar, public policy analysts such as Samuel Hartlib, and English scientists such as Robert Hooke, would publicize and pursue its “improvement” throughout the century.

Trained by, and working closely with, his father, John Tradescant the Younger visited Virginia in 1637 to collect varieties of flowers, plants, shells, minerals, and Indian artifacts of ethnological interest. He had just returned from this collecting trip when his father died in 1638, at which point he succeeded John the Elder as royal gardener to Charles I. When civil war broke out, John the Younger left England in 1642, returning yet again to Virginia, for a brief sojourn which overlapped with Sir William Berkeley’s (another enthusiast of Virginian sericulture) first years as Governor (1641–1652). It was John the Younger who in 1656 published the list of Virginian bear-, deer-, and raccoon-skin robes in the family collection, including “Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke.”

Given the close and continuing connection of both Tradescants with the Virginia enterprise, and their hands-on activities as collectors of natural and artificial rarities from Virginia, it is entirely possible that one of them procured Powhatan’s cloak either during or subsequent to their travels in that country.

Waselkov’s second, “perhaps more plausible” explanation of how the deerskin mantle first came into England points to Captain Christopher Newport to whom, as Smith reported, Powhatan “gave his old shoes and his mantle” in October 1608, all part of a farcical ceremonial exchange between “royals” stage-managed by the Virginia Company. (As directed, Newport gave to Powhatan a copper crown and scarlet robe, symbolizing the putative status that came with subjection to James I as overlord, and Powhatan reciprocated in kind.)

Whether Newport brought Powhatan’s cloak with him when he returned to England in December of that year is not known. Newport arrived in England mid-January 1609, and about 6 weeks later,

On March 5 of that year the Spanish ambassador, Don Pedro de Zúñiga, wrote to King Philip III that Powhatan “has sent a gift to this king,” meaning James I of England. This unspecified gift could have included the mantle presented to Newport, which might then have found its way to the Tradescants.

(Waselkov 308)

In this same letter, Zuñiga refers to the important exchange of “sons” which preceded the imperial pageantry enacted in October 1608. Thomas Savage, “an English boy” whom the Indians were told was a son of James I, was left by Newport with Powhatan in exchange for Powhatan’s son, Namontack. Namontack sailed from Virginia with Captain Newport on 10 April 1608, arriving in England on 21 May. In June of 1608, Zuñiga reported on Namontack’s presence to Philip III, writing that

it has amused me to see how they [the English] esteem him, thinking it much more certain that he must be a very ordinary person.

(qtd. in Brown i:172)

Zuñiga couldn’t have been more wrong.

Namontack returned to Virginia with Newport in July, arriving there towards the end of September, 1608, shortly before the coronation ceremony staged by Newport for Powhatan, for which Namontack’s brief sojourn in England surely paved the way.

In his Report on Virginia made to the Spanish council of state in July 1610, the Irishman Francis Maguel confirms Zuñiga’s account of the strategic esteem with which Namontack met while in England, and tells of the copper crown and silk robes that figured so prominently in the mock coronation:

The English have some boys there among these people to learn their language, which they already know, at least some of them, perfectly. The Emperor [Powhatan] sent one of his sons to England, where they treated him well and returned him once more to his own country, from which the said Emperor and his people derived great contentment thro’ the account which he gave of the kind reception and treatment he received in England. The English sent the Emperor a crown of shining Copper and many copper-vessels and silk dresses for himself and for his wives and children. This narrator [Maguel’s informant] returned to England in the same vessel with the said son of the Emperor [Namontack].

(qtd. in Brown i:396)

By the time of the mock crowning of Powhatan in October 1608, the grounds of reciprocal ceremonial exchange between putative heads of state were well-established. I think it very likely that Powhatan gave his mantle to Newport as part of what he took to be an expected gesture within the strange ritual of kingship being enacted around him.

