Captain John Smith-adventurer, colonizer, explorer author, and mapmaker--also ranks among America's first historians. Writing from England some fifteen years later, about events that he did not personally witness, he tells a tale that had come to himat second hand. What indications of modesty or lack of it are present? What pulled the settlers through?
The day before Captain Smith returned for England with the ships [October 4,1609], Captain Davis arrived in a small pinnace [light sailing vessel], with some sixteen proper men more...For the savages [Indians] no sooner understood Smith was gone but they all revolted, and did spoil and murder all they encountered...
Now we all found the loss of Captain Smith; yea, his greatest maligners could now curse his loss. As for corn provision and contribution from the savages, we [now] had nothing but mortal wounds, with clubs and arrows. As for our hogs, hens, goats, sheep, horses, and what lived, our commanders, officers, and savages daily consumed them. Some small proportions sometimes we tasted, till all was devoured; then swords, arms, [fowling] pieces, or anything we traded with the savages, whose cruel fingers were so often imbrued in our blood that what by their cruelty, our Governor's indiscretion, and the loss of our ships, of five hundred [persons] within six months after Captain Smith's departure there remained not past sixty men, women, and children, most miserable and poor creatures. And those were preserved for the most part by roots, herbs, acorns, walnuts, berries, now and then a little fish. They that had starch [courage] in these extremities made no small use of it; yea, [they ate] even the very skins of our horses.
Nay, so great was our famine that a savage we slew and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and ate him; and so did divers one another boiled and stewed, with roots and herbs. And one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered [salted], and had eaten part of her before it was known, for which he was executed, as
he well deserved. Now whether she was better roasted, boiled, or carbonadoed [broiled], I know not; but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of.
This was the time which still to this day  we called the starving time. It were too vile to say, and scarce to be believed, what we endured. But the occasion was our own, for want of providence, industry, and government, and not the barrenness and defect of the country, as is generally supposed. For till then in three years . . .we had never from England provisions sufficient for six months, though it seemed by the bills of loading sufficient was sent us, such a glutton is the sea, and such good fellows the mariners. We as little tasted of the great proportion sent us, as they of our want and miseries. Yet notwithstanding they ever overswayed and ruled the business, though we endured all that is said, and chiefly lived on what this good country naturally afforded, yet had we been even in Paradise itself with these governors, it would not have been much better with us. Yet there were amongst us who, had they had the government as Captain Smith appointed but . . . could not maintain it, would surely have kept us from those extremities of miseries.
The American Spirit. Thomas A. Bailey & David M. Kennedy. Volume I. D.C. Heath Company: Toronto, 1994. (p.28-29)
DOCUMENT 2-Woodcarving (c. early 17th century)
DOCUMENT 3- Woodcarving (c. early 17th century)
DOCUMENT 4-Charles C. Mann 1491
Like a Club Between the Eyes
According to family lore, my great-grandmother's great-grandmother's great-grandfather was the first white person hanged in America. His name was John Billington. He came on the Mayflower, which anchored off the coast of Massachusetts on November 9, 1620. Billington was not a Puritan; within six months of arrival he also became the first white person in America to be tried for complaining about the police. "He is a knave," William Bradford, the colony's governor, wrote of Billington, "and so will live and die." What one historian called Billington's "troublesome career" ended in 1630, when he was hanged for murder. My family has always said that he was framed—but we would say that, wouldn't we?
A few years ago it occurred to me that my ancestor and everyone else in the colony had voluntarily enlisted in a venture that brought them to New England without food or shelter six weeks before winter. Half the 102 people on the Mayflower made it through to spring, which to me was amazing. How, I wondered, did they survive?
In his history of Plymouth Colony, Bradford provided the answer: by robbing Indian houses and graves. The Mayflower first hove to at Cape Cod. An armed company staggered out. Eventually it found a recently deserted Indian settlement. The newcomers—hungry, cold, sick—dug up graves and ransacked houses, looking for underground stashes of corn. "And sure it was God's good providence that we found this corn," Bradford wrote, "for else we know not how we should have done." (He felt uneasy about the thievery, though.) When the colonists came to Plymouth, a month later, they set up shop in another deserted Indian village. All through the coastal forest the Indians had "died on heapes, as they lay in their houses," the English trader Thomas Morton noted. "And the bones and skulls upon the severall places of their habitations made such a spectacle" that to Morton the Massachusetts woods seemed to be "a new found Golgotha"—the hill of executions in Roman Jerusalem.
