Grandma Josie!

We are having tough times in our Alcorn family branch now.  I suppose most families go through this periodically, and now some of ours is marching toward the End of our Trail. We might have a good chance of hanging around into triple digits as did our our Great Grandfather William Alcorn.

Grandfather Willliam was born in California, one of the last four of nearly twenty-five children of  Bransford Alcorn.    They are one of San Jose’s pioneer families. My rattling of the Alcorn Tree was noticed immediately discovered by two Alcorn cousins who were working on their own Alcorn trees.  They also descend from the “Final 20” by way of one of the “big sisters” Alice Alcorn.  We three cousins are very close in age  Kathy and Sharon have been very generous with their searches, sharing all they know, much of which was very surprising to me.

Alcorns were a healthy and hardworking immigrant gang, with roots in Scotland/Ireland and possibly a layover in Nova Scotia (New Scotland) where the family name was spelled “Alkern.”  The Alcorn family and their life stories remain a  verylarge part of San Jose history:; and it appears that the whole of Northern California is filled with Alkerns as well as Alcorns.

Grandma Josie was a real Western Hard Times Pistol!:  Nothing could stop her, not even the ensuing hardships of  pre-WWII America.  She rolled up her sleeves an got busy cooking, cleaning and laundry, making do in the best of ways.

 

 

 

 

 

*********  ABOUT MOM!  She was a tall, lanky and energetic woman with a rather strange physical handicap: tumors the size of eggs on the inside of both wrists that froze up her hands: ugly purple tumors, and when the doctors set up surgery to remove them…they shrunk and faded away.

Mom said it was psychomatic: she studied Norman Vincent Peal’s theories.  And she tried to think them away .

She never washed dinner dishes at night:she saved them.  She ran hot water into them each morning and soaked her hands hoping to unlock them and tend to the days needs.  Sometimes it worked, other times she was doomed to a day of disability.  She had little education, ending at about 6th grade.  It is the secondary reason why Mom was never able to hold a real job, she was virtually uneducated.

We skipped most meals while gowing up, a fact that well-fed people often cannot grasp, and others STILL insist on blaming on the hungry for being hungry!

Mom died from Tetanus:  Lock Jaw.  I had just moved away to go to Junior College: (REPUBLICANS PLEASE NOTE:  IT WAS FREE IN THOSE DAYS AND I WAS GRATEFUL TO GET OUT OF POVERTY)

My boyfriend, soon to be husband drove me through the  “dark and stormy night”, up the hill to the hospital, and I jumped out of the car, ran into the hospital and was led to her bed by our doctor.  I held her hand, whispering “Mom?  I’m here..” she sighed and opened one green eye: she saw me, she knew.  It was the first time I saw what I call the Death Blaze.

It is an acknowledgement: her green eye blazed at me, she was weak, but she saw me!  Then she looked beyond me and sat up in bed with her poor broken back and she reached toward foot of her bed, crying “Mama!” and my mother slipped away.I remember watching and I may have seen a flash of light.

Cold and brilliant in the icey white room, the oversized clock ticked her time away. The weather pounded dark and rainy outside.  I ran from the room crying, trying to get away from the hospital and my pain.  Dr. Ford grabbed me and hugged me close, bringing me back to the reality that I did not want to understand. He took me into another room where she lay and showed me the scratch that was less than two inches long: Tetanus.

Calistoga was built on farmland well over a hundred years ago, probably close to two hundred year now.  Over time cows and horses roamed in long gone fields, leaving remains of their feed in places that became playgrounds, lawns, and gardensmaking them  a fertile places for the tetanus virus to set up housekeeping in the soil.  The doctor showed me the deadly scratch in her leg: Tetanus.  Deadly Tetanus.

My whole town helped me trhough the business of Mom’s death, donating the essentials from coffin to services; and food and more. The restaurant owners gave me food, the people from the shoe store gave me two pair of shoes.  The Hardware store forgave a bill my mother had not yet paid.   My town showed up filling the halls of the chapel, flowing out onto the sidewalk, into and across Main Street.  My college friends had cut school and made the pilgrimage.  I learned as a teenager that this ancient and humane gathering is truly an expression of love and support for the family, as well as for the community itself.

I still return home to walk the old familiar streets, often accompanied by classmates from our century.. rememiniscing when so and so did this or that;  and did you see what they are doing with the old hospital!

Sometimes I think I see my mother, that tall, lean woman with her long legs, the legs I could never keep up with, striding through town, stopping and chatting with townfolk and shopkeepers.  And her looney, giggley laugh – I only hear it  in Calistoga. and I sometimes have to turn and take a look-see.

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The Pope’s Party

 

THE POPE’S PARTY

Pope John XIII announced “a gathering” in December, 1413 for the Sixteenth General Council which would begin “at Constance” on November 1, 1414.  King Sigismund of Germany (and many other places) was the primary organizer, and sent invitations with Pope John’s seal to the other two Popes and all the Christian princes and prelates.  Prelates are low-ranking theologians in the belief.

Pope John appointed Count Friedrich of Tyrol as Captain-General of his Papal Army for a salary of 6,000 florins.

Carlo Malatesta, the Crab of Rimini, persuaded Gregory XII to send two envoys, but fuss-bucket Benedict XIII would agree only to meeting Sigismund.  And that would be only in the spring, at Villefrance.

Pope John opened the Council on November 5, 1414.  His pal King Sigismund was crowned King of Germany at Aachen on November 8, so naturally His Royal Highness did not show up until December 24, of the same year.

The Council would eventually be attended by 3 patriarchs, 29 cardinals, 33 archbishops, 150 bishops, more than a hundred abbots, about fifty provosts and deans; plus three hundred doctors; there were many envoys of kings and princes, dukes, counts and barons, and more than 1,500 knights.   One of which was my own Yorkshire Knight.

I struggle to think of his horseback ride from the North of Yorkshire, cross the sea to Normandy and across France for the Adriatic Sea.  In modern times, Villefrance is situate at the top of a large hill, with many paths leading down to the shore.  I cannot imagine how the thundering herds of these men and their animals was handled.  Perhaps the animals were taken to a separate and flat venue somewhere.

This was a town of 5,500 citizens.  The lowest contemporary estimate of those visiting the town of 5,500 was 40,000.   But they could handle many more because there were 36,000 beds for invitees, and they slept two to a bed.

Seven hundred women practiced prostitution in the streets and an unknown number practiced in private.

Prices on food and beds were fixed to prevent extortion.  Really!

A religionist by name of Jan Hus was given safe conduct by Sigismund. He seemed to have lucked out as Sigismund was attributed to beheading 171 Bosnian aristocrats, and cutting off the right hands of 180 prisoners.  Alas, poor Jan was put under arrest on November 28, and later burned at the stake by Sgismund.

Count Friedrich of Tyrol was hired (or perhaps bribed) to be “Captain-General” of the Papal Army for a salary of 6,000 florins, a hefty sum anywhere?   Perhaps.

These high roller Boys set about squawking a little it seems:   Carlo Malatesta (Charlie Bad Head?) Well, he managed to persuade Gregory XII to send two envoys; but Benedict XIII, an elderly invitee and cranky former Pope, would only agree to see Sigismund at Villefrance; and that would be in the springtime!

A spiritual encounter?  clean food, meditations, prayer and vernal equinox?

NO!!  Nothing like that was organized.

It started when Benedict threw a hissy and refused to meet Sigismund until springtime!   He did agree the site must be at “the most beautiful ancient city in the world” (quoting myself)  Villefrance, a small ancient city overlooking the Adriatic Sea, a city that I had stayed in for a week or more, would love to revisit, especially now.  As in today, this minute.

On November 5, 1414, Pope 23 opened up the council.  Sigismund would be late, as was scheduled to be crowned at Aachen on November 8, just three days later. It appears that Sigismund really was the king of everything. However, he did not show up until Christmas Eve.  The Holy Calendar was apparently not invented.

“The Council” expected three Patriarchs, 29 Cardinals, 33 Archbishops, 150 bishops, over 100 Abbots, 50 provost and deans, 300 “other” doctors, many envoys of kings and princes, dukes and counts and barons; and over fifteen hundred (1,500) knights!  Now, what I have researched does not appear to include their horses.  What did the do with their horses!

This is a lot of people in Villefrance…a tiny ancient town built on a slope overlooking the Adriatic Sea. I visited it for several days once, and hated to leave, swore to come back.

Back on subject:  so in the early 1400s, just where did they put all these men?

The lowest contemporary estimate of the guests of this charming city of 5,500 locals was 40,000 strangers!

But it may have been more:  there were 36,000 beds prepared for the strangers… and each slept two to a bed.

Seven hundred women practiced prostitution in the streets and an unknown number practiced “in private” celebrating the Papal Event.  It should be noted that they piously fixed the prices on food and beds to prevent “extortion” and not a word about the female workers.

Sigismund, as head organizer had personally sent invitations with Pope John’s seal to two other Popes and all of the Christian princes and prelates.

While he traveled to meet up with the Tyrolean Count, Pope John decided Count Friedrich should be captain-general of his army for a salary of 6,000 florins.

Meanwhile, Carlo Bad Head had convinced Gregory XII to send two additional envoys, but Benedict held fast to his idea of meeting Sigismund six months later at Villefrance.

Obviously some communication issues were at hand.

Pope John made arrangements on the way, appointing Count Friedrich of Tyrol as “Captain General of the Papal Army” for a flat payment of 6,000 Florins.  Imagine!

And Sigismund was crowned at Aachen, on 8 November;   however he did not show up at the party until 24 December.  Timing was given wide berth in those days.

Eventually the Council received three patriarchs, 29 cardinals, 33 archbishops, 150 bishops, over one hundred abbots, fifty provosts and/or deans, about three hundred doctors, endless envoys of kings, knights, princes, dukes, counts and barons; and more than 1,500 knights; and the party girls.

The lowest estimate using modern methods for visitors to a town of 5,500 citizens was 40,000 invitees!  It may have been considerably more:  there were over 36,000 beds ready for participants, accommodating two persons to a bed.

Nearly a thousand women practiced prostitution “in the streets” of the lovely Ville France.   Many more sought to “celebrate” unseen, perhaps in the bushes.

It is important to know that in order to prevent “criminal action”, prices on food and beds were very, very carefully fixed!  Therefore, women were not equal to a potato or a bowl of soup.

