Saturday, February 28, 2015

Virginia and Bermuda: What Really Happened.?

        Jamestown shares a history with Bermuda, its sister colony. This from a recent review of a book (mine).

       "Virginia Bermhard’s detailed and revealing historical study... insightful and reader-friendly ... provides us with a careful and brutally honest reconstruction of the naked plunder, unbridled greed, festering corruption, unabashed hypocrisy, and systematic disrespect for human life and welfare which...characterized the founding of the first two permanent English colonies in the Americas....

 ...What makes this volume special, however, is the systematic, straightforward, and non-polemical manner in which it configures this evidence...."
 --Caribbean Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2 (July - December 2013. 

      Was this early history better characterized as “heroic” or “glorious” ?

       There are two sides to every historical narrative.
 Comments welcome.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Questions about a Killing

George Percy’s narrative refers to the Indian children’s mother as a "Quene," but she was not a queen by birth. (English colonists were ignorant of native people's social ranks and customs. "Kings" to them, "werowances" to the natives, were not at all the same thing.) The children's mother was  the wife of the werowance of Paspahegh, an Indian village about six miles upriver from Jamestown. In a raid against that village, Captain George Percy’s men had seized “the Quene and her Children.”  After some discussion it was agreed to put the children to death “by Throweinge them overboad and shoteinge owtt thir Braynes in the water. . . .” --presumably while their mother looked on.
Percy claims that he tried to save their mother’s life, but that the governor ordered him to have her killed. She was finally taken into the woods by an English officer and two soldiers. That it took three men to handle her suggests that she did not go passively. Once into the woods, the officer “put her to the sworde.” The manner of her execution raises intriguing questions. Why take the trouble to remove her to a remote place? Why not simply shoot her, as they had her children?  Did they feel that the wife of a king was entitled to a special death, or did her behavior infuriate the Englishmen? Was she swiftly run through--or was she savagely mutilated? 
The historical record is silent: Another Jamestown mystery.

English as well as Indians knew the meaning of vengeance. Both sides would keep a deadly see-saw of violence in motion until almost the end of the seventeenth century.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

The queen was dead, but gruesome deaths are hardly appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

For more about her death, check this space next week. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Vengeance ordered; vengeance carried out.

     It must have been the queen’s scornful, haughty bearing that offended Lord De La Warr. When Percy led her aboard the Discovery, she had refused to bow before the governor, or even to acknowledge his presence. She . . . . had seen her husband slain by the Englishmen, she had been forced to watch as English soldiers murdered her children, but she did not weep. She only stared, her dark eyes full of grief and rage, her face set as if chiseled in stone. When the killing of her two sons and daughter was over, she had ripped the beads from around her neck and taken the feather ornament from her hair and dropped them overboard. The necklace sank; the blue and white feather headdress floated over the spot where her children’s bodies had disappeared.

--Virginia Bernhard, Jamesown: The Novel  (2014).

My Lord generall . . .seamed to be Discontented becawse the quene was Spared as Capteyne Davis towlde me, and thatt itt was my Lords pleasure thatt we sholde see her dispatched The way he thowghte beste to Burne her. To the firste I replyed thatt haveinge seene so mutche Blood shedd thatt day, now in my Cowld bloode I desyred to see noe more, and for to Burne her I did nott howlde itt fitteinge butt either by shott or Sworde to geve her a quicker dispatche. So .  . . Capteyne Davis he did take the quene with towe sowldiers a shoare and in the woods putt her to the Sworde  . . .

--George Percy, “Trewe Relacyon” (1625).

         With the killing of a king’s wife, vengeance was set in motion.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Two Cultures at War, Three Children Dead

Percy’s journal, continued:
 [I] then dispersed my fyles apointeinge my Sowldiers to burne their howses and to Cutt downe their Corne groweinge aboutt the Towne. And after we marched with the quene and her Children to our Boates ageine. Where beinge noe soener well shipped my sowldiers did begin to murmur becawse the queen and her Children weare spared. So upon the same a Cowncell beinge called itt was agreed upon to putt the children to deathe the which was effected by Throweinge them overboard and shoteinge owtt their Braynes in the water.Yett for all this Crewellty the Sowldiers weare nott well pleased and I had mutche to doe To save the quenes lyfe for thatt Tyme.
--George Percy, “Trewe Relacyon” (1625).

     Then came the order to kill the queen.

      “I won’t do it!” Percy pounded his fist on the gunwale. “I’m sick to my stomach from killing!” .  . . . He could not get the children out of his mind. There had been three of them--two little boys, no more than four or five years old, and a little girl younger than that. Handsome, they were, with their smooth brown skin and their Indian-black hair. They had been playing, naked in the hot August sun, just outside their house when the attack came. The moment they saw the soldiers, their large dark eyes grew round with fear, and they skittered inside the house like frightened squirrels. When the soldiers threw them into the river, they clung to the men’s arms like small wild creatures, scratching and screaming. They had thrashed and splashed about when they hit the water, and so, for sport, three of the soldiers took out their pistols anjd shot at them. At such close range, the shells blew away parts of the children’s skulls, and some of their brain matter came out in the water.
--Virginia Bernhard,  Jamestown: The Novel (2014).

          What was their crime?

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.