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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. I. The Transplanting of Culture: 1607–1650

Colonel Norwood

OF the author of “A Voyage to Virginia” very little is known save that, as his narrative tells us, he was a kinsman to that picturesque Governor of Colonial Virginia, Sir William Berkeley. His voyage was made in 1649, and the adventures that he describes were doubtless common to many of his fellow gentlemen adventurers. The work is peculiarly interesting to us for its style. The narratives of his predecessors had their intrinsic interest, but they told their stories in cumbrous phraseology. Here the narrative is relatively straightforward and clear, though it is evident that Cowley and Dryden had still their task before them to make English prose a worthy means of artistic literary expression. The Colonel has considerable power of conveying the thrill of adventure. There is a pathos, too, in his story of the kindness that he met with from the poor Indian fisherman, and perhaps there is a touch of humor in that story (not given here) of the Portuguese lady who blushed with happiness at the rough ship’s company’s praise of her little son, whose features, full of sweetness, reminded them, they said, of their exiled king, Charles II. For a few other facts about Henry Norwood see Neill’s Virginia Carolorum.

Indian Hospitality.
[From “A Voyage to Virginia.”—Printed in Force’s Tracts. Vol. III.]

OUR kind entertainment in the house of this poor fisherman, had so many circumstances of hearty compassion and tenderness in every part of it, that as it ought to be a perpetual motive to engage all of us who enjoyed the benefit of it, to a daily acknowledgement of the Almighty’s goodness for conducting us in this manner by his immediate hand, out of our afflictions, so may it ever be looked upon as a just reproach to Christians, who, on all our sea-coasts, are so far from affording succour to those who, by shipwreck and misfortunes of the sea, do fall into their power, that they treat with all inhuman savage barbarity, those unhappy souls whom God hath thus afflicted, seizing on their goods as their proper perquisites, which the waves of the sea (by divine providence) would cast upon the shore for the true proprietors; and many times dispatching them out of the world to silence complaints, and to prevent all after-reckonings. And the better to intitle themselves to what they get in this way of rapine, they wickedly call such devilish acquests by the sacred name of God’s good, prophaning and blaspheming at the same time that holy name, as they violate all the laws of hospitality and human society. Whereas, on the contrary, our charitable host, influenced only by natural law, without the least shew of coveting any thing we had, or prospect of requital in the future, did not only treat in this manner our persons, but did also, with as much honesty, secure for us our small stores of guns, powder, &c., as if he had read and understood the duty of the gospel, or had given his only child as a hostage to secure his dealing justly with us; so that I can never sufficiently applaud the humanity of this Indian, nor express the high contentment that I enjoyed in this poor man’s cottage, which was made of nothing but mat and reeds, and bark of trees fixed to poles. It had a loveliness and symmetry in the air of it, so pleasing to the eye, and refreshing to the mind, that neither the splendor of the Escurial nor the glorious appearance of Versailles were able to stand in competition with it. We had a boiled swan for supper, which gave plentiful repasts to all our upper mess.

Our bodies thus refreshed with meat and sleep, comforted with fires, and secured from all the changes and inclemencies of that sharp piercing cold season, we thought the morning (tho’ clad in sunshine) did come too fast upon us. Breakfast was liberally provided and set before us, our arms faithfully delivered up to my order for carriage; and thus in readiness to set forward, we put ourselves in a posture to proceed to the place where the king resided. The woman left behind at the island, had been well looked to, and was now brought off to the care of her comrade that came with us; neither of them in a condition to take a journey, but they were carefully attended and nourished in this poor man’s house, till such time as boats came to fetch them to Virginia, where they did soon arrive in perfect health, and lived (one or both of them) to be well married, and to bear children, and to subsist in as plentiful a condition as they could wish.

In beginning our journey thro’ the woods, we had not advanced half a mile till we heard a great noise of men’s voices, directed to meet and stop our further passage. These were several Indians sent by the king to order us back to our quarters. Major Stephens (not cured of his jealous humour by the experience of what he felt the night before) took this alarm in a very bad sense, and as much different from the rest of the company as in his former fit. He was again deluded with a strong fancy, that these violent motions in the Indians who approached us, were the effect of some sudden change in their counsels to our detriment, and that nothing less than our perdition could be the consequence thereof, which he feared would immediately be put in practice by the clamorous men that made such haste to meet us, and (as he would apprehend) to kill and destroy us.