A Czech citizen by the name of Jan Hus was allowed by Sigmund to attend the soiree.   Alas, he didn’t last long:  the general council started 1 November 1414  and Hus was arrested on 28 November that same year.

One can only imagine what he was up to.

Two decades later the same pious Jan Hus, now a “Christian reformer” and philosopher was charged with heresy against the Catholic Church.

He was burned at the stake.

448 Words

 

 

 

 

10 Apr 2016 Melanie Wood

Many thanks to the work of online researcher and author

Sanderson Beck.  This blog is based on his work.

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REDMAYGNE TO RODMAN, A FAMILY JOURNEY

962 Words

It has been such a long time since this Alice slid down the rabbit hole…it’s been months. I’ve certainly been through scary bad times in my life, but this time I think it has to do with the over-all weakening of my health and subsequently my outlook.   It’s not fair, so I devoted some time to whining about it.

During my hiatus, I buried myself deeper into genealogy …hoping to keep my grey matter lively while I was in the slide. My searches revealed much information that I was unable to grasp.   In the back of my mind I was thinking “Sure, Ancestry.com…. I’m gonna believe all this castle and head chopping and such.”

I didn’t think it was true. And there was nobody to ask: I am the elder in my family now.

A wee voice in the back of my head reminded me that my mother had told me a “silly-ass story” (her words) of her Swiss grandfather receiving a letter from the Swiss government regarding a castle that was up for government sale. Grandfather held a family gathering, and the family agreed they didn’t want to pay back taxes and did not respond. My mother was not certain this was even true.

Early in my searches on line I found that it just might be sort of true: my 15th GGF on my (Swiss) Grandfather’s side is Martin Luther, the Swiss Reformer. He came from a family (real name was Luder) of great poverty, but he did very well with Religion, and ran with the best of them. He could certainly have owned a chateau!

I chose Alice in Wonderland as a favorite book when I was a child. I was totally caught up with her so boldly diving into a dark hole! My kind of fun!

Not so much my Mom’s idea though: We didn’t have a washing machine so she did laundry by hand, in the bathtub with one of those rubbing racks.

Apparently I had to wait until I was crowding seventy to realize just what a Slow Learner I am: Louis Carrol’s book about Alice in Wonderland was a satirical commentary on The War of the Roses, between Yorkshire and Lancaster. And there was a Red Queen! She is an ancestor of mine! and she really could make people lose their head! In truth, I learned most of Carrol’s story in the ‘60s via Gracie Slick’s White Rabbit. At the time, I still held the belief that this was a made up story.

My poor Swiss Miss Mom: living in a family with no income: our parents divorced and our father was not good at paying support. These were difficult years until our father passed. I was eleven then, and Bill was a year and half older.

Mom, now had a title: The Widow. Thank god that now she and we youngsters were “entitled” to Dad’s Social Security death benefits. Thank you Daddy, we were finally able to get off Welfare!

Every once in a while Mom would mention her family back ground…. A royalty mixture was the blood that ran through our lines, something about a Portuguese Queen, and I said “yeah, right!”

I was comparatively small, maxed out at 5’5” but she was 5’11” and she said she came from solid German stock on both sides. Well, I found out she was a little miss-led. Not German, but Swiss and they too are often very tall. My husband and I tried to pick up a Swiss woman who had fallen near our restaurant in Lugano. She was slim but very tall, requiring both my husband and I to lift her from the icy sidewalk. I remembered at the time that my own mother also was tall, 5’10” built slim, just like this woman. Maybe Mom really was Swiss? It was the first clue that what she’d been saying may be true.

And then I search Mom’s paternal side, the “Rodmans”, which I was both confounded and delighted to find were originally the Redmayne’s from the Loire Valley in France. I’d fallen in love with all of France years ago, the Loire especially! And these relatives, the Redmaygne’s, (redheads) were Normans, originating in Avranches, France.

On or about the time the Normans invaded England, they changed the family name to Redmayne. Family members in England today mostly use the Redman version.

But in the USA, they use the name that is shown in the Parish records of Barbados: Rodman. And there is a story there, too.

In 1568, my many-times Great Grandfather, John Redman the Quaker, refused to take of his hat in the church Assizes. He was jailed for three months, then he and his family were banished from Ireland!

He indentured himself as a servant and moved his entire family to the balmy Isle of Barbados.  He unfortunately lost his wife and their newborn at sea. Once in Barbados he worked hard and eventually became, like his employer, a plantation owner. His eldest sons were both doctors like their father and the centuries of forefather. It was a family profession going back to the 14th century: in about 1410 a Rodman knight died in Jerusalem. He was Knight “Hospitallier” and gave respite and protection to weary Christian pilgrims of the faith.

These young Rodmans of Babados immediately married and moved North to the American colony of Rhode Island and set up their practice of medicine.

 

(NOTE ~ to get a feel of “Barbados” during the early 1500s and the next several centuries, a book on the market called SUGAR IN THE BLOOD, by Andrea Stewart. She was born on the island, and descends from slaves and their masters. She has done a truly magnificent job.)

C-Melanie Wood 4/28/2016

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Khartoum Eclipse

Khartoum Eclipse

We had the opportunity, the privilege and the delightful experience of leaving Main Stream USA and moving to Khartoum, Sudan without a clue as to what to expect.  Well, my first husband, the oil husband expected a whole lot of moolah and that played out perfectly well.    I on the other hand had no idea of what I was doing, couldn’t dream about what I might do.

Christmas and Chanukah cards display the night sky of winter in the Far East as a deep velvet navy blue.   And this is indeed what the North Sudan sky looks like!  However, in our part of the desert we had no palm trees, and no stars are visible through the thick dust in the air.

We experienced Haley’s Comet, viewing it through the telescope.  It created excitement with our house employees – they gathered around and peeked through the lens, then looked with their naked eyes, and peeked again.  They were amazed and none were disturbed.   Afterward we served Hibiscus Tea, sandwiches, cookies all huge treats in the bankrupt and starving Sudan of the 1980s.

Then we heard on BBC that our part of the world would experience a full eclipse of the moon!  This would take many hours longer than watching a comet, so we decided we’d have another Evening with Employees.

This time, though, in order to educate them, I put together some visual aids, never dreaming we would be scaring the Holy Peawadden out of them.   (An old saying of my mom’s)

I gathered a large sturdy white paper plate for the moon, and a pie tin to create shadow of the sun, when Larry shined the flashlight in back of it.  It worked beautifully.  And they all thought it was a fun event and laughed as they reached for sandwiches and cookies

But when the eclipse began, the guards all became extremely agitated. These were people who slept between Earth and Sky, depending on their moon in the night.  They wrung their hands, glancing quickly at the skies, and just as quickly turned away to mill around, pointing and shouting in Arabic, “Ma quaise! Ma quaise”  (No Good!)

Hadgu, who spoke better Arabic, told us they were terrified the shadow was eating the moon;  frightened it may never return again!  The men rushed to the back yard, got their prayer rugs, and returned to kneel in prayer to Allah, not daring to look up at the sky

We turned off the flashlight, threw aside our props and settled down to go through several hours of eclipse.

We sat hours with them in their heads down position.  And we called to them when the moon was whole again.  The poor fellows relaxed  then laughed hysterically in relief.

I was shamed in afterthought: they had no reason to be looking at the night time sky after a hard day’s work.  In their life they would have been exhausted by just staying alive another day, and slept through it all, no doubt would have been better off sleeping.  And they didn’t need any more teaching moments.

518 Words

Melanie Wood 9/27/2015

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SCARY PRE-TEEN AND TEENAGE YEARS

A few years ago I was in the habit of walking my dog just before dusk closed in. On one particular late afternoon we walked past our local baseball park and I noticed that far beyond the field in the grassy back corner under trees a half dozen portly men were sitting at a picnic table. It seemed they were all dressed in black. It was autumn, and the sky was darkening and they looked like silhouettes perhaps playing cards.

This became a daily scene, and more young boys on skateboards showed up. I was uncomfortable. I notified the local law enforcement agencies. They promised to do a drive by but did not seem to be concerned: there was no law against gathering in a public park in daylight.

My arthritic spine ended my dog walks, and I turned my mind to other things. During which time my 15 year old grandson, who attended school in my neighborhood, began asking if I would bring him a sandwich and some juice a big jug so he could share. His parents both work odd hours and the kids are left alone in the mornings to get themselves dressed, pack a lunch and off to school. So I did this, never EVER considering that they might be pouring a liter of vodka in it. My grand-daughter enlightened me of that scheme. I’m from the 57 Chevy days, I guess. All my boyfriends and both husbands had a 57.

One day my daughter stopped by on the way home from work, concerned about the fall in her son’s grades. They had never been great, but now they were a disaster. I said I could help, if he could come over to my house after school, have a snack and do his homework. He had always loved to come to my house,   but now he only came a few times.

He said he preferred to do his homework at home, as his house in a cul de sac undisturbed by street noises, and he quit coming.

My spinal issues got worse and I stopped walking with my dog as I was having a hard time remaining vertical. l forgot about the picnic table in the park for several months.

Grandson got consistently poor grades. He cut school. There was nobody at home until evening.  And he was suddenly an angry child.

I spoke with my daughter a number of times, reminding her I had taken a 60% cut in salary just so I could have access to the school: my boss allowed me to take lunch any time I wanted to. I was likely to show up at 9:00 am, noon, or 3:15 pm, carrying a sweater, book, some cough drops or a hanky that I “thought” they forgot.

Of course I was checking up on them. And I sacrificed: I worked locally for 1/3 the wages I could have made had I continued working in San Francisco. I was not going to let them snow me like I did my mom!

I took the salary cut, my kids were worth it to me, and the results prove my decision.

What was very different from the ‘80s, when my children were in junior high and high school is that fewer parents know enough to make themselves “unexpectedly available.”

Too often a common reason is they feel compelled to keep their jobs are fear of losing a great paying position or just unwilling to sacrifice. It’s important to note that during my parenting time employers were a lot more flexible with allowing parents “parenting” time.

These are days requiring a different set of values for child rearing, and I am first to admit that my big-fat-watchful eye did not catch one of my children before they got in a very precarious “predicament”.   This is no perfect plan:   perhaps because of this, I was more watchful.