To the Pilgrims' astonishment, one of the corpses they exhumed on Cape Cod had blond hair. A French ship had been wrecked there several years earlier. The Patuxet Indians imprisoned a few survivors. One of them supposedly learned enough of the local language to inform his captors that God would destroy them for their misdeeds. The Patuxet scoffed at the threat. But the Europeans carried a disease, and they bequeathed it to their jailers. The epidemic (probably of viral hepatitis, according to a study by Arthur E. Spiess, an archaeologist at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and Bruce D. Spiess, the director of clinical research at the Medical College of Virginia) took years to exhaust itself and may have killed 90 percent of the people in coastal New England. It made a huge difference to American history. "The good hand of God favored our beginnings," Bradford mused, by "sweeping away great multitudes of the natives ... that he might make room for us."
By the time my ancestor set sail on the Mayflower, Europeans had been visiting New England for more than a hundred years. English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese mariners regularly plied the coastline, trading what they could, occasionally kidnapping the inhabitants for slaves. New England, the Europeans saw, was thickly settled and well defended. In 1605 and 1606 Samuel de Champlain visited Cape Cod, hoping to establish a French base. He abandoned the idea. Too many people already lived there. A year later Sir Ferdinando Gorges—British despite his name—tried to establish an English community in southern Maine. It had more founders than Plymouth and seems to have been better organized. Confronted by numerous well-armed local Indians, the settlers abandoned the project within months. The Indians at Plymouth would surely have been an equal obstacle to my ancestor and his ramshackle expedition had disease not intervened.
Faced with such stories, historians have long wondered how many people lived in the Americas at the time of contact. "Debated since Columbus attempted a partial census on Hispaniola in 1496," William Denevan has written, this "remains one of the great inquiries of history." (In 1976 Denevan assembled and edited an entire book on the subject, The Native Population of the Americas in 1492.) The first scholarly estimate of the indigenous population was made in 1910 by James Mooney, a distinguished ethnographer at the Smithsonian Institution. Combing through old documents, he concluded that in 1491 North America had 1.15 million inhabitants. Mooney's glittering reputation ensured that most subsequent researchers accepted his figure uncritically.
That changed in 1966, when Henry F. Dobyns published "Estimating Aboriginal American Population: An Appraisal of Techniques With a New Hemispheric Estimate," in the journal Current Anthropology. Despite the carefully neutral title, his argument was thunderous, its impact long-lasting. In the view of James Wilson, the author of The Earth Shall Weep (1998), a history of indigenous Americans, Dobyns's colleagues "are still struggling to get out of the crater that paper left in anthropology." Not only anthropologists were affected. Dobyns's estimate proved to be one of the opening rounds in today's culture wars.
Dobyns began his exploration of pre-Columbian Indian demography in the early 1950s, when he was a graduate student. At the invitation of a friend, he spent a few months in northern Mexico, which is full of Spanish-era missions. There he poked through the crumbling leather-bound ledgers in which Jesuits recorded local births and deaths. Right away he noticed how many more deaths there were. The Spaniards arrived, and then Indians died—in huge numbers, at incredible rates. It hit him, Dobyns told me recently, "like a club right between the eyes."
It took Dobyns eleven years to obtain his Ph.D. Along the way he joined a rural-development project in Peru, which until colonial times was the seat of the Incan empire. Remembering what he had seen at the northern fringe of the Spanish conquest, Dobyns decided to compare it with figures for the south. He burrowed into the papers of the Lima cathedral and read apologetic Spanish histories. The Indians in Peru, Dobyns concluded, had faced plagues from the day the conquistadors showed up—in fact, before then: smallpox arrived around 1525, seven years ahead of the Spanish. Brought to Mexico apparently by a single sick Spaniard, it swept south and eliminated more than half the population of the Incan empire. Smallpox claimed the Incan dictator Huayna Capac and much of his family, setting off a calamitous war of succession. So complete was the chaos that Francisco Pizarro was able to seize an empire the size of Spain and Italy combined with a force of 168 men.
Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618—all ravaged the remains of Incan culture. Dobyns was the first social scientist to piece together this awful picture, and he naturally rushed his findings into print. Hardly anyone paid attention. But Dobyns was already working on a second, related question: If all those people died, how many had been living there to begin with? Before Columbus, Dobyns calculated, the Western Hemisphere held ninety to 112 million people. Another way of saying this is that in 1491 more people lived in the Americas than in Europe.