Whatever the “ultimate origin” of the deerskin cloak in the Tradescant collection, its authenticity is not in question, argues Waselkov. The robe “is undoubtedly a southern Algonquian artifact of the type described by John Smith” (Waselkov 308) early in the century, and by Jesuit missionaries in 1639:

The Jesuit missionaries in Maryland wrote in their annual letter of 1639, “The only peculiarity by which you can distinguish a chief from the common people is some badge; either a collar made of a rude jewel, or a belt, or a cloak, oftentimes ornamented with shells in circular rows.” Anonymous, “Extracts from the Annual Letters of the English Province of the Society of Jesus,” in Clayton C. Hall, ed., Narratives of Early Maryland, 1633–1684 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 125.

(Waselkov 337n25)

In 1907, David Bushnell wrote that “the signification” of the robe’s shells embroidered in circular rows “is not known” (39). Since then, scholars have determined that the mantle’s ornamentation is a symbolic map portraying social and political relationships within the Powhatan chiefdom — a graphic depiction of Indians’ organization of their social environment and how they perceived their world at a particular moment in time (Waselkov 301).

Waselkov reads in the decoration a topological representation of the expanding Powhatan confederacy, and the paramount chief’s domination over the Indians of the Virginia coastal plain.

In addition to their aesthetic function, the decorative shell bead patterns may carry considerable symbolic import, particularly if the mantle is attributable to Powhatan. Randolph Turner has suggested that the thirty-four roundlets perhaps represented the districts under Powhatan’s control. He based his supposition on a 1612 reference by William Strachey, who noted that Powhatan’s “petty Weroances in all, may be in nomber, about three or fower and thirty, all which have their precincts, and bowndes, proper.” Strachey went on to enumerate thirty-two werowances from the area of the James and York rivers. This list, however, includes both greater and lesser werowances, corresponding to about twenty-four districts. This limited area seems to have been the core of the chiefdom, the extent of Powhatan’s absolute control. But there is considerable evidence that as many as thirty-six districts were claimed by Powhatan and were subject, in some degree, to his influence. Considered in this light, Smith’s map of 1612 and Strachey’s descriptions of the geographic limits of Powhatan’s power closely coincide, and the mantle attributed to that chief can be interpreted not as a statement of absolute control over a circumscribed region, but as a claim to broader hegemony over a core area plus an incompletely consolidated periphery.

(Waselkov 308)

An ms. written by Thomas Martin (an “Adventurer for Virginia”), dated 15 December 1622, gives similar numbers (“32 Kingdomes under him”) for the Powhatan confederacy:

That parte of Virginia wthin wch we are seated and fitt to bee settled on for many hundred yards. It is within ye Territories of Opiehakano, it lyeth on the west side of Chesapiocke baye, which comandeth from the southermost parte of ye fourth river called Potomeck wch lyeth north next hand to ye River some 50 leagues in Latitude. In longitude it extendeth to the Monakins countrie next hand west and west and by North of equall length with the latitude. his owne principall state is in ye seacond River called Pamunkey in the heart of his own inhabited territories. This revolted Indian King with his squaw comaundeth 32 Kingdomes under him. Everye Kingdome contayneinge ye quantitie of one of ye shires here in England. Eavery such Kingdome hath one speciall Towne seated upon one of ye three greate Rivers with sufficience of cleared ground for ye plowe & bravely accomadated for fishing ...

(ms. signed “Tho. Martin”; qtd. in Bushnell 32)

Bushnell speculates that

The “one speciall towne” of “eavery such Kingdome” was probably similar to either Pomeiock or Secoton as they were some twenty years before Jamestown was settled.

(Bushnell 32)

Portrait of John Tradescant
the Elder
(ca. 1570–1638)
By the great Czech artist-engraver, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677)

Frontispiece portrait to Musæum Tradescantianum: or, A collection of rarities. Preserved at South-Lambeth neer London by John Tradescant (London, 1656).

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Portrait of John Tradescant
the Younger
Engraved by Wenceslaus
Hollar (1607–1677)
after his own design.

The engraving is inscribed “W. Hollar ad vivum delin. et sculp:” to make it clear that this is a portrait made from life.

Second frontispiece portrait to Musæum Tradescantianum: or, A collection of rarities. Preserved at South-Lambeth neer London by John Tradescant (London, 1656).

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Engraved title page for the printed catalog listing the contents of the Tradescant Collection in 1656.

