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  • The Nanziatticos and the Violence of the Archive:Land and Native Enslavement in Colonial Virginia
  • Rebecca Anne Goetz (bio)

Between 1704 and 1706, English Virginians destroyed the Nanziattico nation. First, they used an oyer and terminer trial to hang several of its young men, and then they separated Nanziattico children from their parents and bound the children out as indentured servants. Finally, they sold the surviving Nanziattico adults in the English sugar island of Antigua. These events occurred at the brutal intersection of many colonial histories—Native dispossession and land seizure, Native enslavement, the Atlantic slave trade, and the creation of archives that minimized this colonial violence. In this way, the story of the Nanziatticos is not merely a tale of the early eighteenth century; instead, it is rooted in the previous century of English colonialism in Virginia and in a long and dire history for Native people attempting to navigate the dangers of colonialism. The English removed the Nanziatticos in the service of two desires—control of land and the erasure of Native claims to Virginian spaces—thus underscoring that Native enslavement was not always about labor. Though historians generally present the trade in enslaved Native people in the Southeast either as the result of coordinated slave raids made by the English and their Native allies or as the result of diplomatic or trade encounters, in this case the English used their courts and the language of justice to dispossess and to enslave. In how they told (or did not tell) the story of the Nanziatticos, the English quietly eliminated an entire nation, an event seen only with difficulty in the archive.

The trial transcripts, while long on the damage that Nanziattico men allegedly did to English bodies, are short on witness statements and the names of any Nanziatticos who were not executed. Virginia's colonial government reported even less to the Board of Trade and [End Page 33] Plantations in London, sending only a perfunctory account of the trial and its resolution (which the Lords of Trade approved with no questioning of colonial actions). The English effectively banished the Nanziatticos, first from Virginian land and then from the archive. The story of the Nanziatticos exemplifies what Michel-Rolph Trouillot describes as a "silencing … due to uneven power in the production of sources, archives, and narratives." The English produced sources that elided their destruction of the Nanziatticos, saved those sources in an archive dedicated to bolstering English claims to land, authority, and domination, and created narratives of Native perfidy and vanishing that celebrated the English remaking of the landscape. If these sources inscribed "the insignificance of the story," as Trouillot would have it, the historian's task must be to resignify the Nanziatticos—their lives and their deaths.1 As one historian of Native Virginians has put it, "there is very little record remaining on the Nansiatico," an indicator of the difficulty of reading those sources that remain to correct a colonial record that was indifferent to the suffering of Native people.2.

Recent historical and anthropological work shows that English involvement in the slave trade in the Deep South destroyed and remade [End Page 34] Native societies in the space of two generations.3 Yet this new and growing scholarly interest in Native enslavement is still at the edges of Virginia historiography. More specifically, historians have made few efforts to understand what happened to the Nanziatticos.4 Though the Nanziatticos shared the experience of enslavement with many other Native people across time and space, the sudden and complete destruction of an entire town and its people was less common. While many incidents of Native enslavement connected Anglo-Indian warfare, the [End Page 35] complexities of the trade in skins, furs, and guns, and an insatiable English demand for labor on their tobacco plantations, the enslavement of the Nanziatticos was fundamentally different for two reasons. First, in 1705 the Nanziatticos were tributary Indians—that is, they were in a treaty relationship with the English that subordinated them to English authority but protected, to a certain degree, their reservation. While it was illegal to enslave tributary people, these groups did have to live close to expanding English settlements...


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