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Esmy Shichans, Tobot Deabot, Okiawampe
Debedeavon Monument.jpg
Debedeavon Monument at Northampton Virginia Courthouse
Accawmack leader
Personal details
RelationsBrother, Kiptopeke; daughter, Nandua

Debedeavon (died 1657) was the chief ruler of the Accawmack Indian nation that was inhabiting the Eastern Shore of Virginia upon the first arrival of English colonists in 1608. His title was recorded as "Ye Emperor of Ye Easterne Shore and King of Ye Great Nussawattocks," and he was also known familiarly as "the Laughing King". He also seems to be the same figure who was known variously in English records as Esmy Shichans, Tobot Deabot, and Okiawampe.

The Accawmack, who numbered about 2000, were peripheral or nominal members of the Powhatan Confederacy. However, since water isolated them from the rest of Tsenacommacah (mainland Virginia), the Eastern Shore Indians had their own confederacy enjoying some measure of autonomy and peaceful rule under king Debedeavon. Each of his clan subchiefs paid him 8 bushels of corn, plus three arrowheads, as tribute each year.[1]

In 1608, a 13 year old English ensign named Thomas Savage was traded to Chief Powhatan for a native boy, Nemotacke, as something like a cultural exchange student. Powhatan adopted Savage, who became an interpreter between the two cultures, but the jealousy of that Chief's brother eventually led Savage to be sent to the relatively safer Eastern Shore, where Debedeavon gave him a large tract of land between Cheriton Creek and King's Creek that became known as Savage's Neck, under his son John Savage (1624-1667; Thomas having married emigrant Hannah Tyng in 1621).[2] Indeed, during the starving time at Jamestown, Debedeavon sold the colonists much needed provisions.

In 1621, the English colonists had spread along the peninsula from what had been their settlement on Plantation Creek. In 1621, Thomas Savage and Debedeavon warned the visiting Governor George Yeardley that Powhaton's tribe was plotting for a general uprising against Jamestown and the other colonists. The Governor was incredulous, but went to all the plantations and held musters despite Opechancanough's denial of any conspiracy. Those steps, however, led to sufficient defense that the colony was not annihilated in the Indian massacre of 1622. Moreover, Lady Elizabeth Dale, widow of Thomas Dale, left the western shore which was suffering from an epidemic (foul distemper), with 20 people including 8 boys who thus survived the massacres on her plantation under Debedeavon's benevolent protection, so by 1623 about 80 settlers lived on the eastern shore.[3][4] Debedeavon favored Savage and gave him a large tract of land that is still today known as "Savage's Neck".

In his later years, Debedeavon devoted himself to the pleasures of hunting, leaving much of the business of government to his brother and Prime Minister, Kiptopeke. Indeed, when some prowling Indians up the coast killed an Englishman and boy, Debedeavon sent peace ambassadors, which Col. Obedience Robins refused to use as human sacrifices, but instead sent back, although Daniel Cugley, who had married the widowed Hannah Tyng, set them to work on his plantation, which caused his arrest and being sent to Jamestown for trial. Furthermore, when a quarrelsome settler pointed a gun at Debedeavon, the Accawmacke shire Court (Capt. Edmun Scarburgh, Justice of the Peace) ordered "that for any future tyme, noe Englishman shall disturb, molest, or act anything ag'st the sd Indyan King to hindr him in his huntinge, as they will answer the same.[5]

In his will dated April 22, 1657, recorded at the county courthouse, Debedeavon left the kingdom to his daughter, Nandua, cautioning her as "Empress" to maintain the good will of their English friends.[6]

Historical marker for Gingaskin reservatoin.jpg

The historic Court House Square in Eastville, Virginia has a monument to "DEBEDEAVON, A Gallant Warrior And A Loyal Friend To The Early Settlers Of The Eastern Shore."[7] Also, Virginia recently erected a historical marker across the street from the Debedeavon monument and old courthouse, remembering the reservation which his tribe occupied for the next 150 years. In 1705, Robert Beverley noted that the Eastern Virginia natives were "almost wasted" By 1705, Robert Beverley described, the “Indians of Virginia are almost wasted, but such Towns, or People as retain their Names, and live in Bodies, are hereunder set down; All which together can't raise five hundred fighting men...Nothing to do with no Africans we are Negro Indians i had to correct previous error..they had eight towns in Accomac, the largest of which was in Northampton, where the Gangascoe (Gingaskins) are "almost as numerous as all the foregoing put together," and they still held land in common as late as 1812, but they were "driven off during the excitement subsequent to the Nat Turner Insurrection."[8]

Timeline of name variants in English records (incomplete)[edit]

  • 1608 - Capt. Smith records that Debedeavon is ruling Accowmacke, pop. 2000
  • 1620 - Debedeavon grants large tracts to Thomas Savage and to Governor George Yeardley.
  • 1635 - Patent to Thomas Savage's widow Hannah "by the King of the Easterne shoare as by deed calling himselfe Esmy Schichans."
  • 1648 - Richard Vaughan buys tract from "Debbedeaven, king of Nandue."
  • 1650 - Edmund Scarburgh, Jr. buys 2000 acres from Okiawampe, "great Kinge of the Easterne Shore."
  • 1653 - Dr. George Hack buys 1000 acres from "Tepitiason, King of great Nuswattocks"
  • 1657 - "Deabedanba, Kinge of great nusangs" gives 100 acres to Joan Johnson
  • 1657 - Will of Okiawampe
  • 1663 - Thomas Leatherbury buys 1200 acres from "Tapatiapon, great Emperor of the Eastern Shore" for three matchcoats.[9]


  1. ^ Leonora W. Wood (1952). Guide to Virginia's Eastern Shore. Richmond, VA: Dietz Press. p. 15.
  2. ^ Jennings Cropper Wise (1911). Ye kingdome of Accawmacke: or, The Eastern Shore of Virginia in the seventeenth century. Richmond, VA: The Bell Book and Stationery Co. pp. 28–30. debedeavon savage massacre.
  3. ^ Wise at p.34-38
  4. ^ Alfred A. Cave (2011). Lethal Encounters: Englishmen and Indians in Colonial Virginia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 142. ISBN 9780313393365.
  5. ^ Wise p. 55-56.
  6. ^ Wood, p. 16.
  7. ^ Wood, p. 16.
  8. ^ Wise at p. 67
  9. ^ Ralph Whitelaw, Virginia's Eastern Shore 1968.