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RVA Legends — Battle of Bloody Run

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

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O Bloody Run, where art thou?

(Encyclopedia Virginia) — Negotiating Peace with the Indians by Theodor de Bry and Matthew Merian — 1634

Sometimes history becomes a matter of opinion, rather than a matter of fact. This is especially true when the facts are hard to come by, and that goes double for the Battle of Bloody Run.

in 1654, a tribe of Indians, known as the Ricahecrians, settled on the James River near Richmond. Even though Richmond was little more than a village at the time (it would not be incorporated as a town until 1742), it was still too close for local comfort. To the modern reader, this might seem like a head-scratcher. The New World was a pretty big place in the 17th century, with plenty of room for everyone. Where’s the harm with new folks moving into the ‘hood?

(Encyclopedia Virginia) — Powhatan— William Hole, 1608

To understand the attitude, look no further than Anglo-Powhatan Wars, of which there were two, both long and bloody. The first one ran from 1609–1614 (anyone remember John Smith and Pocahontas?), and the second from 1622–1632, which kicked off with Powhatan’s massacre of anyone who looked remotely English. No surprise that these events were still fresh in the colonial memory, even by 1654. (Encyclopedia Virginia)

(Encyclopedia Virginia) — Indian massacre of 1622— Matthäus Merian, 1628

Enter the Virginia General Assembly, and Colonel Edward Hill, the representative from Charles City County. In 1656 Act XV was passed, granting Hill permission to move on the Ricahecrians.

WHEREAS information hath bin given that many western and inland Indians are drawne from the mountaynes, and lately sett downe neer the falls of James river, to the number of six or seaven hundred, whereby upon many severall considerations being had, it is conceived greate danger might ensue to this collony, This Assembly therefore do Think fitt to resolve that these new come Indians be in noe sort suffered to seate themselves there, or any place near us it haveing cost so much blood to expell and extirpate those perfidious and treacherous Indians which were there formerly, It being so apt a place to invade vs and within those lymitts which in a just warr were formerly conquered by us, and by vs reserved at the last conclusion of peace with the Indians, In pursuance whereof therefore and due respect to our own safety, Be it enacted by this present Grand Assembly, That the two upper countyes, under the command of Coll. Edward Hill, do presently send forth a party of 100 men at least and they shall first endeavour to remoove the said new come Indians without makeing warr if it may be, only in a case of their own defence, alsoe strictly requireing the assistance of the all the neighbouring Indians to aid them to that purpose, as being part of the articles of peace concluded with us, and faileing therein to look duely to the safety of all the English of those parts by fixing of their arms and provideing ammunition, and that they have recourse to the Governour and Councill for further direction therein, And the Governour and Gov. to send Councill are desired to send messages to Tottopottomoy and the Cluckahomynies and other Indians and treate with them as they in theire wisdoms and discretions shall think fitt. [TSAL]

(Find A Grave) — composite image of Colonel Edward Hill & Chief Totopotomoi

Unfortunately, Hill was an asshat. Although his orders clearly directed him to fight only if necessary, he got cocky, confident that he and his pal Totopotomoi could brush off the invaders. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, right?

On an unknown date in 1656, 100 Colonial Rangers and 100 Pamunkey warriors took on between 250 and 300 Ricahecrians at the Battle of Bloody Run. The Ricahecrians did not go down like Hill expected. Choosing discretion as the better part of valor, he retreated with what remained of his force, hanging his allies out to dry. The Ricahecrians knew what to do with English sympathizers, and slaughtered nearly all of them, including poor Chief Totopotomoi, a sacrificial lamb to English arrogance.

It was a First World embarrassment, and the English had to go sniveling for peace. Later that year, the General Assembly censured Hill unanimously, stripped him of his rank, and made him pay for the treaty. [RSC]

So what’s the problem? The fact we don’t know where the battle took place!

