Selection 1: An Elizabethan Scientist Admires Indian Agriculture

During the 1580s, the English tried twice to establish a colony on Roanoke Island off the coast of modern-day North Carolina. Both ventures failed, but they did give the English their firstprolonged interaction with Indians and the American environment. Thomas Hariot was a scientist and mathematician who participated in the first Roanoke expedition of 1585. After returning to England, he published a description of his experiences there to promote the further colonization of Virginia.

While he shared many of the prejudices of his Elizabethan contemporaries about America’s native inhabitants, Hariot was nevertheless a careful observer of their culture and society. He expressed great admiration for their agriculture and described in detail their crops and methods of planting. His glowing descriptions of the Indian diet and the fertility of the land must have appealed mightily to English farmers accustomed to eking meager livings out of spent soil and back-breaking labor.

The spelling has been modernized.

Credit: Thomas Hariot, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, in Richard Hakluyt, The Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation (London: George Bishop, 1589), 753-757.

Such commodities as Virginia is known to yield for victual and sustenance of man’s life, usually fed upon by the natural inhabitants, as also by us, during the time of our abode, and first of such as are sowed and husbanded [cultivated]:

Pagatowr, a kind of grain so called by the inhabitants; the same in the West Indies is called Maize. English men call it Guinea Wheat or Turkey wheat, according to the names of the countries from whence the like has been brought. The grain is about the bigness of our ordinary English peas and not much different in form and shape, but of diverse colors, some white, some red, some yellow, and some blue. All of them yield a very white and sweet flower, being used according to this kind, it makes a very good bread. We made of the same in the country some malt, whereof was brewed as good Ale as was to be desired. So likewise by the help of hops thereof may be made as good Beer. It is a grain of marvelous great increase; of a thousand, fifteen hundred, and some two thousand fold ...

Okingier, called by us Beans, because in greatness and partly in shape they are like the Beans in England; saving that they are flatter, of more diverse colors, and some pied. The leaf also of the stem is much different. In taste they are altogether as good as our English peas.

Wickonzdwr, called by us Peas, in respect of the beans, for distinction sake, because they are much less [in size], although in form they little differ, but in goodness of taste much, and are far better than our English peas. Both the beans and peas are ripe in ten weeks after they are set. They make them victual either by boiling them all to pieces into a broth, or boiling them whole until they be soft and begin to break as is used in England, either by themselves or mixed together. Sometimes they mingle of the wheat with them. Sometimes also being whole sodden, they bruise or pound them in a mortar, and therefore make loaves or lumps of doughish bread, which they use to eat for variety.

Macocqwer [pumpkins and squash], according to their several forms, called by us Pompions, Melons, and Gourds, because they are of the like forms as those kinds in England. In Virginia such of several forms are of one taste and very good, and do also spring from one seed. There are two sorts: one is ripe in the space of a month, and the other in two months.

There is also an herb which in Dutch is called Melden. Some of those that I describe it onto take it to be a kind of Orach [spinach or beets]. It grows about four or five foot high; of seeds thereof they make a thick broth and pottage of a very good taste; of the stalk by burning into ash they make a kind of salt earth, where withal many use sometimes to season their broths. Other salt they know not. We ourselves used the leaves for pot-herbs.

There is also another great herb, in form of a Marigold, about six foot in height, the head with the flower is a span in breadth. Some take it to be Planta Solis [sunflowers]; of the seeds hereof they make both a kind of bread and broth.

All the aforesaid commodities for victual are set or sowed, sometimes in grounds apart and severally by themselves, but for the most part together in one ground mixedly, the manner thereof, with the dressing and preparing of the ground, because I will note unto you the fertil-ity of the soil, 1 think good briefly to describe.

The ground they never fatten with muck, dung, or any other thing, neither plow nor dig it as we in England, but only prepare it in sort as follows. A few days before they sow or set, the men with wooden instruments, made also in form of mattocks or hoes with long handles, with women with short peckers or parers, because they use them sitting, of a foot long and about five inches in breadth, do only break the upper part of the ground to raise up the weeds, grass, and old stubs of corn stalks with their roots, which after a day or two drying in the sun, being scraped up into many small heaps, to save them labor for carrying them away, they burn into ashes ... And this is all the husbanding of their ground that they use.

Then their setting or sowing is after this manner. First for their com, beginning in one corner of the plot, with a pecker they make a hole, wherein they put four grains, with that care they touch not one to another (about an inch asunder) and cover them with the mold again, and so throughout the whole plot, making such holes and using them after such manner, but with this regard, that they be made in ranks, every rank differing from the other half a fathom or a yard, and the holes also in every rank, as much. By this means there is a yard spare ground between every hole, where according to discretion here and there, they set as many Beans and Peas, and in diverse places also among the seeds of Macdcqwer, Melden, and Planta Solis.

The ground being thus set ... doth there yield in crop of ... corn, beans, and peas, at the least two hundred London bushels, besides the Macdcqwer, Melden, and Planta Solis; when as in England, forty bushels of our wheat yielded out of such an acre is thought to be much.

1 thought also good to note this unto you, that you which shall inhabit and plant there, may know how specially that country corn is there to be preferred before ours. Besides the manifold ways of applying it to victual, the increase is so much that small labor and pains is needful in respect that must be used for ours. For this I can assure you, that according to the rate we have made proof of, one man may prepare and husband so much ground (having once borne corn before) with less than four and twenty hours labor, as shall yield him victual in a large proportion for twelve months ...

There is an herb which is sowed apart by itself and is called by the inhabitants uppowoc. In the West Indies it has diverse names, according to the several places and countries where it grows and is used. The Spaniards generally call it Tobacco. The leaves thereof being dried and brought into powder, they use to take the fume or smoke thereof by sucking it through pipes made of clay, into their stomach and head, from whence it purges superfluous phlegm and other gross humors, opens all the pores and passages of the body, by which means the use thereof, not only preserves the body from obstructions, but also, if any be, so that they have not been of too long continuance, in short time breaks them, whereby their bodies are notably preserved in health and know not many grievous diseases wherewithal we in England are oftentimes afflicted.

This uppowoc is of so precious estimation among them, that they think their gods are marvelously delighted therewith. Whereupon sometime they make hallowed fires and cast some of the powder therein for a sacrifice. Being in a storm upon the waters, to pacify their gods, they cast some up into the air and into the water. So a weir for fish being newly set up, they cast some therein into the air likewise, but all done with strange gestures, stamping, sometime dancing, clapping of hands, holding up of hands, and staring up into the heavens, uttering therewithal and chattering strange words and noises.

We ourselves during the time we were there used to suck it after their manner, as also since our return, and have found many rare and wonderful experiments of the virtues thereof, of which the relation would require a volume by itself; the use of it by so many of late men and women of great calling as else and some learned physicians also, is sufficient witness.

 
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