The Legend of Batz Grave

Fletcher Freeman, a long time researcher focused on the records of the Albemarle Sound region of North Carolina and Virginia, particularly the Chowan, has contributed numerous articles over the years to the Lost Colony Research Group, many of which have been republished here.     The Legend of Batz Grave is Fletcher’s most recent research journey.  Fletcher, thank you so much for sharing with us.

            The book “Literature in the Albemarle” by Bettie Freshwater Pool , published in 1915, recounts the “Legend  of Batz’s Grave,” a story about a trader named Jesse Batz who fell in love with a Chowanoke maiden named Kickowanna.  Ms. Pool referenced a Col. R. B. Creecy’s book entitled “Grandfather’s Tales” written in 1902 as her source.   Col. Creecy was born in 1813 at Drummond’s Point on the Albemarle Sound and lived till at least 1905.  The story is somewhat fanciful and incorporates many names not previously associated with the Chowanoke Indians.  In some aspects it is reminiscent of the “Song of Hiawatha” which was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1855.  The Song of Hiawatha is the story of a Chippewa ( Ojibwe) Indian loosely based upon legends and stories contained n the writings of Henry Schoolcraft, a famous Native American researcher.  The Chippewa were an Algonquian speaking tribe located in present day Minnesota and Wisconsin.  One episode deals with the Courtship of Hiawatha and Minnehaha and is believed to be a literary invention from fragments of original stories and  Longfellow’s imagination.

               With that in mind, it is easy to understand how the Legend of Batz’s Grave could have originated as a romantic Indian tale loosely based upon a few facts and a lot of imagination.  Just like the Hiawatha tale, it created a fictional story glamorizing the Chowan Indians who were basically extinct when written.

               The Legend of Batz’s Grave as recounted by Col. Creecy is as follows

               “Near Drummond’s Point, on the upper waters of Albemarle Sound, lies a solitary island, now uninhabited, once the home where the goat browsed, and the gull built its nest and defied the storm with its discordant scream.  Its name is “Batz’s Grave.”  Within living memory no man has dwelt thereon, but, within living memory, it was the roost of myriads of migratory gulls, that held undisturbed possession of their island home.

               There is a legend about this desert island that furnishes food for the contemplative, a legend of love and sadness, a legend of Jesse Batz and Kickowanna, a beautiful maiden of the Chowanoke tribe of Indians.

               Batz was a hunter and trapper on the upper waters of the Albemarle Sound, and was one of the earliest  settlers who made a home in that paradise of the Indian hunter, where the wild game alone disputed his supremacy.

               Jesse Batz made his temporary home on the island that the Indians sometimes visited and called Kaloha, from the innumerable flock of sea gulls that disturbed its solitude.  Batz was friendly, and sometimes joined the Indians in their hunting parties.  He was young, comely and athletic.  He became familiar with the Indians in their wigwams and chase.

               There was one who was the light of the wigwam of the Chowanokes—who sometimes looked at Jesse Batz with the love-light in her eye—the pretty, nut-brown Kickowanna.  Her eye was as a sloe, and her long and glossy hair was as a raven’s wing.  Her step was agile and graceful as the “down that rides upon the breeze.”  While Batz, the hunter, let fly the bowstring that brought down the antlered stag of the forest, a better archer aimed at Jesse’s heart the fatal arrow, and he, too, fell, a victim of Cupid’s unerring aim.  The insidious poison rankled in his veins.  He was a changed man in every look and tissue of his being.  The chase had lost its charm.  His eye would droop when Kickowanna came.  She was the daughter of the old king of the Chowanokes, Kilkanoo, the jewel of his eye.  Kickowanna was a peri of beauty.  Famed she was throughout the land.  The great Pamunkey chief of the Chasamonpeak tribes to the north had sought her hand, and had offered alliance to Kilkanoo, chief of the Chowanokes, but his suit was rejected, and he sought to obtain by violence what he could not by courtly supplication.  War raged for a while between Pamunky and Kilkanoo.  Batz fought with the Chowanokes.  His valor, his strategy and his success were conspicuous.  He led the Indian braves.  In a hand-to-hand personal encounter with Pamunky he clove him with his Indian club, but the prostrate Pamunky sued for mercy.  Batz’s ire softened, he gave him his life.  For Batz’s deeds of bravery Kilkanoo adopted him as a member of the Chowanoke tribe, under  the adopted name of Secotan, which, interpreted, is “The Great White Eagle.”

               Batz grew in favor and influence with the Chowanokes.  He was always present at their councils, at their harvest dances, and their war dances; and when he smoked the calumet he was given the biggest pipe of peace.  Batz became an adopted Indian of the Chowanoke tribe.  He adopted the Indian dress and customs.  The pretty Indian maiden, Kickowanna, whom he loved , and by whom he was loved, with wining words of love distilled into his willing ears the siren voice of ambition, and whispered low that when her father, Kilkanoo, should be beckoned up to the “happy hunting grounds,” he would be his chosen successor, king of the warlike Chowanokes.   Batz and Kickowanna lived and loved together.  She penciled his eyebrows with the vermilion of the cochukee root.  She put golden rings in his nose and ears.  She wound long strings of priceless pearls around his neck.  She put the moccasin shoes and leggings around his feet and limbs.  She folded his auburn locks in fantastic folds around the top of his head, and decked it with the eagle’s feather, emblematic of his rank and station.  And then she gave him the calumet of peace and love.  And while he smoked the calumet of peace and happiness, eye met eye responsive in language known alone to love.  He then looked the big Indian indeed, and the dream of love encompassed them.