Well, despite my efforts to keep grandson in line, I was not up to today’s standards: not alert enough to begin questioning the middle school kid about drugs & alcohol.

Hence, the purpose of this blog.

The grandson I knew “disappeared”.

Nobody knew where he was, or if they did they didn’t tell me. He was picked up by the police, wandering in the dark as a minor, (several times.) There were physical altercations at home, and he was now a surly and disobedient child, very tall child, and way too brawny.

Finally he disappeared. Parents had given up: he was violent, and he refused to follow family rules. The cops had been called and it looked like he was heading for Juvenile Detention. To his father’s credit, he did everything he could and more to keep grandson from going to Juvy. And then he disappeared.

So it was Grandma, going places nobody wants to go.

I started with the Vice Principal of the High School, who was pleased to see me proactively searching for a solution to a terrible problem.

His hope was to have Grandson back in school, and on track to college. Instead Grandson ran away.

His parents were worried, the police couldn’t find him and I was terrified.

So, I worked from home: I had already made him dependent on me and my wheels, and there was a method behind it: “in case of emergency….”

I now knew who grandson’s friends were, and who their parents and sometimes neighbors were: I got their addresses and cell phone numbers from him… because he asked me to cart him around in my car & gave me all my phone numbers which I promptly put In my address book under G for Grandson.

So I started my searching: I drove from Tom’s house to Jim’s house to Kevin’s and Damon’s asking the same questions of the parents: When did you last see him? Do you know where he went? Do you know of other friends that I might not know?   And can you give me addresses/phone numbers please. They gave it all to me.

I searched for a couple of days. Then came the evening, a dark and rainy night, when I was driving down a street near home. It was nearing midnight, and I recognized that long lanky frame. No umbrella, no jacket, wearing only a soaking wet hoody for warmth.

I pulled over and asked if he wanted to come home with me and warm up with something to eat and some hot chocolate.   He snarled at me asking me why I was bothering all his friends.

What was I doing! I said I was finding him, of course, so do you want something to eat?

I was unwilling to engage in a battle with him.

When we got to my house, I explained I wanted him to do an online search for me, feigning Elder Web Idiocy. I led him to the office and sat him down, saying nothing.   And when he snarled at me again, asking what I wanted him to look up, I said the name of Jeffery Dahmer.

I spelled Dahmer’s name for him, and he quickly typed it in, gasped and fell into horrified silence.

Finally he breathed “..He, he ATE THEM?” He looked at me, a really tall little boy now.

“You bet Grandson that is what he did: he searched or shall we say “shopped” for troubled young men wandering the night and invited them to his home, literally for a meal.   Get it?”

He nodded his head, shaken and pale.

We talked about growing up and the things one needs to learn, and how for a while longer he was going to have to check in with family or friends parents when he had questions, doubts and problems.

“It’s all about your brain growing up, you know. You’re plain risky when you don’t have an adult brain!”

Today he is working only two jobs, he dumped the third. He wants to buy a car and stashes most of his paychecks in the bank; and he is busy working on his GED.

I can tell by his voice and demeanor he likes the man he is turning into and that light-hearted bond between loving parents and child is definitely improved. He is no longer angry with me.

Melanie Wood

1388 Words

Blogged 8/28/15

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SCARY PRE-TEEN AND TEENAGE YEARS

A few years ago I was in the habit of walking my dog just before dusk closed in. And on one particular late afternoon we walked past our local baseball park and I noticed that far beyond the field in the grassy back corner under trees a half dozen portly men were sitting at a picnic table. It seemed they were all dressed in black. It was autumn, and the sky was darkening and they looked like silhouettes perhaps playing cards.

This became a daily scene, and more young boys on skateboards showed up. I was uncomfortable. I notified the local law enforcement agencies. They promised to do a drive by but did not seem to be concerned: there was no law against gathering in a public park in daylight.

My arthritic spine ended my dog walks, and I turned my mind to other things. During which time my 15 year old grandson, who attended school in my neighborhood, began asking if I would bring him a sandwich and some juice a big jug so he could share. His parents both work odd hours and the kids are left alone in the mornings to get themselves dressed, pack a lunch and off to school. So I did this, never EVER considering that they might be pouring a liter of vodka in it. My grand-daughter enlightened me of that scheme. I’m from the 57 Chevy days, I guess. All my boyfriends and both husbands had a 57.

One day my daughter stopped by on the way home from work, concerned about the fall in her son’s grades. They had never been great, but now they were a disaster. I said I could help, if he could come over to my house after school, have a snack and do his homework. He had always loved to come to my house,   but now he only came a few times.

He said he preferred to do his homework at home, as his house in a cul de sac undisturbed by street noises, and he quit coming.

My spinal issues got worse and I stopped walking with my dog as I was having a hard time remaining vertical. l forgot about the picnic table in the park for several months.

Grandson got consistently poor grades. He cut school. There was nobody at home until evening.  And he was suddenly an angry child.

I spoke with my daughter a number of times, reminding her I had taken a 60% cut in salary just so I could have access to the school: my boss allowed me to take lunch any time I wanted to. I was likely to show up at 9:00 am, noon, or 3:15 pm, carrying a sweater, book, some cough drops or a hanky that I “thought” they forgot.

Of course I was checking up on them. And I sacrificed: I worked locally for 1/3 the wages I could have made had I continued working in San Francisco. I was not going to let them snow me like I did my mom!

I took the salary cut, my kids were worth it to me, and the results prove my decision.

What was very different from the ‘80s, when my children were in junior high and high school is that fewer parents know enough to make themselves “unexpectedly available.”

Too often a common reason is they feel compelled to keep their jobs are fear of losing a great paying position or just unwilling to sacrifice. It’s important to note that during my parenting time employers were a lot more flexible with allowing parents “parenting” time.

These are days requiring a different set of values for child rearing, and I am first to admit that my big-fat-watchful eye did not catch one of my children before they got in a very precarious “predicament”.   This is no perfect plan:   perhaps because of this, I was more watchful.

Well, despite my efforts to keep grandson in line, I was not up to today’s standards: not alert enough to begin questioning the middle school kid about drugs & alcohol.

Hence, the purpose of this blog.

The grandson I knew “disappeared”.

Nobody knew where he was, or if they did they didn’t tell me. He was picked up by the police, wandering in the dark as a minor, (several times.) There were physical altercations at home, and he was now a surly and disobedient child, very tall child, and way too brawny.

Finally he disappeared. Parents had given up: he was violent, and he refused to follow family rules. The cops had been called and it looked like he was heading for Juvenile Detention. To his father’s credit, he did everything he could and more to keep grandson from going to Juvy. And then he disappeared.

So it was Grandma, going places nobody wants to go.

I started with the Vice Principal of the High School, who was pleased to see me proactively searching for a solution to a terrible problem.

His hope was to have Grandson back in school, and on track to college. Instead Grandson ran away.

His parents were worried, the police couldn’t find him and I was terrified.

So, I worked from home: I had already made him dependent on me and my wheels, and there was a method behind it: “in case of emergency….”

I now knew who grandson’s friends were, and who their parents and sometimes neighbors were: I got their addresses and cell phone numbers from him… because he asked me to cart him around in my car & gave me all my phone numbers which I promptly put In my address book under G for Grandson.

So I started my searching: I drove from Tom’s house to Jim’s house to Kevin’s and Damon’s asking the same questions of the parents: When did you last see him? Do you know where he went? Do you know of other friends that I might not know?   And can you give me addresses/phone numbers please. They gave it all to me.

I searched for a couple of days. Then came the evening, a dark and rainy night, when I was driving down a street near home. It was nearing midnight, and I recognized that long lanky frame. No umbrella, no jacket, wearing only a soaking wet hoody for warmth.

I pulled over and asked if he wanted to come home with me and warm up with something to eat and some hot chocolate.   He snarled at me asking me why I was bothering all his friends.

What was I doing! I said I was finding him, of course, so do you want something to eat?

I was unwilling to engage in a battle with him.

When we got to my house, I explained I wanted him to do an online search for me, feigning Elder Web Idiocy. I led him to the office and sat him down, saying nothing.   And when he snarled at me again, asking what I wanted him to look up, I said the name of Jeffery Dahmer.

I spelled Dahmer’s name for him, and he quickly typed it in, gasped and fell into horrified silence.

Finally he breathed “..He, he ATE THEM?” He looked at me, a really tall little boy now.

“You bet Grandson that is what he did: he searched or shall we say “shopped” for troubled young men wandering the night and invited them to his home, literally for a meal.   Get it?”

He nodded his head, shaken and pale.

We talked about growing up and the things one needs to learn, and how for a while longer he was going to have to check in with family or friends parents when he had questions, doubts and problems.

“It’s all about your brain growing up, you know. You’re plain risky when you don’t have an adult brain!”

Today he is working only two jobs, he dumped the third. He wants to buy a car and stashes most of his paychecks in the bank; and he is busy working on his GED.

I can tell by his voice and demeanor he likes the man he is turning into and that light-hearted bond between loving parents and child is definitely improved. He is no longer angry with me.

Melanie Wood

Blogged 8/28/15

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Capt. John Smith Article by Charles C. Mann, published in National Geographic

This article was published by National Geographic, which I apparently overlooked.  I have this Capt. John Smith fellow as my 10th GreatGrandfather, much to my dismay.

Please consider Mr. Mann’s piece in the context of today’s world;  I hope you will find it as frightening as I do.  M.W.

