Friday, April 11, 2008

Thomas Harriot

Harriot wrote an essay on his experience in the new colonies of Virginia in 1588. It was a propaganda piece, intended to persuade people to emigrate. Near the end he goes to great length to prove that the native people are too afraid of the Europeans to mess with them. It is infinitely sad to read this. . .they were dying of diseases brought by the English and looking for explanations of why. And this Harriot is quite pleased at the state of affairs.

"Some therefore were of the opinion that we were not born of women, and therefore not mortal, but that we were men of an old generation many years past, then risen again to immortality.
Some would likewise seem to prophecy that there were more of our generation yet to come to this land to kill theirs and take their places, as some thought the purpose was, judging by that which was already done. Those that were immediately to come after us they imagined to be in the air, yet invisible and without bodies, and imagined that they by our entreaty and for the love of us, did make the people to die in the way that they did, by shooting invisible bullets into them.
. . . Some also thought that that we shot them ourselves out of our pieces, from the place where we had dwelled, and killed the people in any such town that had offended us, as we listed, how far distant from us soever it was. And others said that it was the special work of God for our sakes, as we ourselves have cause in some sort to think no less. The opinions I have set down the more at large, that it may appear unto you that there is good hope they may be brought through discreet dealing and government to the embracing of the truth, and consequently to honor, obey, fear, and love us."

Really? To both fear and love? I think they had achieved the fear side pretty well.

What makes reading such things even sadder is that not all English people were blood-thirsty and greedy. But those gentle souls were not on the boats across the Atlantic. And if they were they were not in charge. And if they were in charge, on rare occasion, like the quakers in Pennsylvania, their rule was undercut eventually by greedy, cruel men. Look how even a relatively sensitive and thoughtful observer like Harriot was more or less signed up as an apologist for even the cruel acts and deceptions of his countrymen.

No comments: