Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Princess Nicketti Powhatan

I'm related to a Princess? 


Author's Warning: Some readers have become quite upset by this article. If there is not a doubt in your mind that Princess Nicketti is your ancestor, and you are here to reaffirm her story, stop reading now, this is not the site you're looking for. 

If you are unsure and decide to read it, and then you think your head will explode, I have provided photos of my Daylilys to rest your eyes until you recover enough to close the page. 

When I was a newbie on Ancestry.com I was guilty, unknowingly, of contributing to one of the biggest headaches for genealogist, both amateur and professional,  today.  What was I doing that was so terrible. It was blindly copying names and dates from ancestry trees without bothering to see if the information was even remotely correct.  I did this with all my ancestors. What, or rather who,  brought that copy and pasting to an abrupt halt was a certain Princess Nicketti. 

Princess Nicketti is in dozens of trees on Ancestry.com as well as websites and blogs like this.  She was the niece of Pocohantas and married a "white man" named Trader Hughes. Some trees even include the names of her parents. When I told my husband that he was related to an Indian Princess he looked at me like I was a nut job, and in that moment I realized he was right. Now don't get me wrong, I would be happy to have some Indian genes, to help breakup my seemingly 100% European ancestry. So I decided to see what I could find out about the Princess. 

I searched both literature and  the web for proof of Nicketti's existence and guess what, I could not find one documented fact about her or her life.  Is she only a figment of someone's, and now a lot of someones,  imagination?  The problem is that hundreds of people are happily passing on this undocumented ancestor and hundreds more are adding her to their trees everyday.  Before long, fiction becomes fact and it becomes harder and harder to correct, hence the headache for those who really want an authentic tree.

Genealogy is a science, and like all sciences it is based on provable, documented facts.  If you are interested in genealogy you cannot include Nicketti in your family tree because there is no possible way to verify her existence. If all you are interested in is family history and lore, that's another thing altogether. I think it is a great story. But the story has crossed over into a genre known as "faction". A bare bones legend is suddenly dressed up with unverifiable if not downright unproven facts.  I guess I really take issue with all those people out there who have added specific dates and places to people who may or may not have existed.  

Here are some notes I have made from my search for Nicketti:


This is a copy from the book "The Cabell's and Their Kin" from which this legend arises:
"Opechancanough, the celebrated chief of the Powhatans, who was brutally murdered, while a prisoner, in 1644, left a lovely young daughter, the child of his old age, the Princess Nicketti —' she sweeps the dew from the flowers.' Some years after this graceful Indian maiden had reached the years of mature womanhood, a member [the name is not given) of one of the old Cavalier families of Virginia 'fell in love with her and she with him,'and the result was a clandestine marriage, and a half-breed Indian girl who married about the year 1680 a Welshman (others say a native of Devonshire, England,) named Nathaniel Davis, an Indian trader, and, according to some accounts, a Quaker; and from this alliance many notable people in the East and in the West have descended. Their daughter, Mary Davis (born about 1685), married Samuel Burks of Hanover (the ancestorsof the Burks family of Virginia), and their daughter, Elizabeth Burks, married Capt. William Cabell, the ancestor of the Cabells; Martha Davis, another daughter, married Abraham Venable, the ancestor of the Venables. Robert Davis, Sr., a son (the ancestor of 'the black Davises' of Kentucky, and from whom Jefferson Davis descended), had a daughter, Abadiah (or Abigail) Davis, who married William Floyd, the ancestor of the Floyds of Virginia and of the West. A daughter, or granddaughter, of the Quaker, married Gen'l Evan Shelby of Maryland, the ancestor of the Shelbys of the West. Samuel and Philip Davis of the Blue Mountains were sons, and there may have been other sons and daughters.
From this narrative we get the following information:

  • 1. Princess Nicketti is the daughter of Opechanough
  • 2. No mothers name is mentioned
  • 3. Nicketti had to have been born prior to 1644, the year of her fathers death and the narrative says her father left a lovely young girl, not infant or baby, so many she was born even prior to 1634
  • 4. Nicketti married a son of an old Cavalier family of Virginia, not Trader Hughes
  • 5. The marriage results in the birth of one child a "half breed" daughter, unnamed
  • 6. Unnamed daughter marries in 1680 a Welshman/Englishman named Nathaniel Davis, he is an Indian trader
  • 7. Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel Davis have a daughter, b. 1685, named Mary Davis who marries Samuel Burkes.
  • 8. Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel Davis have daughter Martha who married Abraham Venable
  • 9. Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel have son Robert Davis who has a daughter Abadiah, she marries William Floyd
  • 10. Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel also have sons Samuel and Phillip.
  • 11. Unnamed daughter and Nathaniel have unnamed daughter or granddaughter who marries into the Shelby family.