AMERICA FOUND AND LOST

Charles C. Mann is the best-selling author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. His article was published in National Geographic

Much of what we learned in grade school about the New World encountered by the colonists at Jamestown is wrong. Four hundred years later, historians are piecing together the real story. By Charles C. Mann Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum It is just possible that John Rolfe was responsible for the worms—specifically the common night crawler and the red marsh worm, creatures that did not exist in the Americas before Columbus. Rolfe was a colonist in Jamestown, Virginia, the first successful English colony in North America. Most people know him today, if they know him at all, as the man who married Pocahontas. A few history buffs understand that Rolfe was one of the primary forces behind Jamestown’s eventual success. The worms hint at a third, still more important role: Rolfe inadvertently helped unleash a convulsive and permanent change in the American landscape. Like many young English blades, Rolfe smoked—or, as the phrase went in those days, “drank”—tobacco, a fad since the Spanish had first carried back samples of Nicotiana tabacum from the Caribbean. Indians in Virginia also drank tobacco, but it was a different species, Nicotiana rustica. Virginia leaf was awful stuff, wrote colonist William Strachey: “poor and weak and of a biting taste.” After arriving in Jamestown in 1610, Rolfe talked a shipmaster into bringing him N. tabacum seeds from Trinidad and Venezuela. Six years later Rolfe returned to England with his wife, Pocahontas, and the first major shipment of his tobacco. “Pleasant, sweet, and strong,” as Rolfe’s friend Ralph Hamor described it, Jamestown’s tobacco was a hit. By 1620 the colony exported up to 50,000 pounds (23,000 kilograms) of it—and at least six times more a decade later. Ships bellied up to Jamestown and loaded up with barrels of tobacco leaves. To balance the weight, sailors dumped out ballast, mostly stones and soil. That dirt almost certainly contained English earthworms. And little worms can trigger big changes. The hardwood forests of New England and the upper Midwest, for instance, have no native earthworms—they were apparently wiped out in the last Ice Age. In such worm-free woodlands, leaf litter piles up in drifts on the forest floor. But when earthworms are introduced, they can do away with the litter in a few months. The problem is that northern trees and shrubs beneath the forest canopy depend on that litter for food. Without it, water leaches away nutrients formerly stored in the litter. The forest becomes more open and dry, losing much of its understory, including tree seedlings. Whether the night crawler and the red marsh worm actually first arrived on Rolfe’s tobacco ships is not known. What is clear is that much of the northern forests in America were worm free until the Europeans arrived there, inadvertently importing earthworms on the root-balls of their plants or in the ballast of ships. The effects of this earthworm invasion have been slow to show themselves because the creatures don’t spread rapidly on their own. “If they’re born in your backyard, they’ll stay inside the fence their whole lives,” says John Reynolds, editor of Megadrilogica, the premier earthworm journal. But over time, the effect on the ecosystem can be dramatic. Jamestown is known for inaugurating the great American struggles over democracy (the colony established English America’s first representative government) and slavery (it was the first English colony to use captured Africans). Rolfe’s worms, as one might call them, point to another part of its history. The colonists did not come to the Americas alone. Instead they were accompanied by a great parade of insects, plants, mammals, and microorganisms. Some of the effects were almost invisible; others were enormous. Together with the newcomers’ different ways of managing the land, these creatures literally changed the ground beneath the Indians’ feet. Setting up camp on marshy Jamestown peninsula, the colonists were taking the first steps toward creating the American landscape we know today. Two hundred and fifty million years ago the world contained a single landmass known to scientists as Pangaea. Geologic forces broke this vast expanse into pieces, sundering Eurasia and the Americas. Over time the two halves of the world developed wildly different suites of plants and animals. Columbus’s signal accomplishment was, in the phrase of historian Alfred Crosby, to reknit the torn seams of Pangaea. After 1492, the world’s ecosystems collided and mixed as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans. The Columbian exchange, as Crosby called it, is why there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolates in Switzerland, and hot peppers in Thailand. It is arguably the most important event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs. For English America, Jamestown was the opening salvo in the Columbian exchange. In biological terms, it marked the point when before turns into after. And it began 400 years ago this month, on May 14, 1607, when 104 colonists disembarked on Jamestown peninsula, on the southern fringe of Chesapeake Bay. Much of what we learned in grade school about the New World encountered by the colonists at Jamestown turns out to be wrong. In movies and textbooks the colonists are often depicted as arriving in a pristine forest of ancient trees, small bands of Indians gliding, silent as ghosts, beneath the canopy. But the idea that the English were “settlers” of land that was unsettled before they arrived is complete nonsense. In fact, three English ships landed in the middle of a small but rapidly expanding Indian empire called Tsenacomoco. Three decades before, Tsenacomoco had been a collection of six separate chiefdoms. By the time the foreigners came from overseas, its paramount chief, Powhatan, had tripled its size to about 8,000 square miles (21,000 square kilometers) and more than 14,000 people. Wary, politically shrewd, ruthless when needed, Powhatan was probably in his 60s when the English landed—a “goodly old man, not yet shrinking” with age, according to colonist Strachey, “well beaten with many cold and stormy winters,” but still “of a tall stature and clean limbs.” His sphere of influence stretched from the Potomac to Cape Henry. Most of Powhatan’s people (known by the colonists as the Powhatan Indians) lived in villages of a few hundred inhabitants surrounded by large tracts of cleared land: cornfields and former cornfields. Except for defensive palisades, the landscape was unfenced. By a quirk of evolutionary history, North America had, except for dogs, no large domesticable mammals; its native species, such as bison and deer, could not be tamed. With no horses, cattle, sheep, goats, or chickens to tend, villagers had no need to enclose their fields. Between the villages was the forest, splendid with chestnut and elm but hardly untouched. “It was touched, and sometimes heavily,” says Donald Young, an ecologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. In the fall, Indians burned the underbrush, keeping the forest so open and parklike, colonist John Smith wrote, that “a man may gallop a horse amongst these woods.” With Indian villages dotting the region’s many riverbanks, the Chesapeake Bay was a jumble of farm fields, marshes, deep forest, and secondary forest (young trees growing on abandoned plots). Jamestown peninsula was an example of the last; it had been cleared, perhaps for farm fields, a generation or two before the English arrived. The new colony was a private enterprise funded by a group of venture capitalists called the Virginia Company. Much like investors in today’s dot-com start-ups, the backers wanted a quick return. They believed, incorrectly, that the Chesapeake Bay region was laden, like Mexico and Peru, with vast stores of gold and silver. The goal was to acquire these precious metals as expeditiously as possible. Spain, too, believed that gold and silver could be found there. It had long ago claimed what is now the U.S. East Coast for itself and in 1570 had planted a mission a few miles north of Jamestown. The local Indians wiped out that mission. English colonists who settled on Roanoke Island 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of Jamestown in the 1580s may also have met their end at the hands of a native group—very possibly the Powhatan. Nonetheless the Virginia Company directors worried more about protecting their investment from distant Spain than from the Indians. They instructed the colonists—their employees, in today’s terms—to settle far from the ocean, “a hundred miles [160 kilometers] from the river’s mouth,” which would minimize the chance of sudden assault by Spanish ships. And they told them to make sure the settlement was close to a deepwater anchorage, so they could lay up “provisions with ease.” In all they did, the directors warned, the colonists should act with “great care not to offend the naturals [Indians].” Jamestown was the result. Not wanting to antagonize Powhatan, the newcomers—tassantassas (strangers), as the Indians called them—looked for uninhabited ground. Because native villages occupied all the good land upriver, the colonists ended up picking a site about 35 miles (55 kilometers) from the mouth of the James. It was a peninsula near a bend in the river, at a place where the current cut a deep channel so close to the shore that oceangoing ships could be moored to the trees. Alas, there was a reason no Indians lived at Jamestown: It was not a good place to live. The English were like the last people moving into a subdivision—they ended up with the least desirable property. Their chosen site was marshy, mosquito-ridden, and without fresh water. Buckets could be dipped into the James, of course, but the water was potable only part of the year. During the summer, the river falls as much as 15 feet (5 meters). No longer pushed back by a big flow of fresh water, the salty water of the estuary spreads upstream, stopping right around Jamestown. Worse, sediments and organic wastes from the head of the river get trapped at the saltwater boundary. The colonists were drinking some of the dirtiest water in the James—”full of slime and filth,” complained Jamestown president George Percy. By the end of September, nearly half of the original 104 colonists had died. Percy attributed most of the deaths to “mere famine,” but he was wrong, in the view of the late historical geographer Carville Earle. The river teemed with fish in the summer—especially big, meaty Atlantic sturgeon—and the English caught and ate them. (Archaeologists at Jamestown have uncovered remains from a sturgeon as long as 14 feet [4 meters].) Instead, Earle argued, the colonists were killed by “typhoid, dysentery, and perhaps salt poisoning.” All are associated with contaminated water. During winter the water would have cleared, but not in time to help the tassantassas. Many had been too sick that summer to tend the company gardens. Initially the strangers hoped to trade with the Indians for food while they spent their days hunting for gold, but the region was deep into a multiyear drought, and the Indians did not want to part with what little food they had. By January, only 38 colonists were alive—barely. Within months, John Smith took charge of Jamestown. His wily, sometimes brutal diplomacy allowed the foreigners to extract enough food from Tsenacomoco villages to survive the next winter. This was quite a feat—with the arrival of two more convoys, the number of mouths at Jamestown had risen, even with all the deaths, to about 200. Despite his successes, Smith, a yeoman’s son, managed constantly to irritate his social betters in the Virginia Company’s leadership. Worse for the colony, he left for medical treatment in England in the fall of 1609. He had suffered terrible burns when a bag of gunpowder he had fastened around his waist accidentally ignited. In his absence, things deteriorated. That winter, the death toll again was high. Although Jamestown was nearly defenseless, Powhatan didn’t attack. For the first year or two of the colony’s existence, he seems to have decided that the foreigners’ trade goods—guns, axes, glass beads, and copper sheets, which the Indians prized much the way Europeans prized gold ingots—were worth giving up some not-very-valuable real estate. In addition, Powhatan was probably convinced that the tassantassas would die off without his assistance, suggests Helen Rountree, an emerita anthropologist at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, and the most prominent historian of Tsenacomoco. He could sit back and wait; the invasion from abroad would end itself. Things would get ugly before Powhatan was proved wrong. By the beginning of 1610, the settlers at Jamestown were dining on “dogs, cats, rats, and mice,” Percy wrote, as well as the starch for their Elizabethan ruffs, which could be cooked into a kind of porridge. With famine “ghastly and pa le in every face,” some colonists stirred themselves to “dig up dead corpse[s] out of graves and to eat them.” One man murdered his pregnant wife and “salted her for his food.” When John Rolfe arrived that spring, only about 60 people at Jamestown had survived what was called “the starving time.” Rolfe himself barely made it to Virginia. Almost a year before—June 1609—nine ships had left England, carrying 500 new colonists, Rolfe among them. Not far from landfall, a hurricane slammed into the expedition. Rolfe’s vessel twisted so much in the waves that the caulking popped from its seams. For three straight days every man aboard, many “stripped naked as men in galleys,” worked pumps and bucket chains. The voyagers were near collapse when the ship ran aground on an unpeopled island in the Bermudas. For nine months, Rolfe and the other survivors recovered on the island, catching fish, wild hogs, and sea turtles and assembling two small boats from the wreckage of their ship. They staggered into Jamestown on May 24, 1610, a year after leaving London. Appalled by what they found and with limited supplies, Rolfe’s group quickly decided to abandon Jamestown. They loaded the skeleton-like survivors into boats, intending to set off for Newfoundland, where they would beg a ride home from fishing vessels that plied the Grand Banks. As they waited for the tide to turn for their departure, they saw three ships approaching. It was yet another convoy, this one amply supplied and containing a replacement governor and 150 more colonists. The old colonists, despondent, returned to the task of figuring out how to survive. It wasn’t easy. At least 6,000 people came to Virginia from England between 1607 and 1624. More than three out of four died. The central mystery of Jamestown is why the badly led, often starving colonists were eventually able to prevail over the bigger, better-organized forces of the Powhatan empire. In other parts of the Americas, colonizers had their way smoothed for them, so to speak, because they landed in places that already had been devastated by Eurasian illnesses like smallpox, measles, and typhoid—diseases that had not existed in the Americas. When the Pilgrims came to Massachusetts in 1620, for instance, they established Plymouth village literally on top of an Indian village that had been emptied two years before by an epidemic (apparently spread by survivors of a French vessel that shipwrecked on Cape Cod). In Virginia, despite previous contact with Europeans, the Powhatan had somehow avoided any epidemics and were going strong when the Jamestown colonists arrived. Yet by the late 17th century, the Powhatan too had lost control of their land. What happened? One answer emerging points to what historian Alfred Crosby calls “ecological imperialism.” The tassantassas replaced or degraded so much of the native ecosystem that they made it harder and harder for the Indians to survive in their native lands. As the colonists bitterly came to realize that Virginia had no gold and that the Indians weren’t going to selflessly provide them