chapter  2
14 Pages

Early America


Emblazoned into the American psyche is Disney’s Captain John Smith scaling Virginia’s mountains while singing enthusiastically about a bountiful new land.1 In Jamestown, new colonists dig for gold. After several meetings, John Smith asks Pocahontas if the Indians possess any of that precious metal substance, which is “yellow, comes out of the ground,” and is “really valuable.” Pocahontas responds confidently, “we have lots of it” while presenting Smith with corn. This exchange echoes the one that occurred in 1607, but historians would paint a darker picture. They would depict Smith slogging through swamps only recently abdicated by Natives while Jamestown colonists died. They would mention that Smith brought no fishing nets on his travels upriver, and would describe his attempts to scoop fish from the water with frying pans – efforts that ended when Smith was stung in the arm by a stingray while using his sword to nail cod to the riverbed.2 For the most part Powhatan Indians waited to provide food for colonists until after a ceremony in which they symbolically killed and then adopted John Smith, making English colonists subservient to the region’s indigenous peoples.3 Jamestown was merely one endeavor by Europeans to colonize the New World. They came in search of spices, expensive fruits, gold, silver, and wealth. They all struggled to feed themselves.