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Meherrin Indians, Petition to the Governor of Virginia, 1723


As English colonists settled Virginia, they came into conflict with Native Americans over the concept of landownership. The Native Americans would not “own” their land, but would live on small portions and use a larger surrounding area for hunting, planting, and gathering. The English, on the other hand, would patent their land and claim exclusive right to use it. Many “treaties of peace” were signed between the Native Americans and the Virginia Company of London or (after 1624) the colonial government. Even though these treaties would grant land to Natives, they would not contain patents to the lands. 

In this 1723 document, the Meherrin Indians, a small Native American tribe living on the banks of the Meherrin River in southeastern Virginia near present-day Emporia, are petitioning the royal governor of Virginia.  They are asking for relief from the English colonists who have taken their land and are now threatening to take the corn they have grown. In 1705, Virginia had put into place laws that deprived all nonwhite persons, including Meherrin Indians, of legal rights, including the right to testify in court. This effectively kept the Meherrin Indians from using the courts to settle land disputes or collect debts.

Citation: Virginia (Colony), Colonial Papers, Petition of the Meherrin Indians, Sept. 9, 1723. Accession 36138. State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.


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Suggested Questions

In Their Shoes: We know today that the colonists seized the lands the Indians were living on with very little compensation given to them. Why do you think the colonists felt justified in doing this? Think about the social, religious, and economic issues of the time.

Analyze: How does the spelling and language used by the Meherrins reflect their status in Virginia society?


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