AS IS THE CASE in any kind of research, reading the same thing over and over again yields new insights. I’ve probably been through these messy boundary case depositions from 1711 multiple times, but maybe I wasn’t paying full attention.
First of all, the depositions — obtained to settle disputes related to the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina — are first-person accounts from an interesting cadre of individuals. Consider the first, Henry Plumpton, aged 86, who had lived in Virginia for 74 years. Rewind that back, and we learn that Plumpton was born in about 1624 and had been living in Virginia since the mid-1630s. Other depositions are collected from Robert Lawrence, aged 69, Frances Tomes (Thomas), age 77, who emigrated in 1649. These are literally the first generation of British settlers in Virginia.
There are also a number of Indians named. These include:
- Jenny, daughter of Capt. Pearce, a Wyanoke Indian woman living at Nottoway Town, aged about 60 (born 1650)
- Betty, another Wyanoke Indian woman living at Nottoway Town, older
- Mary, another Wyanoke Indian woman living at Nottoway Town, also 60
The Wyanokes once owned all the land from a point on the Roanoke to the Albemarle Sound and up to the Wiccacon River. This land they acquired from the Tuscarora. In fact, three Tuscarora leaders are named:
- Niccotanwatts or Nicotaw Warr, a Tuscarora king
- Corranwhankcokek or Corrowhaughkoheh, a Tuscarora king
- Ervetsahekeh, a Tuscarora queen
Some other Indians named in the depositions are:
- Nick Major, a headman of the Meherrin, aged about 69 (born about 1640) (note: he says that much of the action related to the Wyanoke, which happened in the 1660s, happened when he was a boy, therefore he might be younger, born say 1650)
- Thom Green, a Nottoway Indian aged about 75 (born 1635)
- Great Peter, great man of the Nansemond, aged about 60 (born 1650)
- Patop, a Wyanoke man who lived at Nansemond Indian Town, who died in 1710
- James, a Wyanoke man who lived at Nansemond Indian Town, who died in 1710
One aspect that is important here is that there was an Iroquoian name for the Wiccacon River. Jenny Pearce and the other Wyanoke women said that Wiccacon in their language meant, “little river or creek.” But Nick Major said that “their nation” (the Meherrin) called the same river, the Quauraurawke. Thom Green, the Nottoway man interview, said the Nottoway called it Quaurauraughkek. This should put to rest any questions about whether or not the Meherrin were an Iroquoian-speaking people.
Finally, Nick Major’s deposition is interesting. Numerous times, the Pochick Indians are mentioned in the depositions. However, no Pochick person is named, nor is any Pochick town referred to as being in existence by that date, 1710. Major says that the only Indians he were aware of who lived at the junction of the Nottoway and Blackwater were the “Chowan & Nansemond or Pochiack Indians.” He also said he had heard there “were such Indians as ye Yawpins but they lived so farr off that they never saw any of them.”
There is some confusion about who the Pochick Indians really were. In his deposition, Great Peter refers to the “Potkiak Indians” as having killed the Wyanoke king. Why wouldn’t he say Nansemond if his nation had been responsible, or “our nation”?
In her work, Helen Rountree had drawn up the idea of the Christianized Nansemond living at Norfolk, and the traditional Nansemond, who also were called Pochick. But the Pochick might have been just another band of Algonquians, or at least a separate Indian town or entity. In 1669, they were censused as having 30 bowmen in Surry County, while the Nansemond had 45 bowmen in Nansemond County. It’s possible, too, that they were somehow affiliated with the Chowan Indians, who apparently also had towns as far north as the Blackwater River.
It seems to me, that post-contact Algonquian groups were in a constant state of flux. Chiefdoms arose and fell, and groups combined and recombined. They were often defined by place. The “Chowan” lived on the Chowan River. The “Paspatank” lived on the Pasquotank River. The “Nansemond” lived, at first, on the Nansemond River. The “Pochick” lived on what the Algonquians maybe called the Nottoway River, the Pochick.