Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cannibalism in Jamestown Colony

from the Smithsonian Institute

This story amused me because the young William Henry Spellman would have already arrived in Jamestown from England or Wales by the “Starving Times” in Jamestown. But when I examined accounts about William Henry I found that he was sent in 1609 to live among Powhatan Indians, and returned after this rough winter had past. Luck served him well many times, as he was spared from death on more than one occasion. He seems to have had sticky fingers (Business acumen?!) and, despite his youth, a sharp tounge regarding those who ruled the colony – perhaps as a result of the role the Spellmans (Espilemans) played in the legal profession over many generations in England (judge, scribe, counsel, etc.). He learned the Powhatan language and wrote a book about them – apparently during the time the colony was under seige by the.Powhatan Confederacy. He was sentenced to death for challenging authority in the Colony but spared by the efforts of Pocahontas. I have wondered if his precociousness was the reason for his “exile” among the Powhatans. His thieving ways eventually caught up with him and he was ultimately killed by Powhatans while leading a trapping expedition downriver. He had married a Powhatan woman and fathered children with her before his death.

After the “Starving Times” only 60 survived from the 300 Jamestown settlers. If W.H.S. had not joined the Powhatans during this time, would he have survived? Surely, with his trapping and skinning skills, he would have done a better job dismantling the skull of the 14 year old English girl they feasted on that winter. Though I suspect he only acquired these skills from the Powhatans during that winter.

My musings about William Henry are often about inherited characteristics which I “see” in myself or my son. Of course in reality so much DNA has come between ourselves and the Spellmans who left England for the New World. And of course in the west it is the patriarchal lineage, and not the significance of our common DNA, that inspires this speculation. We lose sight entirely of the matriarchal lineage, just like they do with racehorses. My shoptlifting tendencies when young? – definitely the fault of William Henry. My difficulty with authority, and that of my son’s? – again, I see William Henry. This speculation is mere folly, of course. But one speculates nonetheless. And so I can’t help but see William Henry – with his survival instincts, his cunning, and his incredible luck – on Mars. Not the 1609 Henry, dressed in tights and a feathered hat, but the same individual transported 500 years and 34 million miles away.

I think about the horrors of arriving in the New World. Those who survive the trip are not the same individuals suited to managing things once arrived. Trapping and farming skills were absent among the ragtag groups that arrived on these shores (this deficiency was exploited by Powhatans in 1609). Again and again one is confronted with surprises. How does the brain respond to these demands? Did William Henry have Bipolar? He was certainly argumentive, creative, motivated, fearless, and a risk-taker. So I will transport W.H.S. – an anachronism, a freak, a survivor who simultaneously endangers and enables those around him and after him – into the future.

He is – or claims to be – a logistics expert, a driller, a gleaner, a salvage operator. A friend and an enemy. Guileless, fluid, hard to pin down. If fuel runs low on Mars – call William Henry. Underground crops failed this year? – call William Henry. Shipment from Earth delayed or destroyed? There’s always Henry. You may not know what you are eating, but you will eat.

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