The latter half of the seventeenth century was a period of rapid and fundamental change for the Indians along the colonial frontier of Virginia and North Carolina. In 1650, the Virginians were only beginning to explore territories to the west and south that were in firm control of the native population. By 1701, most native societies in this region had disintegrated and John Lawson could remark that there is not the "sixth Savage living within 200 miles of our Settlements as there were fifty years ago" (Lefler 1967:252).
For groups such as the Occaneechi, the Wainokes, and the Tuscaroras, this period also offered unprecedented opportunities, through trade and the acquisition of firearms, to obtain and exert considerable economic and political power. All of these groups were located along the ever-advancing colonial frontier and thus were in a position where they might control or at least influence contacts with more remote tribes. The Occaneechis, being positioned astride the principal trading path out of Fort Henry, were particularly successful in this respect.
What the archaeological record shows is that the Occaneechis not only acquired material wealth from trading with the Virginians; perhaps more importantly, they were able to dictate the kinds of European manufactures that were available to their neighbors. Viewed in this context, John Lederer's curious assertion that the remote Indians trade for beads, bracelets, gaudy toys, and knacks says more about the filtered contents of the trader's pack than it does the desires of the native consumer. By controlling access to firearms and using intimidation when necessary, the Occaneechis were able to maintain their dominant position as middlemen. Significantly, when their downfall came in 1676 it was not at the hands of their deprived "trading partners" but by the superior force of Nathaniel Bacon and his well-armed militia.