Angela: A Slave Who Arrived in Jamestown in 1619

Jamestown discovery

400 years ago, “20 And odd Negroes”-they were slaves–arrived in Jamestown.  One of them was named Angela.  DeNeen Brown writes about Angela in her recent piece at The Washington Post.  It draws on the work of James Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation.  Here is a taste:

By the time Angela was brought to Jamestown’s muddy shores in 1619, she had survived war and capture in West Africa, a forced march of more than 100 miles to the sea, a miserable Portuguese slave ship packed with 350 other Africans and an attack by pirates during the journey to the Americas.

“All of that,” marveled historian James Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, “before she is put aboard the Treasurer,” one of two British privateers that delivered the first Africans to the English colony of Virginia.

Now, as the country marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of those first slaves, historians are trying to find out as much as possible about Angela, the first African woman documented in Virginia. They see her as a seminal figure in American history — a symbol of 246 years of brutal subjugation that left millions of men, women and children enslaved at the start of the Civil War.

Two years ago, researchers launched an archaeological investigation in Jamestown at the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America to find any surviving evidence of Angela.

She is listed in the 1624 and 1625 census as living in the household of Capt. William Pierce, first as “Angelo a Negar” and then as “Angela Negro woman in by Treasurer.” By then, she had survived two other harrowing events: a Powhatan Indian attack in 1622 that left 347 colonists dead and the famine that followed.

Yet little is known about her beyond those facts.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Karen Kupperman

Pocahontas and the English BoysKaren Kupperman is Silver Professor of History Emerita at New York University. This interview is based on her new book, Pocahontas and the English Boys: Caught between Cultures in Early Virginia (NYU Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Pocahontas and the English Boys?

KK: In the years around 2007, marking the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding, I spoke to many groups of high school history teachers, and those experiences made me see that they needed this story whose actors played key roles and were the ages of the kids they teach. As I worked on the book, I realized that the story has a broader impact and that it contributes to histories of consciousness and boundary-crossing in the early modern period.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Pocahontas and the English Boys?

KK: Native and colonial leaders in the early colonies left kids with the other to learn the language and culture from the inside. The English saw kids as malleable and somewhat expendable, but they never foresaw that these go-betweens would form close relationships with the Virginia Natives who sheltered them. Colonial leaders ultimately came to mistrust them and disregarded their information, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

JF: Why do we need to read Pocahontas and the English Boys?

KK: Virginia’s beginning as an English colony has been seen as inferior, especially after New Englanders began to push the Pilgrims as the superior founders in the nineteenth century. Pocahontas and the English Boys works toward getting beyond the dominant narrative and finding the varied stories of people on all sides in these colonial situations, and how they coped with many different kinds of challenges. Through Pocahontas’s and the boys’ experiences we see Virginia’s Native people as real human beings with feelings and doubts.

To reinforce these insights, I was able to do a new transcription from the original pages of Henry Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, which is in the Harlan Crown library in Dallas. This is the first edition from the original manuscript since 1872, and it presents the memoir as it was actually written, correcting errors in the version we have all been using. Henry Spelman, Relation of Virginia, is out as a separate book from NYU Press.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

KK: I went to Cambridge University for my PhD in 1973 expecting to become a Tudor-Stuart historian. But as I worked on my dissertation on eyewitness writing about the land and the people of America in the earliest period of English colonization, I came to think of myself as an American historian. Finally, through my scholarship and teaching, I realized that I am an Atlantic historian, meaning that relations around the Atlantic as well as those between London and Boston or Williamsburg are crucial to true understanding. I began the Atlantic history program at NYU and those of us at NYU construe the field broadly, moving as far as possible from the little boxes early American history had been constrained by.

JF: What is your next project?

KK: My next project looks at music as a mode of communication. In encounter situations where the new arrivals and the Native people did not have knowledge of the other’s language, participants on both sides sang and played musical instruments. This happened around the world. Music indicated peaceful intentions, but it could also be used as a ruse to cover hostile plans. Some intellectuals, such as Thomas Harriot who had been in Roanoke as a young man, began to think that music might be a way to create a universal language that could be understood by all. Harriot created a syllabary for coastal Carolina Algonquian and argued that recording languages by sound rather than meaning would facilitate universal communication.

JF: Thanks, Karen!

Were the “20. and Odd Negroes” Slaves or Indentured Servants?

jamestownvasign

Is this sign factually correct?