Nicketti's mother is said to have been "Cleopatra", the sister of Pocahontas. The only time her name (Cleopatra) was recorded was when Thomas Rolfe, son of Pocohantas, petitioned in 1641 to see her and Opechancanough, his uncle.  Somehow these two have gotten married on the internet and   Nicketti is their child. 


Trader Hughes

I recently did a search through the internet looking for information on Trader Hughes, supposed husband of Nicketti.  I found the following information, Trader Hughes was:

  • Welsh
  • Scottish
  • An English Cavalier
  • An Aztec Indian
  • A member of Virginia society
  • His first name was John, Rees, or Rice or William, or some combination of these
  • He was born in 1615 or 1635
  • he was born in Wales but was a Scotsman
  • He was an African indentured servant Convincing Blog with evidence that Trader Hughes was an African who married Nicketti
  • He was a Captain, not sure of what 
  • He and Nicketti had between one and twenty children
  • Trader Hughes is supposed to have established a Trading Post in Amherst County, Virginia. Traders began moving into this area of Virginia between 1710 and 1720.  If Trader Hughes was born in as late as 1635 he would have been 85 years old when he set up shop. Nicketti would also be around 80-85.  This seems highly unlikely in an time when life expectancy was less than 50 and closer to 40. 


This is from a message board, genealogy.com message #10793 from the year 2003:

I have found further evidence in the early records of colonial Virginia which indicate that Rees/Rice Hughes had a wife named Susanna. These records indicate that Rees/Rice Hughes (Hoe) and his wife Susanna had an indentured servant named John Price (Prise) whom they may have either beaten or starved to death. These records also indicate that Rees/Rice Hughes bought an Indian girl, which possibly accounts for the legend that he "married" the Indian Princess Nicketti. Rees/Rice Hughes may have had children with this Indian girl, and it's possible that one of their descendants was the Trader Hughes who lived on the upper James River. I know the actual facts are not as pretty as the legend, but I think we need to be truthful about the past, no matter how reprehensible it was.  Billie Harris

John Richard Hewing

I reference John Richard above, he according, to his descendants, was an African from the Portuguese colony in Angola. He was an indentured servant, brought to Virginia possibly to grow rice. He married Princess Nicketti. 

From another reader's comment
Another reader told be that he and his family believe that the man who married Nicketti was possibly and Aztec Indian who traveled up from Mexico.  He wore gold arm bracelets with emeralds. This story had been passed down in his family for generations. 

John Dodson
This is another family story concerning Princess Nicketti.  It seems that she married John Dodson, who was one of the original Jamestown settlers. He arrived on the ship "The Susan Constant" with Captain John Smith in 1607. Many family trees say that John married the grand daughter of the Algonquin Chief Powhatan, Princess Nicketti Eagle Plume. Her parents were Chief Eagle Plume and his wife Cleopatra. The Dodson family claim that this was a story passed down by their ancestors.

Some info on Nathaniel Davis from an internet family genealogy site: Ancestors of Patrick Martin Stevens, Jr.  

It is said he came to Virginia from Wales, and was a Quaker. He is sometimes noted as Quaker Davis, but, Lorene Martens, notes that "The Complete Book of Immigrants, 1607-1776" suggests that Nathaniel was "reprieved for transportation for Barbados June 1671, London." She recalls seeing somewhere that he was jailed and transported for stealing tobacco. "On 8 June 1671 Newgate prisoners reprieved to be transported to Barbados: London." 

Notes for Hugh Ap Lewis: Perhaps he died in Barbados, say some.... Some assert (see The Reads and Their Relatives, author unknown) that Hugh Lewis and Elizabeth were of "Barbados and Virginia." In the "Venables of Virginia," 1925, Elizabeth Marshall Venable asserts that "Hugh Lewis came first with his wife and daughter, Abadiah Lewis, and lost his wife in America and returned to Britain with Abadiah, his only daughter... both returned again to America, in Virginia, with Robert Davis, who came away without the consent of his parents, and served four years in Virginia, King and Queen, for his passage, and then married Abadiah Lewis, with whom he had immigrated." (Courtesy of Leona Latham-Simonini, 2007) 
So, if I'm reading the above right, he is saying that the first Abadiah was the daughter of Hugh and Elizabeth ap Lewis.  Elizabeth dies, Hugh and Abadiah return to England, where they meet up with Robert Davis, who re-immigrates with them to Virginia.   The daughter of Robert and Abadiah Davis, also called Abadiah marries William Floyd. Hum, there seems to be two versions of Abadiah.  She is also said to be the daughter of Nathaniel Davis  and Mary Elizabeth Hughes. 


