New York Review of Books
Volume 54, Number 7 · April 26, 2007


Our Shaky Beginnings

By Edmund S. Morgan, Marie Morgan

Captain John Smith: Writings with Other Narratives of Roanoke, Jamestown, and the First English Settlement of America
by Captain John Smith

Library of America, 1,329 pp., $45.00

The Jamestown Project
by Karen Ordahl Kupperman

Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 408 pp., $29.95

Jamestown: The Buried Truth
by William M. Kelso

University of Virginia Press, 238 pp., $29.95

Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America
by Benjamin Woolley

HarperCollins, 496 pp., $27.50

A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and theBirth of America
by James Horn

Basic Books, 337 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown
by Helen C. Rountree

University of Virginia Press, 292 pp., $16.95 (paper)

In the procession of anniversary celebrations by which we congratulate our predecessors for begetting us, 2007 is the year to honor our shaky beginnings at Jamestown, Virginia. The 108 men and boys who stepped ashore on May 14, 1607, and the four or five thousand who followed them in the next fifteen years were the victims of a failed business enterprise. But enough of them survived starvation and disease, their sponsors' negligence, and their own mistakes to start the first permanent settlement in what became the United States.

The early Virginians have generally been upstaged by the Pilgrim Fathers in our national memory. It is not clear how the Pilgrims, who landed at Plymouth thirteen years after them, gained the name of fathers, fathers not merely of New England but of the nation. Perhaps Jamestown lost out because Captain John Smith, who told the Jamestown saga with himself as the central actor, did not make a good father figure. He was twenty-eight when he arrived at Jamestown, left less than three years later, and never returned. William Bradford, who led the Pilgrim fathers, was only thirty in 1620, but in his classic account of the colony he writes like a father, while Smith writes like the soldier he was. Smith came out of the England of Marlowe and Shakespeare, Bradford from the England of Milton.

The Library of America has now produced a volume of Smith's writings. It includes a dozen accounts of Virginia by fellow founders, but they all fall under his shadow as the man who mattered and knew it. The same is true of the volumes by modern scholars reviewed here: Karen Kupperman on the different forces behind the Virginia enterprise, James Horn and Benjamin Woolley on Smith's strategies as a leader, William Kelso on archaeological evidence of what the settlers did under Smith, Helen Rountree on the way the Indians regarded him. Each of them offers a different perspective for modern readers, but they are all, in some sense, commentaries on Smith. And this review, too, is an interpretation of what his career reveals about American beginnings.

John Smith was only one of the daring young men of Elizabethan England who wandered the Continent from Istanbul to Madrid and on to the coasts of Barbary and Guinea, tasting the excitement of "heathenish" religious beliefs, casually joining the armies that fought the Spanish in the Netherlands or the Turks in Hungary, but coming home ready for whatever ventures might crop up in the expanding Atlantic sphere. What cropped up for Smith was a chance to join in a scheme for colonizing America that was just beginning to take shape. The Virginia Company of London was a belated attempt by English investors to capitalize on what had been learned about the New World and its inhabitants in the preceding century. The learning process had begun when England's queen turned a blind eye to the sea dogs who preyed on Spanish treasure ships. Elizabeth transformed piracy into privateering by declaring war on Spain in 1585. John Hawkins and Francis Drake won her favor by tapping the wealth of New Spain, which set their countrymen thinking about other projects to dismantle the enemy's empire and replace it with one of their own.

Sir Walter Raleigh had something like that in mind when he persuaded Elizabeth in 1584 to let him plant a colony in the land he named Virginia in honor of her celebrated, and perhaps notional, chastity. Raleigh's colony was designed to extract the natural resources of a region the Spanish had written off as not worth the trouble. Its location on an island within the Carolina barrier reefs would enable Raleigh and his kind to use it as a base for raiding the Spanish fleets in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the settlers he had sent to Roanoke did not learn to live off the land. They were contemplating a move to the Chesapeake area when the next supply ship was diverted to the fleet that sailed out to meet the Spanish Armada of 1588. When another ship finally dropped anchor at the colony two years later, its inhabitants had disappeared. Roanoke thus became the famed "lost colony."

But before that debacle several of Raleigh's deputies had returned to England with enticing accounts, included in the Library of America volume, describing Virginia's potential riches. One of them, John White, had drawn remarkably detailed depictions of American Indian life that portrayed an attractive and inventive, if barefoot and scantily clad, people. They staged dances, made ingenious implements, honored their dead, grew crops, and smoked fish. Their dwellings, however, were made of saplings, reeds, and other ephemeral materials.