In an interview with Gayle King of CBS News, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam referred to the first enslaved Africans to Virginia in 1619 as “indentured servants.”

Blogger Kevin Levin has a short post on Northam’s comment here.  A taste:

At the outset of the interview the governor references the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans to Virginia’s shores in 1619, only he chose to refer to these slaves as indentured servants. King quickly responded by correcting the governor that he meant to say slavery. My social media streams quickly lit up with reactions to the oversight.

They included some people who suggested that the governor was correct in referring to the first Africans as indentured servants. They noted that a system of African slavery took time to evolve as the primary form of labor in colonial Virginia. This is true. Historians such as Ira Berlin have shown that for much of the seventeenth century African slaves worked side by side Native Americans and even white indentured servants. It was even possible for a small number of Africans to gain their freedom.

The larger question, however, of how Virginia went from – in the words of historian Edmund Morgan, ‘a society with slaves’ to a ‘slave society’ – is separate from the status of the Africans who arrived in 1619. Earlier today historian Rebecca Ann Goetz clarified this question with a twitter thread clarifying that these Africans were indeed slaves.

Read the entire post here.

Rebecca Goetz‘s tweet thread is worth reading.  She is a history professor at New York University and the author of The Baptism of Early Virginia: How Christianity Created Race.  Here it is:

Addendum from reader Matt Gottlieb:

While I appreciate the post, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources retired this sign and put in a replacement in 2015. The updated marker includes newer research that emerged since the original’s 1992 installation. An image of it may be seen here: https://www.latimes.com/dp-pictures-african-landing-day-commemorated-on-fort-monroe-20150820-photogallery.html

Please contact me if you have any questions. Physical markers, to borrow the cliche on political polling, are snapshots in time.

The “First Africans Tour” at Historic Jamestowne

jamestown

2019 is the 400th anniversary of the first Africans to arrive in the Jamestown colony.  The Historic Jamestowne historical site is commemorating the arrival of these Africans and the legacy of slavery in the settlement with its “First Africans” tour.  Learn more in this Associated Press article.

A taste:

On a recent afternoon, tour guide Justin Bates pointed to the spot where historic Jamestown’s legislature first convened in July 1619. He then gestured toward a spot nearby where some of the first slaves in English North America arrived a few weeks later.

“Freedom over there,” Bates told visitors near the banks of Virginia’s James River. “Slavery over here.”

Jamestown has long been associated with the legend of Pocahontas and more recently as a place where a harsh winter turned some colonists into cannibals. But the historic site is now offering a regular tour that encourages visitors to consider the beginnings of American slavery.

The “First Africans” tour is the first of its kind at Historic Jamestowne, a heritage site at the location of the 1607 James Fort. But it’s part of a much larger reckoning over slavery, an institution that took root in England’s first permanent colony 12 years after its founding.

In January, President Donald Trump signed into a law the “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.” It requires a commission to develop programs that acknowledge the Africans arrival in 1619 and slavery’s impact.

Meanwhile, Virginia has launched its 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution. It recognizes the first English-style legislature in North America in Jamestown and other historical milestones from four centuries ago, including the Africans’ arrival.

In 1619, the Africans came on two ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer, that had recently raided what’s believed to have been a Spanish slave vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. Sailing into the Chesapeake Bay to what is now Hampton, Virginia, the ships traded more than 30 Africans for food and supplies.

Read the rest here.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 2

Tour

Today the teachers got a tour of early American Princeton

Monday was a long and busy day at the Princeton Seminar.

We began with a morning of lecture and discussion about how we should think about “colonial America.”  I tried to get the teachers to think historically about the colonies and try to rid themselves of a Whig-centered interpretation of the period.  In the process we spent a lot of time talking about the difference between a “civics” approach to the past and a “historical thinking” approach to the past.   I challenged the teachers to try to understand the colonial American past on its own terms and, at least for a week, pretend that the American Revolution never happened.

I also introduced the teachers to what has been called “The New Indian” history.  What might our understanding of colonial America look like if we examine it from the perspective of native Americans?  I focused this lecture around three concepts: “Facing East” (Dan Richter), the “Indians’ New World” (James Merrell), and the “Middle Ground” (Richard White).

