Settlers and Indians

Little boys don’t play “Settlers and Indians” quite as often as they play “Cowboys and Indians.” Do you think it’s because the settlers died at a 60% rate within months of arrival? Kinda ruins the fun – for the game and the reality.

And since we’re talking about reality, will there come a time when playing Cowboys and Indians ceases? We don’t play slavery, or pillage the land, or hardships of immigration. We do play war though…

Wigwam Sweet Wigwam

At Jamestown Settlement in Virginia you have no choice but to learn about Indian culture, specifically the Powhatan tribe. They were the ones who “welcomed” the crew who chose Jamestown as the first English settlement of the New World (even though others had already been to America years before). We’ll get to that story in a bit.

The Powhatan Indians lived in Wigwams, long huts. And like Ikea, they used vertical space. Smart. Adults slept on benches with animal skins for “comfort” and kids on the floor, also with animal skins.

It took two miles of cord – that they made themselves – to sew together the wigwam!

Powhatan Wigwam at Jamestown Settlement

The Power of Fire

A fire burned inside the wigwam 24/7/365, with a vent in the roof for smoke to escape. In the winter it kept things warm, and in the summer it mitigated the humidity (I prefer AC, thank you very much).

But cooking was done outside at one of several, much larger communal fires.

Fire was also used to soften a tree so it could be carved–with oyster shells–into a canoe!

The Power of Fire for Powhatan Indians at Jamestown Settlement

Providing for Your Famil(ies)

The Powhatan Chief had 100ish wives in 32 villages so he could create family allegiances and minimize rife. Whatever you have to tell yourself…

The corn pictured in the slideshow below is what it must look like au naturale – no Monsanto. And tobacco is prolific, hence the settlers’ interest. A teaspoon of seeds plants an acre; and each seed is the size of a grain of sand.

The English Came Looking for Gold. Whoopsie!

Instead they found heat, disease, and the insight that they had poor people skills and didn’t interact all that well with the Native Americans, who opted not to trade food for weapons. See, the NA’s had just enough food for themselves, why would they trade for things they didn’t need? So the hungry-turned-cranky English killed the Indians for their food. Great diplomatic skills. Off to a grand start.

Ships at Jamestown SettlementThe Lure of 100 Acres

With a death rate between 50-60%, the Virginia Company fibbed back home and said it was a spectacular, beautiful place to make your fortune. And making your fortune was the key. Sure, some gentry came, but  mostly it was people who were looking to escape their static social class in England–in America they could become whatever they could make of themselves; they were no longer stuck on the social ladder as a servant.

Each man got 100 acres; if you had a wife, she got another. and if you had teen children, each of them got another 100 acres. Shazzam. But uh oh, the Powhatan didn’t like this idea. No one OWNS land. We all use it, but you can’t own it. Well, the King said I can, so there. And by the way, if you disagree, I’ll kill you. More good people skills.

Making the Trek

The goal was three months, the reality five. The first recorded shower was at 100 days. Yuck.

And these were cargo ships, not passenger. So the people stayed below deck with the goods, allowed above deck 1-2 times a week for only 10 minutes at a time. Amazingly only one person died. This trip was well-timed, leaving in December to arrive in the Spring for planting and building housing–vs the Pilgrims who arrived in a famous November and had to live in tents for a freezing first winter.

Wigwam and Settler houses at Jamestown Settlement

Look at the difference between their housing; and villages were five miles apart


Route to Jamestown

The route to Jamestown from England may seem circuitous, but it’s how the winds blow. Even hurricanes follow this route.


What’s your favorite tidbit about coming to America? In the era of settlement or others?


One Response


Very cool. Interesting. I hate that this was how it all started.

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