Friday, July 21, 2017

Jamestown 4

continued from last week
On June 22, 1607, a little over a month after the group had settled on the peninsula of Jamestown, Captain Newport returned to England to get more supplies and to take back some pyrite that they thought was gold. Since they left behind one of the ships, The Discovery, John Smith took it upon himself to explore the area. He found it difficult to stay put in the settlement with someone else in charge whom he didn't particularly think knew what he was doing.

On three trips in The Discovery, John Smith mapped out the area. His maps of what we call Chesapeake Bay were to serve generations to come. On one of these mapping ventures, he had his famous encounter with Powhatan. This was the incident when he said Pocahontas plead for his life. Of course he never even mentioned this version of the story until some time later. Some think he embellished the story after the fact.

While exploring a small tributary in a canoe, he and two others came under attack. He was hit by an arrow in the leg, but the natives lowered their bows when he lowered his pistol. The other two men with him were killed, as were most of those back at his main ship.

For many days, he was their prisoner. First of one of the lower kings, Opechancanough, kept him. Smith amazed them with his compass and with tales of the universe. “The earth is the center of a number of concentric circles,” he told them, “with the sun on one, the moon on another, Venus on yet another.” Either Smith had not yet heard of Copernicus or he did not believe him. The glass covering of his compass fascinated Opechancanough. The native king could see the compass needle but could not touch it. Glass was unknown to the native Americans.

On another occasion, Smith convinced them to send two natives with a notepad back to James Towne. The message was that he was being well treated and they should not launch any attacks. When the messengers returned with the things Smith had written down, Openchancanough was amazed, since he did not understand how writing worked.

Eventually, Smith was able to meet the great king of the Powhatan nation, Powhatan himself. Before then, he was taken from one group to the next, one house to the next. They were showing him off to the whole nation, bit by bit.

Powhatan, whose actual name was Wahunsunacock, treated Smith with honor. When asked why the English had come, Smith created an elaborate lie about fleeing the Spanish and the settlement only being temporary.

It was on this occasion that he said they seized him and took him to a rock, as if they were going to bash his head repeatedly into it. It was at this point that Pocahontas was said to rush over and put his head in her hands, putting her cheek against his, pleading for mercy from her father.

So Powhatan spared him and made him a chief. Some think the event might have been some sort of ritual.

For the next few months, the settlement had more and more direct interaction with the Native Americans. Every few days, Pocahontas would bring supplies to the fort. Sometimes the English and the natives got along well. At other times it was rough.

Neither trusted the other. From time to time one side would seize a couple people from the other. Then they would negotiate their return. The natives seemed to respect Smith the most.

Captain Christopher Newport returned with the First Supply on January 8, 1608 and brought 120 more people to add to the mere 38 who had survived the winter. When he arrived, he found that the fort had just burned to the ground...

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