H105, American History I

Thomas Harriot, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (Francoforti: Joannis Wecheli, 1590).

“Of the nature and manners of the people.”


One other rare and strange accident, leaving others, will I mention before I ende, which mooved the whole countrey that either knew or hearde of us, to have us in wonderfull admiration.

There was no towne where we had any subtile devise practised against us, we leaving it unpunished or not revenged (because wee sought by all meanes possible to win them by gentlenesse) but that within a few dayes after our departure from everie such town, the people began to die very fast, and many in short space; in some townes about twentie, in some fortie, in some sixtie, and in one sixe score, which in trueth was very manie in respect of their numbers.  This happened in no place that wee coulde learne but where wee had bene, where they used some practise against us, and after such time; The disease also so strange, that they neither knew what it was, nor how to cure it; the like by report of the oldest men in the countrey never happened before, time out of minde.  A thing specially observed by us as also by the naturall inhabitants themselves.

Insomuch that when some of the inhabitants which were our friends & especially the Wiroans Wingina had observed such effects in foure or five towns to follow their wicked practises, they were perswaded that it was the worke of our God through our meanes, and that wee by him might kil and slai whom we would without weapons and not come neere them.

And thereupon when it had happened that they had understanding that any of their enemies had abused us in our journeyes, hearing that wee had wrought no revenge with our weapons, & fearing upon some cause the matter should so rest:  did come and intreate us that we woulde bee a meanes to our God that they as others that had dealt ill with us might in like sort die; alleaging how much it would be for our credite and profite, as also theirs; and hoping furthermore that we would do so much at their requests in respect of the friendship we professe them.

Whose entreaties although wee shewed that they were ungodlie, affirming that our God would not subject him selfe to anie such praiers and requestes of men:  that in deede all thinges have beene and were to be done according to his good pleasure as he had ordained:  and that we to shew our selves his true servants ought rather to make petition for the contrarie, that they with them might live together with us, bee made partakers of his truth & serve him in righteousnes; but notwithstanding in such sort, that wee referre that as all other thinges, to bee done according to his divine will & pleasure, and as by his wisedome he had ordained to be best.

Yet because the effect fell out so sodainly and shortly after according to their desires, they thought neverthelesse it came to passe by our meanes, and that we in using such speeches unto them did but dissemble the matter, and therefore came unto us to give us thankes in their manner that although wee satisfied them not in promise, yet in deedes and effect we had fulfilled their desires.

This marvelous accident in all the countrie wrought so strange opinions of us, that some people could not tel whether to think us gods or men, and the rather because that all the space of their sicknesse, there was no man of ours knowne to die, or that was specially sick:  they noted also that we had no women amongst us, neither that we did care for any of theirs.

Some therefore were of opinion that wee were not borne of women, and therefore not mortall, but that wee were men of an old generation many yeeres past then risen againe to immortalitie.

Some woulde likewise seeme to prophesie that there were more of our generation yet to come, to kill theirs and take their places, as some thought the purpose was by that which was already done.

Those that were immediately to come after us they imagined to be in the aire, yet invisible & without bodies, & that they by our intreaty & for the love of us did make the people to die in that sort as they did by shooting invisible bullets into them.

To confirme this opinion their phisitions to excuse their ignorance in curing the disease, would not be ashamed to say, but earnestly make the simple people beleve, that the strings of blood that they sucked out of the sicke bodies, were the strings wherewithal the invisible bullets were tied and cast.

Some also thought that we shot them our selves out of our pieces from the place where we dwelt, and killed the people in any such towne that had offended us as we listed, how farre distant from us soever it were.

And other some saide that it was the speciall woorke of God for our sakes, as wee our selves have cause in some sorte to thinke no lesse, whatsoever some doe or maie imagine to the contrarie, specially some Astrologers knowing of the Eclipse of the Sunne which wee saw the same yeere before in our voyage thytherward, which unto them appeared very terrible.  And also of a Comet which beganne to appeare but a few daies before the beginnning of the said sicknesse.  But to exclude them from being the speciall an accident there are farther reasons then I thinke fit at this present to bee alleadged.

These their opinions I have set downe the more at large that it may appeare unto you that there is good hope they may be brought through discreet dealing and governement to the imbracing of the trueth, and consequently to honour, obey, feare and love us.

And although some of our companie towardes the ende of the yeare, shewed themselves too fierce, in slaying some of the people, in some towns, upon causes that on our part, might easily enough have been borne withall:  yet notwithstanding because it was on their part justly deserved, the alteration of their opinions generally & for the most part concerning us is the lesse to bee doubted.  And whatsoever els they may be, by carefulnesse of our selves neede nothing at all to be feared.

The best neverthelesse in this as in all actions besides is to be endevoured and hoped, & of the worst that may happen notice to bee taken with consideration, and as much as may be eschewed.