Tag Archives: colonialism

More Properly called Slaves, part 4

Sir Thomas Smythe and his London division of the Virginia Company dumped their slaves along the James river. This company was led by the one-armed veteran Captain Christopher Newport, who was as ruthless as Walter Raleigh in battle – or more so since he was one of Raleigh’s captains!

And good Lord I was good-looking!

He easily could’ve been rich enough to retire long before the Virginia Company approached him, since back in 1592 he seized the Spanish vessel Madre de Dios and sailed it to England. This ship was so full of gold, silver & gemstones that the horde is recorded as the biggest EVER taken by English privateers! It’s not known exactly how much of it he kept though.

Newport was a gruff guy, put in charge of a rowdy lot of 120 men & boys (described as gentlemen, oddly enough) across 3 ships, some labourers contracted for 7 years’ work (but remember the first post in this series – there was nothing stopping that period being indefinitely extended). Only later was it noticed that 120 was nowhere near enough to secure a colony but whatever. Regardless of how good or bad those men (and boys) may have been, they were used as the justification for suspension of all colonial slaves’ rights. As with the Plymouth division, there was a secret set of instructions only to be opened upon landing. The instructions detailed how to form relations with the ‘natural people of the country’, who should lead the hunt for gold, which 7 men should be made the ruling council to choose the colony’s president, and more.

On a side note, it’s possible Walter was watching their first voyage from his prison cell in Christmas week 1606, fully aware of its significance.

You can never quite cut me out of the scene, can you?

However, on the first journey it wasn’t the crew that caused the trouble but the leaders. They were all so damn quarrelsome, egotistical and domineering! These leaders were:

  • Newport’s aggressive 2IC Bart Gosnold,
  • former soldier Edward Maria Wingfield,
  • greedy for gold son of London’s leading goldsmith Captain John Martin,
  • up-himself brother of the Duke of Northumberland George Percy,
  • and the worst of the lot the farmer’s son turned yeoman John Smith.
Yes, THAT John Smith!

Despite Disney’s myth, there’s no evidence Matoaka (Pocahontas’s real name) had any romantic interest in him, or he in her. If he did he’d have been a paedophile since she was no older than 11 when they supposedly met!

This is what he really looked like.

Smith was an arrogant, difficult, silver-tongued mofo who portrayed himself as the hero who had to save the colony from the others’ foolishness. In reality he was so annoying and up himself, Newport erected gallows sincerely wanting to hang him!

And that was in the 19 weeks Newport wasted going the “safe” traditional route so they were all stuck together, finishing their food rations that were meant to last for a year, before they set foot on the American mainland!!!

To make it worse, as soon as they did set foot they broke into a row over where they should have landed! They’d just been hit by a storm which threw them to Chesapeake Bay, Newport was happy to dock there but Gosnold violently argued they should’ve gone further north. Newport told him to piss off and docked anyway. After a quick scout around, natives’ arrows showered them (so said John Smith)! A few musket shots put an end to that, but then they also had disease, starvation* and deserters** to deal with. Even the reinforcements kept getting cut down to size again and again and again by this quadruple combo.

* Even the reinforcements and trade-offs with non-hostile natives didn’t help; the dopey fuckers harboured rats on their ships, and of course rats eat. 

So what did they learn from the plagues that happened since fucking 1347?!?

** Despite the secret instructions explicitly forbidding anyone to leave the colony, or even keep in contact with England. 

Even Popham’s lot never had it that bad; all they got was a telling off for coming home!

The London Company, meanwhile, wanted to build its own fort – Fort James, now known as Jamestown. The location was a bad choice though, as Algonquins attacked them relentlessly for days on end. The colonists had been so sloppy they forgot to bring their weapons on their gold hunt! Not to mention it was a mosquito-infested swamp that they stupidly used as a toilet so disease cascaded over them. Inevitably the 7 council members’ arguments flared up, with one being hanged for mutiny. How the hell this colony survived has modern historians baffed, never mind me!

The gold hunts didn’t fare much better, despite early successes – or so they thought. One incident was when the colonists, after some trade with Algonquins, brought back a barrel full of sparkly clay. Newport got a boner and whisked it back to England, only for experts to determine it was just sparkly clay! After that and similar idiotic episodes, plus the huge rise in deaths and deserters running home, England FINALLY got the message that there was no gold to be found in north America.

No El Dorado?!?!?!?!?

In 1609 an anonymously written paper, approved by King James, was sent to Smythe telling him and the colony to stop looking for gold and focus on trade. Jamie also decreed the colony would no longer be under the governance of squabbling rambling self-chosen councillors – must have been a relief for Newport! – but that of a governor with autocratic rule. He would in turn answer to a Royal Council in London and the London Company’s court, who would then answer to… Sir Thomas Smythe!!!

