Thursday, 2 May 2013

If you thought Stalingrad was bad

    American forefathers (or more accurately -mothers) had a rough time at Jamestown in 1609. The Smithsonian just dug up solid forensic evidence that the settlers ate a 14-year-old English girl to survive.
    The winter of 1609 was a bad one and the settlers were on the verge of disaster. It's generally known as the Starving Time. Cannibalism has long been suspected, but the bones recently found are the first irrefutable evidence. Of 500 colonists, 440 starved to death. Imagining the horrified survivors watching the spring thaw finally arrive is almost beyond imagination. Almost, I say, because the evil writer portion of my brain is busily pondering a short story even as I write this.
   The story is a stunningly impressive one, with Captain John Smith forging a ceasefire with the aggressive Powhatan Confederacy of tribes, and managing to organize a trading agreement that allowed the colony to purchase the food it needed to survive. Then fate intervened, with Smith being evacuated to England following a serious injury and the tribes deciding that, without Smith, the treaty was off. The settlers were left starving, at war, and six months from the possibility of rescue in the midst of an unusually brutal winter. Most of the men were dead, killed by the tribes as they foraged, leaving the elderly, women and children to struggle to survive.
   If you pitched it as a movie plot people would accuse you of being unrealistically grim. All the greatest dramas exist in history. I wish we taught more of that particular subject to our young. Or did it better.