with all the food they needed, they began to mold the land to their needs. Unable to adapt to this foreign landscape, they transformed it into a place they could understand. In doing so, they unleashed what would become a multilevel ecological assault on North America. Their unlikely weapons in this initial phase of the campaign: tobacco, honeybees, and domestic animals. Most historians think it unlikely that Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life. Smith was sent off to explore the headwaters of the Chickahominy River in December 1607, in a canoe with two English companions and two Indian guides. One hope was that the river might be the entrance to the long-rumored passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The expedition was intercepted by a force led by Opechancanough, Powhatan’s powerful brother. Opechancanough brought his captive to Powhatan, who lived on the north bank of the York River. In Smith’s telling, the leader decided to execute him after a public feast. Executioners “being ready with their clubs to beat out his brains, Pocahontas, the king’s dearest daughter,” then perhaps 11 years old, suddenly rushed out and cradled Smith’s head in her arms “to save him from death.” Fondly indulging his daughter’s crush, Powhatan commuted Smith’s sentence and returned him to Jamestown with food. Historians don’t buy this account, published in 1624, not least because Smith also described his capture a few months after it happened, in a report not intended for publication, and said nothing about being saved by an Indian maiden. Overall, the two versions of Smith’s Virginia adventures are similar, except the one intended for the bookstores presents the events with a melodramatic flourish. Being saved from death by a lady’s intervention was a favorite motif in Smith’s tales. True or not, the story of Smith’s rescue has overshadowed a more important bit of history: Pocahontas actually did help save the colony—by marrying John Rolfe six years later. Evidence suggests Pocahontas was a bright, curious, mischievous girl, one who, like all girls in Tsenacomoco, went without clothing until puberty. Her real name was Matoaka; Pocahontas was a teasing nickname that meant something like “little hellion.” When Pocahontas visited Jamestown after Smith’s return, Strachey remembered, she got the boys to turn cartwheels with her, “falling on their hands turning their heels upwards, whom she would follow, and wheel so her self naked as she was all the fort over.” The English appear to have liked the girl—but not enough to prevent them from abducting her in 1613. They demanded that Powhatan return the English guns he had acquired, but the leader refused to negotiate with people he must have regarded as criminals. Perhaps Pocahontas was angered by her father’s refusal to ransom her. Perhaps she liked being treated royally by the English, who viewed her as a princess. Perhaps Pocahontas, by then a teenager, simply fell in love with one of her captors—decorous, pious, politically adept John Rolfe, who for his part seems to have truly fallen for her. In any case, she agreed to stay in Jamestown as Rolfe’s bride. Both Powhatan and Jamestown’s leaders seem to have viewed Pocahontas’s marriage as a de facto nonaggression treaty. As relations eased, the foreigners were given free rein to grow tobacco. In Tsenacomoco, the custom was for families to farm their plots and then let them go fallow when yields declined. Any land not currently being planted became common hunting or foraging grounds until needed again for farms. Rolfe and the other tassantassas found a loophole in the system. To them, the Indians’ unfenced land looked unused—no matter that it was purposely kept open by burning, and constantly traversed by hunting and gathering parties. The English cleared this “vacant” land to plant tobacco, but instead of abandoning fields as they were depleted, gave them over to cattle and horses. Rather than cycling the land between farm and forest, they divided it into parcels and kept them in continuous agricultural use—permanently keeping prime farm and forage land away from the James River societies, pushing the Indians farther and farther away from the shore. Tobacco fueled an addiction for more and more land. The Indians had long grown the crop, but only in small amounts, and in fields that mixed different plants. Driven by the English demand, the colonists covered big stretches of land with N. tabacum. Neither natives nor newcomers understood the environmental impact of growing it on a massive scale. “Tobacco has an almost unique ability to suck the life out of soil,” says Leanne DuBois, the agricultural extension agent in James City County. “In this area, where the soils can be pretty fragile, it can ruin the land in a couple of years.” Constantly wearing out their fields, the colonists cleared ever more forest, leaving behind sparse pastureland. Even in their own villages and farm fields, the Indians couldn’t escape the invasive species brought by the English—pigs, goats, cattle, and horses. Indians woke up to find free-range cows and horses romping through their fields, trampling the harvest. If they killed the beasts, gun-waving colonists demanded payment. To the English, the whole concept of a “civilized” landscape was one in which ownership of the land was signaled by fencing fields and raising livestock. After all, England had more domestic animals per capita than most other European nations. “They looked down on the Indians because they had no domestic animals,” says Virginia DeJohn Anderson, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. At first the imported animals didn’t do well, not least because they were eaten by starving colonists. But during the peace after Pocahontas’s marriage, they multiplied. Colonists quickly lost control of them. The worst may have been the pigs. Smart, strong, constantly hungry, vicious when crossed, they ate nuts, fruits, shellfish, and corn, turning up the soil with their shovel-like noses in search of edible roots. Among these was tuckahoe, a starchy tuber the Indians relied on when times were hard and their corn crops failed. The pigs liked it, too. The natives found themselves competing for food with packs of feral pigs. But the largest ecological impact may have been wreaked by a much smaller, seemingly benign domestic animal: the European honeybee. In early 1622, a ship arrived in Jamestown that was a living exhibit of the Columbian exchange. It was loaded with exotic entities for the colonists to experiment with: grapevine cuttings, silkworm eggs, and beehives. Most bees pollinate only a few species; they tend to be fussy about where they live. European honeybees, promiscuous beasts, reside almost anywhere and pollinate almost anything in sight. Quickly, they swarmed from their hives and set up shop throughout the Americas. The English imported the bees for honey, not to pollinate crops—pollination wasn’t widely understood until the late 19th century—but feral honeybees pollinated farms and orchards up and down the East Coast anyway. Without them, many of the plants the Europeans brought with them wouldn’t have proliferated. Georgia probably wouldn’t have become the Peach State; Johnny Appleseed’s trees might never have borne fruit; Huckleberry Finn might not have had any watermelons to steal. So critical to European success was the honeybee that Indians came to view it as a harbinger of invasion; the first sight of one in a new territory, noted French-American writer Jean de Crèvecoeur in 1782, “spreads sadness and consternation in all [Indian] minds.” The question arises: If the colonists were pushing Powhatan out of Tsenacomoco, why didn’t he push back? Clearly the Indians were more numerous and understood the terrain better. They were also well armed—colonial matchlocks were less accurate than native bows and took longer to reload. One answer is that Powhatan was slow to realize the foreigners would not self-destruct after all. Year after year, they died by the scores, amply proving to him that the English didn’t know how to survive in America. Yet new shiploads just kept coming. Although Powhatan sent representatives to London, he apparently didn’t understand the implications of their reports of its dense population. England could keep replacing colonists, no matter how many died. By the time he realized this, Powhatan was an old and tired man who had lost his appetite for what would have been a bloody enterprise. Yet this doesn’t explain why his brother Opechancanough, who was distrustful of the tassantassas and took the reins after Powhatan’s death in 1618, didn’t simply destroy the colony. He did organize a violent surprise attack in 1622 that killed almost a third of the English, but despite ongoing skirmishes, he didn’t follow up with another sustained assault for 22 years, by which time the colony was firmly established. Nor does it explain why adjacent Indian groups didn’t strike the foreigners either. One possible reason is that, by then, the English hadn’t just made the landscape inhospitable. It had turned deadly. The first known Thanksgiving in English America was celebrated on December 4, 1619, at Berkeley Hundred, a brandnew plantation about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Jamestown. Thirty-eight fresh tassantassas had arrived there earlier that day with a deed awarding them title to 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares). (This transaction likely occurred without consulting the original inhabitants.) Like Jamestown, Berkeley Hundred was a private, for-profit enterprise backed by venture capitalists in England. The main order of business: Grow as much tobacco as possible. But the financial backers also watched out for their employees’ spiritual welfare. The day of arrival, they instructed, should be “yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” After unloading their baggage, the tassantassas knelt in prayer on the cold shore. History has not recorded where these kneeling men came from, but records suggest a substantial fraction—as much as a third—of the immigrants in Virginia before 1640 were from the marshes of southern and eastern England. In the 17th century, these areas were rampant with malaria. It was not unusual for 10 or 20 percent of the marsh population to die in a single year, according to Mary Dobson, a medical historian. In contrast to the rest of England, burials outstripped baptisms during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Little wonder people from these areas wanted to emigrate to the Americas. But rather than escaping malaria, the colonists brought the disease with them, thanks to the marvelously complicated life cycle of the single-celled plasmodium parasite that causes it. It spends its early stages in the gut of several species in the Anopheles mosquito genus. When these mosquitoes bite people, plasmodia swim into their bodies. Once in their new home, the parasites transform themselves into tiny creatures called merozoites, which eventually pop out of red blood cells in synchronized assaults—every 48 hours for Plasmodium vivax, the species first introduced into the Americas. Reacting in frenzy to the attack, the body’s immune system sets off waves of intense fever and chills. This type of malaria rarely kills victims directly, but leaves them weak for months, until the body gradually fights it off. But P. vivax can hide for as long as five years in the liver of sufferers who appear to have run it out of their systems, producing full-blown malarial relapses every six to nine months. Others can have the disease but show no symptoms, turning people in seeming good health into carriers. In theory, it would take only one such carrier to arrive at Jamestown and get bitten by one of the mosquito species that inhabit the East Coast to establish malaria in the entire continent. In this way, one or more colonists must have “infected” the New World’s mosquitoes with the parasite for malaria. “It’s a bit like throwing darts,” said Andrew Spielman, the late Harvard professor of tropical public health. “Bring enough sick people in contact with enough mosquitoes, and sooner or later you’ll hit the bull’s-eye—you’ll establish malaria.” By 1657 the colonial physician and politician John Winthrop (son of the famed, identically named governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony) was commonly encountering what we now know as malaria in the course of his work. According to Robert Charles Anderson, the genealogist who is transcribing Winthrop’s medical journal, the disease was probably well established in the Massachusetts colony by 1640. Since many more early colonists went to Virginia than Massachusetts, malaria could have been stalking the Tidewater there as early as the 1620s. This is speculative, but not implausible. Once malaria has a chance to get into a place, said Spielman, “it usually gets in fast.” If malaria arrived early, it may help explain why Opechancanough never mounted a sustained fight against the colonists, even when it became a matter of survival to his people. Malaria effectively saps the vitality of entire regions. In England’s malaria belt, marshlanders were routinely dismissed as stupid, apathetic, and fatalistic. Similar abuse was heaped on the settlers at Jamestown; Strachey was one of many who denounced what he saw as their propensity for “sloth, riot, and vanity.” But at least England could ship in new colonists rapidly. The Indians could not. If a substantial fraction of their population was malarious, it would have limited their ability to attack the colonists. From the native point of view, it would have been as if the environment around them had suddenly become toxic. No matter how the parasite was actually introduced to Virginia, we know that malaria spread throughout the East Coast, eventually playing a major part in the pageant of U.S. history. Without malaria, slaves would have been less desirable to southern planters: Most people from tropical Africa are resistant to the plasmodium parasite, the product of millennia of evolution in its presence. The disease became especially endemic in the Carolinas, where it crippled the army of British Gen. Charles Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War. England had by that time drained its marshes and largely been freed of malaria. Meanwhile, the colonists had become seasoned. “There was a big imbalance. Cornwallis’s army was simply melting away,” says J. R. McNeill, an environmental historian at Georgetown University. McNeill takes pains to credit the bravery of the Revolution’s leaders. But a critical role was played by what he wryly refers to as “revolutionary mosquitoes.” Cornwallis surrendered, effectively ending the war, on October 19, 1781. By then the Columbian exchange was in full swing. The Atlantic coast was dotted with monoculture fields devoted to such alien crops as wheat, rice, and West Indian tobacco. Black rats from Europe were devouring Indian corn stores from Maine to Florida. Meanwhile, European farmers were adopting New World plants like corn, potatoes, and tomatoes; chili peppers, unknown in Asia before Columbus, were on their way to taking over Indian, Thai, and Chinese kitchens. No longer maintained by Indian burning, the shrinking forests of the East would become choked with underbrush—the overgrown, uninhabited “wilderness” celebrated by Thoreau. In the 1800s, the great grasslands of the Midwest, once kept open by native burning, began filling with trees. With the Indians vanquished by disease, some archaeologists believe, species they had formerly hunted, such as the passenger pigeon, experienced a population explosion. On the James River, where the process began, land-clearing sped runoff and increased the river flow, sweeping aside the mats of vegetation that lined its banks in Powhatan’s day. With its plantations, tobacco fields, and rolling meadows, the landscape of the Chesapeake Bay had been utterly transformed. It looked more like England than it had when Jamestown began, but it wasn’t at all the same. Four centuries ago, the English didn’t discover a New World—they created one.

