Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A Map of Virginia: With a Description of the Country, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion by John Smith (1612)

I have chosen this book and in particular the section of it written by Captain John Smith (who was also sometimes considered the Governor of the country) in the early 1600's because I believe it offers an insight into what a European settler would be faced with when exploring America. He talks about the landscape and the climate of the country as well as the Native tribes he encounters. Just focusing on his description of the Native Indians, we can gather a lot of information about their lives and how a settler views their lives. At the start of his description he includes some common Native Indian words and phrases and the first one that surprises me is the phrase "in how many days will there come hither more English ships", this tells me that the Indian tribes must have been very inquisitive about the new settlers arriving in their lands. Going through the book Smith talks of the Natives appearance describing their particular headdresses and the animals they choose to hang from their ear rings "a small green and yellow snake...others choose to wear a dead rat tied by the tail" Smith then talks of their ability to "lie under a tree by a fire in the worst of winter". Also describing them as "some bold, most cautelous, all savages". He moves on to talk about their houses and then their children which he says are named "according to the several humour of their parents" and are made hardy to the elements "in the coldest mornings they wash them in the rivers, and by painting and ointments so tan their skins that after a year or two, no weather will hurt them". He talks about their various medicines describing one tribe as being "so conceited that they believed any plaster would heal any hurt". When describing their religion Smith says "their chief God they worship is the divell (devil). Him they call Oke and serve him more of fear than love. They say they have a conference with him and, fashion themselves as near to his shape as they can imagine". Smith goes on to talk about their government describing it as follows "although the country people be very barbarous; yet have they amongst them such government, as that their magistrates for good commanding, and their people for due subjection and obeying, excel many places that would be counted very civil".
     I think all this would have been a very disconcerting site to an early settler coming from what they would consider to be a normal civilised and modern society in Europe to discovering people with rats hanging from their ears and worshipping the devil.
pages 79, 99, 100, 101, 108, 109, 113.

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