As Kupperman emphasizes, ironically and perhaps fatefully, early English conceptions of Indian life and character became intertwined with the justification of another colonizing venture. Ireland was nominally under English rule, but effective control did not extend beyond the small district known as "the Pale," centered on Dublin. The rest of the island was home to "the wild Irish," who were divided into loose collections of warlike people with a common interest in defying the English. With the Spanish seemingly set on ruling the world, England awakened to the danger that Catholic Spain might take over Catholic Ireland as a stronghold for invading England. Subjugating the Irish became a way of forestalling Spain. Elizabeth began by parceling out the country to her favorites, Raleigh among them. These English overlords could either tame their wild Irish tenants or supplant them with a more productive and tractable population. It was the same problem that Raleigh faced at Roanoke and the Virginia Company would face at Jamestown, not to say the problem the United States would face in its long march across North America.

The Irish shared with American Indians a profound deficiency that required correction if they were to make proper subjects: they were not civil. That word carried hidden meanings and connotations that would reverberate throughout American history. Civility was a way of life not easily defined, but its results were visible: substantial housing and ample clothing. Uncivil peoples were naked and nomadic. Civility required of those who deserved the name a sustained effort, physical and intellectual. It did not require belief in Christianity, for the ancient Greeks and Romans had it; but Christianity, or at least Protestant Christianity, was impossible without it. The Irish Catholics and those Indians converted by Spanish or French missionaries were not, in the English view, either civil or Christian. The objective of colonization was to bring civility and Christianity to the uncivil, in that order.

The objective was threatened, indeed civility itself was threatened, if lazy colonists, coveting the unfettered life of the uncivil, went native, or, it might be said, went naked. "Clothes were of tremendous importance," Kupperman notes, "because one's whole identity was bound up in the self-presentation of dress. The Scots and Irish—and soon the American Indians —could not be civil unless they dressed in English clothes, like civilized people, and cut their long hair," signs of a capacity to submit to the enlightened government of their superiors.

England's preferred way of civilizing the Irish was through force of arms, but after ruthless military expeditions failed to bring widespread peace, and with it civility, the new solution was to plant the country with people who already rejoiced in that condition. Refractory natives would learn by example, or simply give way, left to a wretched existence on the margins of a profoundly transformed Ireland. Not long before the Virginia Company began supplying people to Jamestown for much the same purpose, the English authorities began settling far larger numbers across the Irish Sea, an estimated 100,000 by 1641.

Jamestown was small beer by comparison, but the English experience of the natives at Roanoke suggested that they would be less of a problem than their Irish counterparts. Nevertheless, it would not be safe to assume that any uncivil people would cheerfully submit to the required indoctrination. The first thing to be built at Jamestown was a crude fort. This was a sound move, for the Indians had already encountered emissaries from the world of civility: fifteen years before Roanoke a Spanish mission had camped in the Chesapeake. The natives had learned that civil people were far from easy to live with, so they did not hesitate to attack the next lot of Europeans. The fort (and its successor) became the heart of the settlement, both as a command center and as a palisaded exemplar of civility. There decently dressed Englishmen would erect respectable cottages that kept out the weather and allowed them to eat and sleep in comfort while civilizing and Christianizing "the Salvages." That, at any rate, was the ideological basis of their enterprise.

It had, of course, a material basis that reflected the ideological one. It was a joint-stock company expecting to make a profit from the natives to whom it brought the benefits of civility. There were about 15,000 of them in eastern Virginia when the English arrived, organized into a cross between a federation and a small empire under the direction of a single chief, Powhatan. Confronting them was a group of Englishmen, never more than five hundred in the first years, badly in need of a leadership that only one man among them could provide. In the face of the company's ambiguous and diffuse delegation of authority, John Smith took charge and made it his job to win white ascendancy, or at least acceptance, from a people who did not relish the role that the English expected them to play. The fortunes of the Virginia Company were very much in his hands. And the story that has dominated our understanding is the eventful, witty, and in many ways perplexing account he has left us.

John Smith had all the qualities we associate with the Elizabethan soldier of fortune: physical and mental toughness, tactical acumen, deadly skill in the arts of war, and a short way with naysayers and shirkers. To these martial traits must be added omnivorous curiosity, fluency in foreign languages, excellent powers of observation and deduction, and a way with words. Most of all Smith had two qualities exalted in the Age of Elizabeth: style and sangfroid. His self-esteem and self-sufficiency made possible a life of ceaseless travel, discovery, peril, and controversy. Without Smith's bumptious pragmatism and ability to command and control men and circumstances, Jamestown might have suffered the fate of the Roanoke colony.