This passion of Major Stephens, cast in the same mould with that other he discovered in the island, had not (as we all thought and told him) whereon to raise the least foundation of terror to affright a child; for besides the earnest we had received of their good intentions the night before, these men who came so fast upon us, were all unarmed; nor was it likely, that king would now possibly imbrew his hands in our blood, and provoke he knew not how powerful a nation to destroy him, after such kind caresses, and voluntary expressions of a temper very contrary to such cruelty. In fine, we saw no cause in all the carriage of the Indians on which I could ground any fear, and therefore I longed with all impatience to see this king, and to enjoy the plenty of his table, as we quickly did.

When these Indians came up to us, this doubt was soon cleared. The good-natured king being informed of our bodily weakness, and inability to walk thro’ the woods to his house on foot (which might be about four miles distant from our setting out) had a real tenderness for us, and sent canoes to carry us to the place nearest his house, by the favour of another branch of the same creek; and to the end we might take no vain steps (as we were going to do) and exhaust our strength to no purpose, these Indians made this noise to stop us.

We entered the canoes that were manned, and lay ready to receive us. We had a pleasant passage in the shallow water, eat oysters all the way: for altho’ the breakfast we had newly made, might well excuse a longer abstinence than we were like to be put to, our arrear to our stomachs was so great, that all we swallowed was soon concocted, and our appetite still fresh and craving more.

Having passed this new course for some three English miles in another branch of the creek, our landing place was contrived to be near the house of the queen then in waiting. She was a very plain lady to see to, not young, nor yet ill-favoured. Her complexion was of a sad white: but the measures of beauty in those parts where they are exposed to the scorching sun from their infancy, are not taken from red and white, but from colours that will better lie upon their tawny skins, as hereafter will be seen.

The beauty of this queen’s mind (which is more permanent than that of color) was conspicuous in her charity and generosity to us poor starved weather-beaten creatures, who were the object of it. A mat was spread without the house, upon the ground, furnished with pone, hominy, oysters, and other things. The queen made us sit down and eat, with gestures that shewed more of courtesy than majesty, but did speak as hearty welcome as could in silence be expected: and these were the graces that, in our opinion, transcended all other beauties in the world, and did abundantly supply all defects of outward appearance in the person and garb of the queen. The southerly wind made the season tolerable; but that lasted but little, the north-west gale coming violently on us again.

When this collation of the queen was at an end, we took leave of her majesty with all the shews of gratitude that silence knew how to utter. We were now within half an hour’s walk of the king’s mansion, which we soon discovered by the smoke, and saw it was made of the same stuff with the other houses from which we had newly parted, namely, of mat and reed. Locust posts sunk in the ground at corners and partitions, was the strength of the whole fabric. The roof was tied fast to the body with a sort of strong rushes that grow there, which supplied the place of nails and pins, mortises and tenants.

The breadth of this palace was about eighteen or twenty foot, the length about twenty yards. The only furniture was several platforms for lodging, each about two yards long and more, placed on both sides of the house, distant from each other about five foot; the space in the middle was the chimney, which had a hole in the roof over it, to receive as much of the smoke as would naturally repair to it; the rest we shared amongst us, which was the greatest part; and the sitters divided to each side, as our soldiers do in their corps de guarde.

Fourteen great fires, thus situated, were burning all at once. The king’s apartment had a distinction from the rest; it was twice as long, and the bank he sat on was adorned with deer skins finely dressed, and the best furs of otter and beaver that the country did produce.

The fire assigned to us was suitable to our number, to which we were conducted, without intermixture of any Indian but such as came to do us offices of friendship. There we were permitted to take our rest until the king pleased to enter into communication with us. Previous to which he sent his daughter, a well-favored young girl of about ten or twelve years old, with a great wooden bowl full of hominy (which is the corn of that country, beat and boiled to mash). She did in a most obliging manner give me the first taste of it, which I would have handed to my next neighbor after I had eaten, but the young princess interposed her hand, and taking the bowl out of mine, delivered it to the same party I aimed to give it, and so to all the rest in order. Instead of a spoon there was a well-shaped muscle-shell that accompanied the bowl.