Finally, we got started with a lecture on the colonial Chesapeake and tried to make sense of why so many people starved to death in the early years of Jamestown.  We will be finishing this discussion today by carrying the Virginia story through Bacon’s Rebellion.

In the afternoon, Nate McAlister introduced the teachers to their lesson-plan assignment. Every teacher needs to pick a primary source from the colonial era and write a lesson that they can use with their students.   It is always fun to see the documents that they choose and the lessons that they design.

After dinner we split into two groups and got a historical tour of Princeton.  My tour guide, Leslie, was excellent.  She took us through Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the home of Albert Einstein, the home of Richard Stockton (Morven), and the Princeton Battlefield Monuments.  We got caught in the middle of a thunderstorm while visiting Einstein’s house, but Leslie pushed us through.  There we were–standing outside of Morven in the pouring ran listening to Leslie expound upon the life of Stockton.  These teachers are real troopers!

About half of us ended the night at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room at Princeton’s Nassau Inn.  This is the place where the Princeton Seminar goes to solve all world problems. Tonight was no exception!

Looking forward to day 3!  Stay tuned.

The National Endowment for the Humanities Helped Archaeologist William Kelso and His Team Find Jamestown

jamestown3

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund important programs.

It is probably the greatest archaeological discovery in American history. For over two hundred years historians and archaeologists had assumed that Jamestown, the first successful English colony in America, was decaying somewhere at the bottom of the James River.  Archaeologist William Kelso had other ideas.  In 1994 he took a shovel and started digging.  With the help of over $300,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities he found the fort!

Here is a small taste of the story, courtesy of the NEH website:

…Soon joined by a rotating team of scientists, curators, and volunteers, Kelso began to uncover postholes (pits that once held upright structural timbers), old cellars, and all sorts of cultural detritus: ceramic shards, tobacco pipes, food scraps, and pieces of European armor, some of which had been modified for New World combat. By 1996, the team was confident enough in their finds to announce publicly the rediscovery of James Fort, the first settlement’s first structure, and begin aligning the physical evidence they had gathered with the sparse written records of Smith and others who lived there.

The story that the documentary and archaeological evidence tells is one of hope and industry set against the brutal realities of life in the New World. The colonists built impressive fortifications but struggled for power among themselves (the first grave found at the site contained an Englishman likely killed by a musket ball). They manufactured glass and copper beads for trade with local Powhatan tribes but never managed to establish enduring peace with the native people (Smith himself was abducted but, according to his own account, saved by Pocahontas). For the sake of claiming a share of the New World, they endured disease, the constant threat of violence, and, during the winter of 1609, hunger so dire they resorted to cannibalism.

That last grisly item—recounted in a number of seventeenth-century sources—was confirmed in 2012, when the Jamestown Rediscovery team disinterred the bones of a young English woman. Her skull bore markings consistent with what forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum describes as “postmortem processing.”

Read more here.  And here is some information about the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.

And a couple of cool videos:

For other posts in this series click here.

Virginia’s House Resolution 297 and the “Christian Heritage” of the Commonwealth

christian-american-photoA lot of Christian nation stuff has been coming across my screen in the last few days.  I have some time today to address it, so stay tuned.

First, we have the Virginia General Assembly’s House Resolution 297.  Here it is:

WHEREAS, on April 26, 1607, a chartered expedition, subsidized by the Virginia Company to establish colonies on the coast of North America, disembarked upon the banks of Cape Henry, now Virginia Beach; and 

WHEREAS, the Reverend Robert Hunt, the expedition’s official cleric, and the members of the expedition erected a wooden cross in symbolic reference to the Christian faith, invoked a public prayer of dedication, and pledged that the Gospel message would be spread throughout the region and, from that region, abroad; and

WHEREAS, the ensuing Jamestown settlement was the site of the first public communion ceremony in Virginia, in the tradition of the Lord’s Supper of the New Testament; and

WHEREAS, the Jamestown settlement was the first permanent English colony in North America and included a recognized church wherein Christian worship, teachings, and baptisms were conducted in accordance with the Gospel message, as exemplified by the baptism of Pocahontas, a member of the Powhatan tribe of Native Americans in the region; and

WHEREAS, the Judeo-Christian principles, as established in the Law of Moses and set forth from the earliest days of recorded history, of equality, human dignity, and equal protection under the law have provided an incalculable influence on law and thought throughout history, and in particular to our shared English common law tradition and Western civilization; and