If his reports of what he did there are self-serving, how could arguments in favor of annexing foreign lands and suppressing native populations for the sake of riches and the confounding of a nation's enemies not be self-serving? Unlike other writers (Richard Hakluyt, for example) who claimed expertise in overseas expansion, Smith could truthfully say,

Of the most things therein, I am no Compiler by hearsay, but have beene a reall Actor; I take my selfe to have a propertie in them: and therefore have beene bold to challenge them to come under the reach of my owne rough Pen.

Marked by a style that is far from rough, the products of his pen are engaging and illuminating, even now when historians and the general reader may find many of his attitudes, judgments, and actions hard to stomach.

The land that John Smith encountered was one of pleasing prospects. "The vesture of the earth in most places doth manifestly prove the nature of the soyle to be lusty and very rich." Virginia's investors hoped for more than lusty soil. They envisioned a cornucopia of exotic products, many of them answering to prevailing conceptions of quick and easy wealth. There were mulberry trees capable of sustaining silkworms that at first "prospered excellent well" but fatally declined when the silkworm wrangler fell sick. When the company sent a supply ship in 1608, it included five passengers identified as refiners, goldsmiths, and a jeweler, along with "a Perfumer" to try his skill with another luxury item that might make the fortunes of the company. Among the cascading disasters that overtook the first settlers—famine, ambushes, fires, faction, and betrayal—Smith singled out as the worst "our gilded refiners with their golden promises." Smith's opponents ("meere verballists") fired the mania for precious metals until "there was no talke, no hope, no worke, but dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, load gold...."

Unwilling to shift for themselves in the matter of food, most of the settlers vaguely expected to live off the land, which meant living off its natives. Despite complaints that the Indians used their land inefficiently, the English assumed the existence of large crop surpluses. Because "their victualls are their chiefest riches," corn (maize) became the commodity of exchange. The natives knew to preserve meat, fish, vegetables, and other foodstuffs for their lean times, which could easily become starving times. Smith's companions, by contrast, could scarcely realize that lean times follow fat. When food was plentiful the whites habitually gorged. The succeeding shortages threatened the very survival of Jamestown. One of the supply ships, "idly loitring 14 weeks," consumed the greater part of the food "as was provided to be landed [for] us," then sold what remained "at 15 times the valew." Once the settlers were rid of the mariners, they discovered that the ship's rats had also colonized Jamestown. They ate so much of the "casked corn" that "this did drive us all to our wits ende, for there was nothing in the countrie but what nature afforded."

To supply all their deficiencies, Smith became the colony's governor, strategist, drill master, interpreter, provisioner, mapmaker, naturalist, and negotiator with the Indians. Until the company relieved him of command, he did whatever he thought was needed to keep the colony viable. He could do nothing about company directors who were three thousand miles away and "understood not at all, what they undertooke." He did what he could to curb the settlers' quest for gold, which some of the natives exploited as a "practise [ruse] for an Ambuscado." He put the colonists to work building shelters and planting gardens. But he was at his best (and his worst) when dealing with the Indians.

When the Indians chose not to barter, he got what he could by means of flattery mixed with threats. If his speeches met with obdurate refusal, he countered with duress:

Seeing by trade and courtesie there was nothing to be had, he [Smith] made bold to try such conclusions as necessitie inforced, though contrary to his Commission: Let fly his muskets, ran his boat on shoare, whereat they all fled into the woods.

Aware that his actions would meet with criticism, he justified them as based in hard experience: "Though I be no scholer, I am past a schoole-boy." He taxed the Virginia Company's officers with letting their "desire of present profit" result in the colonists "over-toyling our weake and unskilfull bodies."

In later years Smith's publications blamed Jamestown's misfortunes on the slothful stupidity of the men he was charged with protecting, yet he had willingly shouldered the burden of bringing them through their travails. Testimonials by a number of his fellow colonists in Captain John Smith describe his masterful handling of one crisis after another. The company officers he displaced dismissed him as "an ambityous unworthy and vayneglorious fellowe, attempteinge to take all mens authoreties from them." By doing what was necessary to keep the settlers alive, John Smith became the person most feared by investors and bureaucrats through the ages: the man on the scene who does not hesitate to exceed his instructions.