His argument was simple but horrific. It is well known that Native Americans had no experience with many European diseases and were therefore immunologically unprepared—"virgin soil," in the metaphor of epidemiologists. What Dobyns realized was that such diseases could have swept from the coastlines initially visited by Europeans to inland areas controlled by Indians who had never seen a white person. The first whites to explore many parts of the Americas may therefore have encountered places that were already depopulated. Indeed, Dobyns argued, they must have done so.
Peru was one example, the Pacific Northwest another. In 1792 the British navigator George Vancouver led the first European expedition to survey Puget Sound. He found a vast charnel house: human remains "promiscuously scattered about the beach, in great numbers." Smallpox, Vancouver's crew discovered, had preceded them. Its few survivors, second lieutenant Peter Puget noted, were "most terribly pitted ... indeed many have lost their Eyes." In Pox Americana, (2001), Elizabeth Fenn, a historian at George Washington University, contends that the disaster on the northwest coast was but a small part of a continental pandemic that erupted near Boston in 1774 and cut down Indians from Mexico to Alaska.
Because smallpox was not endemic in the Americas, colonials, too, had not acquired any immunity. The virus, an equal-opportunity killer, swept through the Continental Army and stopped the drive into Quebec. The American Revolution would be lost, Washington and other rebel leaders feared, if the contagion did to the colonists what it had done to the Indians. "The small Pox! The small Pox!" John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail. "What shall We do with it?" In retrospect, Fenn says, "One of George Washington's most brilliant moves was to inoculate the army against smallpox during the Valley Forge winter of '78." Without inoculation smallpox could easily have given the United States back to the British.
So many epidemics occurred in the Americas, Dobyns argued, that the old data used by Mooney and his successors represented population nadirs. From the few cases in which before-and-after totals are known with relative certainty, Dobyns estimated that in the first 130 years of contact about 95 percent of the people in the Americas died—the worst demographic calamity in recorded history.
Inventing by the Millions
On May 30, 1539, Hernando de Soto landed his private army near Tampa Bay, in Florida. Soto, as he was called, was a novel figure: half warrior, half venture capitalist. He had grown very rich very young by becoming a market leader in the nascent trade for Indian slaves. The profits had helped to fund Pizarro's seizure of the Incan empire, which had made Soto wealthier still. Looking quite literally for new worlds to conquer, he persuaded the Spanish Crown to let him loose in North America. He spent one fortune to make another. He came to Florida with 200 horses, 600 soldiers, and 300 pigs.
From today's perspective, it is difficult to imagine the ethical system that would justify Soto's actions. For four years his force, looking for gold, wandered through what is now Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas, wrecking almost everything it touched. The inhabitants often fought back vigorously, but they had never before encountered an army with horses and guns. Soto died of fever with his expedition in ruins; along the way his men had managed to rape, torture, enslave, and kill countless Indians. But the worst thing the Spaniards did, some researchers say, was entirely without malice—bring the pigs.
According to Charles Hudson, an anthropologist at the University of Georgia who spent fifteen years reconstructing the path of the expedition, Soto crossed the Mississippi a few miles downstream from the present site of Memphis. It was a nervous passage: the Spaniards were watched by several thousand Indian warriors. Utterly without fear, Soto brushed past the Indian force into what is now eastern Arkansas, through thickly settled land—"very well peopled with large towns," one of his men later recalled, "two or three of which were to be seen from one town." Eventually the Spaniards approached a cluster of small cities, each protected by earthen walls, sizeable moats, and deadeye archers. In his usual fashion, Soto brazenly marched in, stole food, and marched out.
After Soto left, no Europeans visited this part of the Mississippi Valley for more than a century. Early in 1682 whites appeared again, this time Frenchmen in canoes. One of them was Réné-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. The French passed through the area where Soto had found cities cheek by jowl. It was deserted—La Salle didn't see an Indian village for 200 miles. About fifty settlements existed in this strip of the Mississippi when Soto showed up, according to Anne Ramenofsky, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico. By La Salle's time the number had shrunk to perhaps ten, some probably inhabited by recent immigrants. Soto "had a privileged glimpse" of an Indian world, Hudson says. "The window opened and slammed shut. When the French came in and the record opened up again, it was a transformed reality. A civilization crumbled. The question is, how did this happen?"
