Saturday, May 31, 2014

“The survivors eat the dead....”

Tales of the horrors at Jamestown eventually reached Don Alonso de Velasco, the Spanish ambassador in London. He wrote to King Philip about the Starving Time, reporting that “the Indians hold the English surrounded in the strong place which they had erected there, having killed the larger part of them, and the others were left so entirely without provisions that they thought it impossible to escape, because the survivors eat the dead, and when one of the natives died fighting, they dug him up again, two days afterwards, to be eaten , , , , and almost all who came . . . died from having eaten dogs, cat skins, and  other vile stuff.”

Like the Indians, the Spanish were waiting for the English in Virginia to give up and go home.

As their meager rations ran out, the Jamestown colonists dared not go outside the palisaded walls. Elias Crookdeck’s fate was a cruel reminder of what dangers awaited them there. In the woods outside fthere were birds and squirrels and other game, and there were fish in the river, but they might as well have been on the moon.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

“They chopped off his arms and legs...”

[Cannibalism, continued: A scene from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, in which, the morning after Temperance’s dream, one of her neighbors, Thomasine Causey, recounts a grisly story.]
           “You know that young fellow the Indians shot yesterday morning? Crookdeck? I don’t understand it--I was there when they laid him out, and he was just skin and bones.” She shook her head sadly. “He was fat when he went up to the Falls. He was up there, you know, with Francis West and the others. Such a sweet-faced boy.” Thomasine shook her head again and sighed.
           “What happened, Thomasine? Get on with it and tell us what happened.”. . .
            “Well, you know,” Thomasine said, “Thomas Wotton was in charge of the burial duty yesterday. I don’t think he has been quite right since Esther died That was hard on him, being a surgeon and his not being able to help her.”
            “Thomasine, for heaven’s sake! We know all about Thomas and Esther . . . What happened last night?”        
          Thomasine, relishing being the center of attention for once, was not to be hurried. “Well!” She rolled her eyes heavenward and sighed deeply. “Thomas Wotton and Richard Pace went to the burial ground late last night, when it was good and dark, and dug up Elias Crookdeck’s body, and took it to the Laydons’ house--John, you know, has been so sick and weak for such a long time--Then they took that poor boy’s body, and they washed it, and they chopped off his arms and legs, and they roasted them and ate them!”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

“The aroma reminded her of roast pork....”

[Cannibalism comes to Jamestown: a scene from the novel, not far from the truth, as we now know.]
       Late that night, sometime after midnight,Termperance, who had felt unwell and had slept most of the day, awoke suddenly. She had been dreaming again of Thickthorne and its great tables laden with food. This time it had been haunches of roast venison and jugged hare, and the aroma of roasting meat she had smelled in her sleep was so strong and so real that it had awakened her. She lay very still in the dark, depressed as always, to wake up and realize that she was in Jamestown, hungry, widowed and three thousand miles from home. But this time, part of her dream had not vanished: The rich aroma of roasting meat was in the air yet.

        Temperance opened her eyes in the dark, sniffed, and sat bolt upright. She had not mistaken it; the smell of cooked meat hung so heavily in the air she wondered why it had not awakened Will and Meg. They were both sound asleep , . . Temperance sat wide-eyed in the darkness, sniffing the air and wondering if she could be hallucinating. Hunger could play tricks with one’s senses; she knew that. The aroma seemed to drift in from outside, wafting its way around the edges of the deerskin that stretched across the window. There was no question about it: Fresh meat--hot, succulent, savory meat--was being cooked somewhere close by, Drawing the scent into her nostrils made Temperance’s mouth tingle. She could almost taste the meat. The aroma reminded her of roast pork, but there was a slightly sweeter odor. She could not quite identify it, much less determine why it was present at Jamestown. Puzzled, but not wanting to awaken the others, she lay drowsing until dawn, when the wind had blown away all but a faint trace of the smell. Then she fell into a fitful sleep.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

“They’ll kill us all, one by one!”

Starvation was the enemy inside Jamestown Fort, but outside the log walls another enemy lurked. President George Percy gave orders that no one was to venture outside the palisade. One snowy morning a hunger-crazed young man climbed over the wall, saying he was going to catch a squirrel. He soon returned--with an Indian arrow protruding from his side. He fell, and the snow beneath him turned bright red.

From JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, here is what happened next:
They laid him out just inside the gate while a grave was readied, and as word spread, an uneven procession of curious spectators filed past young Crookdeck’s body,
The killing was the first sign they had had from their Indian neighbors since the murders of Ratcliffe and his men. The arrow was still stuck in Crookdeck’s rib cage, but the point had gone in sideways, so that his back lay flat against the ground. There was very little blood now from the arrow wound, and one might almost believe that this young man had fallen asleep with a make-believe arrow affixed to his jerkin. Most of the blood had come from his mouth, and a thin red line had trickled from the corner of his mouth to his ear. The eyes were closed; the thin, boyish face in repose brought a stifled sob or two from . . . the first women who came to see.  
They met Thomas Wotton, who looked impassively at the corpse and said, “Damned savages! They’ll kill us all, one by one!”
. . .

After Crookdeck’s burial, President Percy announced that the night watch would be doubled, in case this killing portended a larger Indian attack.

But something worse was to come, the next day.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A sword “hatched with gold”

After John Smith left Jamestown, George Percy, the eighth son of Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland, was in charge, Percy, like Smith, was a thirty-year-old bachelor, but there the similarities ended. Unlike Smith, Percy was not noted for his leadership. He was “easily highest in rank,” but according to a Dutch scholar who wrote about Jamestown, “no-one, either old [settler] or new comer would pay him much heed.” Percy took on the presidency of the Virginia colony reluctantly. He was not physically strong, and it is now believed that he suffered from epilepsy.

By English law, George Percy was a younger son who stood to inherit nothing. He was in fact the youngest son: he had seven older brothers. When Percy was five years old his father died, and his eldest brother, Henry Algernon Percy, at age twenty-one, became the ninth earl of Northumberland. George Percy was not rich, and he was not handsome, either. A portrait painted in 1615, when he was thirty-five, shows a face with a grotesquely long nose that almost overshadows a miniscule mustache and thin, pursed lips. A fishlike gaze and a receding chin suggest an air of self-doubt, of uncertainty. But he liked to dress well: Living in a log fort in the wilds of Virginia, he ordered goods from London that included fabric for five taffeta-faced suits and a doublet, two hats with silk and gold bands, and a dozen Holland linen shirts with cambric bands [collars] and cuffs, and a sword “hatched with gold.”

This was the man who presided over the Starving Time. What the other residents at Jamestown thought of him is not known--but it might be easy to guess.