Smith was primarily a soldier, but America challenged him at a level far beyond the military and continued to challenge him. He saw the continent as an imperial opportunity. Spain had seized that opportunity in the south, and he wanted England to take the north before it was too late. Handicapped by humble birth and small fortune, he could not aspire to become a northern Cortés. But he could perhaps persuade his countrymen to make the most of what they began in Virginia. On a scouting voyage in 1614 he mapped the Atlantic coast from present-day New Brunswick to Cape Cod. Three of the tracts in the Library of America volume are Smith's promotional pamphlets for the region to which he gave the name New England. If his countrymen had listened to his pleas, he could have been the founding father of a New England that would be remembered as an offshoot of Virginia.

Virginians have always been irked by their relegation to second place. They gained a little more popular recognition when the National Park Service, in celebration of their 350th anniversary, undertook an archaeological dig that uncovered Jamestown's ruins and then built a nearby approximation of the settlement's buildings. New investigations, begun in 1994, show that the first buildings at Jamestown were more substantial than previously supposed. William Kelso describes these findings in Jamestown: The Buried Truth. He and his staff have uncovered the footprint of a substantial fort, triangular in shape and enclosing a space that was 300 feet on two sides and 420 on the third. Each corner had a circular blockhouse for ordnance. Within the fort were sizable buildings, two of them stretching over 170 feet in length and having cobblestone footings. From the cellars, wells, and middens of Jamestown, archaeologists have taken over 200,000 artifacts that testify to "the Virginia Company's steadfast commitment to making a success of their Virginia enterprise."

But if the artifacts show a commitment on the part of English investors, they cannot dispel the horrors—the diseases, the starvation, and most of all the fecklessness—of the early years when civil men showed themselves less capable of surviving than the natives. The steadfast investors lost their money, and most of the settlers lost their lives. Of the five or six thousand sent there before 1625, a census taken that year showed only 1,210 survivors. As Kupperman observes, "The surprising thing about Jamestown is that the investors and the colonists did not simply walk away from the project." Only because the settlers eventually got rid of the people they came to trade with and unexpectedly put themselves to work did they find (in growing tobacco) a good reason to be there.

Until that happened, a decade after landing, the settlers survived—or a fraction of them did—as unwelcome guests in a land that offered them nothing they had come for. After the company removed Smith from leadership of the colony, Jamestown suffered under a series of governors without his imperial vision or any vision at all, and without his talents for command. Smith described their tribulations with a certain relish in his later account of the whole Virginia enterprise, published in 1624.

Kupperman, Woolley, and Horn tell the same story, but with the benign intention of celebrating those early years as the beginnings of the United States. Kupperman valiantly attempts to redeem the blunders as a learning experience, but there is little evidence of lessons learned. Woolley's Savage Kingdom cheerfully follows every disastrous move on the ground in all the detail that the sources allow and in addition traces the corresponding intrigues and maneuvers in English court politics. Unfortunately his narrative cannot endow the events with a continuity of purpose they did not have.

Horn, who chose the selections in the Library of America volume, has written his own lively account of early Jamestown. A Land as God Made It can be read as an introduction to Captain John Smith or as a more objective summary of Smith's policies and campaigns. Like virtually every other scholar except Woolley, Horn dismisses Smith's tale of how the princess Pocahontas saved his life. But Horn also shows that Pocahontas was a key player in England's attempt to establish dominion and civility in Virginia. When she married John Rolfe, converted to Christianity, changed her name to Rebecca, and went with her husband to England in 1616, she became the cynosure of all things Virginian. As Powhatan's daughter, she ranked in English eyes as the princess of a vassal state. A portrait, quickly painted, engraved, and widely disseminated, showed her in the elaborate clothing and stovepipe hat of a wealthy Englishwoman. By this time, as both Horn and Kupperman emphasize, the Virginia Company had sold itself to the public as a national enterprise. Pocahontas was paraded as a visible emblem of its success. "Although she was dressed as an Englishwoman," Horn writes of the portrait, "it was clear she was not English, exactly the message the company wished to convey: It was possible to 'civilize' the Indians and make them English."

