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Strachey's A Dictionarie of the Indian Language

Smith's Vocabulary of Indian words

Weroances and Their Tribes

English Observers

William Strachey' s Description of Critters in the Chesapeake Bay

Henry Spelman, Relation of Virginia, 1609


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What were some of the major differences between the English and the Powhatan people?

Their views regarding the behavior and tasks appropriate to men, women, and children were very different as well. The English saw the Powhatan men as lazy: fishing and hunting were leisure sports, not a way of life as they were to the natives. John Smith said, "The men bestowe their times in fishing, hunting, wars, and such manlike exercises... The women and children do the rest of the worke..." According to Gabriel Archer, the Powhatan women "do all the labour and the men hunt and goe at their pleasure." However, in the Powhatan culture, men and women were both vital to the survival of the family. Because each had jobs that were crucial for eating well, neither had great authority over the other in the family. Men, women, and children were all considered intelligent, autonomous human beings. When the Powhatans began to use currency later in the century, it was the women who kept the money. (The Powhatans were a matrilineal society, which meant that the family tree was traced through the mother and any inheritance was also passed through the mother.)

Making a Canoe
Making a Canoe
By contrast, in seventeeth-century England, women and children were legally the wards of their husband or fathers. Men were supposed to be the sole economic support. Women and children were legally defined as chattel. Wives and children could not manage their own property unless special legal provision was made. They were expected to obey their husbands or fathers without question. The consequence for disobedience was often corporal punishment. Religion was another area of conflict. To the Powhatans, religion was a part of daily life. Every aspect of their daily routine was begun with prayer and offerings. They easily accepted the idea of a Christian deity to worship along with their own gods. The English were confused and angered when the Powhatans would not give up their other gods. They were determined to convert the Powhatans to Christianity. Some of the behaviors and characteristics the Powhatans found disgusting about the English were their reluctance to bathe regularly and their speed at giving advice. They also thought English men were fools for being the sole providers of food for their families and for leaving the fort unprepared in the event of an attack. The Powhatans also laughed at the English spoon. They thought it was too small and that too much work was needed to use it.

The English wanted to train the Powhatans to be English citizens. The Powhatans saw only a life of short-term servitude and they were unwilling to expose their children to this new way of life.







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