1676, March 7:  A remarkable act by the Virginia colonial assembly, declaring “warr” on the Indians – and I make several points to make about it, below the text of the declaration.

Here is the slightly abridged text, with spellings and punctuations as in the original:

At a Grand Assembly, Held at James Cittie,
By Prorogation from the One and Twentieth Day of September, in the Yeare of Our Lord 1674, To The 8eaventh Day Of March, In
The Eight And Twentieth Yeare Of
The Reigne Of Our Soveraigne
Lord Charles The Second.
An Act for the safeguard and defence of the country against the Indians.
Preamble. WHEREAS this grand assembly hath taken into sad and serious consideration the sundry murthers, rapine and many depredations lately comitted and done by Indians on the inhabitants of this country, and the greate danger the frontier counties are exposed to by the frequent incursions of Indians, for prevention whereof, and discovering the murderers, their ayders and abetters for a full and effectuall satisfaction to be taken for them and the future security of the country, Be it enacted and ordained by the governour, councell and burgesses of this grand assembly and the authority thereof, that a warr be declared and effectually prosecuted against all such Indians who are notoriously knowne or shalbe discovered to have comitted the murthers, rapins and depredations aforesaid, their funteers, (a) ayders and abetters, and against all other suspected Indians who shall refuse to deliver us such suffitient hostages, or other security for their fidelity and good affection to the English as shalbe required, and that shall refuse to be ayding and assisting us in discovering, persueing, and distroying those our enemies, And further be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the charge of this warr be susteyned by the to be borue by whole country. And whereas it is considered wee are to warr with an enemy whose retirements are not easily discovered to us, soe that a flying army may not be soe usefull at present, Bee it therefore further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that five hundred men (aquarter part whereof may be horsemen) be drawne out of the midland and most secure parts of the country be entred into standing pay and placed on the heads of the rivers and other places fronting upon the enemy, and garrisons at certaine forts and places hereafter named (that is to say) thirty fower men out of Northumberland county, twentv five men out of Lancaster county, and twenty five men out of Middlesex (b) county be garrisoned at one fort or place of defence on Potomack river at or neare John Mathews in the county of Stafford, of which ffort captain Peter Knight to be captain or cheife comander; one hundred and eleven men out of Glocester county to be garrisoned at one ffort or place of defence at or tieare the flails of Rapahanack river, of which ffort major Lawrence Smith to be captain or cheife comander, eleaven men out of Glocester county aforesaid and forty one men out of the lower parts of New Kent county to be garrisoned at one fort or place of defence betweene Yerburyes house and Chickahominy Indian Towne Landing on Mattapony river, whereof Coll. Will. Claighborne, junr. be captain or cheife comander; sixty one men out of Yorke county to be garrisoned at one fort or defensable place at or neare Mahixon upon Pomunkie river, of which fort major George Lyddall be captain or comander in cheife; fifty five men out of James City county to be garrisoned neare the falls of James River, at captain Byrds or at one fort or place of defence over against him at Newletts (a) of which fort leut. coll. Edward Ramsay be captaine or cheife comander; nineteene men out of Warwick county, nineteene men out of Elizabeth City county, and nineteene men out of Charles City county to be garrisoned neare the falls of Appamatuk river, at major generall Woods, or over against him at one fort or defensable place at fleets, of which fort major Peter Jones be captain or cheife comander, forty men in the county of Surry to be garrisoned at one fort or defenceable place neare Richard Atkins upon the black water in the same county of Surry, of which fort captain Roger Potter to be captaine or cheife comander; forty men out of the countyes of the Isle of Wight, Nanzemond and Lower Norfolke to be garrisoned at Currawaugh alias New Dursly in the head of Nanzemond, in a fort or defencible place there, of which fort capt. Edward Wiggins to be captain or cheife comander; And that one fort or place of defence be betweene John Reddings and Pocamoke river, in the county of Accomack, or else where in that county, at the choice of the militia officers of those two countyes of Accomack and Northampton to be guarded by such horse and foote as they shall find needfull to be paid (when upon service) as those of the rest of the countyes, And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the ammunition for the aforesaid forts or places of defence be thus proportioned… And that these persons hereafter named, …. coll. Nathaniel Bacon, Esqr. and major John Page, or one of them in Yorke County; … be commissioned by vertue hereof to issue forth their warrants directed to some discreet person or persons in their respective countyes, to make choise of the men and horse before lymitted in their countyes to be raised for their respective forts aforesaid… coll. Nich Spencer and lt. coll. John Washington, or one of them in Westmorland county… And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the afore recyted commissioners… be further commisonated when occasion shalbe to use Indians in the warre and require and receive hostages from them, also to provide one hundred yards of tradeing cloath to each respective fort, that it be ready to reward the service of Indians, as hereafter in and by this act shall be provided… and for the better discovery of the enemies approaches, bee it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the horsemen in every garrison be commanded to range constantly betweene the garrisons till they meete if possible, that a constant intelligence be maintained betweene them, And the foote to be in action at the discretion of the comanders, for secureing the adjacent plantations, And that fowre [=four] Indians and noe more be admitted to belong to each fort, and they rewarded with matchcoates for service…. And if any discovery shalbe made of any fort, habitation or number of the enemy settled or fortifyed, that an account thereof be forthwith sent to the governour, and that noe attempt be made upon them by any comander whatsoever untill order shall come from the governour; and lest any suddaine advantage or opportunity of attacquing the enemy be lost, that the governours honour be pleased to nominate a cheife comander over the whole armye to reside neare some of the forts…. And it is further enacted that in goeing to churches and courts in those tymes of danger, all people be enjoyned and required to goe armed for their greate security… And finally whereas the successe of all humane actions depend upon the good pleasure of Almighty Goad, that wee humbly implore the divine assistance and blessing upon our endeavours in this warr, Bee it enacted that the last frydayes in Aprill and May next be sett a part as dayes of publique fasting and humiliation, to be duly and sincerely solemnized throughout this country….
The Articles, rules and orders to be observed and ept by the army as well in the severall garrisons as in the field, are as followeth:
If any shall blaspheme the name of God, either drunke or sober, shall for every offence runne the gantlett through one hundred men or thereabouts, either more or less, at the discretion of the commander, but he or they that shall willfully, notoriously and obstinately persist in this wickedness, shall be bored through the tongue with a hott diron….
Act II. An act prohibiting trade with Indians.

