Pamunkey Frontlet

Cockacoeske (d. by July 1, 1686)

Cockacoeske, also known as Cockacoeweske, was a Pamunkey chief, and a descendant of Opechancanough, brother of the paramount chief Powhatan. After the death of her husband, Totopotomoy, chief of the Pamunkey from about 1649 until 1656, Cockacoeske became queen of the Pamunkey. In 1676, a few months before the outbreak of Bacon's Rebellion (1676–1677), the insurrection's leader, Nathaniel Bacon, and his followers attacked the Pamunkey, took captives, and killed some of Cockacoeske's people. That summer she appeared before a committee of burgesses and governor's Council members in Jamestown to discuss the number of warriors she could provide to defend the colony against frontier tribes. She gave a speech reminding the colonists of Pamunkey warriors killed while fighting alongside the colonists. In February 1677 she asked the General Assembly for the release of Pamunkey who had been taken captive and for the restoration of Pamunkey property. An astute politician, Cockacoeske signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation on May 29, 1677, reuniting under her authority several tribes that had not been under Powhatan domination since 1646. Cockacoeske ruled the Pamunkey until her death in 1686. MORE...

 

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.

Early in the summer of 1676 Cockacoeske appeared before a committee of burgesses and Council members in Jamestown. She entered the room with regal bearing, flanked by her interpreter and by her son John West, whose father was an English colonel. The queen's head was crowned with a broad woven band of beaded black and white wampum and peake shells, and she wore a full-length deerskin mantle with edges cut to resemble deep, twisted fringe. With "grave Courtlike Gestures and a Majestick Air," she took a seat at the Council table and refused to speak except through her interpreter, even though the committee members believed that she understood English. When asked how many warriors she could provide to defend the colony against frontier tribes, Cockacoeske disdainfully fell silent. Pressed further, she became agitated and delivered a quarter-hour speech during which she cried out, "Tatapatamoi Chepiack," meaning, "Totopotomoy is dead," to remind the committee members that her husband and a hundred of his warriors had perished while fighting alongside the colonists and that the Pamunkey had never received any compensation for their loss. Reluctantly, she eventually agreed to provide a dozen men, a small fraction of the number under her command. Conflict and disease had reduced the Native American population since 1607, but the number of Pamunkey warriors was then probably about 150.

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 an astute leader and skillful politician. On May 29, 1677, when the Treaty of Middle Plantation was signed, at her request several tribes were reunited under her authority, and she signed the treaty on behalf of all the tribes under her subjection. Afterward, the Chickahominy and Rappahannock, having been free of Powhatan domination since 1646, stubbornly refused to become subservient to her or to pay tribute, and in the summer of 1678 Cockacoeske directed her interpreter Cornelius Dabney to compile a list of grievances, which she sent to the governor. She also had him dispatch to England a letter in which she professed her loyalty to the Crown and complained about the tribes that disobeyed her orders. The letter, signed "Cockacoeske Queen of Pamunkey," included her signature mark, the same W-like symbol that she had affixed to the Treaty of Middle Plantation.

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.

Time Line

  • 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.
  • 1676 - A few months before the outbreak of Bacon's Rebellion, the insurrection's leader, Nathaniel Bacon, and his followers attack the Pamunkey, take captives, and kill some of Cockacoeske's people. To save her own life, the queen abandons her goods and possessions and retreats to the depths of the Dragon Swamp, where she nearly starves to death.
  • 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.
  • February 1677 - Cockacoeske asks the General Assembly for the release of Pamunkey who had been taken captive and for the restoration of Pamunkey property. The royal commissioners conclude that Cockacoeske should be rewarded for her notable loyalty to the English.
  • 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."
Further Reading
McCartney, Martha. "Cockacoeske." In Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, 321–322. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
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


Contributed by Martha McCartney and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Martha McCartney is a historian and independent researcher in Williamsburg.