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Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Counter Petition, 1843

CONTENT WARNING

Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 

Context

After a public notice appeared in a Richmond newspaper in October 1842 that a petition would be presented to the Virginia General Assembly to sell King William County property known as "Indian town lands," members of the Pamunkey tribe took action. Three "Chief Men of the Tribe" drafted their own petitions, which were presented to the House of Delegates on January 21, 1843, the day after white King William County residents had submitted their petition for the sale of Pamunkey land.

In their petition dated November 26, 1842, "we the said Tribe do hereby solemnly and positively object" to the proposal. They denied that tribal members committed criminal acts against "our white neighbor" and objected to the claim that they were lazy. They noted that they were in fact successful farmers who could also support themselves through fishing and hunting "without any expence to the country." They responded to accusations that residents were no longer Pamunkey as a result of intermarriage with free Blacks, stating that "there are many here that are more than one half blooded Indian," although not everyone residing there was a member of the tribe. The petitioners reminded the assembly members that the land had been "granted to us by your fathers the son of liberty," and expressed their desire to eventually be buried "here with our ancestors." Being forced to leave their land, the tribal leaders concluded, was "against the will and wish of each one of our Tribe."

In an additional petition dated January 12, 1843, the tribal leaders pointed out that the instigator of the petition to sell their land lived elsewhere in the county, and that he had falsely convinced county residents that the Pamunkey wanted to sell their lands while also slandering the character of the Pamunkey Indians. They stressed that none of their near neighbors, "who know us well," signed the petition.

These two petitions submitted to the Assembly by the Pamunkey were successful. In March 1843, the House of Delegates' Committee for Courts of Justice rejected the petition to sell the land. While most Virginia Indian tribes were forced to sell their land during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi were able to retain their property as granted by treaties with the royal government during the 17th century.

Citation: Pamunkey Indians Counter Petition, Jan. 21, 1843, King William County, Legislative Petitions Digital Collection, Library of Virginia.

Related Document Bank entry: King William County Freeholders Petition for the Sale of Pamunkey Land

Learn more online about the Pamunkey Indian Reservation today.

Learn more online about the Mattaponi Indian Reservation today.

Standards

VUS.1, VUS.6

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Looking at Language: Look at the language and words used in the petition. What does it tell you about the people who wrote it? What does it tell you about the audience?

Post Activity

In Their Shoes: Pretend you are a reporter following this petition case. Write a story for your local readers explaining the petition and its possible outcomes.