~0~

Charles C. Mann, Author

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Captain John Smith’s Legacy

AMERICA FOUND AND LOST

Charles C. Mann is the best-selling author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. His article was published in National Geographic

Much of what we learned in grade school about the New World encountered by the colonists at Jamestown is wrong. Four hundred years later, historians are piecing together the real story. By Charles C. Mann Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum It is just possible that John Rolfe was responsible for the worms—specifically the common night crawler and the red marsh worm, creatures that did not exist in the Americas before Columbus. Rolfe was a colonist in Jamestown, Virginia, the first successful English colony in North America. Most people know him today, if they know him at all, as the man who married Pocahontas. A few history buffs understand that Rolfe was one of the primary forces behind Jamestown’s eventual success. The worms hint at a third, still more important role: Rolfe inadvertently helped unleash a convulsive and permanent change in the American landscape. Like many young English blades, Rolfe smoked—or, as the phrase went in those days, “drank”—tobacco, a fad since the Spanish had first carried back samples of Nicotiana tabacum from the Caribbean. Indians in Virginia also drank tobacco, but it was a different species, Nicotiana rustica. Virginia leaf was awful stuff, wrote colonist William Strachey: “poor and weak and of a biting taste.” After arriving in Jamestown in 1610, Rolfe talked a shipmaster into bringing him N. tabacum seeds from Trinidad and Venezuela. Six years later Rolfe returned to England with his wife, Pocahontas, and the first major shipment of his tobacco. “Pleasant, sweet, and strong,” as Rolfe’s friend Ralph Hamor described it, Jamestown’s tobacco was a hit. By 1620 the colony exported up to 50,000 pounds (23,000 kilograms) of it—and at least six times more a decade later. Ships bellied up to Jamestown and loaded up with barrels of tobacco leaves. To balance the weight, sailors dumped out ballast, mostly stones and soil. That dirt almost certainly contained English earthworms. And little worms can trigger big changes. The hardwood forests of New England and the upper Midwest, for instance, have no native earthworms—they were apparently wiped out in the last Ice Age. In such worm-free woodlands, leaf litter piles up in drifts on the forest floor. But when earthworms are introduced, they can do away with the litter in a few months. The problem is that northern trees and shrubs beneath the forest canopy depend on that litter for food. Without it, water leaches away nutrients formerly stored in the litter. The forest becomes more open and dry, losing much of its understory, including tree seedlings. Whether the night crawler and the red marsh worm actually first arrived on Rolfe’s tobacco ships is not known. What is clear is that much of the northern forests in America were worm free until the Europeans arrived there, inadvertently importing earthworms on the root-balls of their plants or in the ballast of ships. The effects of this earthworm invasion have been slow to show themselves because the creatures don’t spread rapidly on their own. “If they’re born in your backyard, they’ll stay inside the fence their whole lives,” says John Reynolds, editor of Megadrilogica, the premier earthworm journal. But over time, the effect on the ecosystem can be dramatic. Jamestown is known for inaugurating the great American struggles over democracy (the colony established English America’s first representative government) and slavery (it was the first English colony to use captured Africans). Rolfe’s worms, as one might call them, point to another part of its history. The colonists did not come to the Americas alone. Instead they were accompanied by a great parade of insects, plants, mammals, and microorganisms. Some of the effects were almost invisible; others were enormous. Together with the newcomers’ different ways of managing the land, these creatures literally changed the ground beneath the Indians’ feet. Setting up camp on marshy Jamestown peninsula, the colonists were taking the first steps toward creating the American landscape we know today. Two hundred and fifty million years ago the world contained a single landmass known to scientists as Pangaea. Geologic forces broke this vast expanse into pieces, sundering Eurasia and the Americas. Over time the two halves of the world developed wildly different suites of plants and animals. Columbus’s signal accomplishment was, in the phrase of historian Alfred Crosby, to reknit the torn seams of Pangaea. After 1492, the world’s ecosystems collided and mixed as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans. The Columbian exchange, as Crosby called it, is why there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolates in Switzerland, and hot peppers in Thailand. It is arguably the most important event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs. For English America, Jamestown was the opening salvo in the Columbian exchange. In biological terms, it marked the point when before turns into after. And it began 400 years ago this month, on May 14, 1607, when 104 colonists disembarked on Jamestown peninsula, on the southern fringe of Chesapeake Bay. Much of what we learned in grade school about the New World encountered by the colonists at Jamestown turns out to be wrong. In movies and textbooks the colonists are often depicted as arriving in a pristine forest of ancient trees, small bands of Indians gliding, silent as ghosts, beneath the canopy. But the idea that the English were “settlers” of land that was unsettled before they arrived is complete nonsense. In fact, three English ships landed in the middle of a small but rapidly expanding Indian empire called Tsenacomoco. Three decades before, Tsenacomoco had been a collection of six separate chiefdoms. By the time the foreigners came from overseas, its paramount chief, Powhatan, had tripled its size to about 8,000 square miles (21,000 square kilometers) and more than 14,000 people. Wary, politically shrewd, ruthless when needed, Powhatan was probably in his 60s when the English landed—a “goodly old man, not yet shrinking” with age, according to colonist Strachey, “well beaten with many cold and stormy winters,” but still “of a tall stature and clean limbs.” His sphere of influence stretched from the Potomac to Cape Henry. Most of Powhatan’s people (known by the colonists as the Powhatan Indians) lived in villages of a few hundred inhabitants surrounded by large tracts of cleared land: cornfields and former cornfields. Except for defensive palisades, the landscape was unfenced. By a quirk of evolutionary history, North America had, except for dogs, no large domesticable mammals; its native species, such as bison and deer, could not be tamed. With no horses, cattle, sheep, goats, or chickens to tend, villagers had no need to enclose their fields. Between the villages was the forest, splendid with chestnut and elm but hardly untouched. “It was touched, and sometimes heavily,” says Donald Young, an ecologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. In the fall, Indians burned the underbrush, keeping the forest so open and parklike, colonist John Smith wrote, that “a man may gallop a horse amongst these woods.” With Indian villages dotting the region’s many riverbanks, the Chesapeake Bay was a jumble of farm fields, marshes, deep forest, and secondary forest (young trees growing on abandoned plots). Jamestown peninsula was an example of the last; it had been cleared, perhaps for farm fields, a generation or two before the English arrived. The new colony was a private enterprise funded by a group of venture capitalists called the Virginia Company. Much like investors in today’s dot-com start-ups, the backers wanted a quick return. They believed, incorrectly, that the Chesapeake Bay region was laden, like Mexico and Peru, with vast stores of gold and silver. The goal was to acquire these precious metals as expeditiously as possible. Spain, too, believed that gold and silver could be found there. It had long ago claimed what is now the U.S. East Coast for itself and in 1570 had planted a mission a few miles north of Jamestown. The local Indians wiped out that mission. English colonists who settled on Roanoke Island 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of Jamestown in the 1580s may also have met their end at the hands of a native group—very possibly the Powhatan. Nonetheless the Virginia Company directors worried more about protecting their investment from distant Spain than from the Indians. They instructed the colonists—their employees, in today’s terms—to settle far from the ocean, “a hundred miles [160 kilometers] from the river’s mouth,” which would minimize the chance of sudden assault by Spanish ships. And they told them to make sure the settlement was close to a deepwater anchorage, so they could lay up “provisions with ease.” In all they did, the directors warned, the colonists should act with “great care not to offend the naturals [Indians].” Jamestown was the result. Not wanting to antagonize Powhatan, the newcomers—tassantassas (strangers), as the Indians called them—looked for uninhabited ground. Because native villages occupied all the good land upriver, the colonists ended up picking a site about 35 miles (55 kilometers) from the mouth of the James. It was a peninsula near a bend in the river, at a place where the current cut a deep channel so close to the shore that oceangoing ships could be moored to the trees. Alas, there was a reason no Indians lived at Jamestown: It was not a good place to live. The English were like the last people moving into a subdivision—they ended up with the least desirable property. Their chosen site was marshy, mosquito-ridden, and without fresh water. Buckets could be dipped into the James, of course, but the water was potable only part of the year. During the summer, the river falls as much as 15 feet (5 meters). No longer pushed back by a big flow of fresh water, the salty water of the estuary spreads upstream, stopping right around Jamestown. Worse, sediments and organic wastes from the head of the river get trapped at the saltwater boundary. The colonists were drinking some of the dirtiest water in the James—”full of slime and filth,” complained Jamestown president George Percy. By the end of September, nearly half of the original 104 colonists had died. Percy attributed most of the deaths to “mere famine,” but he was wrong, in the view of the late historical geographer Carville Earle. The river teemed with fish in the summer—especially big, meaty Atlantic sturgeon—and the English caught and ate them. (Archaeologists at Jamestown have uncovered remains from a sturgeon as long as 14 feet [4 meters].) Instead, Earle argued, the colonists were killed by “typhoid, dysentery, and perhaps salt poisoning.” All are associated with contaminated