Saturday, October 31, 2015

“Cleannesse of teeth, famine, and death.” Jamestown, 1610

The Virginia Company’s officials rushed to shine a good light on bad news from its fledgling colony. The Company issued a little pamphlet called News from Virginia, of the happy arrival of that famous and worthy knight, Sir Thomas Gates, and well-reputed and valiant Captain Newport, into England. It was in verse, composed by one of the Bermuda castaways, Robert Rich. For its naïve cheerfulness (its 22 stanzas neglect to mention the Indians) and wildly fanciful promises about Virginia, Rich’s poem is worth quoting here in part:
There is no fear of hunger here,
(William Strachey described life at Jamestown as “cleannesse of teeth, famine, and death.”)
                      for corn much store here grows
                  Much fish the gallant rivers yield—
                      ‘tis truth without suppose.
(“The river . . . had not a fish to be seen in it. ”—Strachey.)

                  Great store of fowl, of venison,
                     Of grapes and mulberries,
(“Nothing to trade withal but mulberries.”—Sir George Somers).
Of chestnuts, walnuts, and suchlike,
                     of fruits and strawberries
                  There is indeed no want at all.

                           But some, condition’d ill,           

                  That wish the work should not go on,
                     with words do seem to kill.
There were more words to come.

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