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May 5, 2013

Cannibalism in the Jamestown Settlement

Reconstructed face of
Jamestown 14 year old cannibalized
Scientists revealed recently that there is evidence of cannibalism in the Jamestown Virginia settlement. Jamestown was settled from 1607 to 1625 by English colonists. It was a harsh environment and many of the early settlers perished.

There have been rumours of the settlers devouring human flesh to survive and at least two contemporary written accounts refer to this practice.

Early Jamestown colony leader George Percy wrote of a “world of miseries” that included digging up corpses from their graves to eat when there was nothing else. “Nothing was spared to maintain life,” he wrote.

Percy and Capt. John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) documented an account of a settler who killed and ate his pregnant wife to survive.

One amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was known, for which he was executed, as he well deserved,” Smith wrote.

Even with these eye-witness accounts, scientists had trouble believing they were accurate. Until now. Recently the skeleton of a young girl, believed to be about 14 years old, was found in what was a trash heap. Her bones were dumped among the garbage and bones of animals that had been killed and eaten by the settlers. 

The young girl's bones showed signs of chop marks and dismemberment, and there had been crude attempts to open her skull, no doubt for brain matter.  The chief archeaologist for Jamestown had this to say “We found her in a trash dump, unceremoniously trashed and cannibalized, and now her story can be told. People will be able to empathize with the time and history and think to themselves, as I do: What would I do to stay alive?”

It's a good question. We should not judge the settlers. If you or your children were starving, what might you do? Our culture teaches we should not kill in order to eat, but if a person dies, is it so wrong to eat their flesh in order to live? I

t's a question we might not want to face but the desperate settlers of Jamestown had no choice but to make their own personal decisions. And we will never know who participated and who did not.

I for one would want my family or friends to feel free to partake of my body if I died during a time of hunger and starvation. If my death could help them survive I would say "Go for it!"


Linda Schreiber said...

And what a difference it makes in how the question is asked....
"What would I do to stay alive?"
"What would I do to keep my children alive?"

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Linda, you are absolutely correct. And I don't think we can even say what we would do if we have not been in the situation