water. During winter the water would have cleared, but not in time to help the tassantassas. Many had been too sick that summer to tend the company gardens. Initially the strangers hoped to trade with the Indians for food while they spent their days hunting for gold, but the region was deep into a multiyear drought, and the Indians did not want to part with what little food they had. By January, only 38 colonists were alive—barely. Within months, John Smith took charge of Jamestown. His wily, sometimes brutal diplomacy allowed the foreigners to extract enough food from Tsenacomoco villages to survive the next winter. This was quite a feat—with the arrival of two more convoys, the number of mouths at Jamestown had risen, even with all the deaths, to about 200. Despite his successes, Smith, a yeoman’s son, managed constantly to irritate his social betters in the Virginia Company’s leadership. Worse for the colony, he left for medical treatment in England in the fall of 1609. He had suffered terrible burns when a bag of gunpowder he had fastened around his waist accidentally ignited. In his absence, things deteriorated. That winter, the death toll again was high. Although Jamestown was nearly defenseless, Powhatan didn’t attack. For the first year or two of the colony’s existence, he seems to have decided that the foreigners’ trade goods—guns, axes, glass beads, and copper sheets, which the Indians prized much the way Europeans prized gold ingots—were worth giving up some not-very-valuable real estate. In addition, Powhatan was probably convinced that the tassantassas would die off without his assistance, suggests Helen Rountree, an emerita anthropologist at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, and the most prominent historian of Tsenacomoco. He could sit back and wait; the invasion from abroad would end itself. Things would get ugly before Powhatan was proved wrong. By the beginning of 1610, the settlers at Jamestown were dining on “dogs, cats, rats, and mice,” Percy wrote, as well as the starch for their Elizabethan ruffs, which could be cooked into a kind of porridge. With famine “ghastly and pa le in every face,” some colonists stirred themselves to “dig up dead corpse[s] out of graves and to eat them.” One man murdered his pregnant wife and “salted her for his food.” When John Rolfe arrived that spring, only about 60 people at Jamestown had survived what was called “the starving time.” Rolfe himself barely made it to Virginia. Almost a year before—June 1609—nine ships had left England, carrying 500 new colonists, Rolfe among them. Not far from landfall, a hurricane slammed into the expedition. Rolfe’s vessel twisted so much in the waves that the caulking popped from its seams. For three straight days every man aboard, many “stripped naked as men in galleys,” worked pumps and bucket chains. The voyagers were near collapse when the ship ran aground on an unpeopled island in the Bermudas. For nine months, Rolfe and the other survivors recovered on the island, catching fish, wild hogs, and sea turtles and assembling two small boats from the wreckage of their ship. They staggered into Jamestown on May 24, 1610, a year after leaving London. Appalled by what they found and with limited supplies, Rolfe’s group quickly decided to abandon Jamestown. They loaded the skeleton-like survivors into boats, intending to set off for Newfoundland, where they would beg a ride home from fishing vessels that plied the Grand Banks. As they waited for the tide to turn for their departure, they saw three ships approaching. It was yet another convoy, this one amply supplied and containing a replacement governor and 150 more colonists. The old colonists, despondent, returned to the task of figuring out how to survive. It wasn’t easy. At least 6,000 people came to Virginia from England between 1607 and 1624. More than three out of four died. The central mystery of Jamestown is why the badly led, often starving colonists were eventually able to prevail over the bigger, better-organized forces of the Powhatan empire. In other parts of the Americas, colonizers had their way smoothed for them, so to speak, because they landed in places that already had been devastated by Eurasian illnesses like smallpox, measles, and typhoid—diseases that had not existed in the Americas. When the Pilgrims came to Massachusetts in 1620, for instance, they established Plymouth village literally on top of an Indian village that had been emptied two years before by an epidemic (apparently spread by survivors of a French vessel that shipwrecked on Cape Cod). In Virginia, despite previous contact with Europeans, the Powhatan had somehow avoided any epidemics and were going strong when the Jamestown colonists arrived. Yet by the late 17th century, the Powhatan too had lost control of their land. What happened? One answer emerging points to what historian Alfred Crosby calls “ecological imperialism.” The tassantassas replaced or degraded so much of the native ecosystem that they made it harder and harder for the Indians to survive in their native lands. As the colonists bitterly came to realize that Virginia had no gold and that the Indians weren’t going to selflessly provide them with all the food they needed, they began to mold the land to their needs. Unable to adapt to this foreign landscape, they transformed it into a place they could understand. In doing so, they unleashed what would become a multilevel ecological assault on North America. Their unlikely weapons in this initial phase of the campaign: tobacco, honeybees, and domestic animals. Most historians think it unlikely that Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life. Smith was sent off to explore the headwaters of the Chickahominy River in December 1607, in a canoe with two English companions and two Indian guides. One hope was that the river might be the entrance to the long-rumored passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The expedition was intercepted by a force led by Opechancanough, Powhatan’s powerful brother. Opechancanough brought his captive to Powhatan, who lived on the north bank of the York River. In Smith’s telling, the leader decided to execute him after a public feast. Executioners “being ready with their clubs to beat out his brains, Pocahontas, the king’s dearest daughter,” then perhaps 11 years old, suddenly rushed out and cradled Smith’s head in her arms “to save him from death.” Fondly indulging his daughter’s crush, Powhatan commuted Smith’s sentence and returned him to Jamestown with food. Historians don’t buy this account, published in 1624, not least because Smith also described his capture a few months after it happened, in a report not intended for publication, and said nothing about being saved by an Indian maiden. Overall, the two versions of Smith’s Virginia adventures are similar, except the one intended for the bookstores presents the events with a melodramatic flourish. Being saved from death by a lady’s intervention was a favorite motif in Smith’s tales. True or not, the story of Smith’s rescue has overshadowed a more important bit of history: Pocahontas actually did help save the colony—by marrying John Rolfe six years later. Evidence suggests Pocahontas was a bright, curious, mischievous girl, one who, like all girls in Tsenacomoco, went without clothing until puberty. Her real name was Matoaka; Pocahontas was a teasing nickname that meant something like “little hellion.” When Pocahontas visited Jamestown after Smith’s return, Strachey remembered, she got the boys to turn cartwheels with her, “falling on their hands turning their heels upwards, whom she would follow, and wheel so her self naked as she was all the fort over.” The English appear to have liked the girl—but not enough to prevent them from abducting her in 1613. They demanded that Powhatan return the English guns he had acquired, but the leader refused to negotiate with people he must have regarded as criminals. Perhaps Pocahontas was angered by her father’s refusal to ransom her. Perhaps she liked being treated royally by the English, who viewed her as a princess. Perhaps Pocahontas, by then a teenager, simply fell in love with one of her captors—decorous, pious, politically adept John Rolfe, who for his part seems to have truly fallen for her. In any case, she agreed to stay in Jamestown as Rolfe’s bride. Both Powhatan and Jamestown’s leaders seem to have viewed Pocahontas’s marriage as a de facto nonaggression treaty. As relations eased, the foreigners were given free rein to grow tobacco. In Tsenacomoco, the custom was for families to farm their plots and then let them go fallow when yields declined. Any land not currently being planted became common hunting or foraging grounds until needed again for farms. Rolfe and the other tassantassas found a loophole in the system. To them, the Indians’ unfenced land looked unused—no matter that it was purposely kept open by burning, and constantly traversed by hunting and gathering parties. The English cleared this “vacant” land to plant tobacco, but instead of abandoning fields as they were depleted, gave them over to cattle and horses. Rather than cycling the land between farm and forest, they divided it into parcels and kept them in continuous agricultural use—permanently keeping prime farm and forage land away from the James River societies, pushing the Indians farther and farther away from the shore. Tobacco fueled an addiction for more and more land. The Indians had long grown the crop, but only in small amounts, and in fields that mixed different plants. Driven by the English demand, the colonists covered big stretches of land with N. tabacum. Neither natives nor newcomers understood the environmental impact of growing it on a massive scale. “Tobacco has an almost unique ability to suck the life out of soil,” says Leanne DuBois, the agricultural extension agent in James City County. “In this area, where the soils can be pretty fragile, it can ruin the land in a couple of years.” Constantly wearing out their fields, the colonists cleared ever more forest, leaving behind sparse pastureland. Even in their own villages and farm fields, the Indians couldn’t escape the invasive species brought by the English—pigs, goats, cattle, and horses. Indians woke up to find free-range cows and horses romping through their fields, trampling the harvest. If they killed the beasts, gun-waving colonists demanded payment. To the English, the whole concept of a “civilized” landscape was one in which ownership of the land was signaled by fencing fields and raising livestock. After all, England had more domestic animals per capita than most other European nations. “They looked down on the Indians because they had no domestic animals,” says Virginia DeJohn Anderson, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. At first the imported animals didn’t do well, not least because they were eaten by starving colonists. But during the peace after Pocahontas’s marriage, they multiplied. Colonists quickly lost control of them. The worst may have been the