Major General Abraham Wood's Letter Describing 1673 Expedition

Abraham Wood:

To my Honoured Friend, Mr. Richards in London, present.

That I have been at your charge to the value of two hundred pounds sterling in the discovery of the south or west sea Declaro;. . .

About the 10th of April, 1673, I sent out two Englishmen and eight Indians with accommodations for three months, but by misfortune and unwillingness of the Indians before the mountains that any should discover beyond them, my people returned affecting little, to be short. On the 17th of May, 1673, I sent them out again, with a like number of Indians and four horses. About the 25th of June they met with the Tomahittans as they were journeying from the mountains to the Occhonechees. . .

They journeyed nine days from Occhonechee to Sitteree, west and by south, past nine rivers and creeks which all end in this side the mountains and empty themselves into the east sea. Sitteree being the last town of inhabitance and not any path further until they came within two days' journey of the Tomahittans. They travel from thence up the mountains upon the sun setting all the way, and in four days get to the top, sometimes leading their horses sometimes riding. The ridge upon the top is not above two hundred paces over; the descent better than on this side. In half a day they came to the foot, and then level ground all the way, many slashes upon the heads of small runs. The slashes are full of very great canes and the water runs to the northwest. They pass five rivers and about two hundred paces over the fifth being the middle most half a mile broad all sandy bottoms, with pebble stones, all fordable and all empty themselves northwest, when they travel upon the plains, from the mountains they go down, for several days they see straggly hills on their right hand, as they judge two days journey from them. By this time they have lost all their horses but one, not so much by the badness of the way as by hard travel, not having time to feed. When they lost sight of those hills they see a fog or smoke like a cloud from whence rain falls for several days on their right hand as they travel still towards the sun setting great store of game, all along as turkeys, deer, elk, bear, wolf, and other vermin very tame. At the end of fifteen days from Sitteree they arrive at the Tomahittan's river, being the sixth river from the mountains. This river at the Tomahittan's town seems to run more westerly than the other five. This river they passed in canoes the town being seated in the other side about four hundred paces broad above the town, within sight, the horse they had left waded only a small channel swam, as they were very kindly entertained by them, even to adoration in their ceremonies of courtesies and a stake was set up in the middle of the town to fasten the horse to, and abundance of corn and all manner of pulse with fish, flesh, and bear's oil for the horse to feed upon and a scaffold set up before day for my two men and Appomattock Indian that their people might stand and gaze at them and not offend them by their throng.

This town is seated on the river side, having the cliffs of the river on the one side being very high for its defence, the other three sides trees of two foot over, pitched on end, twelve feet high, and on the tops scaffolds placed with parapets to defend the walls and offend their enemies which men stand on to fight. Many nations of Indians inhabit down this river, which runs west upon the salts which they are at war with and to that end keep one hundred and fifty canoes under the command of their fort. The least of them will carry twenty men, and made sharp at both ends like a wherry for swiftness. This fort is four square, 300 paces over, and the houses set in streets. Many horns like bulls' horns lay upon their dunghills. Store of fish they have, one sort they have like unto stockfish cured after that manner.

Eight days' journey down this river lives a white people who have long beards and whiskers and wear clothing, and on some of the other rivers live a hairy people. Not many years since the Tomahittans sent twenty men laden with beaver to the white people. They killed ten of them and put the other ten in irons, two of which ten escaped and one of them came with one of my men to my plantation as you will understand.

After a small time of rest one of my men returns with his horse, the Appomatock Indian and 12 Tomahittans, eight men and four women. One of those eight is he which hath been a prisoner with the white people. My other man remains with them until the next return to learn the language. The 10th of September my man with his horse and the twelve Indians arrived at my house, praise be to God. The Tomahittans have about sixty guns. Not such locks as ours be, the steels are long and channelled where the flints strike. The prisoner relates that the white people have a bell which is six foot over which they ring morning and evening, and at that time a great number of people congregate together and talk he knows not what. They have many blacks among them, oysters and many other shellfish, many swine, and cattle. Their building is brick. The Tomahittans have among them many brass pots and kettles from three gallons to thirty. They have two mullato women. All the white and black people they take they put to death since their twenty men were barbarously handled.

After nine days rest, my man with the horse he brought home and the twelve Tomahittans began their journey the 20th of September intending, God blessing him, at the spring of the next year to return with his companion at which time, God sparing my life, I hope to give you and some other friends better satisfaction. All this I presented to the Grand Assembly of Virginia, but not so much as one word in answer or any encouragement or assistance given.

