Days Gone Bite: The Other First Thanksgiving

Tomorrow we celebrate the time a bunch of dour workaholics with buckled shoes sat down to eat a quiet dinner of thanksgiving with the native peoples. We all know we'd really rather party with that other famous group of European settlers down in Jamestown.

Yeah, they teach the exploits of Captain John Smith in grade school--or they used to; he's probably part of the high school curriculum these days. But the folks who set up along the James River in 1607 were a sorry bunch. They expected to reap great wealth from their travels, but hardly relished the thought of manual labor, crop picking, fishing or any form of personal hygiene.

Yes, personal hygiene. They tended to dump everything in the river, where an odd bend in the current held this waste close to the shore--the very waters colonist used for drinking.

Mainly, however, they believed work was somehow beneath them--and they managed to piss of the native population. So they quickly began to starve while, all around them, the 'Indians' experienced plenty. It became so bad that one man killed his wife and salted (or powdered, as they said back then) her meat to preserve it.

I'm going from memory here, but I believe it was the famous Captain Smith who wrote "of such a dish as powdered wife I've never heard."

He was a card.

The colony survived thanks to the 17th Century's version of corporate welfare, meaning shipments of supplies and working class types from England, as well as the decision to farm tobacco--or, rather, to have slaves farm tobacco (and later cotton).

So forget about the industrious Pilgrims, their funny hats and their wishy-washy town hall meetings. Instead, let's celebrate what the settlers of Jamestown gave us: an underachieving spirit and willingness to let others clean up the mess--if we don't drink it, first.

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