Not a bad decision considering how influential he’d later be in instituting colonial slavery, and how ruthlessly skilled he was at snagging good economic opportunities. Remember he started/ ran most of the first joint stock companies.

For the colony’s Governor he chose his old mate, the Baron de la Warr Thomas West, and 3 accomplished fighters to be his 2IC’s: Walter’s ex-subordinate George Somers as Admiral of a new fleet, veteran Thomas Gates as Deputy Governor, and veteran Thomas Dale as High Marshal. Next was to repair the reputation of Virginia and the colony, so clerics & merchants were used to spread the message of America’s plentiful blessings ripe for the English taking. Though he preferred skilled labourers, Smythe was trying to recruit pretty much everyone with a job because anyone was better than a bunch of “gentlemen”. He invited them to his mansion and promised them all money & land if they went with him and served for 7 years. Almost needless to say he also appealed to frightened London authorities to take ever more “poor and lawless” off their hands. Not just Englishmen, he also took some French wine makers & Polish potash makers, and a few kidnapped native American kids to be saved from their heathen ways.

Despite his shit timing (the King had ordered yet another seizure of Irish land) he managed to gather a new fleet – 9 ships and 600-strong crew including some women! – to relieve the Jamestown lot. This Third Supply, as it was called, inevitably ran into problems en route: the ships got battered by a hurricane! According to one report it frenzied the waters so badly it was like the sea was waging war on the sky! One ship, carrying Somers, Gates & 150 others, was knocked hundreds of miles off course – but after 3 days at the helm Somers managed to haul the hulking vessel to what’s now known as Discovery Bay, Bermuda. Fears of being unable to survive were soon abated as they fattened themselves up on fruits and hogs left over from a previous shipwreck. Carpenters were quickly put to work building 2 new vessels to take them the rest of the way, as their old ship fell to pieces as soon as it reached Bermuda. It took much longer than planned but they made it to Jamestown.

Never mind that Somers & Gates turned tyrant and executed a bunch of men for questioning their authority, the fleet had made it! England was loving it, loving it, loving it!

But the fleet wasn’t. More desertions, native attacks and starvations ensued, getting so bad the colonists started eating horses, cats, dogs, rats, snakes and each other! Not that cannibalism was a moral quandary for them. Then the laziness & greed revealed itself. No-one wanted to do jack shit for themselves. They’d gone to America expecting wealth and good times to piss down on them. When they found that not happening they descended into theft, murder and mutiny. Governor West couldn’t do much since he mysteriously collapsed – not dead but unwell enough to make him run home with no-one to officially replace him.

Dale & Gates took turns running things, with the former drawing up a totalitarian code called Laws Divine, Moral and Martial. This code made “crimes” like disobedience, trading with natives, lese-majesty and irregular church attendance punishable by death. And yes, there were moral police with warrants to search their houses to make sure people were in church. As the society was communal the concept of private ownership was banned; even meals had to be eaten in refectories! All work was for the company’s sake – but as ever the upper class was exempt from work.

Not too different to the slavery (or serfdom) imposed by the Normans 550 years earlier.

Dale made damn sure these laws were enforced. He was so dictatorial he even grabbed Newport by the beard and threatened to execute him!

That I did.

Less than a year later he realised his company was too small to sustain a colony (maybe because he kept executing everyone?) and asked the King to send prisoners – 2,000 to ward off the natives, to be precise. Francis Bacon, future Attorney General, vehemently disagreed but timid King Jamie agreed. He couldn’t afford not to, as his ascension had coincided with another plague outbreak and the still increasing “lewd and idle” poor around him were hit hardest. Smythe was wholeheartedly behind him, though they did toy with the idea of selling the convicts for Christian galley slaves from Turkish & north African corsairs, or else chucking them in South Africa. In fact Smythe did an experiment to see if the latter would work, sending 10 convicts to Cape of Good Hope with nothing for survival but a handful of seeds and a spade.

For fuck’s sake!!! Now we’re England’s human refuse too?!?

The experiment failed. They got scared of the approaching Khoi people, ran to what would later become Robben Island and hitched a ride on a pitying ship passing by. 3 made it back to England, but were caught purse snatching and executed that same day. Smythe tried again, sending another group despite their begging to be hanged! After being dumped near Table Bay another passing ship took pity on them and carried them away.

England never tried dumping convicts in the Cape again – until 200 years later.

