Little is known about the life of Cockacoeske before she succeeded her husband, Totopotomoy, chief of the Pamunkey from about 1649 until he was killed in 1656 while assisting the colonists in frontier defense against Indian foes. She was usually referred to as the queen of Pamunkey. By the time Cockacoeske commenced her rule, the ancient Powhatan chiefdom had disintegrated, and the Indians of Virginia's coastal plain were no longer subordinate to a paramount leader. The Pamunkey, like other native subscribers to the Treaty of 1646, were tributaries to the English Crown.
Although the Pamunkey signed a treaty with the colony in March 1676, a few months before the outbreak of Bacon's Rebellion, the insurrection's leader, Nathaniel Bacon (1647–1676), and his followers attacked them, took captives and plunder, and killed some of Cockacoeske's people. To save her own life, the queen abandoned her goods and possessions, including bags of wampum, peake, and roanoke, and retreated to the depths of the Dragon Swamp, where she nearly starved to death. The following February, Cockacoeske asked the General Assembly for the release of Pamunkey who had been taken captive and for the restoration of Pamunkey property. The burgesses were unresponsive, but the royal commissioners whom the king had sent to quell the rebellion and investigate its origins concluded that Cockacoeske should be rewarded for her notable loyalty to the English. At their suggestion, authorities in England ordered that a jeweled coronet, other jewelry, and a suit of regal attire be presented to the queen of Pamunkey, her son, and her interpreter.
Cockacoeske was unsuccessful in re-creating the chiefly dominance enjoyed by her people's leaders during the first half of the seventeenth century, but she continued to rule the Pamunkey until her death. Cockacoeske, the queen of Pamunkey, died on an unrecorded date before July 1, 1686, when her interpreter George Smith reported to the governor's Council that she was "lately dead." She was succeeded by a niece, as was customary in the matrilineal society. Whether the niece, called Betty, was the predecessor of or the same person as Ann, who was queen of the Pamunkey by 1706, is not known.
1656 - After her husband, Totopotomoy, is killed while assisting the colonists in frontier defense against Indian foes, Cockacoeske succeeds him and becomes chief of the Pamunkey.
Summer 1676 - Cockacoeske appears before a committee of burgesses and Council members in Jamestown to discuss how many warriors she could provide to defend the colony against frontier tribes. She gives a speech describing the deaths of Pamunkey warriors killed fighting alongside the colonists.
May 29, 1677 - Cockacoeske signs the Treaty of Middle Plantation, and at her request several tribes are reunited under her authority. But having been free of Powhatan domination since 1646, the Chickahominy and Rappahannock stubbornly refuse to become subservient to her or to pay tribute.
Summer 1678 - Cockacoeske directs her interpreter Cornelius Dabney to compile a list of grievances, which she sends to the governor. She also has him dispatch to England a letter in which she professes her loyalty to the Crown and complains about the tribes that disobeyed her orders.
July 1, 1686 - Cockacoeske dies on an unrecorded date before this day, when her interpreter George Smith reports to the governor's Council that she was "lately dead."
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
McCartney, M., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Cockacoeske (d. by July 1, 1686). (2014, May 30). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Cockacoeske_d_by_July_1_1686.
- MLA Citation:
McCartney, Martha and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Cockacoeske (d. by July 1, 1686)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 30 May. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: May 26, 2010 | Last modified: May 30, 2014