Another family tree states that Nathaniel Davis was born 17 April 1665 in St. Michael's Parish perhaps in Devonshire.  So here we are combining a very concrete date to a very indeterminate place, how the heck do you know his birthday? If he married Mary Hughes in 1680 then he would have been  15 on his wedding day. Another site says b. 1646 in Virginia, and other site even includes his middle name: Ambrose. This same site says that Nathaniel Davis' father was none other than Barnabus Davis who was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1610. Don't let the fact that Charlestown did not even exist until after 1630 stand in the way of your family tree. 

Here are two short articles written about Nicketti:

Title: John Smith Captures Opechancanough
Source: Encyclopedia Virginia
Princess Nicketti is the name given to a Virginia Indian woman believed by some to have been the daughter of Opechancanough, a leader of the Powhatan Indians and the brother of the paramount chief Powhatan. While the name has been referenced almost exclusively on twenty-first-century genealogy websites by people claiming family relationship, no scholarly evidence exists that Princess Nicketti ever lived. A careful search of seventeenth-century records in Virginia yields no one by that name, male or female. And no name of a child of Opechancanough was ever recorded in that century. The writings about her stem from a single published source: Alexander Brown's genealogy The Cabells and Their Kin (1939). Significantly, Brown calls Nicketti's story only a "very interesting tradition" and adds, "I cannot vouch for it[s accuracy]," but he had heard about her from several prominent Piedmont Virginia families. Subsequent writers have quoted Brown's text as fact.
Another problem with the Princess Nicketti legend is that North American Indian tribes did not have princesses in the European sense. Most tribes were relatively egalitarian, and egalitarian societies do not produce aristocracies. Even the more hierarchical Indian cultures, such as the Powhatan, did not have European-style royalty. For one thing, there was not that great a distance between a paramount chief like Powhatan and the ordinary people, which is why anthropologists have traditionally referred to Powhatan as a chief, not as a king. For another, most Woodland Indian cultures (including the Powhatan one) practiced matrilineal inheritance, at least for ruling positions. That meant that a male chief's sons were not his heirs, and his daughters' social prominence would last only until he died. The real heirs were the children of a female chief, or the elder sister of a male one.
Pocahontas and her son

Title: Pocahontas-Rolfe 
Celebration
Source: University of Virginia Special Collections

Despite the evidence against Princess Nicketti's existence, she remains a popular figure, especially among those interested in family history. As evidenced by the numerous claims of relation to Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas, and to the privileges granted those alleged relations in the Racial Integrity Acts, Virginians have long valued connections, real or mythological, to Indian "royalty." Those connections have most often been made through women, who likely are seen as less threatening than males like Opechancanough, for instance, who led Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-1632). Claims of ancestry through the Powhatan Indians are more common, as well, probably because it was an especially well-known tribe.
The American Indian author Vine Deloria has argued that Americans seek family connections to Indians in order to relate in a more personal way to the frontier and, perhaps, to expiate guilt related to the treatment of American Indians. Others have pointed out that during parts of the twentieth century claims of Indian ancestry sometimes exempted people from laws that segregated whites from nonwhites. For instance, in Virginia the Racial Integrity Acts, passed in the 1920s, outlawed marriage between whites and nonwhites (the latter classification included Virginia Indians, who state officials believed to be black) and required that people's racial statuses be recorded at birth; elite Virginians who claimed ancestry to Pocahontas, however, could still register as white.
"Nicketti" is not an identifiable Indian name, and is probably a corruption of some other name. It could be derived from "Necotowance," the former name of a creek in King William County, taken in turn from the personal name of Opechancanough's male successor. Nothing is known about that man except that he signed the Treaty of 1646 on behalf of many of the Powhatan tribes. He disappeared from the English records after 1649. 

Further Reading
Brown, Alexander. The Cabells and Their Kin. Richmond, Va.: Garrett and Massie, Inc., 1939.
Rountree, Helen C. The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.
Contributed by Helen C. Rountree, Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Old Dominion University, and author of Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries (1990) and Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown (2005). 

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