The linen of that country grows ready made on the branches of oak trees (or pine); the English call it moss. It is like the threads of unwhited cotton-yarn ravelled, and hangs in parcels on the lower boughs, divine providence having so ordered it for the conveniency and sustenance of the deer, which is all the food they can get in times of snow. It is very soft, sweet and cleanly, and fit for the purpose of wiping clean the hands, and doing the duty of napkins.

About three hours after this meal was ended, the king sent to have me come to him. He called me Ny a Mutt which is to say, My brother, and compelled me to sit down on the same bank with himself, which I had reason to look upon as a mighty favor. After I had sat there about half an hour, and taken notice of many earnest discourses and repartees betwixt the king and his crotemen (so the Indians call the king’s council) I could plainly discover, that the debate they held was concerning our adventure and coming there. To make it more clear, the king addressed himself to me with many gestures of his body, his arms displayed in various postures, to explain what he had in his mind to utter for my better understanding. By all which motions I was not edified in the least, nor could imagine what return to make by voice or sign, to satisfy the king’s demands in any thing that related to the present straights of our condition. In fine, I admired their patient sufferance of my dulness to comprehend what they meant, and shewed myself to be troubled at it; which being perceived by the king, he turned all into mirth and jollity, and never left till he made me laugh with him, tho’ I knew not why.

I took that occasion to present the king with a sword and long shoulder-belt, which he received very kindly; and to witness his gracious acceptance, he threw off his Mach coat (or upper covering of skin), stood upright on his bank, and, with my aid, did accoutre his naked body with his new harness, which had no other apparel to adorn it, besides a few skins about his loins to cover his nakedness. In this dress he seemed to be much delighted; but to me he appeared a figure of such extraordinary shape, with sword and belt to set it off, that he needed now no other art to stir me up to laughter and mirth, than the sight of his own proper person.

Having made this short acquaintance with the king, I took leave, and returned to my comrades. In passing the spaces betwixt fire and fire, one space amongst the rest was blinded with a traverse of mat; and by the noise I heard from thence, like the beating of hemp, I took it to be some kind of elaboratory. To satisfy a curiosity I had to be more particularly informed, I edged close to the mat; and, by standing on tiptoe for a full discovery, I saw a sight that gave me no small trouble. The same specifical queen (whose courtesy for our kind usage the other day, can never be enough applauded) was now employed in the hard servile labour of beating corn for the king’s dinner, which raised the noise that made me thus inquisitive. I wished myself in her place for her ease: but the queens of that country do esteem it a privilege to serve their husbands in all kinds of cookery, which they would be as loth to lose, as any Christian queen would be to take it from them.

Several Indians of the first rank followed me to our quarters, and used their best endeavors to sift something from us that might give them light into knowing what we were. They sought many ways to make their thoughts intelligible to us, but still we parted without knowing what to fix upon, or how to steer our course in advance of our way to Virginia.

An Indian Princess.
[From the Same.]

TO the young princess, that had so signally obliged me, I presented a piece of two-penny scarlet ribbon, and a French tweezer, that I had in my pocket, which made her skip for joy, and to shew how little she fancied our way of carrying them concealed, she retired apart for some time, and taking out every individual piece of which it was furnished, she tied a snip of ribbon to each, and so came back with scissors, knives and bodkins hanging at her ears, neck and hair. The case itself was not excused, but bore a part in this new dress: and to the end we might not part without leaving deep impressions of her beauty in our minds, she had prepared on her forefingers, a lick of paint on each, the colors (to my best remembrance) green and yellow, which at one motion she discharged on her face, beginning upon her temples, and continuing it in an oval line downwards as far as it would hold out. I could have wished this young princess would have contented herself with what nature had done for her, without this addition of paint (which, I thought, made her more fulsome than handsome); but I had reason to imagine the royal family were only to use this ornament exclusive of all others, for that I saw none other of her sex so set off; and this conceit made it turn again, and appear lovely, as all things should do that are honored with the royal stamp.