THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1997, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Monday, January 20, 1997 TAG: 9701200036 SECTION: LOCAL PAGE: B3 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: GEORGE TUCKER LENGTH: 70 lines
Unfortunately, no trained archaeologists were living in the Norfolk area during the early 1900s. If there had been, we would now know much more about Skicoak, the great town of the Chesepian Indians that was located within the present corporate limits of Norfolk.
Traditionally, Skicoak is said to have been on the north side of the Elizabeth River where its eastern and southern branches converge on the site where Norfolk was originally laid out in 1680-81. Later historians and archaeologists, however, believe it was farther down the river toward Hampton Roads, a theory that is supported by an article that appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on April 13, 1905.
Headed ``HUNDREDS OF SKELETONS DUG UP'' with a subhead reading ``Mound of Indian Graves Excavated at Sewells Point And Remains of Red Men Exposed To View,'' the article recounted a fascinating story.
To summarize the article: While improving the grounds of the Pine Beach Hotel at Sewells Point, workmen uncovered an Indian burial mound containing hundreds of well-preserved skeletons. Further investigation showed that the bodies had been buried two or three deep in a wide circle and that arrowheads and other Indian artifacts were scattered among the bones. But the initial discovery was only the tip of the iceberg, for the man in charge of the beautification project estimated that thousands of other, similar burials remained uncovered.
But nothing was done to follow up the find. As a result, the burial place, and conceivably the site of Skicoak, were subsequently obliterated either by the western sector of Norfolk Naval Station or private development.
Later editions of The Pilot failed to mention what was done with the skeletons, so one is left with the impression that the burial place, as well as the presumable site of Skicoak, have long since been destroyed.
The earliest definite record of an Indian settlement on land now occupied by Norfolk was set down by Capt. Arthur Barlowe, a member of Sir Walter Raleigh's first expedition in 1584 to what is now known as the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Barlowe recorded that the main town of the Chesepian Indians, the tribe then occupying what is now the Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach areas, was Skicoak. Later, in 1585-86, Ralph Lane, the governor of Raleigh's first Roanoke Island colony, mentioned that besides Skicoak the Chesepians also had two other towns, Apasus and Chesepioc, both near the Chesapeake Bay in what is now Virginia Beach.
These towns are shown on the first printed map of the North Carolina and Virginia coastal area, engraved in 1590 by Theodore De Bry from watercolor maps drawn by John White during Lane's northward explorations from Roanoke Island that penetrated the Chesepians' hunting grounds. The Chesepians were named after the Chesapeake Bay that washed the boundary of their territory.
But they were not to enjoy it for long after Barlowe's and Lane's reports to Raleigh were written.
According to William Strachey's ``The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britanica'' (1612), the Chesepians were wiped out by Powhatan, the head of the Virginia Peninsula-based Powhatan Confederacy, some time before the arrival of the English at Jamestown in 1607. The Chesepians were eliminated because Powhatan's priests had warned him that ``from the Chesapeake Bay a nation should arise, which should dissolve and give end to his empire.''
It is possible that Skicoak, the site of which was conjecturally discovered in 1905, was destroyed at that time. In any event, the name Skicoak disappeared from the records before the settlement of Jamestown. Also, by the time Capt. John Smith's map of Virginia was issued in London in 1612, the town, or ``King's House,'' of the tribe, on or near the site of the burial mound discovered in 1905, was called ``Chesapeack.''
It is also known that after the massacre of the Chesepians between 1590 and 1607, Powhatan peopled what is now Norfolk with warriors of his own whom he could trust, although they continued to be known as Chesepians. ILLUSTRATION: Map