(Virginia Historical Society) — Map of the City of Richmond— Micah Bates, 1835 — showing path of Bloody Run

You’d think that an engagement worthy of not one (above), but three historical markers would be a place we could spot on a map. Not so, as it turns out. Consider:

We have no records of the fight, except that the Rechahecrians, probably well entrenched on the summit of Richmond Hill, succeeded in defeating the English and their allies with much slaughter, killing Totopotomoi and nearly all his warriors. [HSR]

or this:

The fight took place in 1656 in the vicinity of a small stream that rose at the juncture of what is now Marshall and Thirty-first streets, in the city’s East End, and ran southeasterly around the base of Chimborazo into Gillies Creek. In modern times, it has been enclosed in a culvert. The sanguinary encounter caused the little stream to be named “Bloody Run.” [RSC]

or even this:

Colonel Edward Hill, with 100 militiamen and 100 Pamunkey Indians, (previously members of the Powhatan Confederacy) were sent to dislodge the alien intruders. The Richahecrians resisted, fighting and defeating Hill’s detachment at the battle of Shockoe Creek, probably near the base of today’s Capitol Square. [RIH]

April 2018— showing former location of the mouth of Bloody Run at Marshall & Thirty-first Streets

That last one stings a bit, because Dr. Ward was a professor of history at UR, but his depiction is clearly an outlier. Perhaps he had superior knowledge, but it went unreferenced in his book; kinda makes you think a research assistant let him down.

Nor is this all! Tricia Noel from the Library of Virginia published an article in 2014 where she states:

Over three hundred and fifty years ago, the area now occupied by the 200 and 300 blocks of North 30th Street was the site of a mostly-forgotten colonial battle called the Battle of Bloody Run. (CPHN)

But the icing on the cake comes from Robert Krick, historian at Richmond National Battlefield Park:

I cannot help you with the Bloody Run portion of it, and it seems unlikely at this late date that any decisive information will emerge. I have seen a few modern analyses that suggest the battle that gave its name to Bloody Run actually occurred out in Hanover County, at some vague location. To my knowledge there is no especially trusty source and no superior interpretation that should be preferred to all the others. [RELK]

groan

(Virginia Memory) — Map of Richmond — Ellyson, 1856

So in the absence of a definitive answer, Rocket Werks hereby plants its own opinionated flag. In 1842, Charles Dickens published his book American Notes, where he provides this surprising commentary:

In a low ground among the hills, is a valley known as ‘Bloody Run,’ from a terrible conflict with the Indians which once occurred there. It is a good place for such a struggle, and, like every other spot I saw associated with any legend of that wild people now so rapidly fading from the earth, interested me very much.

That makes TOTAL SENSE!

April 2018 —showing a low ground among the hills

Let’s walk through this.

  • The base of Shockoe Hill would have been right in the heart of the Richmond settlement, and if the battle had occurred there, you’d think we’d know a lot more about it. Besides the creek there was called Shockoe Creek, and this is the Battle of Bloody Run!
  • Hanover is too far north. Edward Hill came from Charles City County, and was likely assigned to lead the force because his neck of the woods was directly affected by the Ricahecrians.
  • Places take names for a reason. Both the Bates and Ellyson maps identify the road that became Williamsburg Road as Bloody Run Road. Bloody Run Road crossed Bloody Run stream. QED.
  • In order to have 500 – 600 combatants face off, you need elbow room, not just so that people can murder each other more easily, but also for any animals (horses?) that also attended the slaughter. Soldiers and animals need food and water, the logistics of which imply additional requirements for space, even in colonial times. Given the topography of Church Hill in 1656, it would have made an engagement at the top of the hill, at the mouth of Bloody Run, a bit challenging.

Granted, Dickens was writing about Bloody Run 186 years after the fact, but aside from the state record, American Notes is among the earliest mentions of the event. The grounds on which the ruins of Fulton Gas Works lie do form a low ground between Libby Hill and Chimborazo, and seem an ideal spot on which to give battle.

(Bloody Run is part of the Atlas RVA Project)


Sources

  • [AMN] American Notes. Dickens, Charles, 1842.
  • [HSR] History of Richmond. Little, John P. 1851-1852.
  • [RELK] Email. Robert E. L. Krick, Historian, Richmond Natl. Battlefield Park. 10 April 2018.
  • [RIH] Richmond, an Illustrated History. Ward, Harry M. 1985.
  • [RSC] Richmond, Story of a City. Dabney, Virginius. 1976.
  • [TSAL] The Statutes at Large Being a Collection of the Laws of Virginia From the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619. Henning, William Waller. 1823.

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Local Asian American Society of Central Virginia to host author and artist of new book

Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who have come to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.

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The Asian American Society of Central Virginia (AASoCV) will host a local author and artist this weekend to present their new book, Portraits of Immigrant Voices, at its 24th annual Asian America Celebration tomorrow.

Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who have come to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.

Alfonso Pérez Acosta painted the original portraits while Joe Kutchera wrote the personal histories. The author’s proceeds will benefit Afghan and Asian refugees who have settled in Virginia in a fund set up and managed by The Asian American Society of Central Virginia, a non-profit charitable 501(c)(3) organization.

The event is free and open to the general public. The pair will present the book on stage at 2pm and immediately following, AASoCV will host a book signing at 2:30pm. The book will be on sale for $40 at the event.

The 24th Annual Asian American Celebration features cultural performances, food, hands-on activities, exhibition booths, and merchandise from the Asian American communities in Central Virginia. This year’s theme is “weddings and our heritage.” The Celebration will take place at the Greater Richmond Convention Center at 403 North Third Street, Richmond VA 23219 from 11am to 7pm.

Learn more here.

The introduction to the book follows below:

Stories of Gratitude, Progress, and Manifesting Dreams

By Joe Kutchera

During the fall of 2020, following the George Floyd protests along Richmond’s Monument Avenue, I saw an African American woman wearing a t-shirt with this message in bold letters.

I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.

As a (white) writer, I was stunned at how one sentence could leave me speechless and make me feel such a wide range of emotions. At first, I felt infinitesimally small, humbled by the brutal African American history behind that sentence, reflecting the violence and intimidation that Black Americans experienced during slavery and Jim Crow, which kept them from America’s prosperity. And seconds later, the sentence made me feel incredibly hopeful as it communicated that great progress and change is indeed possible, measured through a multi-generational lens, taking into account the sacrifice and suffering of previous generations. The formerly wild dream of freedom and opportunity is now, we hope, finally possible for African Americans today, though we still have a long way to go to ensure equitable outcomes for all Americans.

Many Americans may know Richmond, Virginia (RVA) for its history as the capital of the Confederacy with its Civil War Museum and the now-removed statues of Robert E. Lee and Confederate generals along Monument Avenue. The ugly history of slavery and the myth of the ‘Lost Cause’ permeate so much of the city, but a more complex and hopeful picture of its citizens is emerging.

In decades past, a majority of RVA’s population has been Black, with Whites representing most of the remainder of its population. Yet, a more multicultural, and even international population, is growing out of RVA’s Black and White history. The 2020 Census shows that RVA’s African American population fell below 50%, while its White population increased as a result of gentrification. Blacks appear to have left Richmond City for the suburbs (Henrico and Chesterfield Counties), where the Black population increased. Yet, the Asian and Hispanic/Latino population grew by double digits in Richmond City, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, and the people who selected “some other race” and “two or more races” grew by triple digits. This reflects an increase in children of interracial couples, immigrants from Africa (distinct from African Americans), as well as ‘mestizos,’ or people of mixed races, from Latin America. However small those populations might be now, the growth rates indicate that RVA, like the rest of the country, is becoming much more diverse.

With this in mind, I am grateful to be working with the Asian American Society of Central Virginia in sponsoring the publication of this book. AASoCV represents 18 diverse Asian communities that have stood up against racism and xenophobia, as described by AASoCV’s chair, Julie Laghi, in the foreword. AASoCV provides a perfect example of how people from vastly different language groups can come together to build community and cultural bridges, thereby promoting tolerance and diversity.

AASoCV has enabled me and the team involved behind this book to take this project to the next level, furthering our mission to share immigrant stories and reflect on how they embody the American dream. Tida Tep, the daughter of Pim Bhut, featured on page 70, joins us to visually bring these stories into the printed medium.

Our project initially began in an organic way. In August 2020, around the time that I saw the “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream” t-shirt, I received a call from Karla Almendarez-Ramos, who manages the City of Richmond’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement (OIRE). She asked me if I would be interested in and available to write profiles of immigrants as a celebration for National Immigrants’ Day on October 28, 2020. Richmond-based Colombian artist, teacher and muralist, Alfonso Pérez Acosta, had pitched the idea to Karla after crafting his initial computer-drawn portraits.

I immediately told her yes, that I would love to work on the project. I have written about and reflected on the subject of immigrants’ journeys previously, both interviewing recent immigrants and researching my own ancestors immigrating from Eastern Europe to the United States. My wife, Lulu, migrated from Mexico, to join me in Richmond in 2013. And previously, I had migrated to Mexico and the Czech Republic for work, during different chapters of my life. As a result, I also understand the immense challenges that immigrants face when moving to a new country.