There are 14 categories for the natural and artificial curiosities in the family museum, and a separate 106-page listing of the famed Hortus Tradescantianus, subtitled “An enumeration of his Plants, Shrubs, and Trees both in English and Latine.”

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Pages 46 and 47 of
the printed catalog,
Musæum Tradescantianum
(London, 1656).
Page 47 lists four Amerindian “match-coats” (2 from Virginia, 1 from Canada, 1 from Greenland), plus Powhatan’s Mantle.

Page 46 lists the knife with which the explorer of North America, Captain Henry Hudson, was killed.

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*     *     *     *     *

open a second window with the complete text of Zuñiga’s 1609 letter

In addition to the reference about Powhatan’s gift to James I, Zuñiga’s letter includes intelligence for the Spanish king about English plans to kill Powhatan “and the savages, so as to obtain possession of everything,” and describes a chart privately held by the Members of the Council of Virginia on which “the numbers are marked ... in such a way that they go up to 39,” almost to the border of what would expand into the 2nd English colony of North Virginia (extending from 40º to 45º N. Lat.; the 1st colony of South Virginia ran from 34º to 40º N. Lat.). Zuñiga describes how has he marked up an enclosed copy of the chart to better show the Indian geography of the region: “I mark where the English are, and all the rest till below, are dwellings of the Savages.”

With this cartographic voice-over, Zuñiga must have mapped some of the same socio-political terrain symbolically mapped by the shell beadwork of Powhatan’s mantle.

*     *     *     *     *

As glossed by Paul Hulton,
America, 1585 (1984):

Pomeiock “was discovered, according to the Tiger journal, on 17 July 1585, and is shown on White’s map of Raleigh’s Virginia, just south west of the lake named named ‘Paquippe’ (Mattamuskeet Lake). It is enclosed with a palisade of light poles with two entrances, one at the bottom, left, the other at the top, left. Evidence suggests that White has deliberately exaggerated the space between the poles, which are about the right height, to allow a clearer view of some houses. There are eighteen houses of pole and mat construction, some with open ends and sides, several of them showing interior platforms, along the sides or across the ends, which were used primarily for sleeping. The largest house is identified by Harriot in the engraving (De Bry, pl. XIX) as that of the ‘King’, the building with the cupola as the temple .... The houses, again according to Harriot, were built for ‘The kinge and his nobles’ and were constructed of small poles bent and fastened together at the top.... Sometimes they were covered with rush mats, more usually with bark. The buildings can be classified as longhouses, that is they are markedly longer than they are broad, though a few, particularly in the engraving, approach the domed, oval or round mat-covered houses known in New England and the Great Lakes region, and are close to those described for the Powhatan.

“A man is seen chopping timber with an axe, just left of and above the fire in the centre, which is too indistinct to allow us to say whether it is an Indian stone axe or an English trade axe. The dog shown nearer the top is interesting as an example of the type of Indian domesticated dog before inbreeding began with European dogs.”

The Indian “Towne of Pomeiock.” Watercolor drawing by John White, 1585.

White’s legend reads: “The towne of Pomeiock and true forme of their howses, couered and enclosed some wth matts, and some wth barcks of trees. All compassed abowt wth smale poles stock thick together m stedd of a wall.”

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White’s “The towne of Pomeiock” is one of 63 American subjects (two of which may not be White’s work) in a collection of 77 watercolor drawings — all that has survived of White’s original documentary record of “Ralegh’s Virginia” in 1585–6. According to Paul Hulton, who has reproduced the entire set of watercolor originals (along with facsimiles of 73 copies, by several different early 17th-century hands, of White drawings contained in the “Sloane Volume”), “the surviving drawings relate to only a very small part of the primary collection of which ... an unknown but perhaps large proportion was lost at sea as the colonists were leaving Roanoke Island.” (Hulton 20)

In [Ralph] Lane’s account of the departure of the colonists from Roanoke Island on 18 July [1586] he writes, “and so hee [Drake] sending immediately his pinnaces vnto our Island for the fetching away of fewe that there were left with our baggage, the weather was so boysterous, and the pinnaces so often on ground, that the most of all wee had, with all our Cardes, Bookes and writings, were by the Saylers cast over boord....” This can only mean that a part, perhaps a large one, of White’s pictorial record, the charts and maps, Harriot’s journals and any specimens they may have collected, were lost. It is clear from the material that survives that some was brought home or sent back to England beforehand. Whatever the actual extent of the loss the comprehensiveness of their record must have been destroyed at that moment. Of what survived or was sent home earlier, the Indian section was perhaps the most complete.