WHEREAS, these same principles of equality, human dignity, and equal protection rooted in Mosaic law influenced America’s foremost Civil Rights leaders, including the esteemed Virginia Civil Rights attorney and leader Oliver White Hill, Sr., whose own paternal grandfather founded Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Richmond, which the Hill family attended and where Oliver Hill attended Sunday School; he worked diligently, influenced by his Christian faith, to end racial discrimination and helped end the doctrine of separate but equal; and

WHEREAS, according to the Pew Research Center, millions of Virginians, representing various denominations, identify as Christians, carrying on the faith traditions brought to North America by its first settlers; and

WHEREAS, thousands of churches in the Commonwealth continue to provide spiritual leadership and education; care for the poor, indigent, and homeless as commanded by the Gospel message; and conduct generous outreach in their communities; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, That the enormous influence of Christian heritage and faith throughout the Commonwealth’s 400-year history be recognized; and, be it

RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates transmit copies of this resolution to Rodney Walker and First-Landing Festivals, requesting that they further disseminate copies of this resolution to their respective constituents so that they may be apprised of the sense of the Virginia House of Delegates in this matter.

As Brooke Newman points out in a recent Washington Post op-ed, the real problem with this Resolution is not that its sponsors got their facts wrong.  (Although some do appear to be wrong).  It is how the facts are interpreted and explained.  This is an important point. Christian nationalists like David Barton and others often have their facts straight. Most of us can read from historical documents and quote them.  But this is not history.  History requires that we put those facts in context and avoid manipulating them for the purpose of making political points in the present.  As I have said a hundred times, both the left and the right are guilty here.  I have written a short primer on how think historically titled Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  It is a quick read.  Some of you may find it helpful.

The authors of this resolution are not interested in providing a full picture of the Jamestown experience.  They are politicians.  And although the resolution does not make any direct demands in terms of public policy, the very fact that these Virginia politicians feel the need to pass such a resolution implies that they are trying to lay a foundation for their view that America was somehow founded as a Christian nation and should somehow return to being one.

Anyone who has studied colonial Virginia and Jamestown cannot deny that religion played a role in its founding.  But to suggest, as this resolution does, that religious motivations were more important than economic self-interest is not fair to the historical record. (I just spent the last week with my U.S. History Survey students discussing these very points).

In addition to Newman’s op-ed, I would encourage you to read my fuller take on these matters in chapter 5 of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. The chapter titled “Were the British-American Colonies Christian Societies.”

Jamestown is Coming to the Small Screen

Barrick

Naomi Battrick will play a female settler in “Jamestown”

In England.

And it is being produced by the people who brought you Downton Abbey.

Here is a taste of an article in Variety:

“Downton Abbey” creator Carnival Films is to produce eight-part drama series “Jamestown,” which charts the early days of the first British settlers as they embark on their new lives in America.

The show, which has been commissioned by European pay TV operator Sky, is written by Bill Gallagher (“Lark Rise to Candleford,” “The Paradise”), and will go into production this month.

Leading the cast of male settlers are Max Beesley, Jason Flemyng, Dean Lennox-Kelly, Shaun Dooley, Stuart Martin, Steven Waddington, Matt Stokoe and Burn Gorman. The female settlers are played by Naomi Battrick, Sophie Rundle and Niamh Walsh.

Set in 1619, “Jamestown” follows the settlers as they establish a community in the New World. Amongst those landing onshore are a group of women destined to be married to the men of Jamestown, including three spirited women from England: Jocelyn (Battrick), Alice (Rundle) and Verity (Walsh).

Leaving their old lives behind, these women have embarked on this journey to start afresh, fulfill their dreams and become the female pioneers of an exciting new western outpost.

“Jamestown” was commissioned for Sky by head of drama, Anne Mensah, commissioning editor, Cameron Roach, and director of Sky 1, Adam MacDonald. Carnival’s Gareth Neame, Nigel Marchant and Richard Fell will executive produce, and the producer is Sue de Beauvoir. The series will be distributed by NBCUniversal Intl. Distribution.

Does anyone know if they have hired historians to consult on the film?  James Horn? Karen Kupperman?  William Kelso? Lorri Glover? Lorena Walsh?

Here’s my favorite line from the description: “Leaving their old lives behind, these women have embarked on this journey to start afresh, fulfill their dreams and become the female pioneers of an exciting new western outpost.”

