Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Mystery of John Smith

         Meanwhile, what became of John Smith when he returned to England, horribly wounded from the gunpowder accident in Virginia?
Many scholars have pondered this question. One was Smith’s 19th-century biographer, William Gilmore Sims:
         On the accident:
         “While he [Smith] slept, his powder bag was accidentally fired by one of the crew, and the powder exploding tore and lacerated his body in a most shocking manner.”
         [Shocking, indeed. Maybe the reason Smith never married and never had children.]
         Smith left Virginia in bad shape as well:
          “Famine, in its most horrid forms, assailed them." ”A savage slain and buried was eaten,” and “having eaten him, [the starving colonists] followed up the horrid taste for human food, by preying upon one another.”

         When John Smith finally reached England, says Sims, his wounds were grave, and “his cure was probably a tedious one.”

         For the next five years , of what Smith did in England we know little. He lived in “comparative repose” and no doubt had many “expenses atternding his cure. On this subject we are left wholly to conjecture.”

         Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, was Smith’s “best friend,” and Smith may have stayed with him. Smith dedicated his 1612 Map of Virginia to Seymour, who died in 1621. Seymour’s wife was Frances Howard, a great beauty, at 34, two years older than John Smith. Her husband was 37 years older than she. Edward Seymour was 75 in 1612.

         Mystery upon mystery.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thanksgiving, 1610: 300 calories a day?

This is Thanksgiving week.
A look backward 400 or so years, to another November--NOT the Pilgrim feast at Plymouth, but the fare inside the fort at Jamestown.

Just be thankful a hardy few survived.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Jamestown: Cannibalism denied.

On November 8, 1610, another piece of propaganda, the Virginia Company’s latest booklet, went on sale at the Black Bear in St. Paul’s churchyard. Its title is self-explanatory:  A True Declaration of the estate of the colony in Virginia, with a confutation of such scandalous reports as have tended to the disgrace of so worthy an enterprise. It celebrated the earlier safe return of Gates, Newport, and others from the Sea Venture expedition, and did its best to dispel the worst of the Virginia reports, especially the “Starving Time” and the “tragical history of the man eating of his dead wife in Virginia.”
Sir Thomas Gates appeared before the Virginia Company’s Council and tried to the record straight about the Jamestown colonists who had killed and eaten his wife, a story that had shocked all of London. (Apparently no one asked where Gates came by this information, since he himself had been in Bermuda when the wife-butchering incident took place.) According to Gates the man “mortally hated his wife.” So he “secretly killed her, then cut her in pieces and hid her remains in divers parts of his house.” The implication being that the husband did not kill his wife because he was starving—though he “fed daily upon her.” As further proof that there was plenty to eat in Jamestown, Gates reported that besides the wife’s dismembered body the man’s house contained “a good quantity of meal, oatmeal, beans, and peas.” Such a larder would have been news to the starving inhabitants inside the fort, who remembered existing on half a can of meal per day.

And perhaps a little meat. . . .