(Paul Hulton, America, 1585: The
Complete Drawings of John White

Several of White’s magnificent drawings of Algonquian Indians and of the “Virginia” territory (now North Carolina) they inhabited — including the depiction of Pomeiock and two maps documenting the English claim to the region — were engraved and printed by Theodore de Bry in his multilingual reissue (Frankfurt, 1590) of Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (Hariot’s small report was originally published in London, 1588, without any illustrations). In de Bry’s printed version, White’s drawing of Pomeiock appeared as plate XIX, with a single-paragraph legend which had been written by (the scientist) Hariot, Englished for de Bry by (the preacher) Hakluyt, and somewhat mangled in its diction and spelling by the German printers.

Open a second window with an HTML transcription of de Bry’s printed gloss.
“The Towne of Pomeiooc.” Engraved by Theodor de Bry (“T. B.”). Plate XIX (page 1 of 2) from the illustrated English edition of Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia; of the commodities and of the nature and manners of the naturall inhabitants. Discouered by the English colony there seated by Sir Richard Greinuile Knight In the yeere 1585.... published by Theodor de Bry in 1590 (“At Franckfort, Inprinted by Ihon Wechel, at Theodore de Bry, owne coast and chardges. MDXC.”).

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As glossed by Paul Hulton,
America, 1585 (1984):

“In general,” de Bry’s engraving “conforms closely to” White’s original watercolor drawing “apart from a number of minor differences, but the rear entrance to the palisade is not shown, its poles are taller, thicker, more regular, and the house with the cupola on the right now has a hexagonal ground-plan. A landscape background has been added of trees, part of a field of corn on the left, sunflowers and a small pond on the right from which three Indians are taking water. There is a ridge in the foreground with stylized plants growing on it.”

“The Towne of Pomeiooc.” Plate XIX (page 2 of 2) from the illustrated English edition of Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia ... published by Theodore de Bry in 1590.
Copper-plate engraving by De Bry (signed T. D.) after White’s original watercolor drawing, 1585.

View an enlarged 1500 x 2058 pixel JPG image (669KB)

The drawings so

Diligently Collected and Draowne by John White, who was sent thiter speciallye and for the same purpose by the said Sir Walter Ralegh the year abovesaid 1585. and also the year 1588.

(from the separate title page for Part II of de Bry’s
illustrated English edition of Hariot’s Report, “The True
Pictures and Fashions of the People in that Parte of
America Now Called Virginia, Discowred by Englismen
Sent Thither in the years of our Lorde 1585 ...”)

were slightly altered in de Bry’s engravings, which were secretly trademarked to prevent the making of counterfeits (then, as now, copyright protection was a growing problem for publishers):

Finallye I hartlye Request thee, that yf any seeke to Contrefaict thes my bookx, (for in this dayes many are so malicious that they seeke to gayne by other men labours) thow wouldest give noe credit unto suche conterfaited Drawghte. For dyvers secret marks lye hiddin in my pictures, which wil breede Confusion unless they bee well observed.

(from de Bry’s epistle, “To the gentle Reader”)

The circular, palisaded town of Pomeiock, first visited by the Roanoke colonists (White among them) in July 1585, was located in present-day North Carolina, in the region surrounding Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds on the Carolina coast. It shows on the printed Hariot-White-de Bry Map of Virginia (see inland from Wokohon, and up from Croatoan) as an oval, the symbol used to represent all the Indian villages depicted on the map.

