Saturday, November 23, 2013

“A young woman fresh painted . . . to be his bedfellow."

When John Smith and the first English colonists—134 men and boys--came to Virginia in 1607, the Indians in the area numbered 13,000 to 15,000. Of those, at least 4,000 or 5,000 were Indian women. Imagine, if you will, how the Englishmen, who had been at sea for four months, would have reacted when they saw tawny-skinned, bare-breasted Indian women who wore nothing but a small deerskin apron around their waists. 
There is still a lot to learn about early Jamestown.
We know that Elizabethan Englishmen, who wore layers upon layers of clothing, were taken aback by Indian “nakedness.” Virginia colonist William Strachey found the Indians--both men and women--“most voluptuous,” but he did not write about their sexual habits.
Imagine, if you will: In this native culture, a man could have more than one wife, and, if the husband gave permission, a wife could sleep with other men. And a hospitable host provided women for his overnight male guests’ pleasure.
Strachey described the Indians' arrangement for a male guest: "At night they bring him to the lodging appointed for him, whither upon their departure they send a young woman fresh painted red with Pochone (a dye made from plant roots) and oil (walnut oil or bear grease) to be his bedfellow."  Whether Strachey learned this from experience or hearsay is not known.
John Smith had his own experience with painted Indian women in 1608.

Next time, the Pocahontas story, continued.

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