Sunday, 17 April 2011

Henry Spelman

In 1609, Henry Spelman, a boy of fourteen, sailed from his home in England to Jamestown. Within two weeks of his arrival, he sailed up the James River with John Smith where his indenture was sold to the paramount chief Powhatan. Basically, Henry's job was to learn the Algonquian language so that he could serve as an interpreter. Such exchanges were not uncommon, and the young boys served as messengers between the two cultures.

In the beginning, Henry was treated well until relations between the Powhatan people and the English disintegrated. A short time later, Henry returned to Jamestown only to be caught in the midst of the "Starving Time." When several Natives brought venison to the fort, Thomas Savage, another English boy interpreter, accompanied them.

Due to lack of food in the colony, Henry was ready to return to the Indians and went with Thomas. He took a hatchet and some copper, a metal highly valued among the Powhatan, and gave them to the paramount chief. The offering eased tensions, and Henry spent about a year and a half among the Natives.

When a local chief of the Patawomeck tribe visited the pararmount chief, Henry, Thomas, and another boy by the name of Samuel, returned with him, without informing Powhatan they were leaving. Thomas had second thoughts and returned, but Powhatan sent a message that Henry and Samuel were also to return. In the dispute, Samuel was killed, and Henry sought refuge among the Patawomeck, living among them for another year as a special guest.

In 1610, Captain Samuel Argall found Henry living with the Patawomeck. With Henry's knowledge of the language and culture, he helped the English and Indians trade. Later, Captain Argall kidnapped Pocahontas, Powhatan's favorite daughter. After she married John Rolfe, there was peace for several years. During this time, Henry served as an interpreter and freely mixed between the cultures.

Over the years, Henry made several trips to England. He rose to the rank of captain and married a Patawomeck woman. In 1619, Samuel Argall had risen to the rank of governor, and another interpreter accused Henry of speaking badly about him to then paramount chief Opechancanough. If he had been found guilty of treason, he would have been executed. Instead, he was convicted of a lesser crime and was sentenced to serve the governor as an interpreter for seven years.

In 1622, Opechancanough led an organized attack against the English, killing many of the colonists. In the aftermath, Henry attempted to renew an English alliance with the Patawomeck, but a year later when he agreed to take a group of men to trade for corn, in the area of present day Washington, D.C., his party was attacked by a group of Anacostan Indians. According to Chief Robert Green, of the modern day Patawomeck tribe, Henry had been mistaken for a Patawomeck himself. Henry's manuscript Relation of Virginia is the only written account by an Englishman who spent a great length of time living with Indians.

Kim Murphy

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