Saturday, January 24, 2015

More revenge--and a beheading.

In August 1610, when Powatan (Pocahontas’s father) sent back “prowde and Distainefull answers” to the English at Jamestown, Captain George Percy and seventy men were dispatched to teach the Indians some manners. Percy’s “True Relation” tells the story, as he was sent to

. . .  take Revendge upon the Paspaheans and Chiconamians and so shippeinge my selfe and my Sowldiers in towe boates I departed from James Towne the 9th of August 1610 and the same nighte Landed within thre myles of paspahas towne. Then draweinge my sowldiers into Battalio placeinge a Capteyne or Leftenante att every fyle, we marched towards the Towne haveinge an Indyan guyde with me named Kempes whome the provoste marshall ledd in a hande locke This Subtill salvage was Leadinge us outt of the Way the which I misdowteinge Bastinaded him with my Truncheon and threatened to Cutt of his heade whereupon the slave alltered his Cowrse and browghte us the righte way neare unto the towne. . . . And then we fell in upon them putt some fiftene or sixtene to the Sworde and almoste all the reste to flyghte. Whereupon I cawsed my drume to beate and drewe all my sowldiers to the Cullers, my Lieftenantt bringeinge with him the Quene and her Children and one Indyann prisoner for the which I taxed him becawse he had Spared them. his answer was, thatt haveinge them now in my Custodie I mighte doe with them whatt I pleased. Upon the same I cawsed the Indians heade to be Cutt off . . . .

         Terror and beheadings: what century are we in?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The English plot revenge for a killing.

         “Goddammit, man, you’re about to kill the wrong Indians:!” Will Sterling, his face white with anger, set his tankard of wine down so hard that some of the dark red liquid spilled over the edge. Across the table from him, George Yardley watched the stain seep into the wooden surface and said nothing. “God knows, I did not mean to come here,” Will said in a quieter voice. “But I know those Indians at Kecoughtan, and they are not the ones who killed Humphrey Blunt. Their werowance is Tanx-Powhatan, Powhatan’s eldest son, and he is upriver visiting his father. They would never act without him.” Will tried to look George in the eye but the latter turned away. “I know these Indians and you don’t, George. Spilling the wrong blood will not avenge Humphrey Blunt’s death, but it will bring Powhatan and his son and all the river tribes down on you. You must make Sir Thomas all off this attack.”
--An excerpt from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL (2014)

         Thomas Gates did not call off the attack in July 1610. It was not an attack, but rather a deception that lured some rhythm-loving Indians to their deaths.
         Years later, George Percy, who was there, wrote about what happened:

Then Sir Thomas Gates beinge desyreous for to be Revendged upon the Indyans at Kekowhatan did goe thither by water with a certeine number of men and amongste the rest A Taborer [drummer] with him being Landed he cawsed the Taborer to play and dawnse thereby to Allure the Indyans to come unto him . . . And then . . .a fittinge opportunety fell in upon them putt fyve to the sworde wownded many others some of them beinge after fownde in the woods with Sutche extraordinary Lardge and mortall wownds that itt seamed strange they Cold flye so far.”
--George Percy, “A Trewe Relacyon (1624).

This trickery put one more arrow in the Indians’ quivers. They would not forget that day.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The sad fate of Humphrey Blunt

         On the shore, Humphrey Blunt struggled briefly with his captors, but they were too powerful and too many. They dragged him, shouting and swearing, to the edge of the woods and tied him to a tall pine tree. Then, using hatchets traded to them by the English, they began the systematic dismembering of Blunt’s body. Grinning, the two warriors who had captured him took hold of his right thumb and his left thumb and, with swift clean strokes, severed both from his hands.                  
         Only then when he realized what they were about to do, did Blunt began to scream. His cries, torn from his throat as his parts were torn from his body, rent the air with chilling, sickening repetition. Around him, the Indians began to dance, each one holding up a bloody part of Humphrey Blunt.
         “Up anchor!” Thomas Gates said in a choked voice. “We can do nothing here, nothing for him! God rest his soul! Let’s get under way.” Silently, the men aboard the Discovery trimmed her sails and set her course for Point Comfort.
         In the clearing ihn the woods, the Indians, who had chopped off Blunt’s fingers, one by one, and then his toes, and then his arms and legs, joint by joint, continued to dance until the Englishmen’s ship was out of sight. In a few minutes, all that remained of Humphrey Blunt was a pile of bloody parts in a heap upon the soft green grass. His severed head, with its thick blond hair, they carried away in a deerskin bag.
         “Last winter the English cut off the head of Opossanoquonuske’s husband,” one of the Indians said. “Now we have one of theirs.”