Interesting.  Especially since Jamestown was a place where “dreams” went to die. Jamestown in 1619 was far from “exciting.”  And what’s the deal with calling it a “western outpost.”  They make it sound like they are producing a remake of Gunsmoke.

The Author’s Corner with Russell Lawson

Russell M. Lawson is Professor of History at Bacone College. This interview is based on his new book, The Sea Mark: Captain John Smith’s Exploration of New England (University Press of New England, 2015).
JF: What led you to write The Sea Mark: Captain John Smith’s Exploration of New England?

RL: I grew up in Oklahoma and moved to New Hampshire to attend the University of New Hampshire; there I fell in love with coastal New England. I began to study the early explorers of the New England coast, and found Captain John Smith to be the most intriguing. Yet no one had ever written at length about Smith’s voyage to New England; the focus, rather, had been on Smith’s role as a founder of Jamestown. Part of the reason for this omission is that Smith wrote at length about New England, but was vague about the particulars of his voyage. I studied him for so long that I came to know him, as it were, well enough to re-create his voyage.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Sea Mark?

RL: Captain John Smith was a visionary, seeing the northeast coast of America as a place for settlement and English fishing villages, who acted upon his ideas with a voyage in 1614 followed up by numerous books promoting the colonization of the land that he christened, New England. Smith brought all of his beliefs and assumptions—about England, Christianity, colonization, conquest—to bear in his voyage and books; New England was in his mind a reflection of himself; New England was a sea mark for English explorers and colonists.

JF: Why do we need to read The Sea Mark?

RL: After Smith departed Jamestown in 1609 and returned to England, New England became the sine qua non of his existence, the focus of his activities, dreams, plans, existence, and self. After Smith’s voyage along the New England coast in 1614, he spent years planning a return, leading a group of adventurers to establish a colony that would be the vanguard of England’s activities in America. Yet he never returned. Failure, happenstance, frustration, even pirates, kept Smith from returning to New England. He turned to the pen, writing about what he wished he was doing: journeying, exploring, fighting, fishing, establishing colonies. He became the foremost advocate of English colonization. All of his many books and activities on behalf of English colonization were based on a three month voyage from Maine to Massachusetts in 1614. The Sea Mark shows a side to John Smith, reveals a part of his life, rarely contemplated by historians and their readers.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RL: I grew up being fascinating by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and read all of the great classics in high school and college. I earned a Master’s degree in Ancient Mediterranean history. But I was also intrigued by Renaissance explorers, and after I met Linda Phillips, whose family came from New England, and we married, and I had the chance to visit and explore New England, I became a committed historian of early America, focusing in particular upon the northeast. So we moved to New Hampshire, where I earned my Ph.D. in early American history at the University of New Hampshire.

JF: What is your next project?

RL: I have signed a contract with Praeger to produce a nonfiction trade book on servants in colonial America. This book will re-create the experiences of English, Scottish, Irish, French, German, Spanish, African, and American Indian servants in colonial America. The book will focus not only on indentured servants, English felons transported to America, redemptioners arriving to America from the Rhineland, and apprenticeship, but also on servants in the Caribbean Islands, servants in English Canada, Dutch servants in New Netherlands, and American Indian and African-American servants in the colonies.

JF: Sounds intriguing! Thanks Russell.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Two Recap

Firestone Library–Princeton University

It was a full day in Princeton.  The Gilder-Lehrman “13 Colonies” seminar is off to a great start (or at least it is from my perspective as the instructor).  We started the day problemetizing the “Whig” interpretation of history and trying to imagine what the history of the American colonies might look like if we did not view the colonies solely as a precursor to the American Revolution.  Alan Taylor’s American Colonies was very helpful on this front.

We spent the rest of the morning on native American history.  Most of what we discussed was informed by Taylor’s American Colonies, James Merrell’s The Indians’ New World, and Dan Richter’s Facing East from the Indian Country.  My goal was to get these K-8 history teachers to see the world through the eyes of the native Americans, to get them to think culturally (rather than geographically) about the concept of the “New World,” and to see moments of native American agency on the “middle ground.”

After lunch we began our exploration of the early Chesapeake by exploring death and mercantilism in Jamestown.  This morning we will finish that story.

