Primary Resource

"Ther maner of mariing"; an excerpt from "Relation of Virginia, 1609" by Henry Spelman (1613)

In a section of "Relation of Virginia, 1609" titled "Ther maner of mariing," the Jamestown colonist Henry Spelman describes Virginia Indian marriage and divorce practices as he encountered it living with the Algonquian-speaking Powhatan and Patawomeck Indians from 1609 until 1611. In addition, he recalls one particularly violent confrontation with the wife of a weroance, or chief. Spelman's account was probably written in 1613 but not published until 1872.

Transcription from Original

The custum of the cuntry is to have many wives and to buye them, so that he which have most copper and Beads may have most wives, for if he taketh likinge of any woman he makes love to hir, and seeketh to hir father or kindsfolke to sett what price he must paye for hir, which beinge one agreed on the kindred meett and make good cheere, and when the sume agreed on be payd she shall be delivered to him for his wife. The cerimony is thus: The parents bringes ther daughter betwene them (if hir parents be deade then sume of hir kinsfolke, or whom it pleaseth the king to apoynt, for the man goes not unto any place to be maried But the woman is brought to him wher he dwelleth). At hir cumminge to him, hir father or cheefe frends joynes the hands togither and then the father or cheef frend of the man Bringeth a longe stringe of Beades and measuringe his armes leangth therof doth breake it over the hands of thos that are to be married while ther hands be joynned together, and gives it unto the womans father or him that brings hir, And so with much mirth and feastinge they goe togither, When the Kinge of the cuntry will have any wives he acquaintes his cheef men that his purpose, who sends into all partes of the cuntry for the fayrest and cumliest mayds out of which the Kinge taketh his choyse given ther parents what he pleaseth. If any of the Kings wives have onc a child by him, he keeps her no longer but puts hir from him givinge hir sufficient Copper and beads to mayntayne hir and the child while it is younge and then is taken from hir and mayntayned by the King, it now beinge lawfull for hir beinge thus put away to marry with any other, The King Poetan havinge many wives when he goeth a Huntinge or to visitt another Kinge under him (for he goeth not out of his owne cuntry) He leaveth them with tow ould men who have the charge on them till his returne.

It was my happ to be leaft at one of the Kings Pasptanses Howses when we went to visitt another Kinge and two of his wives wear ther also, after the Kings departure, one of them would goe visitt hir father, hir name was Paupauwiske and seigne me, willed me to goe with hir and to take hir child and carye him thether in my armes, beinge a days jouyrnye from the place wher we dwelt, which I refusing she strook me 3 or 4 blows, but I being loith to beare to much got to hir and puld hir doune giving hir sum blows agayne which the other of the Kings wives perseyvinge, they both fell on me beatinge me so as I thought they had lamd me, Afterwarde when the Kinge cam home: in their presents I acquainted him how they had used me, The King with out further delay tooke up a couwascohocan, which is a kind of paringe Iron, and strooke at one of them with such violenc, as he feld her to the ground in manor deade. I seinge that, fled to a Neyghburs house, for feare of the Kings displeasuer, But his wife cumming againe to hir self: sumwhat apeased his anger so as understandinge wher I was by his brother, he sent me his younge child to still, for none could quiet him so well as my selfe. and about midnight he sent for him againe, The next day morninge the King was erlye upp, and came to the house wher I was: loith I was to see him, yet being cum to him instead of his anger, I found him kind to me, asking me how I did, and whether I was affrayd of him last night, bycause I rann away from him, and hidd my selfe, I being by his speeches sumwhat boulder, Asked him for his Queene, He answerd all was well and that I should goe home with him tellinge me he loved me, and none should hurt me. I thought loith went with him, wher at my cumminge the Queene looked but discontentedly on me, But hoping on the Kinges promise, I cared the less for others frownes, knowinge well that the Kinge made the more of me in hope I should healpe him to sum copper, if any any time our english cam into thos parts. which I often had promised him to doe, and which was by Capt: Argoll Bountifully performed.