As glossed by Cumming, Skelton
& Quinn, The Discovery of North

This stylized engraving “was the basis for most European maps of the area for over eighty years. De Bry made the engraving from a manuscript map by John White (misspelled ‘With’ in the small cartouche to the left), to accompany Thomas Harriot’s Briefe and true report, Frankfurt, 1590. In the sixteenth century Wimble Shoals was apparently a more prominent cape than Hatteras. Many of the islands in the sounds here shown have since disappeared. The colonists had made a brief trip to Chesapeake Bay but did not yet know its size or shape.”

“Americæ pars, Nunc Virginia dicta primum ab Anglis inventa sumtibus Dn Walteri Raleigh, Equestris ordinis viri anno Dm MDLXXXV regni vero Sereniss nostræ Reginæ Elisabethæ XXVII Hujus vero Historia peculiari Libro discripta est, additis etiam Indigenarum Iconibus.” Also known as the “Hariot-White-de Bry map of Virginia” (now North Carolina), showing Algonquian Indian settlements in the region around Ralegh’s Roanoke Colony of 1585.
Copper-plate engraving by De Bry after a modified drawing by White of his ms. map, ca. 1585, “La Virginea Pars.” From the map’s cartouche (left side, slightly above middle): “Autore Ioanne With / Sculptore Theodore / de Bry, Qui et excud.”.

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De Bry’s engraved map of Virginia was made from a detail (later modified by White for engraving) of White’s manuscript map of the southeastern Atlantic coast, “La Virgenia Pars.” This map, which records the survey work of Hariot and White in the region between Chesapeake Bay and Cape Lookout during 1585–6,

is the chief contemporary authority on the inlets and contours of the Outer Banks in the sixteenth century, as well as on the location of Indian settlements and the place names of the area. The map was probably compiled from a large number of sheets drawn on different surveying trips and from verbal reports; it is, however, surprisingly accurate and remains the best chart of as large an area in North America made before the seventeenth century. Although the manuscript volume in which this map is found is dated 1585, some details may incorporate information gathered by White on later voyages.

(Cumming, Skelton & Quinn,
The Discovery of North America 174)

De Bry’s engraving of White’s ms. map includes some interesting embellishments.

There are considerable differences between the engraved map and White’s manuscript map of “Virginia”. It is oriented to the west, the proportions between the banks, sounds and mainland have been altered, the map has been extended by nearly a hundred miles inland and there are revisions of names and some additions, making this a later map. But the immediately noticeable difference is the use of symbols, such as the circular palisade for an Indian village, whether open or enclosed, conventional signs for both evergreen and deciduous trees and for mountains, and “garnishing” of Indian figures.

(Hulton 187)

While the circular palisade symbol appears to have been introduced by de Bry (although these could have been among the edits made by White to the copy of the ms. map of Virginia he gave de Bry for engraving), White’s original manuscript map did use (sepia-colored) circles to symbolize Indian towns, including Pomeiock (here located to the east of lake Paquippe, with the alternate spelling “Pomejooc”).

from Peter Wood, “The Changing Population of the Colonial South” (1989):

“In contrast to Virginia, with its enormous bay and accessible rivers, North Carolina was protected from overseas colonization by the treacherous Outer Banks and the lack of suitable harbors. Separate contacts during the sixteenth century by the French (Verrazzano), the Spanish (de Soto and Pardo), and the English (Barlowe and White) had introduced foreign goods and diseases into the region, but lasting colonization did not occur until the second half of the seventeenth century, as land-hungry English settlers pushed south from the Chesapeake tidewater into the region of Albemarle Sound. The dynamics experienced by Powhatan’s Virginia in the seventeenth century of a foreign influx, a strong and protracted resistance from the dominant Indians near the coast, and an eventual decline and dispersal of the native population would recur farther south [i.e., in North Carolina] in the early eighteenth century.” (43)

“La Virgenia Pars,” detail showing the region between Chesapeake Bay and Cape Lookout, as explored and surveyed by White and Hariot for Sir Walter Ralegh in 1585–6. Drawn by John White, ca. 1585. From the original watercolor held by the British Museum.
Reproduced as plate 213 (p. 185) in The Discovery of North America, by William P. Cumming, R. A. Skelton, and D. B. Quinn.