The good successes of the last journey by my men performed gave me great hopes of a good success in the latter for I never heard from nor anything after I employed Mr. James Needham past from Aeno, an Indian town two days' journey beyond Occhonechee, in safety. But now begins the tragic scene of mishap. Upon the 27th of January following, I received a flying report by some Indians that my men were killed by the Tomahittans passing over their river as they were returning. Now daily came variable reports of their miscarriage. All Indians spoke darkly to hide the truth from being discovered for fear the guilt of the murder would be layed upon themselves. I sent another man out to inquire what might be found out of truth in the business, but before his return upon the 25th of February came one Henry Hatcher, an Englishman, to my house who had been at Occhonechee trading with those Indians, and tells me that my man I last sent out was stopped there by the Occhonechees from going any further until Hatcher pursuaded them to let my man pass, which they did accordingly. This Hatcher further told me that Mr. James Needham was certainly killed at his going out, but by whom he knew not, but as the Occhonechees said by the Tomahittans that went with him, but said Hatcher I saw the Occhonechee Indian known by the name of John, a fat thick bluff faced fellow, have Mr. James Needham's pistols and gun in his hand, as the Indian himself told Hatcher.

This Indian John by his Indian name is called Hasecoll. Now you are to note that this Indian John was one that went with Mr. James Needham and my man Gabriel Arthur at the first to the Tomahittans and returned with Mr. James Needham to my house where he the said John received a reward to his content and agreed with me to go again with him. And endeavor his protection to the Tomahittans and to return with Mr. James Needham and my man to my house the next spring and to that end received half his pay in hand. The rest he was to receive at his return. My poor man Gabriel Arthur all this while captivated all this time in a strange land, where never Englishman before had set foot, in all likelihood either slain, or at least never likely to return to see the face of an Englishman. . . . and shall again come to Mr. Needham, where we left him.

From Aeno he journeyed to Sarrah, with his companions the Tomahittans and John the Occhonechee accompanied with more of his countrymen which was to see the tragedy acted as I suppose, it happened as they passed Sarrah river. An Indian let his pack slip into the water. Whether on purpose or by chance I cannot judge. Upon this some words passed between Needham and the Indian. Occhonechee Indian John took up Mr. Needham very short in words and so continued scolding all day until they had passed the Yattken town and so over Yattken river. Not far from the river Mr. Needham alighted it not being far from the foot of the mountains, and there took up their quarters. Still, Indian John continued his wailing and threatening. Mr. Needham took up a hatchet which lay by him, having his sword by him threw the hatchet on the ground by Indian John and said what John are you minded to kill me. Indian John immediately catched up a gun, which he himself had carried to kill meat for them to eat, and shot Mr. Needham near the burr of the ear and killed him. Notwithstanding, all the Tomahittans started up to rescue Needham but Indian John was too quick for them.

So died this heroic Englishman whose fame shall never die if my pen were able to eternalize it which had adventured where never any Englishman had dared to attempt before and with him died one hundred forty-four pounds sterling of my adventure with him. I wish I could have saved his life with ten times the value. Now his companions the Tomahittans all fell a weeping and cried what shall we do now you have killed the Englishman. We shall be cut off by the English. Indian John drew out his knife, stepped across the corpse of Mr. Needham, ripped open his body, drew out his heart, held it up in his hand, and turned and looked to the eastward, toward the English plantations and said he valued not all the English. The Tomahittans replied, how dare you do this, we are all afraid of the English. Indian John replied he was paid for what he had done and had received his reward, and then laid a command upon the Tomahittans that they should dispatch and kill the Englishman which Needham had left at the Tomahittans, and immediately opened the packs, took what goods he pleased, so much as Needham's horse could carry, and so returned back.

Now we return to my man Gabriel Arthur. The Tomahittans hastened home as fast as they can to tell the news. The King or chief man not being at home, some of the Tomahittans who were great lovers of the Occhonechees went to put Indian John's command in speedy execution and tied Gabriel Arthur to a stake and laid heaps of combustible canes about him to burn him. But before the fire was put to, the King came into the town with a gun upon his shoulder and hearing of the uproar for some were with it and some against it. The King ran with great speed to the place, and said who is that that is going to put fire to the Englishman. A Weesock born started up with a firebrand in his hand and said that am I. The King forthwith cocked his gun and shot the Weesock dead, and ran to Gabriel and with his knife cut the thongs that tied him and had him go to his house and said let me see who dares touch him. . . .


 


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