Tuesday, October 19, 2010

1635 Settlers account of America:

William Wood's account: http://books.google.com/books?

William Wood was from Nottingham, England, little is known about him, but he arrived in Massachusetts (as a pilgrim) in 1928 or 1629. Wood wrote what has been called the earliest comprehensive record of New Englands natural resourcesand inhabitants prior to European colonization. Wood belonged to a company (group) known as the New England Company: "In 1628 a party of Puritans led by John Endecott settled at Salem under the auspices of the New England Company" Salem is a town that still exists in Essex county Massachusetts (I find the use of English names interesting: "Essex initially contained Salem, Lynn, Wenham, Ipswich, Rowley, Newbury, Gloucester, and Andover."

In 1635 William Wood published in London his book: 'New Englands Prospect.' [With the sub-title:] 'A true, lively, and experimentall description of that part of America, commonly called New England: discovering the state of that Countrie, both as it stands to our new-come English Planters; and to the old Native Inhabitants. Laying downe that which may both enrich the knowledge of the mind-travelling Reader, or benefit the future-Voyager.' A fairly legnthy title! The book is heavily descriptive of the land and geography, however I have chosen a section written on the Native Americans.

"These are a cruell bloody people, which were wont to come downe upon their poore neighbours with more than bruitish favagenesse, spoyling of their Corne, burning their houses, slaying men, ravishing women, yea very Caniballs they were, sometimes eating on a man one part aster another before his face, and while yet living; in so much that the very name of a Mowhack would strike the heart of a poore Abergenian dead, were there not hopes at hand of releefe from English to succour them: For these inhumane homicides confesse that they dare not meddle with a white faced man, accompanyed with his hot mouth'd weapon.

These Indians be a people of a tall stature, of long grimme visages, slender wasted, and exceeding great armes and thighes, wherein they fay their strength lyeth; and this I rather beleeve because an honest gentleman told me, upon his knowledge, that he saw one of them with a fillippe with his finger kill a dogge, who afterward flead him and sod him, and eate him to his dinner. They are so hardie that they can eate such things as would make other Indians sicke to looke upon, being destitute of fish and flesh, they suffice hunger and maintaine nature with the use of vegetatives; but that which they most hunt after, is the flesh of man; their custome is if they get a stranger neere their habitations, not to butcher him immediately, but keeping him in as good plight as they can, feeding him with the best victualls they have. "

My first impression of the description was that it was written to entertain. Wood would have been motivated to sell his book, and make America seem like an exciting place to live, if all be it dangerous. Though on the hand he would have wanted to promote the settlement and encourage others to move to America to expand the town, describing it as dangerous wouldn't have done so. I have that impression because generally accounts of Native Americans describe them as placid, however there may be some truth in the account.

I find the mentioning of the 'hot mouthed' gun very interesting, the savage account of the Natives prior making it seem highly neccesary and logical to bear arms. However the modern technology and power of the gun is not only being used to defend the Europeans, its being used to put the natives in their place. The wording of they 'dare not' makes it seem that the Natives
are below the 'white faced man', and that the fear of modern technology and superior deadly weapons are being used to restrain people from their own land. That is one view, the other is that like the account describes the natives are purely savages whom the settlers had to protect themselves from.

Wood describes how there is hope that the settlers can be civillized: "were there not hopes at hand of releefe from English to succour them" succour meaning to help in time of need. His description is therefore slightly contradictory: the natives are savage but can be tamed, and are frightening yet the settlers want to help them? The use of the word 'succour' also suggests that the settlers belived they were helping the natives by changing them, not doing so for their own benefit. I think prehaps though that the account derives partly from fear and 'myth' of the Natives more than reality. Stories of Native Indians brutality would have spread quickly accross settlements and been widely believed. The culture and rituals of the Natives was unlike anything the settlers had seen before, and prehaps out of comfort they wanted to transform them into something they recognised. The settlers found it too uncomfortable (and thus fearful) to interact and share a land with such drastically different people.

The fear of the Natives can be said to have lead to a notion of 'us' and 'them'; Wood describing the settlers not as Englishmen, but 'White faced men'. This suggests that the settlers did not define themselves by nationality or trade, but by the colour of their skin, white, as opposed to the red skinned Indians. However, the account very importantly does make reference to the Mowhack tribe specifically, meaning that Wood recognised each tribe had differences, and had not ignorantly spoke of all Natives collectively. He writes that the Mowhacks were: "so hardie that they can eate such things as would make other Indians sicke to looke upon". This attention to detail could suggest that the account as a whole is not as ignorant or unreliable as it first suggests, though I still believe 'rumour' and fear of the Natives may have influenced the description.

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