WHEREAS the country by sade experience have found that the traders with Indians by their avarice have soe armed the Indians with powder, shott and gunns, that they have beene thereby imbolned, not only to fall upon the fronteer plantations murthered many of our people and allarmed the whole country, but to throw us into a chargeable and most dangerous warr, and though good lawes have been made for prohibiting the tradeing with Indians for armes and ammunition, yet greate quantities have beene yearely vended amongst them, for prevention whereof for the future, Bee it enacted and ordeyned, by the governour, councell and burgesses of this grand assembly, and by the authority of the same, that if any person or persons whatsoever within this colony from and after tenn days after this present session of assembly shall presume to trade, truck, barter, sell or utter, directly or indirectly, to or with any Indian any powder, shott or armes, except only such as in, and by one proviso hereafter in this act to be appoynted and be thereof lawfully convicted shall suffer death without benefitt of clergye, and shall forfeite his or their whole estates… But forasmuch as wee are sencible that such INdians as are amongst us in peace, if they be not supplyed with matchcoates, hoes and axes to tend their corne and fence their ground, must of necessity perish of famine or live on rapine, It is further enacted, that it shall and may be lawfull for the county courts to nominate and authorize some sober person, to the number of five and noe more, in their respective counties, to supply the neighbouring Indians (that are in amity with us and will come in and noe other) with such goods and merchandizes as Indians usually deale for (except powder, shott and armes by this act prohibited as aforesaid) at such reasonable rates and prizes as they and the Indian can agree… Alwayes provided that it shall and may be lawfull for the capt. of any fort or such other person or persons by the governours comission t othis end impowred to deliver forth to those Indians (who are and shalbe actually engaged and listed in the service of this warr, now by Gods assistance to be undertooke) such quantityes of ammunition and armes as shall reasonably be thought to be usefull and to be expended by them in such their service and not otherwise, without impeachment, any thing in this or any act to the contrary notwithstanding…

Signed by Sir William Berkeley, Governor. Augustine Warner, Speaker.

Several points to make about this:

  • note that Bacon is named, and appointed to the fight, simply tossed in with a list of others;
  • there are several notable loopholes which one might reasonably perceive as benefiting the Governor’s ongoing trade with particular tribes, known as the Tributary Indians because they willingly paid tribute to the colonial government.
  • men like Bacon perceived an overall hypocritical or “phony” aspect, in that there is nearly as much attention to trade and arming of the “good Indians” as of war with the bad; and Bacon’s men were not prone to recognize that difference.
  • this is one of the first efforts to promote a standing army within the American system, and there’s interesting attention paid to the challenges of doing so – harsh penalties spelled out for insubordination, for swearing, for drunkenness, for poor military discipline.
  • there is an explicit call for sacrifice by the people – Act III actually promotes a ban on the export of corn for several months: Whereas the countrys preparation for warr in likelyhood may cause a more than ordinary expence of provisions, it is therefore thought fitt, it be enacted…that no corne or provisions from and after the fifth day of Aprill next, shalbe exported out of this colony under the penalty of two hundred pounds of tobacco for every barell of corne, and double the price of any other provisions….”