               While this dreamy delirium prevailed, the stream of love ran on its varying smooth and turbulent current.  Batz, now a recognized power with the Chowanokes, made frequent visits to his old island home, sometimes prolonged.  While there in his solitude, the waves and sea gulls sang a lullaby to his weird fancies.   The beauteous Indian maiden sometimes came to the upper broad waters, and her visits were love’s own paradise.  She came from the opposite shore of the mainland, paddling her little canoe.  No season knew her coming.  Sometimes in the silent watches of the night, sometimes in the glare of mid-day.   Always alone.   Always aglow with love.  And when she came it was love’s high pastime.  The scream of the wild gull was the chant of love.  The monotone of the waves was the lullaby of love.  The sighing of the winds as they swept through the pendent mosses was a sigh of love, the very solitude and silence of the forest was love’s chosen temple, and every nook and recess was a shrine.

               One night—alas, it was a night of destiny!  The Indian maiden came, as was her wont. The angry clouds looked down, the storm raged, every scream of every sea bird betokened danger nigh.  The wind blew as ‘twas its last, the lightning flashed, thunder pealed and the welkin rang with the echoes of the blast.  But love defies danger, and the pretty Indian maiden pushed through the storm to the lone island, with the roar of the thunder for her watery funeral requiem.

               Batz never left the island more.  He remained there till he died, a broken-hearted man, shattered in mind and body, and he rests there in his final rest till the resurrection note calls him to meet his beloved Kickowanna.”


               Nathaniel Batts (1620–1679) was a fur trader. He became the first recorded European to permanently settle in North Carolina in 1655. His deed from King Kiscutanewh for “all ye Land on ye southwest side of Pascotanck River from ye mouth of ye sd. River to ye head of new Begin Creek” was witnessed by George Durant in September, 1660. Later he purchased an island in Albemarle Sound near the mouth of the Yeopim River that became known as Batts Island. Some charts refer to the island as Batts Grave since he lived a solitary life on the island and was buried there. The island eroded through the years and was totally destroyed by a hurricane in 1950.   Quaker missionary, George Fox, noted that Nathaniel Batts “hath been a Rude, desperate man.” In his later years, Nathaniel  spent more time with Native Americans than he did with other European settlers.  A 1650 map  identifies “Batts House” on the western bank of the Chowan River and the northern bank of the Roanoke River where the two intersect.

               A 1696 Chowan County Deed documents the sale of 27 acres known as Batts Grave.  The 1733 Mosley Map of North Carolina (excerpt shown below) and the 1770 Collett Map both show an island in the Albemarle sound near the mouth of the Yeopim River and identify it as “Bats Grave.”

               There was a Pamunkey Indian tribe in Northern Virginia, whose Queen in 1677 was named Pomunckey as well as a Secotan Indian tribe  located South of the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina and these are probably the source of those  two names in the story.   There was also a tribe of Indians in Virginia called the Chesapeake who had become extinct by 1669.  This the probable source of the Chasamonpeak tribe in the story.   In 1662 a Yeopim Indian Chief by the name of Kilcocanen sold land on the Perquimans River to George Durant, who was a friend of Nathanial Batts.  He is probably the source for the name of Chief Kilkanoo.   

               Various maps show the Chowan Indians owning or occupying all the land along both sides of the Chowan River  down to the Albemarle Sound and possibly extending eastward to a point opposite’ Batz Grave” island.  Thus they would have been the tribe nearest to Nathanial Batts house on the Chowan River as well as adjacent to his island, Bats Grave.

               As for the source of the name Kickowanna I have been unable to find any names or words similar except for “Lackowanna” which is an Algonquin name for a river in northern Pennsylvania that is a tributary of the Susquehanna River that drains into the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia.  It is the source name for Lackawanna County, PA formed in 1878, the Lackawanna Steel Mill and the Lackawanna Railway.  At the time the “ Legend of Batz Grave” was written, The Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company was the largest steel manufacturer in the United States, and the first to use the Bessemer Process which enabled them to manufacture rail road track rails.  There was also a tribe of Indians in Illinois, later removed to Oklahoma, called the Kickapoo.  This Algonquin speaking tribe was once part of the Shawnee nation as were the Chowanoke.   Col. Creecy may have incorporated the two words to create the name Kickowanna.

               The Wigwam was a dome shaped house not used by the Southeastern Indians.  The name comes from the Ojibwa/ Chippewa who built that shaped structure.  The Southeastern Indians typically lived in Longhouses that were rectangular in shape and housed multiple families.  The Chowan were even reported to live in two story houses similar to those of the English.  I suspect Col. Creecy adopted the “Wigwam” terminology from the Hiawatha story as it sounds more cozy and romantic than “Longhouse.”     “Calumet” is the French word for Peace Pipe or Tobacco pipe.  “Sloe” means dark, slanted, or almond shaped eyes.  “Welkin” means the sky or the heavens.  Ochukee root” probably refers to the “Bloodroot” plant found all along the Atlantic seaboard going as far south as Florida.  It was used by Native Americans to create a red dye.  A “peri” was a fairy like being made popular in an 1817 poem by Thomas Moore and an 1882 Gilbert & Sullivan Opera.

               Some people theorize that the Legend of Batz Grave was the inspiration for the 1950’s pop song about “Running Bear” who loved “Little White Dove.”  They both drowned when they tried to cross the raging river to meet each other.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Chowan, History, Kickapoo, North Carolina, Pamunkey. Bookmark the permalink.

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