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The European use of ovals or circles, in tandem with place names, to map Indian territory may well have been influenced by indigenous traditions of mapmaking. Whether their maps were painted on skins, sketched with charcoal on bark, scratched into the sand or ashes of a fire, or sketched with chalk or ink on European-supplied paper, American Indians preferred the metaphor of the social circle for depicting human community.

Circles, an indigenous symbol for human settlements used throughout North America, note Indian villages and the site of forts and trading posts. Paths are pictured by dotted lines.

(Mark Warhus, Another America: Native
American Maps and the History of Our Land

And as Europeans assimilated Amerindian cartography in their maps of North America, so too did the Native Americans integrate European concepts and coordinates in their maps of a changing landscape. A Catawba painted deerskin map, “describing the Scituation of the Several Nations of Indians to the N.W. of South Carolina” ca. 1721, intermixed traditional circles with rectangles to figure the evolving North American community of self and European other:

The Catawba map maker expanded the metaphor of the social circle when he drew a rectangular grid plan of Charlestown and a square representing Virginia. This dichotomy carries the clear message that Indians were alike in being circular people; the English were square. Other symbolic oppositions, either implied or explicit, occur throughout these documents. In the concentric structure of some maps we see an inherent opposition between us and them, the center and the fringes of the world. In other cases color draws the contrast, as in the use of black paint to indicate allies and red to identify enemies on the Chickasaw/Alabama map....

(Waselkov 302)

Antedating the Catawba deerskin map by more than a century, Powhatan’s deerskin mantle describes an Indian world prior to the symbolic squaring of Virginia. Powhatan’s Virginia ca. 1608 is still loosely bounded by 34 dynamic circles of tributary chiefdom.

The use of circles to represent human social groups, from the level of villages to entire tribes, is the single most widely shared symbolic feature of southeastern Indian maps .... In this context the circle, one of the basic symbolic forms in the Southeast since prehistoric times, probably represents the social cohesion of the group, mirroring the village plan common to many southeastern native societies of the period. An early example of the same symbolic use of circles can be seen on the deerskin mantle attributed to Powhatan and dating to about 1608 (frontispiece). Here thirty-four solid circles or roundlets, apparently representing all the separate chiefdoms at least nominally under Powhatan’s control, are arranged in the familiar concentric pattern around three central figures, one of which presumably is Powhatan himself (placed in an egocentric rather than an ethnocentric position). The distribution of roundlets is essentially symmetrical, suggesting that there was no attempt to show the actual geographical distribution of the tributary chiefdoms. In its symbolic content and organization, this decorated cloak differs little from the later Catawba [ca. 1721], Chickasaw [ca. 1723], and Chickasaw/Alabama [1737] maps.

(Waselkov 302)

To most accurately portray social and political relationships across large expanses of territory within the confines of an animal skin, such metaphoric maps required a shift in perspective that replaced “absolute measures of Euclidean distance with a flexible, topological view of space.” (Waselkov 300) The indigenous circle-mapping style, as expertly crafted on Powhatan’s deerskin mantle, had been honed over centuries to communicate complicated information about the Indian polity with an admirable economy of images.

The Powhatan Algonquians were, however, proficient at more than one mapping style. M. Thomas Hatley, introducing Waselkov’s excellent essay, points to what he calls the “double mapping styles of the colonial-period tribespeople”:

The coexistence of both “realistic” and “metaphorical” maps produced during the same period suggests that their makers were fluent in two mapping languages and testifies to the diverse regional pathways of communication. The double mapping styles of the colonial-period tribespeople corresponded to the multilingual abilities of native southeasterners, many of whom included in their linguistic repertory Mobilian, the commercial lingua franca of the lower South. Learning to read maps like these brings home the necessity of becoming literate in the vibrant verbal and nonverbal languages of the Southeast, with their rich symbols and intercultural inflections.

