Saturday, December 28, 2013

“Not past sixtie men, women, and children . . . .”

John Smith wrote that after the “Starving Time” in the winter of 1609-1610 “there remained not past sixtie men, women and children” in the fort. But for decades, historians believed the Virginia colonist Robert Beverley’s 1705 estimate of “five hundred men” who were “reduced to three score.”
            Beverley wrote of “men.”  No women. But John Smith said there were women in Virginia, and he was there. Unfortunately, he did not say how many, and since he had to leave Virginia October 1609 he had no way of knowing how many of those women lived through the Starving Time that winter. We now know from other sources that at least six females--four women, a little girl, and an infant--survived, because we know their names.
            One who did not survive was the still nameless fourteen-year-old girl whose recently discovered remains were cannibalized--but she was not the only English victim of cannibalism. She was not the only woman victim, either.             
The story of that one (another female) was in plain view for four centuries, but generations of (male) historians overlooked it when they wrote about "men" at Jamestown.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

“The first marriage we had in Virginia”

People at Jamestown lived in close quarters: Two hundred people lived inside the walls of the log fort, a triangular enclosure with an area of about the size of two football fields. Housing was two large barracks-like structures and a few lean-tos.

            Everybody knew everybody.

            Within three months, Mistress Forrest’s young serving girl, Anne Burras, had found a husband. By December 1608 she and John Laydon (he was listed among the “Labourers” who had come in 1607), were married. She was fourteen; he was twenty-eight.
            John Smith recorded their nuptials as “the first marriage we had in Virginia.” Presumably the wedding took place in the little thatch-roofed church inside the fort. Perhaps there was some wine to toast the newlyweds afterward. No one knows. Mistress Forrest may not have attended. Her name does not appear in any records after 1608, and she may have died. No one knows.
             In the absence of Mistress Forrest, Anne Laydon would have been the only female inside the fort at Jamestown. She turned fifteen sometime in 1609, and sometime in that year she became pregnant.

            But Anne would not be the only woman for long. More women were on the way.
            And no one was hungry--yet.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two hundred men, two women . . . .

How do we know what happened in a little log fort on the James River 400 years ago? 

Until the Jamestown Rediscovery Project unearthed the site of the original fort in 1994, all we had was a paper trail. John Smith’s writings fill three volumes, but historians still argue about how truthful he was. As for the other written records, there are only a handful. They do not tell the whole story, and some of the writers wanted to trash John Smith. And not one of these early accounts was written by a woman, although we know that there were English women at Jamestown.

            The back story: In April 1607, 104 “men and boys” arrived to found a colony in Virginia. By January 1608, when a supply ship arrived, only 38 of the 104 men and boys were still alive. Diseases (the “bloody flux,” malaria, and unknown others) and Indians (they landed in the midst of 15,000 natives who were not happy to see them) took a severe toll.
            The January ship brought “neare a hundred men” to join the 38 already there. In September that year 70 more newcomers arrived, raising the population at Jamestown to about 200--and two of them were “Mistresse Forrest, and Anne Burras her maide.” Mistress Forrest was probably the wife of colonist Thomas Forrest, listed among the “Gentlemen” who arrived on that voyage.  Anne Burras was probably related to one John Burras, in the list of arriving “Tradesmen.” These two women landed among 200 men, 130 of whom had not seen an English woman in a year and a half.



Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pocahontas again: “If we would live she wished us to be gone....”

Whatever happened between John Smith and Pocahontas, and what happened to her when her father found out, are unanswered questions, but Indian/English relations since the “love dance” had deteriorated. In the winter of 1608, Pocahontas heard that her father secretly planned to kill Smith when the English captain and his men ventured into Indian lands to trade for food. While the English waited for Powhatan’s arrival, Pocahontas slipped out on a cold winter night to warn Smith. As he wrote later:

For Pocahontas his [Powhatan’s] dearest jewel and daughter, in that darke night came through the irksome woods and told our Captaine [Smith] great cheer [food and drink] should be sent us by and by; but Powhatan and all the power he could make, would after come kill us all, if they that brought it could not kill us with our own weapons when we were at supper. Therefore if we would live she wished us to be gone. Such things as she delighted in he [Smith] would have given her; but with the tears running down her cheeks she said she durst not be seen to have any: for if Powhatan should know it, she were but dead, and so she ran away by her self as she came.
Thanks to Pocahontas, Smith and his men escaped.
Eight years would pass before John Smith and Pocahontas saw each other again.