Meanwhile, for 4 years after Dale sent his request England sat on its ass, during which Dale cracked his whip and ordered forts to be built deeper into Algonquin territory. During this time was when the Pocahontas story was created, based on real events but used as romantic escapism from the constant wars against Algonquins and French (who were making settlements in the continent too). Yet again the complaints made it back to England, and investors were decidedly pulling out. Additionally, since Bermuda was uninhabited it was fast becoming a rival. A rumour went around that the Virginian colony was to be shut down and relocated! Dale got scared and begged Smythe to not let it happen. Of course Smythe was rich enough to keep Virginia going so it didn’t happen; he even went to the trouble of taking the reneged investors to court!

Now 7 years had passed since Newport’s lot landed, which meant the slaves’ indentured servants’ period was up and they could go home or stay and take some land. However, those who stayed were required to pay rent (2.5 barrels of corn per acre + 30 days per year of public service). A second bigger batch of stayers had it worse; they were forced to work for 11 months per year. Then in 1613 John Rolfe (who later married Matoaka/ Pocahontas/ Rebecca) made the first commercial crop of tall tobacco, which the English liked so it was shipped over.

Problem: they needed much more manpower to keep this crop going long-term, but Virginia’s reputation was still in the gutter so no-one was coming.

Solution: ignore Francis Bacon’s protests again and SEND MORE CONVICTS!!!

Though it was prettied up as an act of mercy (to get round the fact that the Magna Carta forbade even the Crown from forcing people into labour), the real intention was clear. The poor wretches were to be “constrained to toil in such heavy and painful works as such servitude shall be a greater terror than death itself.” After this decision was made, groups of convicts were immediately assigned to Smythe – 17, then 5, then 6. In short, Smythe had been allowed to choose whom to send based on profession. King Jamie didn’t like that so he chose instead: 100 so-called dissolute* guys who used to hang around his palace at Newmarket!

* i.e. possibly extramarital sons of my courtiers, possibly common jobless thieves, possibly my male lovers? Don’t know, don’t care. Ship ’em out!

However, there were no ships headed for Virginia in either London, Plymouth or Bristol. Smythe didn’t have any spares either. Jamie called bullshit, which forced Smythe to set aside £1000 for the bastards (literal bastards?) to be held in a gaol til a ship was available. Being the calculating guy he was Smythe suspected the prisoners would mutiny first chance they got, so they were split into smaller groups to go on at least 4 separate vessels. Luckily for him, 3 stockholders were more than happy to take them off his hands and chuck them on the Somers Islands (Bermuda) – the Earl of Warwick, Edwin Sandys and John Ferrar.

And that was what opened the floodgates for using America as a dustbin for England’s unwanted people. Next came the street children…

Back to Part 3

On to Part 5

What’s all this fuss about natural hair?

Human hair naturally comes in different textures:

Afro-haired woman from Nossi-bé, Madagascar

Curly, also called coiled, spiralled or type 3. Though some like to think so, I don’t really think of afro hair (also called kinky, nappy, type 4 and less commonly crisped, woolly, fleecy, frizzy or crinkly) as separate from curly. To me it’s just the extreme end of curly so I refer to it as such, although it too can be divided into further gradations

Wavy, also called type 2. 

Straight, also called wiry, lank or type 1. 

This is partially because the follicles they grow from come in different shapes; curly & wavy hair grows from oval follicles, straight from circular ones. However, at least for some, hair naturally changes texture because the hair follicles change shape (though why this happens is unknown). It’s also partially because of the proteins in the hair strands themselves, which  are joined together by disulphide bonds. The more of these bonds, the curlier the strand.

Though type 4 hair is most common in indigenous Africans and their diasporic descendants, it is not exclusive to us nor is it the only texture we possess. As for type 1, it is most common in Easians but not exclusive to them nor is it their sole texture. Types 2 & 3 are pretty much the norm everywhere else.

Chinese girl exemplifying type 1 hair

 Hair also comes in different colours; black, brown (aka. brunette), orange (aka. ginger), yellow (aka. blond/e) and overlaps. This is because of different amounts of a group of pigments collectively called melanin, of which there are 3 types – black eumelanin (technically isn’t black but very dark brown), brown eumelanin (more obviously brown, like reddish/ chocolate) and phaeomelanin (yellowish-orange). Globally black is the most common hair colour, followed by brown, blond/e and ginger. White and grey hair can result either from old age (during which the hair typically produces less melanin of any kind) or from congenital lessened or aborted melanin production, such as the more extreme forms of albinism. 

 

So what’s all the fuss about? All people naturally have hair, right? Why should a post be made about it?

