Primary Resource

Justice and Execution; an excerpt from "Relation of Virginia, 1609" by Henry Spelman (1613)

In these two sections of "Relation of Virginia, 1609" titled "The Justis and government" and "The manor of execution," the Jamestown colonist Henry Spelman describes Virginia Indian law and punishment as he encountered it living with the Algonquian-speaking Powhatan and Patawomeck Indians from 1609 until 1611. His account was probably written in 1613 but not published until 1872.

Transcription from Original

The Justis and government

Concerninge ther lawes my years and understandinge, made me the less to looke after bycause I thought that Infidels wear lawless yet when I saw sum put to death I asked the cause of ther offence, for in the tine I was with the Patomecke I saw 5 executed 4 for murther of a child (id est) the mother and tow other that did the fact with hir and a 4 for consealing it as he passed by, beinge bribed to hould his pease. and one for robbinge a traveler of coper and beades for to steale ther neyburs corne or copper is death, or to lye one with anothers wife is death if he be taken in the manner,

The manor of execution

Thos that be convicted of capitall offences are brough into a playne place before the Kinges house wher then he laye, which was at Pomunkeye the chefest house he hath wher one or tow apoynted by the Kinge did bind them hand and foote, which being dunn a great fier was made, Then cam the officer to thos that should dye, and with a shell cut of ther long locke, which they weare on the leaft side of ther heade, and hangeth that on a bowe before the Kings house. Then those for murther wear Beaten with staves till ther bonns weare broken and beinge alive weare flounge into the fier, the other for robbinge was knockt on the heade and beinge deade his bodye was burnt.