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The Susquehannock Bowman

John Wood Sweet
Catholic University of America

The image of the Susquehannock man on Smith's map is striking for its size, its placement, and its military bearing. The caption emphasizes that the Susquehannocks "are a Gyant like people & thus Atyred," and the map designates their territory on the northwestern edge of the Chesapeake Bay. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Susquehannocks were well organized traders who had recently moved from the interior towards the shoreline to better control coastal goods.

Opposite the image of Powhatan's address to his people (on the left side of Smith's map), the image of the Susquehannock man provides the map of Virginia with not only aesthetic but also political balance. In the text of his Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles, Smith elaborates the basic colonial strategy of jockeying for power with dominant local peoples by forging strategic alliances with rival groups. For early settlers at Jamestown, this divide-and-control strategy was made difficult by the apparent extent of Powhatan's domains, which left few local natives in any position to risk alliance with the overwhelmingly outnumbered English. In this context, the large, strong bowman visually represents a potential strategic counterbalance.

The figure was not drawn after any actual Susquehannock man, but instead derived from an untitled drawing by John White , which represents an Indian man from the coastalClick to See a Larger View Chesapeake area. In 1590, engraver Theodore de Bry adapted the drawing for Thomas Hariot's Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, where it is identified as "A werowan or great Lorde of Virginia" (Hariot Plate III).

For White and Hariot, the figure of this bowman seems to have had quite specific meanings. It was evidently intended as an analogue to an ancient British figure depicted in the last section of the Briefe and True Report. The drawing White made of a Pictish mClick to See a Larger Viewan, based on historical descriptions, strongly mirrors the image of the bowman—and in his engravings de Bry emphasizes these parallels. Both images of the Virginia bowman and the Pictish man stand in the same counter-posture and carry weapons, one a bow, the other a pike. Hariot's text for the engraving of "A werowan or great Lorde of Virginia" ends with the observation that "When they go to battel they paynt their bodyes in the most terible manner that thei can devise" (Hariot Plate III). Apparently, the Pict was represented in the most terrible manner White and de Bry could devise: he is shown totally, not just partially, nude; covered with fierce body painting; and, along with his weapons, holding a severed human head. Hariot was self-consciously attempting to represent native peoples in North America as similar to, or even more advanced than, ancient Britons. By introducing the ancient British figures he intends "to showe how that the Inhabitants of the great Bretannie have bin in times past as sauvage as those of Virginia" (Hariot third title page). By implication, Hariot seems to have been suggesting an analogy between the Romans who brought civilization to England, and the English who proposed to do the same to Virginia.

The popularity of this bowman figure as it was repeated and adapted suggests the prominence of associations between Indians and warfare. De Bry himself repeated the Click to See a Larger Viewfigure, on a much smaller scale, on the map of Virginia he engraved for the Briefe and True Report. The same generic Indian bowman was also used in another plate in Smith's Generall Historie. This time, the bowman figure represents the King of the Powmunkee in the scene in which Smith grabs that man's headlock.

In contrast to the popularity of this generic military figure, less bellicose images from Hariot's Briefe and True Report were much less frequently drawn upon in other publications. Despite the proliferation and variety of benign images of Indians in the Briefe and True Report—cooking food, growing crops, fishing, hunting, performing religious ceremonies, Smith's map of Virginia selects from de Bry's repertoire only images of Indian imperialism and militarism. These generic figures—and the bowman in particular—also Click to See a Larger Viewstand in contrast to more personal conventions of portraiture. Consider Wenceslaus Hollar's somewhat later engraving of a Virginia Algonquian man who visited London in the 1640s. This portrait, focusing on the man's face and upper torso, suggests emotional intimacy, even tenderness. Rather than combative, this unnamed individual is unarmed, boyish, and serene. Given this range of models and possibilities, the figure of the bowman selected to represent the Susquehannocks emphasizes the military tone and strategic diplomacy of Smith's conception of the map of Virginia. Both Indian figures represented prominently on the map—Powhatan addressing his people and the Susquehannock bowman—emphasize the themes of political organization and military strength. For Smith, the map of Virginia was in large part a representation of balances of power, control of territory, and warfare.

Suggestions For Further Reading

Gleach, Frederick W. Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. "Scandinavian Colonists Confront the New World." In New Sweden in America. Edited by Carol E. Hoffecker, et al. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995, 89-111.

Potter, Stephen. Commoners, Tribute, and Chiefs: the Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993.

Sturtevant, William D., gen. ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast. Edited by Bruce G. Trigger. District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Turner, E. Randolph. "Native American Protohistoric Interactions in the Powhatan Core Area." In Powhatan Foreign Relations, 1500-1722. Edited by Helen C. Rountree. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993, 76-93.