Friday, October 25, 2013

A Story Fit for Halloween

The butchered skull and bones of a young girl now prove what 17th century sources recorded: there was cannibalism at Jamestown.

Read for yourself:

The Indians hold the English surrounded...having killed the larger part of them...the survivors eat the dead....
--Alonso de Velasco to Philip III, June 14, 1610
            (The Spanish ambassador loved to gloat over English failures.}

So great was our famine, that a savage we slew, and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and ate him, and so did diverse one another boiled and stewed with roots and herbs. -
-John Smith, Generall Historie, 1624
            (Smith was not an eyewitness: he had left before the Starving Time.)

And now famine beginning to look ghastly and pale in every face, that nothing was spared to maintain life and to do those things which seems incredible, as to dig up dead corpses out of grave and eat them.
--George Percy, “A Trewe Relacyon,” 1624
            (Percy was there. He blamed Smith for the Starving Time.)

[We were] driven through unsufferable hunger unnaturally to eat those things which nature most abhorred: the flesh and excrements of of our own nation as [well as] of an Indian digged by some out of his grave after he had lain buried three days, and wholly devoured him. Others, envying the better state of body of any whom hunger had not yet so much wasted as their own, lay [in] wait and threatened to kill and eat them.
--“A Briefe Declaration...By the Ancient Planters now remaining alive in Virginia,” 1624.
            (These colonists blamed the Virginia Company’s mismanagement.)

Until now, many historians, believing that these people had their own axes to grind, had serious doubts that they were telling the truth.

Were some more truthful than others? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jamestown, 1610: Stranger than a horror movie...

Why a blog about events that happened 400 years ago? Because history is full of unanswered questions, and one of those unanswered questions just got answered in 2013:            
            Q: Was there cannibalism at Jamestown, Virginia during the “Starving Time” of 1609-10?
            A: Yes.
That raises a whole lot of other questions.
History will have to be rewritten.

            In my book, A TALE OF TWO COLONIES: WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN VIRGINIA AND BERMUDA? (U. of Missouri Press , 2011), on whether or not to believe what colonists said about cannibalism, I wrote: “Evidence of cannibalism in the excavations at Jamestown might lay this argument to rest.”
            Now we have the evidence.  What next?
            We have always known that Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, was an ugly place, full of disease and death in the early years. That is why elementary school children learn about the Pilgrims who came to Massachusetts and had the first Thanksgiving. First-graders color pictures of colonists in black and white clothes, and Indians with feathers (inaccurate, but pleasant), and turkeys and pumpkins and ears of corn.
            We do not tell them that two hundred (or more--no one knows exactly how many) of the English settlers at Jamestown starved to death, and that some of the starving ones dug up dead bodies and ate them. That would not be a pretty picture for first-graders.

            But that is what happened: now we know that the partial skeleton of a young girl, about fourteen years old, has been excavated, and there are knife marks where her skull was split open, and other knife marks on her leg bones. These prove that someone wanted to eat her brains, her cheeks, and the flesh from her femur (thigh) bones.

            They were literally starving at Jamestown. And they really did “digge up deade corpses outt of graves and . . . eate them.”

            This truth is stranger than any horror movie.

            What will we tell the school children about cannibalism at Jamestown?
            What do you think?

            Post your comments.                       
            Keep reading this blog for more on the puzzling history of Jamestown.