(Hatley, Introduction to part 3 of
Powhatan’s Mantle, p. 252)

And Waselkov opens his essay with the explanation that

Drawing maps was within the competence of every adult southeastern Indian of the colonial period. Early colonizers, such as Captain John Smith, John Lawson, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, and René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, found native North Americans to be proficient cartographers whose geographical knowledge greatly expedited the first European explorations of the region.... Once this fact is appreciated, one can no longer share the astonishment of Governor James Glen of South Carolina, who in 1754 wrote, “I have not rested satisfied with a verbal Discription of the Country from the Indians but have often made them trace the Rivers on the Floor with Chalk, and also on Paper, and it is surprizing how near they approach to our best Maps.” Though the governor might not have conceded or even realized the fact, the information contained in Glen’s best maps of the interior Southeast was originally derived in large part from Indians.
Christopher Columbus first discovered the existence of an indigenous mapmaking tradition among the American Indians when, on his fourth voyage in 1502, he waylaid a Mayan trading canoe carrying an old man who drew charts of the Honduran coast. From the English colony at Jamestown, established in 1607, came the earliest records of southeastern Indian maps. The Powhatan Algonquians spontaneously produced maps on at least three occasions, ranging in scope from a simple one showing the course of the James River to an ambitious map depicting their place at the center of a flat world, with England represented by a pile of sticks near the edge. Only rarely, however, did European explorers express any interest in Indian cosmography; their curiosity generally was limited to the locations of rivers, paths, and settlements. When traveling through totally unfamiliar terrain, this sort of geographical information proved invaluable to numerous Englishmen and Frenchmen seeking new lands to exploit. As a consequence, Indians sometimes withheld such information, according to John Lawson: “I have put a Pen and Ink into a Savage’s Hand, and he has drawn me the Rivers, Bays, and other Parts of a Country, which afterwards I have found to agree with a great deal of Nicety: But you must be very much in their Favour, otherwise they will never make these Discoveries to you; especially, if it be in their own Quarters.” Lawson evidently lost their favor because of his encroachments on Indian lands while serving as surveyor-general of the North Carolina colony, for he was the first Englishman killed in the Tuscarora War of 1711.
But on the whole, geographically uninformed Europeans seldom were disappointed in their hundreds of requests for Indian maps. Unfortunately, few of these maps now are extant, even as transcripts. G. Malcolm Lewis has suggested that Europeans were primarily interested in the information content, which could be incorporated directly into their own printed maps, and had little regard for the ethnographic value of original Indian maps as artifacts....

(Waselkov 292–3)

One such map that assimilated “the relations of the Indians” in its depiction of the North American landscape was the “Velasco Map” of 1610/11. This European map integrated information from “realistic” Indian maps which delineated

river courses, networks of paths, locations of mountain ranges, and placement of villages, all in proper spatial relationship to one another. European colonists most frequently requested this type of Indian map, which could be directly transferred to printed form, occasionally with attributions to Indian sources. This also was the commonest sort drawn by the native southeasterners for their own use. Undoubtedly Baron de Lahontan’s 1703 description of the northeastern Indians is applicable to the Southeast as well:
“They draw the most exact Maps imaginable of the Countries they’re acquainted with, for there’s nothing wanting in them but the Longitude and Latitude of Places: They set down the True North according to the Pole Star; the Ports, Harbours, Rivers, Creeks and Coasts of the Lakes; the Roads, Mountains, Wood, Marshes, Meadows, etc. counting the distances by Journeys and Half-Journeys of the Warriors and allowing to every Journey Five Leagues. The sechorographical Maps are drawn upon the Rind of your Birch Tree; and when the Old Men hold a Council about War or Hunting, they’re always sure to consult them.”

(Waselkov 300)

However, as with Europeans, the Indians’ ability to accurately map North American territories beyond the individual cartographer’s knowledge of “the Countries they’re acquainted with” also existed. For example, a Chickasaw Deerskin Map from the period around 1723, drawn by a headman, covered a huge area

encompassing approximately 700,000 square miles, from southeastern Texas [key no. 12] to southwestern Kansas [key no. 3] on the west and northeastern Florida [key no. 36] to western New York (the circle at the end of 58) on the east. The range and depth of this unnamed Chickasaw headman’s cartographic knowledge was extraordinary; undoubtedly much of the map’s significance was beyond the grasp of [Francis] Nicholson [“Governour of Carolina”] or any of his European contemporaries.

