Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Settler's Account -- Henry Spelman of Jamestown

Henry Spelman lived approximately between 1595 and 1623, although the date of his death is just speculation. Spelman was an English adventurer, soldier and author who left for Virginia Colony on the ship "Unity" at the young age of 14 years-old. A mere 2 weeks after his arrival to Jamestown, he was invited to go with Captain John Smith on an expedition which would take them up the James River to the Native-Indian town of Powhatan. When they arrived in Powhatan Captain Smith traded Henry's bonded servitude in exchange for a village son. Due to this exchange, Henry Spelman became an interpreter and served as a messenger between the two different cultures. It is not fully clear what ended up happening to Henry Spelman. Some say that he died in an ambush on the Powhatan tribe whilst others speculate that he was kidnapped during the ambush and is classed as having gone missing. During the years Spelman spent living and growing-up amongst the Powhatan tribe, he wrote of his studies of the people. These studies help in giving us an insight in to the lives of the Powhatan villagers. I wish to focus upon a few of the more interesting things which Henry Spelman discovered of the people he was now growing up in the company of.

"How They Name Their Children - After the mother is delivered of hir child with in sum feaw dayes after the kinsfolke and neyburs beinge intreated ther unto, cums unto ye house: wher beinge assembled the father, takes the child in his armes: and declares that his name shall be, as he then calls him, so his name is, which dunn ye rest of ye day is spent in feastinge and dauncinge." --> Essentially this means that a few days after the child is born, the neighbors and family of the child assemble and the father of the child holds the new-born and names it. The rest of the day and evening then is filled with celebration and feasting.

"The Manor Of Execution - THos that be convicted of capitall offences are brought into a playne place before ye Kinges house when then he laye, which was at Pomunkeye the chefest house he hath wher one or tow apoynted by the Kinge did bind them hand and foote, which being dunn a great fier was made, Then cam the officer to thos that should dye, and with a shell cutt of[f] ther long locke, which they weare on the leaft side of ther heade, and hangeth that on a bowe before the Kings house Then thos for murther wear Beaten with staves till ther bonns weare broken and beinge alive weare flounge into the fier, the other for robbinge was knockt on ye heade and beinge deade his bodye was burnt." --> This means, in short, that the person who has committed an offense more serious than robbery would have their hair cut off, which would then be nailed to the front of the King of the tribe's house. The offender would then be beaten by staves until their bones broke. They would then be flung onto a fire, still alive. If they were being executed for robbery then they would be beaten over the head until they died and flung on to the fire dead.

"The Settinge At Meat - THey sett on matts round about ye howse ye men by them selves and ye weomen by ther selves ye weomen bringe to every one a dish of meat for the better sort never eates togither in one dish, when he hath eaten what he will, or that which was given him, for he looks for no [meat] second corse he setts doune his dish by him and mum[b]leth ceartayne words to himself in maner of [a saying grace] givinge thankes, if any leaft ye weomen gather it up & ether keeps it till ye next meall, or gives it to ye porer sort, if any be ther." --> This basically just says that the men-folk eat first with the women bringing the food. The men will either eat until they are full or until there is no more food. If any left-overs then the women remove them and keep them for another occasion. It also says of how they say grace before eating. Any left over food can also be given to people poorer than themselves if they wish it.

"The Differences Amounge Them - THe King is not know by any differenc[e] from other of ye [better] chefe sort in ye cuntry but only when he cums to any of ther howses they present him with copper Beads or Vitall, and shew much reverence to him. The preest[s] are shaven on ye right side of ther head close to the scull only a litle locke leaft at ye eare and sum of thes have beards But ye common people have no beards at all for they pull away ther hares as fast as it growes. And they also cutt ye heares on ye right side of ther heade that it might not hinder them by flappinge about ther bow stringe, when they draw it to shoott, But on ye other side they lett it grow & have a long locke hanginge doune ther shoulder." --> This is a very useful account as it tells us everything about the appearances of the Powhatan people as well as distinguishing between the different tribesmen and their statuses.

"The Pastimes - WHen they meet at feasts or otherwise they use sprorts much like to our heare in England as ther daunsinge, which is like our darbysher Hornepipe a man first and then a woman, and so through them all, hanging all in a round, ther is one which stand in the midest with a pipe and a rattell with which when he beginns to make a noyes all the rest Gigetts about wriinge ther neckes and stampinge on ye ground. They use beside football play, which wemen and young boyes doe much play at. The men never They make ther Gooles as ours only they never fight nor pull one another doune. The men play with a litel balle lettinge it fall out of ther hand and striketh it with the tope of his foot, and he that can strike the ball furthest winns that they play for." --> This extract really just explains the different traditions of the Powhatan tribe and just how fascinating they are.

These different extracts all assist one another in describing the Powhatan tribe and their cultural beliefs.

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