Monday, August 19, 2013

National Geographic: The New World: Nightmare in Jamestown

This documentary has a lot to share and a lot to tell.  Jamestown was not an ideal place to live, and several times the colony was almost wiped out be Indians, disease, famine etc.  Without reinforcements and resupply from England, it would not have succeeded.  It tells several stories from the bones found in the area.  First is a body with a musket ball in his leg.  They conclude this ball would have killed him as it would have severed an artery.  By examining the wound, the concluded it could not have been self inflicted.  This left accidental shooting by another (from about 15 feet) or a Native had stolen a weapon.  As the Indian threat was pervasive, and they drilled considerably, with men who were not sure around guns, the accidental shooting looking probably.  Another body exhumed, which was buried outside the fort, and placed in a position of respect, with a captain's staff, was concluded to be Bortholomew Gosnold.  I had never heard of him, but he historically was the energy behind the expedition to Jamestown.  He recruited backers, and people, including his cousin John Smith.  The only problem was he died just five months after they landed in Jamestown.  With pending starvation, the demise of the company was imminent.  John Smith took over leadership with the death of Gosnold.  He did something bold.  He went to the Indians with beads and trinkets, to trade for something to eat.  The Indians had killed many of the company, but with the intervention of Pocahontas, John Smith was successful.  Pocahontas intervened and turned the heart of her father Powhatan, chief of the Indian Confederation.  However, it is very unlikely there was a romantic relationship between them.  Pocahontas was ten to twelve, and John Smith a grown man, possible 30. 
They have been able to excavate the fort, because of the decaying wood.  There was a triangular fort, with turrets for canon in each corner.  They arrived in a period of drought, and the river would have been down, and backed up.  Consequently the men would have been drinking salt water, which likely cause salt poisoning.  It wasn't until there was a good rain that conditions improved.
John Smith returned to England for medical attention.  His powder bag exploded.  It likely was the cause of a murder attempt, although could also have been accidental.  At any rate, he returned to England, which likely saved his life, as most of those in Jamestown had a short life expectancy.  It is likely famine continued to take its toll.  The settlers ate anything they could, their pets, their horses, and even perhaps exhuming graves to eat the bodies.  The dying season, as it was called, about 1610, was caused by the bubonic plague, likely brought by a resupply ship.  During this time, bodies were buried quickly, often two to a grave.  They were buried inside the fort.
The colony very nearly failed.  They came looking for gold, which they did not find.  It wasn't until they found a stable crop--tobacco, that they began to prosper.

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