It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood. — James Madison

Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston




A White Boy Among The Indians

Among the people that came to Virginia in 1609, two years after the colony was planted, was a boy named Henry Spelman. He was the son of a well-known man. He had been a bad and troublesome boy in England, and his family sent him to Virginia, thinking that he might be better in the new country. At least his friends thought he would not trouble them so much when he was so far away.

Many hundreds of people came at the same time that Henry Spelman did. Captain John Smith was then governor of the little colony. He was puzzled to know how to feed all these people. As many of them were troublesome, he was still more puzzled to know how to govern them.

In order not to have so many to feed, he sent some of them to live among the Indians here and there. A chief called Little Powhatan asked Smith to send some of his men to live with him. The Indians wanted to get the white men to live among them, so as to learn to make the things that the white men had. Captain Smith agreed to give the boy Henry Spelman to Little Powhatan, if the chief would give him a place to plant a new settlement.

Spelman staid awhile with the chief, and then he went back to the English at Jamestown.

But when he came to Jamestown he was sorry that he had not staid among the Indians. Captain John Smith had gone home to England. George Percy was now governor of the English. They had very little food to eat, and Spelman began to be afraid that he might starve to death with the rest of them. Powhatan—not Little Powhatan, but the great Powhatan, who was chief over all the other chiefs in the neighborhood—sent a white man who was living with him to carry some deer meat to Jamestown. When it came time for this white man to go back, he asked that some of his countrymen might go to the Indian country with him. The governor sent Spelman, who was glad enough to go to the Indians again, because they had plenty of food to eat.

Three weeks after this, Powhatan sent Henry Spelman back to Jamestown to say to the English, that if they would come to his country, and bring him some copper, he would give them some corn for it. The Indians at this time had no iron, and what little copper they had they bought from other Indians, who probably got it from the copper mines far away on Lake Superior.

The English greatly needed corn, so they took a boat and went up to the Indian country with copper, in order to buy corn. They quarreled with the Indians about the measurement of the corn. The Indians hid themselves near the water, and, while the white men were carrying the corn on their vessel, the Indians killed some of them. About this time, seeing that the white men were so hungry, the Indians began to hope that they would be able to drive them all out of the country.

Powhatan saved Spelman from being killed by the Indians; but, now that the Indians were at war with the white men, who were shut up in Jamestown without food, they wished to kill all the white people in the country.

Spelman and a Dutchman, who also lived with Powhatan, began to be afraid that he would not protect them any longer. So, when a chief of the Potomac Indians visited Powhatan, and asked the Dutchman and the boy to go to his country, they left Powhatan and went back with them. Powhatan sent messengers after them, who killed the Dutchman. Henry Spelman ran away into the woods. Powhatan's men followed him, but the Potomacs got hold of Powhatan's men, and held them back until Spelman could get away. The boy managed at last to get to the country of the Potomac Indians.

It was very lucky for Spelman that he was among the Indians at this time. Nearly all the white people in Jamestown were killed, or died of hunger. Spelman lived among the Indians for years. During this time more people came from England, and settled at Jamestown. A ship from Jamestown came up into the Potomac River to trade. The captain of the ship bought Spelman from the Indians. He was now a young man, and, as he could speak both the Indian language and the English, he was very useful in carrying on trade between the white men and the Indians.

At the time that Henry Spelman first went among the Indians, they had no iron tools except a very few that they had bought of the white people. They had no guns, nor knives, nor hatchets. They had no hoes nor axes. They made their tools out of hard wood, shells, stones, deer horns, and other such things. They had not yet bought blankets from the white men, but made their clothes mostly out of the skins of animals.

The Indians could not learn much about the white man's arts from Spelman, because he did not know much. Besides, he had no iron of which to make tools. He learned to make arrows of cane such as we use for fishing rods. He also learned to point his arrows with the spur of a wild turkey, or a piece of stone. These arrow points he stuck into the arrow with a kind of glue. But he first had to learn how to make his glue out of deers' horns. Before he could make any of the tools, he had to make himself a knife, as the Indians did. Having no iron, the blade of his knife was made out of a beaver's tooth, which is very sharp, and will cut wood. He set this tooth in the end of a stick. You see how hard it was for an Indian to get tools. He had to learn to make one tool in order to use that in making another tool.

One of the principal things that an Indian had to do was to make a canoe; for, as the Indians had no horses, they could travel only by water, unless they went afoot. Canoes were the only boats they had. They had to make canoes without any of the tools that white men use. Let us explain this by a story about Henry and an Indian boy. The things in the story may not have happened just as they are told, but the account of how things are made by the Indians is all true.