From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Cockacoeske VWM Statue.jpg
Statue of Cockacoeskie included in the Virginia Women's Monument.
Pamunkey leader
Preceded byTotopotomoi
Succeeded byBetty
Personal details
Bornca. 1640
Pamunkey Neck, Virginia
ChildrenJohn West
Known forFirst signatory of the Treaty of 1677

Cockacoeskie (also spelled Cockacoeske) (ca. 1640 – ca. 1686) was a 17th-century leader of the Pamunkey tribe in what is now the American state of Virginia. During her thirty-year reign, she worked within the English system, trying to recapture the former power of past paramount chiefs and maintain peaceful unity among the several tribes under her leadership. She was the first of the tribal leaders to sign the Virginia-Indian Treaty of Middle Plantation.[1]

In 2004 Cockacoeske was honored as one of the Library of Virginia's "Virginia Women in History".[2]


The death of Opechancanough in 1646 led to the disintegration of the confederacy built by his brother Powhatan. Chiefs competed to gain power among the various tribes. Among the Pamunkey, Cockacoeske's husband Totopotomoi became leader in 1649.[3]

While assisting Col. Edward Hill in removing Rickohockans from their new settlement at the falls of the James River in 1656, Totopotomoi was killed in what was later called the Battle of Bloody Run (not to be confused with the 1763 Battle of Bloody Run in Michigan).[4] The Virginia Governor's Council later censured Hill for his lack of leadership.[5]

Following Totopotomoi's death, Cockacoeske became solitary Warowansqua (Chief) of the Pamunkey and the Colonial Government recognized her as the "Queen" of Pamunkey.

When Bacon's Rebellion erupted, Governor Berkeley's faction sought help from the Pamunkey against the hostile tribes, particularly their erstwhile enemies the Susquehannock. Sporadic raids by other Indian tribes against settlers on the colony's frontier contributed to an uprising of whites and blacks excluded from the power structure, led by Nathaniel Bacon. Although of the wealthy planter class, Bacon competed for power with Gov. Berkeley, drawing upon the frontier settler's resentments. Although raids had been perpetrated by the Doeg and Susquehannock tribes, Bacon and his men sought easier wealth, and attacked the peaceful and friendly Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and Kiskiack tribes.[6]

Thomas Mathew, whose history of cheating the Doeg and Susquehannock Indians who lived in Maryland across the Potomac River, may have actually led to the raid that kills his overseer,[7] described Cockacoeske's behavior when summoned to Jamestown and told to honor treaty obligations by supplying warriors against the other tribes:[8]

Our committee being sat, the Queen of Pamunkey (descended from Oppechankenough a former Emperor of Virginia) was introduced, who entred the chamber with a comportment gracefull to admiration, bringing on her right hand an Englishman interpreter, and on the left her son a stripling twenty years of age, she having round her head a plat of black and white wampum peague three inches broad in imitation of a crown, and was cloathed in a mantle of dress't deer skins with the hair outwards and the edge cut round 6 inches deep which made strings resembling twisted frenge from the shoulders to the feet; thus with grave courtlike gestures and a majestick air in her face, she walk'd up our long room to the lower end of the table, where after a few intreaties she sat down; th' interpreter and her son standing by her on either side as they walked up, our chairman asked her what men she woud lend us for guides in the wilderness and to assist us against our enemy Indians, she spake to th' interpreter to inform her what the chairman said, (tho' we believed she understood him) he told us she bid him ask her son to whom the English tongue was familiar, and who was reputed the son of an English colonel, yet neither woud he speak to or seem to understand the chairman but th' interpreter told us, he referred all to his mother, who being againe urged she after a little musing with an earnest passionate countenance as if tears were ready to gush out and a fervent sort of expression made a harangue about a quarter of an hour often, interlacing (with a high shrill voice and vehement passion) these words "Tatapatamoi Chepiack," i.e. Tatapamoi dead. Coll. Hill being next me, shook his head, I ask'd him what was the matter, he told me all she said was too true to our shame, and that his father was generall in that battle, where diverse years before Tatapatamoi her husband had led a hundred of his Indians in help to th' English against our former enemy Indians, and was there slaine with most of his men; for which no compensation (at all) had been to that day rendered to her wherewith she now upbraided us.