If Pocahontas exemplified the civilizing possibilities of the English presence in Virginia, Smith recounts a disturbing counterexample, exhibiting the handicaps that civility had to overcome in competition with the allure of Indian uncivility. When the English sent "Adam and Francis (2 Stout Dutch men)" to spy on Powhatan, they changed allegiance. Moreover, they soon "obtained 6 or 7 more to their confederacie, such expert theefes, that presently furnished them with a great many" English arms. In return they were welcome to live with the Indians "free from those miseries that would happen [to] the Colony." A number of colonists (how many is not known) followed their lead.

Smith had reason to fear the worst from this combination of absconders and increasingly belligerent Indians. Garrison life had few charms to begin with, and the Smith regime was one of obedience, drill, oppressive regulations, and heavy labor. Custom had long exempted gentlemen adventurers from manual labor. For that matter, the lower ranks of tradesmen, laborers, soldiers, and boys were not used to working as long and hard as the governor demanded. The free and easy life of the Indians was visibly more comfortable than hard labor and short rations at Jamestown. Powhatan sensed his advantage and withheld from the colony "all his corne and provision." Smith suspected a plot by Indians and white renegades to betray the colony to the Spanish. He responded with an assault in which "6 or 7 Salvages were slaine, as many made prisoners; burnt their houses, tooke their boats with all their fishing weares [weirs]."

In the peace parley that followed Smith felt vindicated in his harsh dealings, but Ocanindge, the Indians' "orator," reminded the English that they drove out the Indians at their peril, because "you will have the worst by our absence, for we can plant any where, though with more labour, and we know you cannot live if you want [lack] our harvest, and that reliefe wee bring you." Ocanindge had a point. Smith and his successors were caught in the irony that would accompany the triumph of civility. At first contact it was the civil who felt most imperiled. They responded to defections with punishments that can best be described as savage. Smith proposed stabbing for deserters, and Sir Thomas Gates, a successor to Smith, ordered more gruesome executions for those he caught. "Some he appointed to be hanged some burned some to be broken upon wheles others to be Staked and some to be shott to deathe."

Choosing Indian life over English was an intolerable insult. The continuing dependence of the English on corn and other supplies was another insult, one that had to be borne but could not be confronted squarely. In forays against Indian villages the whites regularly destroyed the very fields from which the supplies must come. It was infuriating that these so-called savages knew how to survive when their white superiors were perishing for want of food. There was always something that went beyond rationality in the elevation of civility and something rational in the Indians' rejection of it.

Pocahontas/Rebecca might have been as thoroughly Englished as her admirers believed. But her embrace of civility was singular. If she represented the triumph of civility over savagery, the deserters from Jamestown gave the lie to her example. For another two centuries the specter of white men and women giving in to the seductions of native life and culture was one that continued to baffle, and outrage, those Americans who saw the Indians as impediments to the spread of civilization.

Helen Rountree has long been the principal authority on the outlooks, beliefs, and purposes of the "uncivil" Virginians, the Powhatans, the name she applies to all the tribes under the paramount chiefdom of the man Powhatan. Under the guise of biographies, Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough tells the story of Jamestown from the viewpoint of the "Real People." Since they left no written records, she has to rely (as we all do) on John Smith's interpretations. Rountree reduces his name phonetically to what they must have called him, "Chawn-zmit." Her narrative does not depart from his, but she has fun telling it through the eyes of a Powhatan affronted by the stupidity and avarice of the invaders, identified variously as Arrogant Ones, Overdressed Ones, Thieving Ones, Smelly Ones, and so forth. When civility required the wearing of bulky European clothes for months at a time, incivility had its advantages. Since the "native people in Virginia...bathed every day, while their contemporaries across the ocean considered bathing unhealthy," the Powhatans flinched when downwind of the unwashed invaders.

These Smelly Ones were a puzzle. Huddled in their fort, they must have figured in Powhatan reckoning as the clueless ones. The Indians lived by a combination of farming, foraging, hunting, and fishing. They knew not to rely too heavily on agriculture because of Virginia's periodic droughts, but farming was always necessary. And, like foraging for nuts, plants, and roots, it was woman's work. So a shipload of English settlers with only two women was incomprehensible: "Not nearly enough to farm for all those men! Who could understand such demented creatures?" Neither side understood the other's division of labor. In Jamestown, as in Virginia's later plantation society, English women, even as servants, were exempted from work in the fields.