National Immigrants’ Day has been celebrated since 1986, but mostly in places like New York City. We wanted to bring this celebration to Richmond, Virginia to highlight the diversity of its community and the variety of languages spoken (in addition to English). With the support of a grant from Virginia Humanities, we unveiled the portraits on October 28th, National Immigrants Day, on RVAStrong.org/portraits and published updates regularly through Thanksgiving, to honor our subject’s themes of gratitude. The exhibit’s social media campaign ran through December 18th, which the United Nations has named International Migrants Day as a testament to humanity’s “will to overcome adversity and live a better life.”

Many of the people we featured came as migrants initially, moving to the U.S. temporarily for work or educational opportunities. While others came as refugees, fleeing war and violence. And still others came here simply because they fell in love with an American! Yet, they all became immigrants when they decided to settle down permanently in the United States.

Each portrait features the subject’s name, country of origin, and language, written in both English and their respective language. To create the color behind each portrait, Alfonso blended all the colors from each subject’s flag of their home country to formulate that single, albeit blended color. For example, the red and white in the Swiss flag become pink behind Dominik Meier’s portrait (on page 62). I wrote personal histories to accompany each portrait to shed light on the challenges of migration and displacement, as well as explore the commonalities of learning to speak English and integrating into American culture. Their stories showcase the incredible creativity and ingenuity of these immigrants in overcoming numerous obstacles in their journey, some of whom have gone on to start companies and obtain graduate degrees.

In speaking with everyone we featured in this book, they have taught me how Richmond is a far more diverse and dynamic city than I ever realized. They truly appreciate America’s freedom, democracy, and the way that their neighbors have accepted them. As a result, I see Richmond and the United States through their eyes. In listening to their stories, I get the sense that they, too, have accomplished their dreams, and in some cases, even their ancestors’ wildest dreams.

“Virginia is for lovers. … But we need to keep that slogan alive,” says Mahmud Chowdhury, originally from Bangladesh (#19 in the series), referring to the state motto of Virginia. “Let’s continue to love each other, be our brother’s keeper and have each other’s back,” says Hannah Adesina, from Nigeria (#17 in the series). Immigrants are here “to demonstrate the best of ourselves, manifest our hopes and dreams,” says Brenda Aroche, from Guatemala (#13 in the series). And Ping Chu from China (#12 in the series) encourages us all in saying, “We need to build up a united country. This is the United States, right?”

The United States has an individualistic culture with an “I” oriented English language. Even though that is the case, the immigrants featured in this book have taught me that when we work together and support one another, WE can become our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

When Chinese New Year celebrations took place on February 1, 2022, the same day that Black History Month began, I learned that 2022 was the year of the tiger. I realized that 2022 couldn’t be a more perfect year for us to launch this book with a symbol of bravery, courage, and strength on our side.

Joe Kutchera is the author of four books and the founder of Latino Link Advisors where he develops digital marketing and content strategies, with an emphasis in reaching the U.S. Hispanic market.

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Suspension Bridge to Belle Isle Closed Today

The bridge should be completed by the weekend.

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The suspension pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle is temporarily closed due to concrete falling from Lee Bridge.

The closure took place Wednesday after city officials received reports of concrete pieces being found on the pedestrian bridge.

“It was concluded that the concrete pieces fell from an open joint of the Lee Bridge. Consequently, the pedestrian bridge located directly under the open joint had to be closed in an effort to protect the public,” a release said.

While the engineers say there is no serious danger they’re putting in a scaffolding protection system along some stretches of the bridge. The installation is taking place today (Thursday) and is expected to be done Friday.

Dominion RiverRock is this weekend and temperatures are in expected in the upper 90’s so usage of the bridge and Belle Isle will be at a season-high.

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Virginia lawmakers dodge questions on whether budget might include new policy on skill games

“Let’s keep ’em guessing,” House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, said Tuesday when asked for a response to the claim the budget could include a revised policy on skill games, either to tighten the existing ban or to lift it.

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By Graham Moomaw

Budget leaders in the Virginia General Assembly won’t say if they’re considering changing the state’s contested ban on slots-like skill machines through the budget, despite that possibility already convincing a judge to order a lengthy delay in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban.

