Primary Resource

"Ther maner of visitinge the sicke with the fation of ther buriall if they dye"; an excerpt from "Relation of Virginia, 1609" by Henry Spelman (1613)

In this section of "Relation of Virginia, 1609" titled "Ther maner of visitinge the sicke with the fation of ther buriall if they dye," the Jamestown colonist Henry Spelman describes how Virginia Indians treat the sick and bury the dead. He encountered those religiously influenced practices living with the Algonquian-speaking Powhatan and Patawomeck Indians from 1609 until 1611. His account was probably written in 1613 but not published until 1872.

Transcription from Original

When any be sicke among them ther preestes cums unto the partye whom he layeth on the ground uppon a matt And having a boule of water, sett between him and the sicke partye; and a Rattle by it, The preest kneelinge by the sick mans side dipps his hand into the boule, which takinge up full watter, he supps into his mouth, spowtinge it out againe, uppon his oune armes, and brest, then takes he the Rattle, and with one hand shakes that, and with the other, he beates his brest, making a great noyes, which having dunn he easilye Riseth (as loith to wake the sicke bodye, first with one legge, then with the other, And beinge now gott up, he leaysuerly goeth about the sicke man shakinge his Rattle very softly over all his bodye: and with his hand he stroketh the greaved parts of the sicke, then doth he besprinkell him with water mumlinge certayne words over him, and so for that time leave him, But if he be wounded after thes cerimonyes dunn unto him he with a litle flit stone gasheth the wound making it to runn and bleede which he settinge his mouth unto it suckes out, and then aplies a certayne roote betten to powter unto the Sore. If he dies his buriall is thus ther is a scaffould built about 3 or 4 yards hye from the ground and the deade bodye wraped in a matt is brought to the place, wher when he is layd ther on, the kinsfolke falles a weopinge and make great sorrow, and instead of a dole for him, (the porer people beinge gott togither) sum of his kinsfolke flinges Beades amonge them makinge them to scramble for them, so that many times divers doe break ether armes and legges beinge pressed by the cumpany, this finished they goe to the parties house wher they have meat given them which beinge Æaten all the rest of the day they spend in singinge and dauncinge using then as much mirth as before sorrow more over if any of the kindreds bodies which have bin layd on the scaffould be so consumed as nothing is leaft but bonns they take thos bonns from the scaffould and puttinge them into a new matt, hangs them in ther howses, wher they continew while ther house falleth and then they are buried in the ruinges of the house what goods the partye leaveth is devided amonge his wives and children. But his house his giveth to the wife he liketh best for life: after her death, unto what child he most loveth[.]