Her discourse ending and our morose chairman not advancing one cold word toward asswaging the anger and grief her speech and demeanor manifested under her oppression, nor taking any notice of all she had said, neither considering that we (then) were in our great exigency; supplicants to her for a favour of the same kind as the former, for which we did not deny the having been so ingrate, he rudely push'd againe the same question "what Indians will you now contribute, &c.? of this disregard she signified her resentment by a disdainfull aspect, and turning her head half aside, sate mute till that same question being press'd, a third time, she not returning her face to the board, answered with a low slighting voice in her own language "twelve, tho' she then had a hundred and fifty Indian men, in her town, and so rose up and gravely walked away, as not pleased with her treatment.

Although appointed to the Governor's Council after the Pamunkey agreed to supply some warriors against other tribes, Bacon's first attacks were against the Pamunkey, who fled into Dragon Swamp. Governor Berkeley declared Bacon a rebel, but he continued his focus against friendly tribes, also killing the Occoneechees by subterfuge after they had captured a Susquehannock fort but refused to give the English (who had not fought) all the spoils.[9] The assembly at Jamestown attempted to reconcile Bacon and Berkeley, but did not repudiate Bacon's policy of exterminating all Indians. Cockacoeske attempted to throw herself at the mercy of the English, and eventually the Assembly authorized a naval expedition against Bacon's camp in Maryland, which miscarried.[10]

After Bacon died of disease, the rebellion fizzled. The crown appointed a commission which criticized both English parties for their ill treatment of the Pamunkey and other friendly Indians, and stressed the importance of restoring peace.[11] Berkeley sailed to England to protest reforms imposed by London, and died shortly after his after landing in May 1677. Cockacoeske and her son signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation with new Virginia Governor Jeffreys on May 29, 1677 by, which other tribes signed in the following years.[12] Essentially, these tribes accepted their de facto position as subjects of the British Crown, and gave up their remaining claims to their ancestral land, in return for protection from the remaining hostile tribes and a guarantee of a limited amount of reserved land—the first Native American reservation to be established in America.


Cockacoeske's only documented child was her son, John West, born probably around 1656–57 and "reputed the son of an English colonel."[8] On the basis of his name, and birth after her husband's death, he has often been considered an illegitimate son of John West, who established a plantation (now the town of West Point at the confluence of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers, where they form the York River), or his son John West. The Virginia-Indian Treaty of 1677/1680, which this youth signed, identified him as "Cap't John West, sonne to the Queen of Pamunkey."[13]

Cockacoeske died in 1686, and, as this was a matrilineal society, was succeeded by her niece, Betty.[14]


  1. ^ "Treaty Between Virginia And The Indians" Archived 2010-11-20 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Virginia Women in History: Cockacoeske". Library of Virginia. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
  3. ^ Oxford dictionary of national biography. British Academy., Oxford University Press. (Online ed.). Oxford. ISBN 9780198614128. OCLC 56568095.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ Tucker, Spencer C., The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607–1890: A Political, Social, and Military History, p. 606
  5. ^ Department of Historic Resources, "Battle of Bloody Run", Historical Marker Number SA-71
  6. ^ Alfred Cave, Lethal Encounters, at p. 151
  7. ^ Alfred Cave, Lethal Encounters, at pp. 147–151
  8. ^ a b The Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia, In the Years 1675 and 1676 Jefferson Papers, American Memory Collections, Library of Congress
  9. ^ Alfred Cave, at pp. 155–156
  10. ^ Cave at pp. 159–161
  11. ^ Cave at p. 161
  12. ^ Tucker, Spencer C., The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607–1890: A Political, Social, and Military History, p. 816
  13. ^ "Treaty Between Virginia And The Indians: Signe and Tribe" Archived 2012-02-06 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia", Vol. 1, p. 78

Further reading[edit]

  • Frederick W. Gleach, Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: Conflict in Cultures (Lincoln and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1997)
  • Martha McCartney, "Cockacoeske, Queen of Pamunkey: Diplomat and Suzeraine", in Peter H. Wood, Gregory A. Waselkov, and M. Thomas Hatley (eds.), Powhatan’s Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast, (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1989)
  • Helen C. Rountree, The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989).

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Weroansqua of the Pamunkey
Succeeded by