The question is even more complex than it may seem. Disaster of this magnitude suggests epidemic disease. In the view of Ramenofsky and Patricia Galloway, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, the source of the contagion was very likely not Soto's army but its ambulatory meat locker: his 300 pigs. Soto's force itself was too small to be an effective biological weapon. Sicknesses like measles and smallpox would have burned through his 600 soldiers long before they reached the Mississippi. But the same would not have held true for the pigs, which multiplied rapidly and were able to transmit their diseases to wildlife in the surrounding forest. When human beings and domesticated animals live close together, they trade microbes with abandon. Over time mutation spawns new diseases: avian influenza becomes human influenza, bovine rinderpest becomes measles. Unlike Europeans, Indians did not live in close quarters with animals—they domesticated only the dog, the llama, the alpaca, the guinea pig, and, here and there, the turkey and the Muscovy duck. In some ways this is not surprising: the New World had fewer animal candidates for taming than the Old. Moreover, few Indians carry the gene that permits adults to digest lactose, a form of sugar abundant in milk. Non-milk-drinkers, one imagines, would be less likely to work at domesticating milk-giving animals. But this is guesswork. The fact is that what scientists call zoonotic disease was little known in the Americas. Swine alone can disseminate anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, taeniasis, trichinosis, and tuberculosis. Pigs breed exuberantly and can transmit diseases to deer and turkeys. Only a few of Soto's pigs would have had to wander off to infect the forest.
Indeed, the calamity wrought by Soto apparently extended across the whole Southeast. The Coosa city-states, in western Georgia, and the Caddoan-speaking civilization, centered on the Texas-Arkansas border, disintegrated soon after Soto appeared. The Caddo had had a taste for monumental architecture: public plazas, ceremonial platforms, mausoleums. After Soto's army left, notes Timothy K. Perttula, an archaeological consultant in Austin, Texas, the Caddo stopped building community centers and began digging community cemeteries. Between Soto's and La Salle's visits, Perttula believes, the Caddoan population fell from about 200,000 to about 8,500—a drop of nearly 96 percent. In the eighteenth century the tally shrank further, to 1,400. An equivalent loss today in the population of New York City would reduce it to 56,000—not enough to fill Yankee Stadium. "That's one reason whites think of Indians as nomadic hunters," says Russell Thornton, an anthropologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. "Everything else—all the heavily populated urbanized societies—was wiped out."
Could a few pigs truly wreak this much destruction? Such apocalyptic scenarios invite skepticism. As a rule, viruses, microbes, and parasites are rarely lethal on so wide a scale—a pest that wipes out its host species does not have a bright evolutionary future. In its worst outbreak, from 1347 to 1351, the European Black Death claimed only a third of its victims. (The rest survived, though they were often disfigured or crippled by its effects.) The Indians in Soto's path, if Dobyns, Ramenofsky, and Perttula are correct, endured losses that were incomprehensibly greater.
DOCUMENT5- Bennett, William J. (2007). America: The Last Best Hope: Volume I and Volume II
“…The Aztec practice of human sacrifice stunned the conquerors. Each year, thousands of victims would be taken to the top of magnificent pyramids and their hearts would be cut out and offered up to the Aztec gods.”
“…Then came Captain John Smith. He quickly imposed firm discipline on the colony, discarding the ineffectual sharing system and replacing it with incentives for hard work. He persuaded the colonists to raise maize, which went a long way toward solving the
food shortages; acre for acre, Indian corn produces more grain than any other cereal crop. The young and daring Smith was an English patriot: “Why should the brave Spanish soldier brag the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shineth on one part or other we have conquered for our king?” Smith was determined to succeed for his king. He favorably negotiated with Chief Powhatan, leader of the AlgonquianIndians. In 1608, according to legend, Smith was even saved from death by the chief ’s young daughter, Pocahontas, when he had displeased her father.
Her name means “little wanton,” and it well describes the high-spirited young girl who would frolic, doing cartwheels naked among the stunned soldiers of the English camp at Jamestown. But it wasn’t Smith she fell for. Pocahontas set her cap, or feather, for the Englishman John Rolfe. It was Rolfe whom she married, after she converted to Christianity and was baptized. And it was with Rolfe she sailed off to England. There, she was presented to King James and the Royal Court. When she died there in 1617 and was buried in Gravesend, she was genuinely mourned on both sides of the Atlantic.
