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A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia

By Thomas Hariot

The Second Part
CONCERNING SUCH COMMODITIES AS VIRGINIA
IS KNOWN TO YIELD FOR FOOD AND THE SUSTENANCE
OF LIFE, CUSTOMARILY EATEN BY THE NATIVES
AND USED BY US WHILE WE WERE THERE

FIRST, CONCERNING SUCH AS ARE SOWN AND FARMED.
Pagatowr is a kind of grain. It is called maize in the West Indies; Englishmen name it Guinea wheat or Turkey wheat, after the countries from which a similar grain has been brought. This grain is about the size of our ordinary English peas and, while similar to them in form and shape, differs in color, some grains being white, some red, some yellow, and some blue. All of them yield a very white and sweet flour which makes excellent bread. We made malt from the grain while we were in Virginia and brewed as good an ale of it as could be desired. It also could be used, with the addition of hops, to produce a good beer. The grain increases on a marvelous scale-a thousand times, fifteen hundred, and in some cases two thousand fold. There are three sorts, of which two are ripe in ten, eleven, and, at the most, twelve weeks, when their stalks are about six or seven feet in height. The third one ripens in fourteen weeks and is ten feet high. Its stalks bear one, two, three, or four heads, and every head contains five, six, or seven hundred grains, as near as I can say. The inhabitants not only use it for bread but also make food of these grains. They either parch them, boiling them whole until they break, or boil the flour with water into a pap.

Okindgier we called beans, because they are like the beans in England, except that they are flatter, more varied in color, and some are pied. The leaf on the stem is also different. However, they taste as good as our English peas.

Wickonzowr. We named these peas to distinguish them from the beans, because they are much smaller. They differ little from the beans, though they taste different and are far better than our English peas.

Both the beans and the peas ripen in ten weeks. The natives boil them in a broth, where the beans are reduced to small pieces or boil them whole until they are soft and begin to break, as we prepare them in England. These peas are either cooked by themselves or mixed with wheat. Sometimes after they have been boiled whole they are pounded in a mortar and made into loaves or lumps of doughy bread.

Macocqwer. This is the native name for what we call pumpkins, melons, and gourds. In Virginia there are several varieties of this family, all of which taste very good. There are two varieties of macocqwer, one of which is ripe in a month, the other in two months.

There is an herb which is called melden in Dutch. Some people to whom I have described it believe that it is a kind of orach [mountain spinach]. It grows about four or five feet high, and the natives make a thick fine-tasting broth of its seeds. From the stalk of the herb they produce a kind of salt by burning it to ashes. This is the only salt they know, and they season their broths with it. We ourselves have used the leaves for pot-herbs.

There is also another large herb, which resembles the marigold, about six feet high. The head is a span in width with the flower. Some believe it to be planta solis [sunflower] From its seeds a kind of bread and also a broth are made.

John White's illustration of natives broiling fish accompanied Hariot's writingAll the commodities I have described are planted, sometimes separately, but more often mixed together in one plot. To make you understand the fertility of the soil, I will explain briefly how the natives prepare the ground and how they go about the planting.

They never enrich the soil with refuse, dung, or any other thing, nor do they plough or dig it as we do in England. They simply break the upper part of the ground to raise up the weeds, grass, and old stubs of cornstalks with their roots. This is done by the men a few days before they sow, using wooden instruments made almost like mattocks or hoes with long handles, while the women sit on the ground helping with short peckers or parers about a foot long and five inches in breadth. After the weeds have dried in the sun for a day or two, the refuse is scraped up into many small heaps and burned to ashes. This they do to save themselves the labor of carrying it away, rather than to enrich and better the ground.

Then they sow the seed. For corn they begin in one corner of the plot and make a hole with a pecker. They put four grains into each hole, about an inch apart, taking care that they do not touch one another, and cover them with soil. The seeds are planted in rows, each row spaced half a fathom or a yard from the last, and the holes in each row are the same distance apart. Thus, there is a yard of spare ground between the holes, where the natives sometimes set beans and peas or plant macocqwer, melden, and sunflowers.

The planted ground, compared with an English acre of forty rods in length and four in breadth, yields at least two hundred London bushels of corn, beans, and peas, in addition to the crop of macocqtver, melden, and sunflowers. In England we think it a large crop if an acre gives forty bushels of wheat.

So that you who will live and plant there may know how much that country's corn is to be preferred to ours, I thought it good to tell you this. Besides the many ways it may be used for food, the yield is so great that little labor is needed in comparison with what is necessary in England. Of this I can assure you, for according to our experiments we found that one man may prepare and cultivate as much ground (which has borne corn before) with less than twenty-four hours' labor as will supply him food in abundance for a year. This is true even though he has no other food save what was grown in that ground, and of no other kinds than those I have spoken of, and even if the plot were only twenty-five yards square. If it were necessary, two crops could be raised on the same plot. For the natives sow at any time from the middle of March until the end of June and can still plant after they have eaten from their first harvest. We have heard that in some places they do harvest two crops from the same ground.

John White's illustration of an aged man for Hariot's writingAs to English corn, whether you who will live there should wish to use it or not, you may decide as you think best after trial. You need not doubt that it will grow, for we have seen the proof with barley, oats, and peas. We did not purposely plant these; the seeds fell casually in the worst sort of ground, and yet they grew to be as fair as any we have ever seen in England. We could not try our wheat, because it was musty and had soaked up salt water, nor could we test our rye.

There is an herb called uppowoc, which sows itself. In the West Indies it has several names, according to the different places where it grows and is used, but the Spaniards generally call it tobacco. Its leaves are dried, made into powder, and then smoked by being sucked through clay pipes into the stomach and head. The fumes purge superfluous phlegm and gross humor2 from the body by opening all the pores and passages. Thus its use not only preserves the body, but if there are any obstructions it breaks them up. By this means the natives keep in excellent health, without many of the grievous diseases which often afflict us in England.

This uppowoc is so highly valued by them that they think their gods are delighted with it. Sometimes they make holy fires and cast the powder into them as a sacrifice. If there is a storm on the waters, they throw it up into the air and into the water to pacify their gods. Also, when they set up a new weir for fish, they pour uppowoc into it. And if they escape from danger, they also throw the powder up into the air. This is always done with strange gestures and stamping, sometimes dancing, clapping of hands, holding hands up, and staring up into the heavens. During this performance they chatter strange words and utter meaningless noises.

While we were there we used to suck in the smoke as they did, and now that we are back in England we still do so. We have found many rare and wonderful proofs of the uppowoc's virtues, which would themselves require a volume to relate. There is sufficient evidence in the fact that it is used by so many men and women of great calling, as well as by some learned physicians.

This material appears online as part of the National Park Service's Roanoke Revisited Heritage Education Program. The site also contains a biography of Thomas Harriot (Hariot).

Another version, including some illustrations, is available as part of the University of North Carolina's Documenting the American South online collection