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Wétiko, Jamestown styley

May 2, 2013

If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause. (Lyrics.)

Another quickie, originally from Tumblr (which is about my level of concentration lately).  Another example of how things are unlikely to end well for our societies if we go for willful ignorance rather than learning from history:

STARVING SETTLERS IN JAMESTOWN COLONY RESORTED TO CANNIBALISM ›

This might be the first specimen that provides evidence for cannibalism, but Owsley is pretty sure there are more to come. Percy’s letter also describes how, as president of the colony, he tortured and burned alive a man who had confessed to killing, salting and eating his pregnant wife—so the remains of this woman, along with other victims of cannibalism, may still be waiting to be found underground. “It’s fairly convincing, now that we see this one, that this wasn’t the only case,” he says. “There are other examples mentioned here and there in the literature. So the only question is: Where are the rest of the bodies?”

This is one thing that really gets me about this BIG NEWS. It’s not like there aren’t a number of primary source accounts that this happened. Along with them just murdering each other when times got really tough, which was also treated as BIG NEWS several years back when they turned up remains with musket balls stuck in their bones.

There was also amazement at around the same time, at further evidence that people got shot for “defecting” to live in Native towns, where there were things like food and women—and, erm, a certain lack of forced labor. Also plenty of primary source evidence for this. They were all indentured to the Virginia Company starting out, besides the gentlemen investors, and could be killed for running off. See also how torturing and burning people alive was considered a fit punishment for crimes.

See also: Jamestown Settlers Were Cannibals and More Reasons the Colony Was Hell

It really is amazing they ever succeeded.

Another factor that got left out: as fairly densely populated as the Virginia coast was then, one of the major reasons nobody was living on that bit already was that there was no potable water available. Jamestown was taking its water straight out of a brackish river that gets bacterial blooms in hot weather (which there is plenty of there). Not very good survival planning, overall.

Also consistently omitted: the “Starving Time” was such a big problem, largely because they’d pissed off the locals so badly that they stopped giving them food. They had to be taught how to hunt and fish, and farming was a much lower priority than looking for gold. (Yes, the people who were supposedly attacking them nonstop for no reason tried to teach them how to get their own food. And kept taking in runaways.) They started a colony with no farmers:

The food from the Indians was critical to keeping the colony alive. No farming implements have been found at the archeological site – they relied on the Indians for food in those early years.

ETA: I didn’t say explicitly, but this power structure also meant that the indentured commoners couldn’t just say, “Sod this, I’m going to try to grow some food instead of  looking for gold that isn’t there.” /ETA

That “more reasons the colony was hell” article was not too surprising in ignoring that there were actual reasons the locals weren’t happy with those particular colonists. Act belligerent, and then expect you to keep giving them all their food in a severe drought? Ha.

To put it simply: this is the way they were behaving amongst themselves, not even toward people they were viewing as “heathen savages” and a potential source of slave labor as part of the colony’s business plan. Yeah.

Also, another disturbing thing, hinted at by the “more reasons the colony was hell” piece?

It Was Originally All Men

Three shiploads of men docked at Chesapeake Bay on April 26, 1607. Three weeks later, they had settled Jamestown, an unused bit of land the Native Americans had deemed undesirable. The next year, two brave women set foot in the colony, but then it took another 13 years for a crop of young unmarried or widowed women to arrive.

So, this starving bunch of squabbling colonists decided to eat a teenage girl, and apparently also the pregnant woman in that first quote. There were almost no British women (I’d guess Percy would have mentioned if the pregnant woman had been Native), so these fine specimens of humanity killed and ate more than one. I wouldn’t place good chances on the survival of anyone else some of these folks thought they could overpower, either.

Wétiko, anyone?!

I guess what gets me the most, overall, is the total public amazement that meets every bit of further evidence that these weren’t nice people, overall, and the society that produced them was just plain brutal in some ways. Colonial ventures do not begin in “nice” societies, and do not tend to attract “nice” people.

That is so contrary to the noble motives propaganda that still gets taught as history (maybe especially in Virginia), unless you dig some and start reading things from the people who were there. That presumed glory and grandeur pretty quickly falls flat, once you actually look past the propaganda. A lot of it’s not even “good” or really plausible propaganda, but people want to believe it.

ETA: More about the mythology, which inevitably came up elsewhere:  Wétiko, Jamestown styley (vs. New England)

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