Saturday, February 15, 2014

Two Patawomecks Lose Their Heads

Jamestown, January 1610
         President Percy tries one more time to get food from the Indians. If Powhatan will not give them any, perhaps some other Indians will. Percy dispatches Francis West and “about thirty-six” men to take the Swallow on a long voyage down the James River to Chesapeake Bay, past Point Comfort and Algernon Fort (an outpost Percy named for his father and elder brother). Then the Swallow is to set her course northward up the coast to the Potomac River, where the sometimes-friendly Patawomecks live. But they, like the Indians at Nansemond and the Indians at Werowocomoco, have no food to spare. And if they can spare any, they are not about to give it to foreigners who are trying to take over their land.

         (This fact, so obvious in hindsight, apparently never entered the minds of the first Englishmen in Virginia.)
Twenty-three-year-old Francis West, like George Percy, is a younger son of a titled family. His elder brother, Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, has just been appointed governor of Virginia. Young Francis and his men sail boldly up the Potomac River, and at last they reach the Patawomecks, who are not glad to see them. Miraculously, West persuades them to trade some of their corn for trinkets, probably pieces of copper and glass beads. He loads the Swallow with the precious corn, but before he sets sail, West makes a farewell gesture: he orders his men to cut off “two of the Savages’ heads and other extremeties.”        
         Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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