American History Told by Contemporaries

Author: William Strachey  | Date: 1849

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U.S. History

The Indians of the South (1618)


THEIRE habitations or townes are for the most part by the rivers, or not far distant from fresh springs, comonly upon a rice of a hill, that they may overlooke the river, and take every small thing into view which starts upon the same. Their howses are not many in one towne, and those that are stand dissite and scattered without forme of a street, farr and wyde asunder.

As for their howses, who knoweth one of them knoweth them all, even the chief kyng’s house yt selfe, for they be all alike builded one to the other. They are like garden arbours, at best like our sheppards’ cotages, made yet handsomely enough, though without strength or gaynes[s], of such yong plants as they can pluck up, bow and make the greene toppes meete togither, in fashion of a round roofe, which they thatche with matts throwne over. The walls are made of barkes of trees, but then those be principall howses, for so many barkes which goe to the making up of a howse are long tyme of purchasing. In the midst of the howse there is a louer, out of which the smoake issueth, the fier being kept right under. Every house comonly hath twoo dores, one before and a posterne. The doores be hung with matts, never locked nor bolted, but only those matts be to turne upp, or lett fall at pleasure; and their howses are so comonly placed under covert of trees, that the violence of fowle weather, snowe, or raine, cannot assalt them, nor the sun in sommer annoye them; and the roofe being covered, as I say, the wynd is easily kept out, insomuch as they are as warme as stoves, albeit very smoakye. Wyndowes they have none, but the light comes in at the doore and at the louer; for should they have broad and open wyn-dowes in the quarters of their howses, they know not well how, upon any occasion, to make them close and let in the light too, for glasse they knowe not. . . .

By their howses they have sometymes a scæna, or high stage, raised like a scaffold, of small spelts, reedes, or dried osiers, covered with matts, which both gives a shadowe and is a shelter, and serves for such a covered place where men used in old tyme to sitt and talke for recreation or pleasure, which they called præstega, and where, on a loft of hurdells, they laye forth their come and fish to dry. They eate, sleepe, and dresse their meate all under one roofe, and in one chamber, as it were.

Rownd about the house on both sides are theire bedstedes, which are thick short posts stalkt into the ground, a foot high and somewhat more, and for the sydes small poles layed along, with a hurdle of reeds cast over, wherein they rowle downe a fyne white matte or twoo (as for a bedd) when they goe to sleepe, and the which they rowle up againe in the morning when they rise, as we doe our palletts, and upon these, rownd about the howse, they lye, heads and points, one by the other, especially making a fier before them in the midst of the howse, as they doe usually every night, and some one of them by agreement maynteynes the fier for all that night long; . . .

About their howses they have commonly square plotts of cleered grownd, which serve them for gardens, some one hundred, some two hundred foote square, wherein they sowe their tobacco, pumpons, and a fruit like unto a musk million, . . .

It is straung to see how their bodies alter with their dyett; even as the deare and wild beasts they seeme fatt and leane, strong and weake. Powhatan and some others that are provident, roast their fish and flesh upon hurdells, and reserve of the same untill the scarse tymes; . . .

Their come they eat in the eares greene, roasted, and sometyme bruising yt in a morter of wood with a little pestle; they lap yt in rowlls within the leaves of the corne, and so boyle yt for a deyntie; they also reserve that corne late planted that will not ripe, by roasting yt in hott ashes, the which in wynter (being boyled with beanes) they esteeme for a rare dish, calling yt pausarawmena: . . .

Their drinck is, as the Turkes, cliere water; for albeit they have grapes, and those good store, yet they have not falne upon the use of them, nor advised how to presse them into wyne. Peares and apples they have none to make syder or perry of, nor honye to make meath, nor licoris to seeth in their water. They call all things which have a spicy tast wassacan, which leaves a supposition that they male have some kind of spice trees, though not perhapps such as ellswhere.

The men bestow their tymes in fishing, hunting, warres, and such manlike exercises, without the dores, scorninge to be seene in any effemynate labour, which is the cause that the women be very painfull and the men often idle. . . .

A kynd of exercise they have often amongst them much like that which boyes call bandy in English, and maye be an auncient game, as yt seemeth in Virgil; for when Æneas came into Italy at his marriage with Lavinia, King Latinus’ daughter, yt is said the Troyans taught the Latins scipping and frisking at the ball. Likewise they have the exercise of football, in which they only forceably encounter with the foot to carry the ball the one from the other, and spurned yt to the goale with a kind of dexterity and swift footmanship, which is the honour of yt; but they never strike up one another’s heeles, as we doe, not accompting that praiseworthie to purchase a goale by such an advantage. . . .

There is yet, in Virginia, no place discovered to be so savadge and simple, in which the inhabitaunts have not a religion and the use of bow and arrowes: all things they conceave able to doe them hurt beyond their prevention, they adore with their kind of divine worship, as the fier, water, lightning, thunder, our ordinaunce pieces, horses, etc.; but their chief god they worship is no other, indeed, then the divell, whome they make presentments of, and shadow under the forme of an idoll, which they entitle Okeus, and whome they worship, as the Romans did their hurtfull god Vejovis, more for feare of harme then for hope of any good; . . .

William Strachey, The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia, in Hakluyt Society, Works issued, 1849 (London, 1849), 70–82 passim.


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Chicago: William Strachey, "The Indians of the South (1618)," American History Told by Contemporaries in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1897), 203–205. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022,

MLA: Strachey, William. "The Indians of the South (1618)." American History Told by Contemporaries, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 1, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1897, pp. 203–205. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Strachey, W, 'The Indians of the South (1618)' in American History Told by Contemporaries. cited in 1897, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.203–205. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from