Saturday, September 6, 2014

Starvation at Jamestown: “hallucinations and convulsions....”

         William Strachey wrote of Jamestown’s poor inhabitants that there were “many more particularities of their sufferances . . . than I have the heart to express.” He had seen people starving, out of their minds from hunger. What did they say? What did they do? He did not say.
         George Percy, the man who surely must share blame for the pitiful conditions at Jamestown, did not hesitate to set down the ugly details that accompanied starvation. He wrote of a colonist named Hugh Pryse, “beinge pinched with extreme famin, in a furious distracted moode“ who ran into the center of the marketplace “Blaspheameinge exclaimeinge and Cryeinge outt thatt there was noe god, alledgeinge thatt if there were a god he would not Suffer his Creatures whome he had made and framed, to indure those miseries and to perish for wante of food and Sustenance.”
         Percy did not know that people in the last stages of starvation may become mentally disturbed and experience hallucinations. When Pryse and another colonist, “a Butcher, a Corpulentt fatt man” went into the woods to look for something to eat, the Indians killed them both. Percy wrote with some satisfaction that God had punished Pryse for his earlier blasphemous talk, because his corpse was dismembered, perhaps by wolves, and his bowels torn out of his body. But the fat butcher, “not lyeing above sixe yardes from him, was fownd altogether untouched, onely by the salvages arrowes whereby he Receaved his deathe.” 
         Poor Hugh Pryse. Poor butcher. Poor Jamestown.

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