The Roanoke Indians
John White’s drawings show us that the Roanoke Indians had complex communities with many different methods of food and good production. The houses have gardens “wherein they grow tobacco” (Merchant 105). The Roanoke Indians also had fields of corn with a chair in the middle in order “to watch for there are such numbers of fowls, and beasts that could devour the corn” (Merchant 105). Next to the corn fields the Indians also grew pumpkins as another means of food production. Finally, at the end near the far end of the community there was a river that was used for drinking and bathing. White also went to into great detail about how the Roanoke Indians built their boats and fished. The Roanoke Indians would make their boats out of wood. They would “choose some long, and thick tree, according to the bigness of the boat which they would frame” (Merchant 105). Then they would use fire to shape the inside of the boat and shells to smooth out the inside. These boats would be used to fish. White was impressed by the Roanoke Indians method of fishing because they “lacked both iron and steel” (Merchant 107). Instead they would “fasten to their reeds or long rods, the hollow tail of a certain fish” in order to attract prey (Merchant 107). Also, fishing weirs were used in order to trap large groups of fish. According to White, “there was never seen among us so cunning a way to take fish withal” (Merchant 107).
The homes of the New England Indians seem to be different than those of the Southern Indians. Homes of the New England Indians were “some fifty or threescore foot long, forty or fifty men being inmates under one roof” (Merchant 80). The Southern Indian homes drawn by White look to be single family homes in the shape of a semi-circle. Both the Southern Indians and the New England Indians both grew corn as a means of food production. The New England Indians also relied on the resources that the tress could provide, due to the abundance of forest land in the Northeastern United States. Both the Southern Indians and New England Indians used fishing as a large portion of their meat production. Finally, in order to make room for planting the New England Indians had to burn brush and trees frequently, whereas the Southern Indians did not need to burn the land to release nutrients.
The settler’s actions usually reveal that they had little regard of the Indians or thought they were savages who needed to be tamed. For example, even though John White was impressed by the Roanoke Indians’ method of fishing, he said “yet without giving him and thanks according to his desert. So savage is this people and deprived of the true knowledge of god” (Merchant 108). Despite being impressed by the community, the main takeaway was that the Indians were not giving thanks to God. Oftentimes, the Indians were just an obstacle that occupied land that the settlers were eager to get their hands on.
Merchant, Carolyn. American Environmental History: an Introduction. Columbia Univ. Press, 2007.