Culture Clash at Jamestowne-Dave Granger



I arrived on the shores of the James River on a drizzly overcast Thursday morning. My fellow history on the movers and I were greeted by an Archeologist who began to tell us about some of the objects they had unearthed during their time digging up Jamestowne. He showed us a horse skeleton and a site they were beginning to realize was some sort of kitchen below the ground. Everyday these archeologist are digging up history and helping us know what it was like to live in the first permanent settlement in the new world.
 Archeology at Jamestowne 
Jamestowne flag overlooking James River
As I walked around the reconstructed Jamestowne I began to contemplate what it was actually like to be a settler in the new world. The settlers were not the first people to inhabit the new world, the Natives had been along the James river for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for these to cultures who had never even heard of each other to collide. Than a decade later the Europeans threw a third culture into the mix with enslaved Africans. These three cultures combined formed the beginnings of our diverse American society.       

In order to understand the convergence of these three cultures you must first understand how they all came together. The specific tribe the European settlers encountered at Jamestown was the Powhatans. Descendants of this tribe had been living in eastern Virginia for thousands of years when the settlers first arrived in 1607. Twelve years after the arrival of the Europeans to join the Natives in the New World, in 1619 Africans began to be kidnapped and shipped to the new world for purposes of forced labor. These three groups coming together would form the beginnings of what became American culture.
          
Scenic shot of Jamestowne
  The first two groups to encounter each other were the Natives and the Europeans. Initially they had trouble communicating because the Powhatan language had many different dialects and no written form of communication. Their early interactions were confusing and inconsistent. According to John Smith not long after settlers arrived at Jamestown they were attacked by Natives leaving one dead and 17 wounded. This led to the settlers beginning to fortify themselves against the natives. However, later  25 men went sent to explore the Northwest Passage and according to all reports were met with throngs of friendly Natives all up and down the rivers that were eager to trade.  Twelve years later, in 1619, the Africans joined the mix but were not much of a factor in the beginning. Since they were sold as forced labor any customs and culture they had were stamped out by the Europeans so long as the Africans were working for them.
            The relationship between Powhatans and the settlers was never a good one. They often used hostages as a means of communication between the groups. In 1622 natives attacked many different settlements killing thousands but Jamestown was warned and spared. A “distignished passenger”  aboard the voyage of Anthony Chester documented a first hand account of these attacks by the natives
 In regard to the reason of this murderous attack of the Indians upon the English there is considerable difference of opinion; some say that a certain Indian by the name of Nemaltenow, by the English named Jack-of-the-Feather, who was looked upon by the Indians as supernatural, had induced a certain Englishman, by the name of Morgan, to go with him to Pamunkey to barter his wares, and Morgan not returning after the lapse of a reasonable time his friends investigated the matter and found that he had been murdered by this Indian, whereupon they took Nemaltenow prisoner and brought him before Mr. Thorpe to be dealt with according to his misdeed; on the way thither, however, the Indian escaped from his captors, and being unable to overtake him they shot him dead. This occurence enraged King Opechankenough so that they say he swore to revenge the death of this Indian upon the English on the first favorable opportunity; but my opinion is that their heathen priests, who are the tools of the devil, were constantly working upon the credulity and ignorance of this people to make them believe that the English had come to exterminate them in the same way as the Spaniard had done in other parts of the West Indies, and to prevent this the murderous attack was decided upon and brought into execution.”
 These attacks led to a decade of fighting between the settlers and natives coming to an end with the
Cannon at Jamestowne
treaty of 1632. Part of the reason for the decade of fighting was the increasing number of settlers coming to Virginia by the boat load forced the Powhatan tribes to leave there homelands along the James and York rivers. The treaty of 1632 was an ineffective one because the language barrier had not improved since the settler’s arrival in 1607 and the natives did not understand the contract. In 1646 the Powhatans were finally defeated after another uprising and were forced to sign a treaty banning them from the James-York Peninsula. After losing their homeland the Powhatans began to split into smaller tribes and lost part of their cultural identity. Today the eight tribes that resulted from this split are identified in Virginian history.
            Initially the Africans were first brought to the new world   were not slaves but forced labor and lived the lives of white indentured servants. They were freed after a certain amount of time and were free to grow their own crops and have indentured servants of their own. Forty years later in the 1660’s
Remains of building


Statue in honor of John Smith

Reconstruction being done at Jamestowne
the demand for work became far greater than it had been before and so these African indentured servants became owned by the Europeans for life. This was the beginning of true slavery. Between the 1660’s and 1680’s many laws were passed ratifying and justifying slavery as a necessary part of plantation society. An important note is that traditionally African labor come from one part of Africa, known today as Angola. As the demand for labor increased, Europeans began to trade Africans from all the over the continent creating a very diverse African society.
            All three of these cultures, Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans clashed with one another in the New World. The Europeans and Natives fought over land ownership and natural resources while the Africans struggled to maintain their freedom here in the new world with no real success. These three cultures coming together formed the beginnings of American culture that has continued to evolve to this day.
 David M. Granger

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