Primary Source: De Bry's “A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia”

An Indigenous man is portrayed from the front and behind in this image. On the left, he is viewed from the front. He stands with his weight on his right foot. His left leg is angled outward and the back of his left hand rests on his hip, holding an arrow in his hand. He gazes toward the center of the image. He wears his hair in a low bun and one side of his face is shaved. He has three feathers in his hair. In his right arm he holds a bow. The bow is slightly taller than the man and his grip is about eye level. A quiver juts out from behind him, not entirely visible. He wears a fringed apron-like garment. His adornment includes a beaded bracelet, a leather armguard, and a beaded necklace with four strings. A decorative tail with a tufted end extends from behind him down between his calves. He has paint on his face and body. The paint is primarily circles and lines around his calves, arms, and chest. To the right, the same man is depicted from behind. From this angle, the viewer can see the entire quiver of arrows. The tail decoration is wrapped around the quiver. The background of the image is richly decorated. To the far left, a group of men stand closely together, holding weapons. In the middle, between the man’s front and back image, three hunters run toward the right side of the image with bows raised. They, along with another hunter, chase two deer depicted on the far right of the image. The deer run into a forest in the back right of the image.

Primary Source

Image Citation
“A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia,” engraving by Theodor de Bry after a watercolor of John White, 1577-1590. From A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, JS84.11.02.

Standards and Skills
Virginia Standards of Learning: VS.2d, VS.2e, VS.2f, US1.3c, US1.5a
Meets National Standards of Learning for Social Studies

Summary and Significance

The image is based on a watercolor by John White at the Roanoke colony in the mid-1580s. In 1590, this version engraved by Theodor de Bry appeared in a book along with a description of the Americas. By examining the image, we can learn about what kind of adornment a member of a mid-Atlantic coastal Indian tribe would have worn, including members of the Powhatan paramount chiefdom.

Historical Background and Image Analysis

Image/Author Background
John White was an English gentleman and artist. While exploring what would become Roanoke in 1585-1586, John White created portraits of the Indigenous people he encountered and their towns. Meanwhile, fellow colonist Thomas Harriot wrote about the native inhabitants he encountered in an account titled A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. In 1587, White was made the governor of what became the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke, along the coast of today’s North Carolina.

The people and places John White painted were in and near the Outer Banks of modern-day North Carolina. While the Roanoke colony was in modern-day North Carolina, the colony was part of the land Queen Elizabeth I granted to Sir Walter Raleigh, land she called “Virginia.” As mid-Atlantic coastal Indians, the Indigenous people John White painted shared many aspects of culture and language with the Powhatan paramount chiefdom to their north. Therefore, historians use these watercolors to learn about Powhatan culture, even though the watercolors do not specifically depict members of the Powhatan paramount chiefdom.

John White returned to England before the members of the Roanoke colony infamously disappeared. By the time he went back to Roanoke in 1590, he found a deserted colony and was forced to return to England once more.

Theodor de Bry was a goldsmith, engraver and printer. He was born in Belgium, but throughout his life he also lived in France and England until settling in Frankfurt, Germany. In Frankfurt, he set up a publishing house. While in England, de Bry had acquired the text of Thomas Harriot’s A Brief and True Report and John White’s watercolors. In Frankfurt, he created engravings of White’s watercolors. These engravings did not copy White’s paintings exactly. While de Bry had never been to America, he inserted his own preconceived notions about the people and places of the Americas. In 1590, de Bry published Thomas Harriot’s account alongside his engravings of John White’s paintings in a volume together. The images and text were primarily anthropological in nature: they included portraits of Indigenous people, depictions of their culture and way of life and images of their towns. Europeans and their interactions with Indigenous people were absent from the volume.

A Brief and True Report was wildly successful and gave Europeans hungry for information about the Americas a glimpse into a place they would likely never see. However, Europeans did not gain an objective or fully truthful view of Algonquian Indian life. Rather, their view of the Americas was filtered first through John White’s and then through de Bry’s motives and biases.

Image Analysis
John White titled his version of this image, “The manner of their attire and painting them selves when they goe to their generall huntings or at theire solemne feasts.” When Theodor de Bry engraved the image, he titled it “A Werowans or Chieftan of Virginia.” While de Bry may have assumed that this image depicted a powerful person in society, the man’s clothing an adornment is typical for a man in the mid-Atlantic coastal region, meaning John White’s title is probably more correct.

As with many of de Bry’s engravings, this image added many details not in the original John White image. John White’s original image only depicted a man from the front. In the watercolor, the man stands with a bow, but with a beige background and no other details. De Bry added a view of the man from the back. He also added a rich scene where Indigenous men hunt deer with bow and arrows in the background. Forests line the far background to the left and right.

Thomas Harriot’s account that accompanied this image reads:

The Princes of Virginia are attyred in suche manner as is expressed in this figure. They weare the haire of their heades long and bynde opp the ende of the same in a knot vnder thier eares. Yet they cutt the topp of their heades from the forehead to the nape of the necke in manner of a cokscombe, stirkinge a faier [feather] lõge pecher of some berd [bird] att the Begininge of the creste vppun their foreheads, and another short one on both seides about their eares. They hange at their eares ether thicke pearles, or somwhat els, as the clawe of some great birde, as cometh in to their fansye. Moreouer They ether pownes, or paynt their forehead, cheeks, chynne, bodye, armes, and leggs, yet in another sorte then the inhabitantz of Florida. They weare a chaine about their necks of pearles or beades of copper, wich they muche esteeme, and ther of wear they also braselets ohn their armes. Vnder their brests about their bellyes appeir certayne spotts, whear they vse to lett them selues bloode, when they are sicke. They hange before them the skinne of some beaste verye feinelye dresset in suche sorte, that the tayle hangcth downe behynde. They carye a quiuer made of small rushes holding their bowe readie bent in on hand, and an arrowe in the other, radie to defend themselues. In this manner they goe to warr, or tho their solemne feasts and banquetts. They take muche pleasure in huntinge of deer wher of theris great store in the contrye, for yt is fruit full, pleasant, and full of Goodly woods. Yt hathe also store of riuers full of diuers sorts of fishe. When they go to battel they paynt their bodyes in the most terible manner that thei can deuise.

A Deeper Look

From this image, we can learn about mid-Atlantic coastal culture and society, which included the Powhatan paramount chiefdom.

Classroom Inquiry

1. Ask students to examine the image. What is the man wearing? How is he adorned? What do you think the purpose of each item is?

2. Use the “Deeper Look” section to go over the different components of the image. What did you correctly identify? What, if any, new information surprised you?

Related Classroom Resources

Additional Reading