Tuesday, April 02, 2024

After the Massacre, a guest post by Lora Chilton, author of 1666: A Novel

Thanks to author Lora Chilton for the guest post on writing a novel about her ancestral heritage, which focuses on an important yet little-known aspect of American history.


After the Massacre
by Lora Chilton

I learned about my Indigenous heritage in my late forties when my father revealed his Patawomeck ancestry to my siblings and me. He had been cautioned since early childhood to never tell anyone he was an “Indian” due to the threat of being kicked out of school and other penalties that had been codified when the Virginia government passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. He was born in 1935, a time when the “paper genocide” effectively erased the Indigenous tribes in Virginia.

My father’s pride in finally sharing his heritage opened up a whole new understanding of his life and our family. As I embraced this newfound piece of my identity, I read every article, every book, every document I could find about the Patawomeck, my ancestors who had lived along the Potomac Creek in Virginia since before the 16th century. In 2007 my curiosity was piqued even further when Chief Two Eagles Green spoke at our family reunion and shared the oral tradition stories about the survival of the tribe after the men were massacred and the women sold into slavery in the summer of 1666.

Colonial documents record the chilling words that called for the decimation of the Patawomeck tribe to “prosecute them with war to their utter destruction.... and dispose of the women and goods.” Tribal oral tradition tells that the women were sold into slavery and shipped to Barbados to work on sugar cane plantations. Tradition maintains that two or three women were able to escape and miraculously return to Virginia, thus ensuring the survival of the tribe to this very day.

While their names had been lost to time, I began to feel their story needed to be told, to honor their bravery and that of the tribe.

There are early writings from explorers in the 1600s who first encountered the Patawomeck and other Virginia tribes, noting their observations about food, hunting, dress and some of the language. Very little information about the lives of the Indigenous women was written, but there were mentions here and there about the culture and daily routines. As I imagined what their lives might have looked like, I also felt the lost language and traditional names should be used, in an effort to reclaim what had been erased. When the pandemic struck, the Patawomeck began offering language classes via zoom, providing an opportunity for tribal members to study and learn the words of our ancestors. I embraced the moment and took the children’s classes, along with my granddaughters.

Told in first person, 1666: A Novel tells the story of Ah’SaWei (Golden Fawn) and NePa’WeXo (Shining Moon), as they recall their peaceful life before the massacre, even as the tension from the English invaders they call TasSanTasSas, which means "Strangers," is building. After the massacre and the voyage on the slave ship, their experiences diverge when they arrive in Barbados and are sold to different plantations.

Barbados in the 1660s was a decadent mixing bowl of people from all over the world: those seeking refuge from persecution, others looking for opportunities to create wealth generated by the production of sugar or those folks who were enslaved and forced to labor in the sugar fields. A British colony since 1627, “Little England,” as the island was called, had a thriving Jewish community and a sizable Quaker contingent, in addition to African, North and South American slaves and other European settlers.
author Lora Chilton

When a brief window opened during the COVID pandemic, I went to Barbados to continue researching what the lives of my Patawomeck ancestors might have entailed as slaves on this foreign island. The Barbados of today is an independent nation, with an economy built primarily on tourism. There are several plantations open for tours and remnants of the ubiquitous windmills that powered the sugar production by grinding the cane into juice that was then boiled and refined. The Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum was a treasure trove of information about the island in the 1660s. During excavation in 2008, the original mikvah, built between 1650 and 1654, was discovered. As I stepped into the cold water of that ancient sacred bath, as I walked down Quaker Street, now called Tudor Street, where so many of the Friends did business, as I stood in “Amen Alley” behind the Cathedral of Saint Michael where the slaves had to stand outside the building to worship; I imagined how these new sights, sounds and smells impacted the lives of Ah’SaWei and NePa’WeXo. How did they process these unusual religious practices? Did they like the food? Did they have friends? I wanted to find their words, using their voices, to express the wonder and horror of all they were experiencing but also to express the deep longing to escape not just slavery but the island and to return home.

The story of the Patawomeck survival was known within the tribe for generations but mostly unknown to the rest of the world. I felt obligated to write and share the story of these women, to celebrate their bravery and fortitude that in part made the existence of the Patawomeck tribe a reality in 2024.


Author Lora Chilton is a member of the Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia. She has worked as a registered nurse, a small business owner, an elected official, a non-profit executive and a writer. 1666: A Novel is her second work of historical fiction and is published April 2, 2024 by Sibylline Press, a publishing house dedicated to publishing the brilliant work of women over 50. The novel is available wherever books are sold. To purchase the book online, visit www.bookshop.org or www.amazon.com.

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