 

Well, here’s the deal. For ‘black’ people (especially women nowadays) it is often a self-esteem issue. Our story starts from the trans-Atlantic slave trade (TAST). When ‘white’ people captured Africans one of the first things they did was shave their hair. This may be no big deal to us but in some African belief systems the hair is on the head, and because the head is the highest part of the body it is therefore closest to God. This effectively meant that head hair was a symbol of connection to God. Therefore for the hair to be cut off and discarded like filth was, in a word, traumatising. 

However it gets worse. Soon after the slave trade started both ‘white’ and ‘black’ people were being worked like nobody’s business. However, while the elites started passing laws to stop them uniting and rising up they tried to find ways, no matter how trivial or fantastical, to justify the laws. They thus declared Africans to be naturally inferior and fit for eternal service, and one of the MANY ways they ‘evinced’ this was to pass judgments on the differences between Africans and Europeans. Nose shape, skin colour, language differences, lack of Christianity* and the like were all used (and this is also when the negative stereotypes started being invented), but for the purposes of this post we’ll focus on hair texture. The respected scientific minds of the time espoused that our natural hair texture was more bestial (beast-like), suited for jungle & wilderness and overall hideous and revolting. The church authorities agreed, claiming that our hair was part of the curse of Ham – even though the Bible doesn’t mention the nature of this curse.

* This was ignoring the newly converted slaves, and that Christianity came to Africa about 500 years before Europe.

As such, many ‘black’ people were convinced that their natural afro hair was cursed and ugly. They could have tried styling their hair, but as slaves they barely ever had the time and usually just covered it in a headwrap. The only way for them to have hair closer to ‘white’ people’s (what became known as “good hair”, a very common phrase in USA & the Caribbean) was to have children with a ‘white’ person. This meant that either:

1 – ‘Black’ men would have to have children with ‘white’ women (which as far as I know never happened back then. It would’ve been absolutely forbidden and the man could be killed/ mutilated for it), or,

2 – ‘Black’ women would have to have children with ‘white’ men (this was very common, and pretty much always happened without the women’s consent – in other words ‘white’ men raped ‘black’ women and their mulatta children, especially in the southern states of USA. And were never punished because raping ‘black’ women wasn’t considered a crime).

Almost ironically, the ones who worked indoors (who were usually the products of rape anyway and thus had “good hair”) were the ones who had the time to style.

Al Sharpton, ‘black’ man with straightened hair. Yes, even at that age

Even after the TAST was abolished and the Civil War had ended, the psychological damage therefrom was ignored. This damage has been passed down to near enough every member of the African diaspora since. The desire for straight hair gained strength and prominence in mainstream media since the 1900s, when it was considered a sign of prestige and changing from “country” life to city life.

 

Note: the desire for straightened hair infected the men’s and women’s minds.

This explains why so many subscribe to the belief in euro & mixed hair as good & afro as bad. Obviously not all of us believe it but we all are familiar with it, and most of us know why. The Black Pride movement of the 50s and 60s worked well to counter this damage – for the time being. However it didn’t last and the ‘white’ media pushed the image of straight hair as beautiful with a vengeance. This is why the vast majority of ‘black’ women now either straighten their hair* or wear weaves/ pieces. Funnily enough, ‘black’ men no longer do it (except Al Sharpton) but most of us have been brainwashed into preferring our women with long silky straight hair.

* To do this they can use hot combs, but the much more common – and more damaging – way is chemical straighteners. Some ‘black’ Americans call it creamy crack, because its use is compulsive despite the health problems often brought with it. See Chris Rock’s Good Hair for elucidation, as well as its psychological & financial effects on ‘black’ women. And ‘black’ men, even though most of us don’t use it.

Because of colonialism and globalisation, even many women on the African continent itself (especially in the industrialised areas where Western media flourishes) hide their natural hair texture under blatantly fake weaves. Luckily, natural afro hair is making a comeback throughout the African diaspora, through the sporting of African/ afro-hair-friendly hairstyles or not styling at all. Most ‘black’ women are somewhat scared to do this because they think afro hair doesn’t grow and therefore looks manly. Afro hair can grow to awesome lengths, you just have to know how to look after it.

Even short afro hair looks good and feminine

 

LONG natural hair

 However, there’s another phenomenon taking place. It’s highly counterproductive and I don’t know how prevalent it is so I’m not going to call it a trend, but there are cases of women with naturally non-afro hair (including ‘black’ women) getting it chemically treated to resemble afro hair! What the hell?

But anyway, long story short (tee-hee!), everyone should love their natural hair texture, ‘black’ women especially.