De Origine, Populi (On the Origins of the Natives of Virginia) 1612

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De Origine, Populi (On the Origins of the Natives of Virginia) 1612

sourceWilliam Strachey, The Historie of Travell into Virgina Britania, Edited by Louis B. Wright and Virginia Freund. (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1953), pp. 53-55.

introductionThe early English settlers in North America brought with them the perception of native peoples as suffering from savagery and barbarism. The Protestant colonists associated Native American forms of ritual with those practiced by Roman Catholics, and thus referred to both traditions as idolatrous. Although the English believed that Indians were susceptible to Christian education and conversion, the English process of converting native peoples required that their religious and social habits be reduced to the level of false religion. In this passage from The Historie of Travell into Virginia Britania (1612), William Strachey, a resident of the Jamestown settlement, speculates on what he considers the biblical origins of the natives of Virginia and their descent into "prophane worshippe."

It were not perhappes too curious a thing to demand, how these people might come first, and from whom, and whence, to inhabited these so far remote westerly parts of the world, having no entercourse with Africa, Asia nor Europe, and considering the whole world, so many years, (by all knowledge received, was supposed to be only contained and circumscribed in the discovered and traveled Bounds of those three: according to that old Conclusion in the Scholes Quicquid prceter Africam, et Europeam est, Asia est. Whatsoeuer Land doth neither appertayne vnto Africk, nor to Europe, is part of Asia: as also to question how yt should be, that they (if descended from the people of the first creation) should maynteyne so generall and grosse a defection from the true knowledg of God, with one kynd, as yt were of rude and savadge life, Customes, manners, and Religion, yt being to be graunted, that with vs (infallably) they had one, and the same discent and begynning from the vniversall Deluge, in the scattering of Noah his children and Nephewes, with their famelies (as little Colonies) some to one, some to other borders of the Earth to dwell? as in Egypt (so wryting Berosus) Esenius, and his howshold, tooke vp their Inhabitacion: In Libia, and Cyrene, Tritames: and in all the rest of Africa, Iapetus Priscus; Attalaas in East-Asia; Ganges, with some of Comerus Gallus children, in Arabia-Fwlix, within the confines of Sabaea, called the Frankincense bearer; Canaan in Damascus, vnto the vtmost bowndes of Palestyne; ect.

But, yet is observed that Cham, and his famely, were the only far Travellors, and Straglers into divers and unknowne countries, searching, exploring and sitting downe in the same: as also yet is said of his famely, that what country so ever the Children of Chain happened to possesse, there beganne both the Ignorance of true godliness, and a kynd of bondage and slavery to be taxed one vpon another, and that no inhabited Countryes cast forth greater multytutes, to raunge and stray into divers remote Regions, then that part of Arabia in which Cham himselfe (constrayned to fly with wife and Children by reason of the mocking that he had done to his father) tooke into possession; so great a misery (saith Boem of Auba) brought to mankynd, the vnsatisfyed wandring of that one man: for first from him, the Ignoraunce of the true worship of god took beginning, the Inventions of Hethenisme, and adoration of falce godes, and the Deuill, for he himself, not applying him to leame from his father, the knowledge and prescrybed worship of the etemall god, the god of his fathers, yet by a fearfull and superstitious instinct of nature, carryed to ascribe vnto some supernaturall power, a kynd of honour and power, taught his successors new and devised manner of Gods, sacryfices, and Ceremonies; and which he might the easierympresse into the Children, by reason they were carryed with him so young away from the Elders, not instructed, nor seasoned first, in their true Customes, and religion:

In so much as then we may conclude, that from Cham, and his tooke byrth and begynning the first vniversall Confusion and diversity, which ensued afterwardes throughout the whole world, especially in divine and sacred matters, while yt is said agayne of the Children of Sem, and laphet, how they being taught by their elders, and content with their owne lymitts and confynes, not travelling beyond them into new Countryes as the other, retayned still (vntill the comming of the Messias,) the only knowledge of the eternall, and the never chaungeable triuth.

By all which yet is very probable likewise, that both in the travells and Idolatry of the famely of Cham, this portion of the world (west-ward from Africa, vpon the Atlantique Sea) became both peopled, and instructed in the forme of prophane worshippe, and of an vnknowne Diety: nor is yt to be wondred at, where the abused truith of Religion is suffred to perish, yf men in their owne Inventions, and lives, become so grosse and barbarous as by reading the processe of this history will hardly be perceaved, what difference may be betweene them and bruit beasts, sometymes worshipping bruit beasts, nay things more vyle, and abhorring the inbredd motions of Nature itself, with such headlong and bloudy Ceremonies, of Will, and Act.

But how the vagabond Rance of Cham might discend into this new world, without furniture (as may be questioned) of shipping, and meanes to tempt the Seas, togither how this great Continent (divided from the other three) should become stoared with beasts, and some Fowle, of one, and the same kynd with the other partes, especially with Lions, Beares, Deare, Wolues, and such like, as from the first Creation tooke begynning in their kynd, and after the generall floud were not anew created, nor haue their being or generation (as some other) ex putredine, et sole, by corruption and Heate. Let me referre the reader to the search of Acosta in his booke of his morall and naturall History of the West-Indies, who hath so officiously laboured herein, as he should but bring Owles to Athens, who should study for more strayned, or new Aucthority Concerning the same.

Thus much then may be in brief be sayd, and allowed, Concerning their originall, or first begynning in generall, and which may well reach even downe vnto the particuler Inbabitants of this particuler Region, by vs discovered, who cannot be any other, then parcell of the same, and first mankynd.

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De Origine, Populi (On the Origins of the Natives of Virginia) 1612

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