Nate McAlister is my partner in crime this week.  Yesterday afternoon we met with Stephen Ferguson, the rare book librarian at Princeton’s Firestone Library.   On Thursday afternoon we are taking the teachers into the Firestone so that they can touch, hold, read, and discuss some seventeenth and eighteenth-century books.  I get the privilege of creating the book list.  Nate and Stephen suggested that the list should include everything read by Philip Vickers Fithian.  We may also get to look at the original diaries that I worked with for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  This should be exciting.

James Horn Takes His Turn on the Jamestown Cannibalism Story

At yesterday’s New York Times op-ed page James Horn, the vice-president for research and historical interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg and the author of “A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America, chimes in on the Jamestown cannibalism story.  Here is a taste of his piece, “Consuming Colonists.”

As weeks turned to months and winter set in, the colonists became increasingly desperate. “Now all of us at James Towne,” George Percy, their leader, wrote, were “beginning to feel that sharp prick of hunger” that no one can describe “but he which has tasted the bitterness thereof.” 
To satisfy their cruel hunger, some colonists went into the woods in search of snakes and wild roots, where they were killed by the waiting warriors. In desperation, those left behind devoured their horses, dogs, cats, rats and mice, and when these ran out even their boot leather. But worse was to come.
Percy describes what happened, detailing carefully how English society unraveled in the appalling conditions. Driven out of his mind by despair, a colonist named Hugh Price, “in a furious distracted mood did come openly into the marketplace Blaspheming exclaiming and crying out that there was no god. Alleging that if there were a god he would not suffer his creatures whom he had made and framed to endure those miseries.” He, like others, met his end in the woods nearby, slain by Indians who killed as fast outside the fort “as famine and pestilence did within.”
As hunger became etched “ghastly and pale in every face,” Percy recalled, nothing “was spared to maintain Life.” Starving settlers dug up corpses out of graves and ate them. Some colonists, who died in their beds or were killed seeking food beyond the palisade, were taken up and eaten by those who found their bodies. Sometime during the winter, 14-year-old Jane died, was eaten and then discarded in a trash pit.
The famished looked hungrily on those alive who still had some meat on their bones. One settler murdered his pregnant wife “as she slept on his bosom,” then “ripped the child out of her womb and threw it into the River and after chopped the Mother in pieces and salted her for his food,” for which “barbarous” and unnatural act he was tortured to extract a confession and summarily executed.

Cannibalism in Jamestown

This semester in my British Colonial America course we read Edmund Morgan’s classic American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia.  At one point in the book Morgan described cases of cannibalism in the early years of the Jamestown settlement.  Here is the pertinent quote, from page 73:

[In Jamestown we find] the only authentic examples of cannibalism witnessed in Virginia.  One provident man chops up his wife and salts down the pieces.  Others dig up graves to ear corpses.

Indeed, during the so-called “starving time” in colonial Jamestown (winter of 1609-1610) there are at least six accounts of people describing acts of cannibalism.

According to this article in The Washington Post, we now have some skeletal remains that lend support to these accounts of cannibalism.  Here is a taste:

The proof comes in the form of fragments of a skeleton of a girl, about age 14, found in a cellar full of debris in the fort on the James River that sheltered the starving colonists. The skull, lower jaw and leg bone — all that remain — have the telltale marks of an ax or cleaver and a knife.

“Historians have to decide whether this type of thing happened,” said Owsley, who has examined thousands of skeletal remains, both archaeological and forensic. “I think that it did. We didn’t see anybody eat this flesh. But it’s very strong evidence.”

James Horn, head of research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and a historian on the colony, said the discovery “adds a significant confirmation to what was reported to have occurred at Jamestown.” Further, it’s the only physical evidence of cannibalism of Europeans in any New World colony, although, as with Jamestown, there are written accounts of the practice in others.

“I tend to be sparing in the use of words like ‘unique.’ But I think this is one of those finds that literally is,” Horn said.

About 300 people inhabited the fort in November 1609. By spring, there were only 60. The girl, most likely a maidservant but possibly the daughter of a colonist, was one of the casualties.

Her bones were unearthed last August as part of the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological project begun in 1994. About 18 inches of fill remain in the cellar, so it’s possible more of her skeleton will be found. Enough of her skull exists, however, to imagine what she might have looked like, using CT scanning, computer graphics, sculpture materials and demographic data.