pigs. Smart, strong, constantly hungry, vicious when crossed, they ate nuts, fruits, shellfish, and corn, turning up the soil with their shovel-like noses in search of edible roots. Among these was tuckahoe, a starchy tuber the Indians relied on when times were hard and their corn crops failed. The pigs liked it, too. The natives found themselves competing for food with packs of feral pigs. But the largest ecological impact may have been wreaked by a much smaller, seemingly benign domestic animal: the European honeybee. In early 1622, a ship arrived in Jamestown that was a living exhibit of the Columbian exchange. It was loaded with exotic entities for the colonists to experiment with: grapevine cuttings, silkworm eggs, and beehives. Most bees pollinate only a few species; they tend to be fussy about where they live. European honeybees, promiscuous beasts, reside almost anywhere and pollinate almost anything in sight. Quickly, they swarmed from their hives and set up shop throughout the Americas. The English imported the bees for honey, not to pollinate crops—pollination wasn’t widely understood until the late 19th century—but feral honeybees pollinated farms and orchards up and down the East Coast anyway. Without them, many of the plants the Europeans brought with them wouldn’t have proliferated. Georgia probably wouldn’t have become the Peach State; Johnny Appleseed’s trees might never have borne fruit; Huckleberry Finn might not have had any watermelons to steal. So critical to European success was the honeybee that Indians came to view it as a harbinger of invasion; the first sight of one in a new territory, noted French-American writer Jean de Crèvecoeur in 1782, “spreads sadness and consternation in all [Indian] minds.” The question arises: If the colonists were pushing Powhatan out of Tsenacomoco, why didn’t he push back? Clearly the Indians were more numerous and understood the terrain better. They were also well armed—colonial matchlocks were less accurate than native bows and took longer to reload. One answer is that Powhatan was slow to realize the foreigners would not self-destruct after all. Year after year, they died by the scores, amply proving to him that the English didn’t know how to survive in America. Yet new shiploads just kept coming. Although Powhatan sent representatives to London, he apparently didn’t understand the implications of their reports of its dense population. England could keep replacing colonists, no matter how many died. By the time he realized this, Powhatan was an old and tired man who had lost his appetite for what would have been a bloody enterprise. Yet this doesn’t explain why his brother Opechancanough, who was distrustful of the tassantassas and took the reins after Powhatan’s death in 1618, didn’t simply destroy the colony. He did organize a violent surprise attack in 1622 that killed almost a third of the English, but despite ongoing skirmishes, he didn’t follow up with another sustained assault for 22 years, by which time the colony was firmly established. Nor does it explain why adjacent Indian groups didn’t strike the foreigners either. One possible reason is that, by then, the English hadn’t just made the landscape inhospitable. It had turned deadly. The first known Thanksgiving in English America was celebrated on December 4, 1619, at Berkeley Hundred, a brandnew plantation about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Jamestown. Thirty-eight fresh tassantassas had arrived there earlier that day with a deed awarding them title to 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares). (This transaction likely occurred without consulting the original inhabitants.) Like Jamestown, Berkeley Hundred was a private, for-profit enterprise backed by venture capitalists in England. The main order of business: Grow as much tobacco as possible. But the financial backers also watched out for their employees’ spiritual welfare. The day of arrival, they instructed, should be “yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” After unloading their baggage, the tassantassas knelt in prayer on the cold shore. History has not recorded where these kneeling men came from, but records suggest a substantial fraction—as much as a third—of the immigrants in Virginia before 1640 were from the marshes of southern and eastern England. In the 17th century, these areas were rampant with malaria. It was not unusual for 10 or 20 percent of the marsh population to die in a single year, according to Mary Dobson, a medical historian. In contrast to the rest of England, burials outstripped baptisms during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Little wonder people from these areas wanted to emigrate to the Americas. But rather than escaping malaria, the colonists brought the disease with them, thanks to the marvelously complicated life cycle of the single-celled plasmodium parasite that causes it. It spends its early stages in the gut of several species in the Anopheles mosquito genus. When these mosquitoes bite people, plasmodia swim into their bodies. Once in their new home, the parasites transform themselves into tiny creatures called merozoites, which eventually pop out of red blood cells in synchronized assaults—every 48 hours for Plasmodium vivax, the species first introduced into the Americas. Reacting in frenzy to the attack, the body’s immune system sets off waves of intense fever and chills. This type of malaria rarely kills victims directly, but leaves them weak for months, until the body gradually fights it off. But P. vivax can hide for as long as five years in the liver of sufferers who appear to have run it out of their systems, producing full-blown malarial relapses every six to nine months. Others can have the disease but show no symptoms, turning people in seeming good health into carriers. In theory, it would take only one such carrier to arrive at Jamestown and get bitten by one of the mosquito species that inhabit the East Coast to establish malaria in the entire continent. In this way, one or more colonists must have “infected” the New World’s mosquitoes with the parasite for malaria. “It’s a bit like throwing darts,” said Andrew Spielman, the late Harvard professor of tropical public health. “Bring enough sick people in contact with enough mosquitoes, and sooner or later you’ll hit the bull’s-eye—you’ll establish malaria.” By 1657 the colonial physician and politician John Winthrop (son of the famed, identically named governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony) was commonly encountering what we now know as malaria in the course of his work. According to Robert Charles Anderson, the genealogist who is transcribing Winthrop’s medical journal, the disease was probably well established in the Massachusetts colony by 1640. Since many more early colonists went to Virginia than Massachusetts, malaria could have been stalking the Tidewater there as early as the 1620s. This is speculative, but not implausible. Once malaria has a chance to get into a place, said Spielman, “it usually gets in fast.” If malaria arrived early, it may help explain why Opechancanough never mounted a sustained fight against the colonists, even when it became a matter of survival to his people. Malaria effectively saps the vitality of entire regions. In England’s malaria belt, marshlanders were routinely dismissed as stupid, apathetic, and fatalistic. Similar abuse was heaped on the settlers at Jamestown; Strachey was one of many who denounced what he saw as their propensity for “sloth, riot, and vanity.” But at least England could ship in new colonists rapidly. The Indians could not. If a substantial fraction of their population was malarious, it would have limited their ability to attack the colonists. From the native point of view, it would have been as if the environment around them had suddenly become toxic. No matter how the parasite was actually introduced to Virginia, we know that malaria spread throughout the East Coast, eventually playing a major part in the pageant of U.S. history. Without malaria, slaves would have been less desirable to southern planters: Most people from tropical Africa are resistant to the plasmodium parasite, the product of millennia of evolution in its presence. The disease became especially endemic in the Carolinas, where it crippled the army of British Gen. Charles Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War. England had by that time drained its marshes and largely been freed of malaria. Meanwhile, the colonists had become seasoned. “There was a big imbalance. Cornwallis’s army was simply melting away,” says J. R. McNeill, an environmental historian at Georgetown University. McNeill takes pains to credit the bravery of the Revolution’s leaders. But a critical role was played by what he wryly refers to as “revolutionary mosquitoes.” Cornwallis surrendered, effectively ending the war, on October 19, 1781. By then the Columbian exchange was in full swing. The Atlantic coast was dotted with monoculture fields devoted to such alien crops as wheat, rice, and West Indian tobacco. Black rats from Europe were devouring Indian corn stores from Maine to Florida. Meanwhile, European farmers were adopting New World plants like corn, potatoes, and tomatoes; chili peppers, unknown in Asia before Columbus, were on their way to taking over Indian, Thai, and Chinese kitchens. No longer maintained by Indian burning, the shrinking forests of the East would become choked with underbrush—the overgrown, uninhabited “wilderness” celebrated by Thoreau. In the 1800s, the great grasslands of the Midwest, once kept open by native burning, began filling with trees. With the Indians vanquished by disease, some archaeologists believe, species they had formerly hunted, such as the passenger pigeon, experienced a population explosion. On the James River, where the process began, land-clearing sped runoff and increased the river flow, sweeping aside the mats of vegetation that lined its banks in Powhatan’s day. With its plantations, tobacco fields, and rolling meadows, the landscape of the Chesapeake Bay had been utterly transformed. It looked more like England than it had when Jamestown began, but it wasn’t at all the same. Four centuries ago, the English didn’t discover a New World—they created one.

~0~

Charles C. Mann, Author

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Sunday Thought

Some walk around in religion,

with cloaks that sweep dirt from the floor,

I know God In Me is YOU:

I don’t need to know much more.

C Melanie Alclorn Wood

8/9/2015

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POEMS FROM THE SAPLING

within and without

hang in that tree
and let it hang in you
so that the words
in all their mystery 
are whispered to you

watch by the spring
and let it flow through you
so that the sound of life
in all its mystery
is made known to you

stand within the cave
and let it enter you
so that when the mountain speaks
in all its mystery
it becomes a part of you

johnegan. 15/7/15

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