This division of labor was symptomatic of a fundamental incompatibility that the Indians recognized before the English did. It seems likely that an Indian policy of abandoning the English to their own devices would have thinned them out more effectively than raids or even massacres. In 1622 they tried to eliminate them in an all-out attack, but it was too late. The English had discovered tobacco, and the contest over Virginia's tidewater lands was underway. It was fundamentally a contest between two ways of life. A cornfield, in the Powhatan view, belonged to those who grew corn on it, but ownership was contingent on actual use. Corn, like tobacco, exhausted the soil rapidly, and without fertilizer a field had to be abandoned after three or four years. Abandonment made it the common property of the tribe. Powhatan houses were as temporary as their cornfields. The slim poles that held them up and the bark that covered them could be taken down and moved with ease at any time. The English, while not recognizing tribal ownership at all, regarded English land and English houses as private. Once something was officially (that is to say, legally) yours, it remained yours, for you and your heirs.

The civilizing mission that seemed within reach when Pocahontas enthralled England was not, in fact, possible. The company failed, but the colony survived after abandoning all pretense of persuading the natives to civility. When the Powhatans were unable to destroy it by slaughtering a quarter of the settlers in 1622, the survivors adopted a policy of exterminating the natives. In 1616 they had discovered a way of extracting riches from the land: tidewater soil, it turned out, would grow a species of tobacco that commanded high prices in Europe. Tobacco became at once the Virginians' way of living off the land and the only way they cared about. It was worth devoting one's whole time to it while continuing to trade with the remaining Indians for things to eat. Tobacco was the new gold. Virginia survived, indeed flourished, as a kind of open-pit tobacco mine.

All the scholarly volumes noticed here treat Jamestown's survival as an achievement that, in Horn's words, "mattered for the future of America." Jamestown mattered as "the first transatlantic site of an empire that would eventually carry the English language, laws, and institutions across North America." Kupperman is more specific when she says that "its true priority lies in its inventing the archetype of English colonization. All other successful English colonies followed the Jamestown model."

That statement is worth pondering. If it means the extraction from the soil of a product valuable enough to make investment worthwhile, then Jamestown after 1616 may arguably have served as a model for Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia. But the first decade of Jamestown was a model of what not to do. Jamestown before 1616, and Virginia for half a century after, resembled a collection of undisciplined work gangs more than a colony. The population was almost exclusively male; there were few actual families; the population grew almost entirely by immigration. Most of the arrivals were male servants, bound for a term of years to whoever paid their passage, until they could grow tobacco on their own account and possibly import more bondservants for themselves. Life expectancy was probably lower than in other colonies and in England throughout the first century. The effect of these imbalances on developing institutions made Jamestown an anomalous society, before and after 1616. Why would anyone have held it up as a model?

There was, however, one respect in which the experience and practice of subsequent colonies paralleled those of Jamestown: they dealt with the Indians the same way. Like Jamestown most of them began with the intention of bringing civility and Christianity to the natives. But with few exceptions the intention was not or could not be carried out. The early decision of Virginians to exterminate their hosts was not a model that others deliberately followed. It was, rather, a case of the same clash of outlooks, beliefs, and purposes producing the same results. Civil and uncivil peoples ended up wishing to extirpate each other, but civil people proved to be better at it.

Civility made property, whether in land, clothing, housing, or offices, an extension of the individual's person. The indifference of the uncivil to this expression of self was intolerable to those who valued themselves by it. When white men chose to go over to the uncivil side, they could expect severe retribution. But the Powhatans' indifference signified for the English a dehumanized otherness that justified dispossessing them of land they did not properly make theirs anyhow. All the distinctions that later attached to race were already present in the deep divide between "civil" and "uncivil." Warfare between Indians and English in all the colonies took on an ideological intensity that heightened the brutality. In a brilliant study of King Philip's War in New England in 1676, Jill Lepore sums this up:

English possessions were, in a sense, what was at stake in the war, for these—the clothes they wore, the houses they lived in, and the things they owned—were a good part of what differentiated the English from the Indians. These were not simply material differences, they were cultural, for every English frock coat was stitched with threads of civility, each thatched roof rested on a foundation of property rights, and every cupboard housed a universe of ideas.[*]

English civility met Indian incivility first at Roanoke. Jamestown may not have been the model for later English colonization, but it certainly embodied the ideas and forces that would drive relations with the Indians for the rest of our history. It became United States policy to turn Indians into full-time farmers, often consigned to marginal lands with scanty water and inadequate tools. When they disappointed the government and the public by declining the role or proving not to have an aptitude for it, they had to give way to civil people who understood how to make the land truly theirs.

Jamestown was only the beginning.


[*] Jill Lepore, The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (Knopf, 1998), p. 79.