While I was doing some research for this post I came across Rachel Hermann’s 2011 William and Mary Quarterly essay “The ‘tragiccall historie’: Cannibalism and Abundance in Colonial Jamestown” and her 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education essay “On Becoming a Cannibal Girl.”

From Jamestown to Jefferson

If you go to Google and type in “Religion in Jamestown” you will find a post I did on the subject back in July 2009.  Every September that post ends up being one of the most visited posts at The Way of Improvement Leads HomeI am guessing that teachers and professors give their students some kind of project that asks them to compare the New England colonies with Jamestown and, since students now go to straight to Google when doing history projects, they end up at my post.

What I tried to argue in that post, and briefly in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation, was that Christianity was important in the first successful British-American colony.  Though I am not convinced that religion was able to shape the cultural climate of Jamestown in the same way that it shaped Plymouth or Massachusetts Bay, it did play a role in the everyday life of early Virginia.

I am not the only one making this point.  Earlier this year Paul Rasor and Richard Bond, both of Virginia Wesleyan College, edited From Jefferson to Jamestown: The Evolution of Religious Freedom in Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 2011).  Here is the promotional blurb:

From Jamestown to Jefferson sheds new light on the contexts surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom—and on the emergence of the American understanding of religious freedom—by examining its deep roots in colonial Virginia’s remarkable religious diversity. Challenging traditional assumptions about life in early Virginia, the essays in this volume show that the colony was more religious, more diverse, and more tolerant than commonly supposed. The presence of groups as disparate as Quakers, African and African American slaves, and Presbyterians, alongside the established Anglicans, generated a dynamic tension between religious diversity and attempts at hegemonic authority that was apparent from Virginia’s earliest days. The contributors, all renowned scholars of Virginia history, treat in detail the complex interactions among Virginia’s varied religious groups, both in and out of power, as well as the seismic changes unleashed by the Statute’s adoption in 1786. From Jamestown to Jefferson suggests that the daily religious practices and struggles that took place in the town halls, backwoods settlements, plantation houses, and slave quarters that dotted the colonial Virginia landscape helped create a social and political space within which a new understanding of religious freedom, represented by Jefferson’s Statute, could emerge. 

Rasor and Bond have assembled an impressive list of contributors.  They include:

  • Brent Tartar on religion in 17th-century Virginia
  • Edward Bond on lived religion in colonial Virginia
  • Philip Morgan on religious diversity in colonial Virginia
  • Monica Najar on dissenters in colonial Virginia
  • Thomas Buckley on religious authority
  • Daniel Dreiscbach on religious liberty.

From Jamestown to Jefferson is the best general overview I have seen on the complex relationship between religion and society in colonial Virginia.  If you have one book in your library on the subject, this should be it.

Mark David Hall: Did America Have a Christian Founding?

Back in January we did a post on Mark David Hall’s excellent Heritage Foundation lecture on religion and the founding. The lecture is now available in print form at the Heritage Foundation website.  In the print version, Hall has referenced my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation (I don’t seem to remember him mentioning the book in the lecture):

Few doubt that Puritans were serious Christians attempting to create, in the words of Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop, “a shining city upon a hill” (a reference to Matthew 5:14). Puritans separated church and state, but they clearly thought the two institutions should work in tandem to support, protect, and promote true Christianity.

Other colonies, however, are often described as being significantly different from those in New England. Historian John Fea, for instance, contends that “the real appeal of Jamestown was economic opportunity and the very real possibility of striking it rich.”[9] It is certainly the case that colonists were attracted to the New World by economic opportunity (in New England as well as in the South), and yet even in the southern colonies the protection and promotion of Christianity was more important than many authors assume. 

For instance, Virginia’s 1610 legal code begins:

Whereas his Majesty, like himself a most zealous prince, has in his own realms a principal care of true religion and reverence to God and has always strictly commanded his generals and governors, with all his forces wheresoever, to let their ways be, like his ends, for the glory of God….

The first three articles of this text go on to state that the colonists have embarked on a “sacred cause,” to mandate regular church attendance, and to proclaim that anyone who speaks impiously against the Trinity or who blasphemes God’s name will be put to death.[10]

Hall is correct.  Religion was important in Jamestown and I suggest so in Was America is Founded.  But I would still argue that the dominant cultural ethos of the colony was economic opportunity, mercantilism, and perhaps even greed.


Whatever the case, Hall’s lecture is worth your time.