(Waselkov 329)

Indian maps drawn by headmen often provided “an extraordinarily comprehensive view” of great expanses. Waselkov speculates that, like the best European cartographers, such headmen

had access to information accumulated by other tribe members. In other words, the great breadth of geographical knowledge indicated by this map, ranging as it does from Texas and Kansas in the west to New York and Florida in the east, may represent the collective knowledge of the Chickasaws in 1723, even if no individual Chickasaw had ever traveled so widely.

(Waselkov 301)

This claim is borne out by what we know of Powhatan’s intelligence-gathering network, which spanned the North American continent from Mexico to Canada. In 1610, the Irishman, Francis Maguel, who had spent eight months as a spy in Virginia, reported to the Spanish court that

The Emperor [Powhatan] sends every year some men by land to West India and to Newfoundland and other countries, to bring him news of what is going on there.

(“Report of What Francisco Maguel, an Irishman,
[learned] in the State of Virginia, during the eight
months that he was there,” repr. in Alexander
Brown’s Genesis of the United States, i:396)

This would mean that the cumulative geographic knowledge of the Powhatan Algonquians extended well beyond the region mapped in metaphoric terms on Powhatan’s deerskin mantle. And like all knowledge compiled from multiple sources, it was subject to reinterpretation while being culturally assimilated. Maguel reports that Powhatan’s informants brought back disturbing news of the European presence elsewhere on the continent, and that this intelligence was manipulated to advantage by the English, who were then still exploring the possibilities of a political alliance with Powhatan:

And these messengers report that those who are in the West India treat the Natives very badly and as slaves, and the English tell them that those people are Spaniards, who are very cruel and evil disposed.

(Maguel, repr. in Alexander Brown’s
Genesis of the United States, i:396)

As the Native experience elsewhere on the continent foretold, the squaring of North America had begun in earnest.


Related Links

• a 3-part companion GALLERY exhibit questioning the origins of the 19th-century color image of Powhatan’s cloak featured here (Gallery Cat. No. 63) — is it really a color photograph, printed in 1888? or something else?

• more on Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Captain John Smith’s three-week “captivity” in the GALLERY exhibit, The “Zuñiga Chart” of Virginia, 1608

• discussion of Powhatan’s introduction of “the croune which ye Kinge of England sent him” in a traditional planting ritual in the GALLERY exhibit on maize, “Indian Wheat, with an Indian Jay (1651, 1652)”

• a multi-part GALLERY exhibit on the Velasco Map of 1610/11, its surprisingly accurate depiction of North America’s Atlantic coast, and its legend, “All the blue is dune by the relations of the Indians.”

• a digital transcription of Sir William Berkeley’s A Discourse and View of Virginia (1663), in which Berkeley proposed that the English develop Virginia through economic diversification (rather than relying on a single cash crop, tobacco, that was chronically overproduced), in the LIBRARY

• a digital transcription of “the report which the Irishman made touching Virginia” (Francis Maguel’s report of 1610, reproduced as item CXXXI in Brown), in the LIBRARY

• an IN BRIEF biography of the Czech artist-engraver, Wenceslaus Hollar, who did several engravings from the life, besides that of John Tradescant the Younger, including an etching of “A Twenty-Three-Year-Old Virginian Algonquian” in 1645

• an IN BRIEF biography of Captain John Smith

• an IN BRIEF biography of Thomas Hariot (aka Harriot), author of A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, and the brilliant virtuoso whom historians have described as “the peer of Galileo and one of the greatest English scientists before Newton”

• an IN BRIEF biography of England’s King James I, “a constant friend” to English commerce, and a monarch who took an “especial and personal interest in the success of” his American colonies

• an IN BRIEF topic on the Museo Kircheriano, a Jesuit “gallery of curiosities” on a par with that of the Tradescants, although the two early-modern collections had slightly different emphases: Kircher’s Musæum in Rome showcased achievements in mechanical engineering, while the Museum Tradescantianum in London was first and foremost a museum of natural history and botanical garden

• external link to American Rhetoric’s rendition of Powhatan’s address to Captain John Smith, delivered by Vine Deloria (audio MP3 reading, also available as HTML text file)



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