Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 111 / Number 1
Early Views of Virginia Indians (Introduction)
- By Jeffrey Ruggles, associate curator for prints and photographs at the Virginia Historical Society, pp. 67–77
Although Robert Beverley published his 1705 book, The History and Present State of Virginia,
in London, his point of view was that of a Virginia colonist. Beverley thought little of "what has
been publish'd concerning Virginia," and in that vein he offered an analogy to artistic portraits:
"Such Accounts are as impertinent as ill Pictures, that resemble any Body, as much as the Persons
they are drawn for. For my part, I have endeavour'd to hit the Likeness."
In his book, Beverley was the only native Virginia author before the nineteenth century to offer
illustrations of the Indians of the region. In the 1600s and 1700s a variety of images represented the
native inhabitants of Virginia to European, and later American, audiences. Some were, by Beverley's
measure, "ill Pictures," for they did not show Virginia Indians with any particularity but were instead
images invented by European artists that conformed to general preconceptions of foreign natives.
In contrast were depictions that more nearly "hit the Likeness"—those based on direct observation
In January 1585 Queen Elizabeth I consented to Sir Walter Ralegh's request that the land along
the North American coast be named "Virginia" in her honor. For the first colonizing expedition
sponsored by Ralegh in 1585–86, John White served as artist and created a group of paintings of
Indians and Indian life. From White's paintings Theodore de Bry in 1590 produced engravings for
an illustrated edition of Thomas Hariot's A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia.
Artists copied from these images repeatedly over the next two centuries.
Robert Beverley's engraver, Simon Gribelin, borrowed from de Bry's prints but supplemented
them, adding new details of Indian life. As an observer of Indians himself, Beverley endorsed de
Bry's images as "taken exactly from the Life." He made efforts to be "very scrupulous, not to insert
any thing, but what I can justifie, either by my own Knowledge, or by credible Information." Not all
early depictors of Virginia Indians aspired to such standards of accuracy.
Online exhibit: Early Images of Virginia Indians:
The William W. Cole Collection