Captain Smith may have left the best tribute when he said she was “the instrument to [preserve] this colonie from death, famine, and utter confusion.” Even today, we can see the sprightly, highly intelligent girl behind the façade of the Elizabethan lady of fashion, who stares out at us from her stiff official portrait. When Captain Smith returned to England because of an injury, he was succeededby less able men. In short order, the Jamestown colony sank into near collapse. It was Rolfe who saved the colony this time—by introducing yet another important New World
crop in 1612: tobacco. Reputedly, he introduced a milder tasting variety, Nicotina tobaccum, which he brought in seed form from the West Indies. The natives near Virginia cultivated Nicotina rustica, a much coarser variety. Rolfe hardly could have pleased the king. James famously hated tobacco. He even wrote a pamphlet titled A Counterblaste to Tobacco, condemning its use: “a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull
to the nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the lungs.” Thus, James became one of history’s first antismoking crusaders. But money is money, and King James’s unyielding opposition appears to have had no impact on the thriving tobacco trade. Within a decade, the Virginia colonists were exporting as much as forty thousand pounds of broadleaf back to England. Tobacco culture would have a profound influence on the development of Virginia and the South. Younger men and women from the British Isles and Europe were so eager to get a new start in America, they would sign up for a period of five or seven years’ labor as indentured servants in the New World, in return for their passage across
the ocean. The vast majority of early settlers in Virginia in the 1600s were white indentured servants. But tobacco requires intensive cultivation. Once their indebtedness was over, these indentured servants were eager to escape the intense heat and the backbreaking labor. The turnover would increase the desire for a more permanent sort of labor slaves from Africa. In 1671, Sir William Berkeley listed the number of indentured servants as about eight thousand, slaves at two thousand, and freemen at forty five thousand. Within a few decades, slaves would begin to outnumber the
indentured servants from England. This is the heart of the American paradox. Better conditions and greater liberty for indentured servants would come only at the expense of the unoffending Africans.
Tobacco farming would also lead to “land hunger” as the crop seriously depleted the soil. Virginians would constantly be searching for new lands to expand their holdings. This incessant grasping for new lands would be the source of many conflicts with the Indian tribes.
Captain John Smith’s attempts to establish good relations with the tribes were successful at the start. Smith showed a genuine interest in Indian culture, commenting respectfully in his 1616 book, A Description of New England. But these good relations were not to last. Just as the Europeans were divided into fiercely competitive nations, with rivalries between Spain, France, and England being exported to America, so were the Indian
tribes set against each other. All too often, attempts to befriend one tribe would be taken as a warlike gesture by that tribe’s Indian enemies. In 1619, three events occurred that would shape the future of Virginia.
(1) Englishwomen arrived at Jamestown to begin the transition from mere trading outpost to a genuinely self-sustaining community.
(2) Twenty black Africans debarked from a Dutch vessel to begin their people’s long years of “unrequited toil” in America.
And, (3) on instructions from the Virginia Company in London, the colonists elected representatives for the first colonial assembly in the New World. The Virginia House of Burgesses met on 30 July 1619.
The twenty two members had been elected by all the free male colonists aged seventeen and older. For its time, this was an extraordinarily democratic procedure. From this point, Virginians would be governed under English common law largely by lawmakers of their own choosing.
The Virginia Company of London’s reforming leaders showed serious concern with the colony’s heavy reliance on tobacco. They encouraged colonists to grow more and varied crops and to begin to diversify local industry. When in 1622, however, Indians attacked a local ironworks, war spread throughout the far flung colony. More than three hundred settlers men, women, and children were slaughtered. This Great Massacre
led to the assumption of direct royal control over the colony. The king appointed a royal governor. Still, he did not dissolve the House of Burgesses or even reverse the process of colonial self-government. Even in these first conflicts with the Indian tribes, the English held three distinct advantages. They were politically unified, they had greater numbers, and they were experienced in the use of firearms. Again and again, these advantages would prevail over the Indians’ greater familiarity with the forests and rivers, their warrior culture, and their typical surprise tactic of strike and disappear…”
“…Calling their settlement Plymouth, the name Captain John Smith had earlier given it, the Pilgrims proceeded in the spring to plant for a fall harvest. They were helped by an English-speaking Indian, Squanto, who taught them how to plant corn and to catch fish.Without Squanto’s generous help, all the Pilgrims might have died…”