[Excerpt from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, 2014]

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The “sacrifice” of July 6, 1610

     This is the non-fiction version (the fictional one is the blog of 12/20).

    The sixth of July, Sir Thomas Gates, lieutenant general, coming down to Point Comfort, the north wind blowing rough he found had forced the longboat belonging to Algernon Fort to the other shore upon Nansemond side, [about eight miles across] somewhat short of Weroscoick, which to recover again, one of the lieutenant general’s men, Humfrey Blunt, in an old canoe made [went] over. But the wind driving him upon the strand [shore], certain Indians watching the occasion seized the poor fellow and led him up into the woods and sacrificed him. It did not a little trouble the lieutenant governor, who since his first landing in the country, how justly soever provoked, would not by any means be wrought to a violent proceeding against them, for all the practices of villainy with which they daily endangered our men, thinking it possible by a more tractable course to win them to a better condition. But now, being startled by this, he well perceived how little a fair and noble entreaty works upon a barbarous disposition, and therefore in some measure purposed to be revenged.

--William Strachey, “A True Reportory....” July 1610. Strachey sent this long letter to a mysterious “unknown lady” in England. Its account of the shipwreck on Bermuda inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest  in 1611.
         Revenge would come three days later.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays, and a fine 2015!

Jamestown Mysteries will continue when the new year begins.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A grisly “sacrifice” on the river, July 10, 1610

         Humphrey Blunt had volunteered. As his cries split the air of the calm afternoon, that was the only consolation Lieutenant General Gates and Captain Yardley had.
         Approaching Point Comfort in the pinnace Discovery, they had found the fort’s longboat broken free from its moorings. “Let me go after it,” Blunt had said. “I can take the little canoe and catch her, tie her line round my waist, and tow her back in a trice.” Small and agile, he had been a waterman on the Thames River when he was twelve.
         Now the Indians had him.
         A sudden and contrary wind had blown his canoe and the longboat against the sandy riverbank on the Nansemond side, and before he could push off, there was a wild, gleeful shouting from the woods, and nine Indians wearing the heads of bears and foxes ran out. Two of the tallest ones took Humphrey Blunt by the arms and dragged him out of the canoe. On the deck of the Discovery, Thomas Gates, George Yardley, and the rest of the men could do nothing but watch in horror.
         Gates, his knuckles white on the hilt of his sword, cursed himself for letting Blunt go. There was nothing they could do now. By the time they could load and fire a round from the ship’s demi-culverins, poor Blunt would be dead and the Indians long gone.
         “Shall I order the men to fire, sir?” Yardley asked.
         “No. No point wasting powder and shot.” Gates pounded both first helplessly on the Discovery’s gunwale.

         “Save it for later,” he said through his teeth.        

Sunday, December 14, 2014

1610: Hunger a permanent resident at Jamestown

It was Somers who thought of going to Bermuda for food, but De La Warr took the credit for it. He wrote his own letter to the Earl of Salisbury after the admiral’s departure: “I dispatched Sir George Sommers back again to the Barmudas, the good old gentleman [Somers was fifty-six; De La Warr was thirty-three at the time] out of his love and zeal not motioning [opposing], but most cheerfully and resolutely undertaking to perform so dangerous a voyage, and, if it please God he do safely return, he will store us with hog’s flesh and fish enough to serve the whole colony this winter.”
That was wishful thinking.
         Meanwhile, De La Warr set his men and others who were able-bodied to work. Some were put to cleaning up the debris of ruined houses inside the fort, others to making coal for the forges (blacksmiths were essential for making tools and weapons and ammunition), still others to fish, but the latter, the Captain-General noted with disappointment, “had ill success” in the James River. The starving residents of Jamestown had become too weak and too frightened of Indians to fish in the river, and they had let their nets—fourteen of them by one count—rot to pieces. The newcomers had some nets, but they had little luck in casting them. They hauled in their nets every day and night, “sometimes a dosen times one after the other,” but they did not catch enough to feed even a fourth of the people who were there.
         Hunger--gnawing, gut-wrenching hunger, was becoming a permanent resident of Jamestown.