Monday, January 17, 2005

Ick. Ew.

I had a terrible student teacher back in high school when we were studying the colonies and the revolutionary period and I didn't take the first half of American history in college. Hence, my efforts to learn a little more about the period before S. studies it next fall.

I specificially remember the student teacher telling us that Pocahontas married John Smith. While a friend had set a project of recording every time the student teacher said "uh" or "you know," I'd resorted to reading the history textbook used at the local community college that I'd swiped from an older cousin's room so I didn't have to attempt to follow what was said in class. I stayed after class the day he mentioned the Pocahontas-Smith nuptials and told him that actually Pocahontas had married John Rolfe.

This piece of info, of course, did not go over well, and neither did R.'s attempts to bring the settlers' cannibalism to the Thanksgiving table when she mentioned what she'd learned about Jamestown reading James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me back in 8th grade. We get our history mangled through Peggy Lee songs or Disney movies or warm and fuzzy meals of turkey and sweet potatoes (aren't marshmallows made from horses' hooves? Maybe they're historically accurate!) and too many people don't want to know any differently.

At any rate, I'm reading David Price's Love and Hate in Jamestown now, and before Pocahontas saves John Smith's literal neck for whatever reason was in her little 10-12 year-old head at the time, the Chickahominy warriors inflict this on a member of Smith's party who happened to be taken captive:

"After seizing Cassen, the natives stripped him of his clothes and tied him to a pair of stakes. The full purpose of what was about to happen to him is unclear. By one account, the natives were using Cassen to placate their god, whom the English took to be 'the devill'; by another, the natives were punishing Cassen as an enemy trespasser. Of course, the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

"Fate had written a most unhappy ending to Cassen's life story. The natives prepared a large fire behind his bound and naked body. Then a man grasped his hands and used mussel shells to cut off joint after joint, making his way through Cassen's fingers, tossing the pieces into the flames. That accomplished, the man used shells and reeds to detach the skin from Cassen's face and the rest of his head. Cassen's belly was next, as the man sliced it open, pulled out his bowels, and cast those onto the fire. Finally the natives burned Cassen at the stake through to his bones."

But before we Americans ascribe any higher virtues to our English ancestors based on this episode, remember that the English were burning dissenters at the stake themselves during this same period of time.

Happy MLK Day!


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