Horrors of History Part Two - Deathtrap and Choices
Don’t Turn Evil, Part Three – Virginia Deathtrap
Copyright 2010 M.A. Golding
I claim that it is almost impossible for merely Human people to choose the right side to support in a conflict, or know if it is right for them to fight, or avoid using evil strategies, tactics, weapons, and methods.
As an example of how hard it is for people to choose the better and less evil side in a conflict or to choose effective tactics, weapons, and methods that are not evil, I chose the Second Anglo-Powhatan War in Virginia.
In the years around 1600, Chief Wahunsunacawh (who the English called Powhatan for obvious reasons) of the Powhatan tribe expanded his realm from six tribes to thirty. Most tribes of Indians or Native Americans or First Nations or American Indians or Amerindians in Tsenacommach, the Virginia tidewater, became part of the Powhatan confederacy or paramount chiefdom.
The Virginia Company founded an English colony at Jamestown in Virginia in 1607.
The First Anglo-Powhatan War ended in 1614. But Opechancanough, who became Mamanatowick or paramount chief in 1618, became hostile.
Many of the early Virginia colonists died in the first years, as was usual, until Virginia found a profitable export, poisonous and addictive tobacco, in 1612.
The dying continued. In 1622 the Virginia Company was accused of killing the vast majority of the ten thousand settlers who went to Virginia in the last fifteen years - only about a thousand still survived – with incompetence, indifference, and evil.
The Virginia Company answered that only six thousand people had gone to Virginia and most were killed by an unbelievably evil former governor. Obviously he could not have killed eighty percent of the Virginia colonists if the Virginia Company directors had not kept him in power for years. The charter of the Virginia Company was revoked in 1624.
One theory about the terribly high mortality rate in Virginia was that the tobacco planters made their indentured servants work growing as much tobacco as possible without growing enough corn to keep the laborers well fed over the winters.
In the winter the semi-starved indentured servants died off from malnutrition, exposure, and disease. In the spring the tobacco the planters got a new cargo of indentured servants from England to produce a new tobacco crop and die the following winter. If this is true, the Virginia planters had created a labor system so evil it made even vile slavery look good!
Thus eventually using expensive slave laborers who had to be kept alive and healthy for decades of working life might actually have been an ethical improvement!
Of course if the planters had reduced immediate profits by making their indentured servants grow enough corn to stay alive over the winter, their labor force would have gown and been able to grow more tobacco with much larger eventual profits.
For whatever reasons, early Virginia was a deathtrap for colonists, even when there was peace with the Powhatans.
Don’t Turn Evil, Part Four – Powhatan Choices
Copyright 2010 M. A. Golding
Some sources claim that the Indians or Native Americans fought mostly minor and almost bloodless wars before the Europeans came. But if that was true, in the early historic period they seem to have rapidly become more ferocious in war.
The First Anglo-Powhatan War ended in 1614, but Opechancanough, the new high chief after 1618, grew hostile toward the English.
Opechancanough, his weroances or chiefs, and their people had many choices.
They could have moved the villages closest to the colony farther away to lands they would conquer from foreign tribes.
They could have started a program for Powhatans to work clearing land for tobacco cultivation close to Jamestown and get paid with valued trade goods.
They could have encouraged Powhatans to grow tobacco to sell to the English.
They could have made forced neighboring tribes to send hundreds of workers to clear land for tobacco farming close to Jamestown, so the English wouldn’t need more Powhatan land.
They might have chosen a mixture of those policies.
On March 22, 1622, “a date that deserves to live in infamy” hundreds of Powhatan warriors treacherously slaughtered everyone they could catch at many of the isolated English tobacco-growing outposts. In that single day of horror they killed three or four hundred English men, and women, and children, about a quarter to a third of the total Virginia colonists.
I have read that at least sometimes the warriors came unarmed and seemingly harmless and snatched up English tools to slaughter their victims. Makers of slasher films should note that a single slasher is not as terrifying as a war party of slashers.
Then the Powhatans waited for the panic-stricken English to flee from their land or submit to Opechancanough.
Opechancanough and his people had many choices that were less evil.
They didn’t have to kill every English person they could. They might have captured the settlements, killed a few people in each as a demonstration, and made the survivors swear allegiance to the Powhatans. They could have sent a few survivors to Powhatan villages as hostages, and made the rest of the captured colonists work planting tobacco to sell to the English at Jamestown. The Powhatans would get a big share of the tobacco income as protection money.
How could the primitive Powhatans feed and guard several dozen English hostages and hundreds of worker? The Virginia Indians usually produced a big corn surplus and could have fed dozens of prisoners who were locked up day and night. Or the hostages could have worked in the fields to grow more food for their villages.
Indians often captured members of other tribes to turn into members of their own tribe. Apparently they were able to guard most captives well enough to prevent their escaping before assimilation into their new tribes. I think that the Powhatans could have guarded dozens of hostages and hundreds of subject laborers.
Tobacco has always been a driving force for many people. It gives this air of risk taking to a person when they smoke it. It has the qualities to help keep you in high spirits when things get rather difficult. Who wouldn't kill for it?
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