FROM UTOPIA TO HELL ON EARTH; When White Men First Colonised America, They Found Gentle, Civilised Indians Happy to Share Their Land of Plenty. So Why DID This Idyll Turn So Quickly into a Nightmare of Torture, Massacre and Cannibalism?

Daily Mail (London), April 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

FROM UTOPIA TO HELL ON EARTH; When White Men First Colonised America, They Found Gentle, Civilised Indians Happy to Share Their Land of Plenty. So Why DID This Idyll Turn So Quickly into a Nightmare of Torture, Massacre and Cannibalism?


Byline: CHRISTOPHER HUDSON

WAS America truly a paradise before the Europeans arrived? A single album of watercolours exists to show how the native Indians lived before foreign white men settled along the coast. They were painted in the 1580s by John White, a friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, who had permission from Elizabeth I to settle the Eastern seaboard of what is now the United States. Raleigh had named it Virginia, in honour of the Virgin Queen.

The watercolours illustrate idyllic scenes of handsome, near-naked Indians living off the fat of the land. They dwell in simple homes of bark and reed.

On either side of their neat pathways grow fine crops of corn. Nearby are plots of tobacco, sunflowers and medicinal herbs.

The Indians draw water, hunt deer in the woods with dogs and spear bountiful fish from their canoes in the wide, shallow river. In one picture they dance in and out of a circle of wooden statues, perhaps to celebrate a corn festival. In another, they make music around a bonfire in thanks for escaping from a danger.

White's full-length portraits show the prosperity of these Algonquian Indians.

A priest sports a fine coat of rabbit fur.

A tattooed warrior chief wears beads, possibly pearls, and his wife and daughter appear to have trinkets of gold and silver, as well as red glass beads given to the little girl by the colonists.

The impression left is of good-tempered, sociable, unthreatening people, deft with tools. Put white men's clothes on them and they could be the kind of peasantry seen out of the window of an English country house.

During the European colonisation which followed, this utopian vision fell apart in a nightmare of starvation, disease and bloody massacre. For these Indians were slaughtered in untold numbers by white men, and the revenge attacks they inflicted in turn on the settlers were some of the most savage in American history, involving grotesque torture and even cannibalism.

Could the supposed utopia ever have worked? That is the haunting question at the heart of a British Museum exhibition to celebrate the 400th anniversary of England's first permanent settlement in America.

Initially at least, the British had every intention of ensuring the prosperity and harmony portrayed in White's pictures was maintained. One of the first settlers wrote: 'We found the people most gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the golden age. The earth bringeth forth all things in abundance, as in the first creation, without toil or labour.'

But colonial settlers already had a reputation for atrocity. After Columbus's discovery of the New World in 1492, Spanish settlers had brutally slaughtered hundreds of thousands of American Indians in the West Indies and news of this was spreading up the Eastern seaboard.

In the Spaniards' search for gold and precious stones, whole villages were looted and burned. A Spanish missionary wrote that on one day, 3,000 people were dismembered, beheaded or raped right in front of him.

The Spanish cut off the legs of children who ran from them and made bets as to who could cut a person in half with 'one sweep of his sword'.

They loosed dogs that 'devoured an Indian like a hog at first sight, in less than a moment', added the priest, and used infants for dog food. Thousands of men, women and children were shipped to Europe to serve as slaves.

News of this bloody colonial massacre might well have reached the Algonquian Indians on Roanoke Island - one of a string of islands known as the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina - by the time John White arrived as governor there in July 1587, with 117 men, women and children.

THE ALGONQUIAN Indians were already hostile - the British commander of an earlier expedition to Roanoke had held their chief's son hostage and so enraged them that the settlers had to be taken off by ship and brought home. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

FROM UTOPIA TO HELL ON EARTH; When White Men First Colonised America, They Found Gentle, Civilised Indians Happy to Share Their Land of Plenty. So Why DID This Idyll Turn So Quickly into a Nightmare of Torture, Massacre and Cannibalism?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.