Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On the Road Again with Roberta

The Red Man’s Revenge

Have any idea what the red man’s revenge is? It’s tobacco. Yep, that addictive substance that so many people are trying to stop smoking. They tell us it’s more addictive than cocaine, but it didn’t always seem that way.Did you know that tobacco was introduced to England up on the return of Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1584 military expedition to Virginia, now Roanoke and Hatteras Islands in North Carolina? Well, it’s true. The English were hunting for a location that might provide a base for both privateering, which was pirating sanctioned by the Queen, and also valuable minerals, in particular, gold and silver. The Engish were convinced that there was a short route to Mexico and her accompanying riches, and a passage to Asia, but that was a secondary interest. Mostly the English were interested not in expanding their empire in terms of land, but were interested in expanding their wealth. Other commodities were scarce too, wood, in particular was becoming difficult to find in England, and sassafras was thought to cure ailments, in particular, syphilis. Mainland coastal North Carolina is covered with sassafras trees.So tobacco was only an interesting aside. They noticed the Native people smoking tobacco in small pipes, and the English tried it and took two Natives, Manteo and Wanchese, tobacco and of course, pipes, back to England when they returned. Tobacco became immediately all the rage, and everyone at court began to smoke tobacco. It was believed to cure “humors” and was good for your health. Mostly, it was terribly unfashionable NOT to smoke tobacco. The English immediately began to manufacture tobacco pipes similar to the Native pipes brought from Virginia, and in short order, those pipes took on an English design, distinguishable from the Native pipes.Ironically, it was tobacco that eventually saved Jamestown. The colonists there had been unsuccessful in terms of finding or producing anything that covered their expenses, let alone made a profit. Tobacco, which does not grow in England, became the first American export, to feed the now ingrained English habit, and firmly established the importance of the American colony. So in an odd twist of fate, tobacco sealed the fate of the Indians as well, because Jamestown was the foothold of the permanent European presence in America which would eventually cause the decimation of the Native population. Tobacco is still with us, today is often considered an unsavory habit leading to health issues and early death. It indeed was the Red Man’s Revenge, but before it acted as such, tobacco’s addictive powers were the inadvertent genesis of the undoing to the Indians in America.The students have been working with an Indian midden, and one of the items discovered was an Algonquian pipe bowl, shown below, a reminder of a time before the arrival of Europeans in America.