National Geographic : 2007 May
THIS PAGE FOLDS OUT 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 Vir ginia DeJohn Anderson, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. At first the im ported animals didn't do well, not least because they were eaten by starving colonists. But dur ing 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 com peting 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 honey bee. 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 cut tings, 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 suc cess 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 Crevecoeur in 1782, "spreads sad ness and consternation in all [Indian] minds." The question arises: If the colonists were push ing 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 From early springuntil thefirst harvestof corn, VirginiaIndians reliedon fish caught close to the shore with spears, traps, and nets. After dark they ventured out in canoes lit with fires to attractnightfeeders. Paddlers steered between oyster reefs so large they might sink a boat.