Last month, lawyers challenging the ban as unconstitutional pointed to the legislature’s ongoing special session and unfinished budget to argue the case should be delayed until all sides know what the state’s official policy on skill games will be. But the General Assembly’s budget negotiators won’t even say whether skill-games are part of their discussions.

“Let’s keep ’em guessing,” House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, said Tuesday when asked for a response to the claim the budget could include a revised policy on skill games, either to tighten the existing ban or to lift it.

Knight insisted the budget will get done and said “fine-tuning” is underway.

“In negotiations, I don’t comment on anything,” Knight said. “That’s how I work a negotiation.”

Asked about potential skill games changes Tuesday after a meeting in Richmond, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, one of the 14 legislators working on the state budget, deferred to Senate Finance Chairwoman Janet Howell, D-Fairfax. Howell did not attend Tuesday morning’s Senate Finance Committee meeting, and she did not respond to an emailed request for comment Monday. In an email, a Senate budget staffer said “budget negotiations are ongoing.”

As Virginia recently relaxed laws to allow more types of state-sanctioned gambling, skill games have become a perennial point of contention. Usually found in convenience stores, sports bars and truck stops, they function similarly to chance-based slot machines but involve a small element of skill that allows backers to argue they’re more akin to traditional arcade games. Most machines involve slots-like reels and spins, but players have to slightly adjust the squares up or down in order to create a winning row of symbols.

Proponents insist the games are legal and give small Virginia business owners a piece of an industry dominated by big casino interests. In 2019, the chief prosecutor in Charlottesville concluded that they amount to illegal gambling devices, and critics have accused the industry of exploiting loopholes to set up a lucrative gaming enterprise that rapidly grew with minimal regulatory oversight.

After a one-year period of regulation and taxation to raise money for a COVID-19 pandemic relief fund, the critics won out in the General Assembly, with a ban on the machines taking effect in July 2021. But a Southside business owner who filed a lawsuit with the assistance of Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, successfully won a court injunction late last year barring enforcement of that law until his legal challenge is resolved. After Stanley wrote a letter pointing to the special session and unfinished budget talks as a reason to delay a hearing scheduled for May 18, the judge overseeing the case postponed the hearing until Nov. 2. The order also prohibited the state from enforcing the ban against thousands of previously regulated skill machines until November. The order doesn’t apply to machines that weren’t fully legal before the ban took effect, a distinction sowing confusion for local officials trying to sort out what’s allowed and what’s not.

In recent social media posts, the plaintiff challenging the ban, truck stop owner and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, said the delay was requested because “legislators are threatening to now try to ban or legislate skill games through the budget.”

“So we need to know what we are fighting against,” Sadler said in a message posted to Twitter last week in response to a Virginia Mercury article about the delay.

Skill-game supporters have claimed the ban was driven by other gambling interests who want to clear out smaller competitors to make more money for themselves. As the gambling turf wars continue in Richmond, some local governments are frustrated by the lack of clarity on whether the state is or isn’t banning the machines.

“It’s created chaos,” said Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarratt.

Jarratt said her city has been dealing with crime and other disturbances associated with the machines, but has gotten little help because there’s no regulatory agency in charge of them. Virginia ABC had temporary oversight of the machines starting in 2020, but that ended when the ban took effect last year and ABC no longer had legal responsibility over gaming machines in ABC-licensed businesses.

“It continuing to drag on over months is only making the situation worse and leaving localities in a difficult position,” she said, adding her city simply doesn’t have the staffing power to try to figure out which machines are operating legally and which are illegal. “You want to be fair to the business owners, but you also need to look out for the best interest of the locality as a whole.”

Jarratt said she’d like clearer direction on whether the state is going to allow the machines or not.

If a new skill-game provision is put into the state budget, it would still need to win approval from the full General Assembly. But with the clock ticking to pass a budget before the fiscal year ends June 30, it’s unclear how open party leaders would be to changes to whatever deal budget negotiators present as the final product of months of work.

Knight offered little clarity on whether skill games are even a live issue. He also seemed to caution against putting too much stock into what people say they’re hearing about the budget.

“I heard that we were going to do the budget today. I heard we were going to do it on the 24th. I heard we were going to do it on the 27th. I’ve heard June the first. I’ve heard a lot of things,” Knight said. “But as far as I know, the only people that know are maybe a few budget conferees. And we’re not talking. Because we’re working to get things right.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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