An Early Colonist Describes the Indian Town of Secota

In Thomas Hariot's account A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1590), he describes the Algonquian village of Secota, accompanied by Theodor de Bry's engraving. After noting the village's impressive agriculture and observing its inhabitants' feasts and religious rituals, he describes the Indians of Secota in words that echo many Europeans'. To Harriot, the Indians appeared void of all covetousness: "[they] live cheerfully and at their hearts' ease." While such accounts were no doubt intended to paint a deliberately rosy picture of the New World for these early voyagers' sponsors, they also reflected the extent to which the indigenous peoples of North America managed to live in harmony with their natural environment, as well as their lack of the Europeans' notions of individual property.

Their towns that are not inclosed with poles are commonly fairer than such as are inclosed, as appeareth in this figure which lively expresseth the town of Secota. For the houses are scattered here and there, and they have gardens, expressed by the letter E, wherein groweth tobacco which the inhabitants call uppowoc. They have also groves herein they take deer, and fields wherein they sow their corn. In their corn fields they build as it were a scaffold whereon they set a cottage like to a round chair, signified by F, wherein they place one to watch, for they would soon devour all their corn. For which cause the watchman maketh continual cries and noise. They sow their corn with a certain distance, noted by H, otherwise one stalk would choke the growth of another and the corn would not come unto his ripeness G, for the leaves thereof are large, like unto the leaves of great reeds. They have also a several broad plots C, where they meet with their neighbours to celebrate their chief solemn feasts as we have already mentioned above; and a place D where after they have ended their feast they make merry together. Over against this place they have a round plot B where they assemble themselves to make solemn prayers. Not far from this place there is a large building, A, wherein are the tombs of their kings and princes, as will appear by the 22 figure. Likewise, they have a garden noted by the letter, I, wherein they use to sow pumpkins. Also a place marked with K wherein they make a fire at their solemn feasts, and hard without the town a river L, from whence they fetch their water. These people are void of all covetousness and live cheerfully and at their hearts' ease. They solemnize their feasts in the night, and therefore they keep very great fires to avoid darkness and to testify their joy.

Focus Questions

Who wrote this and why?

What does the author think is important to note about the Town of Secota?

How does this written account differ in the information it gives from the illustration "Town of Secota"?

Would this text have cast a positive or negative image to a 16th-century explorer?

This text was created to generate interest in settling the New World. How doe you weigh that against the way the information is presented?

Source | Thomas Hariot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1590); from University of Virginia Library's Electronic Text Center, "First Hand Accounts of Virginia, 1575-1705," Virtual Jamestown, http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/jamestown-browse?id=J1009.
Creator | Thomas Hariot
Item Type | Book (excerpt)
Cite This document | Thomas Hariot, “An Early Colonist Describes the Indian Town of Secota,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 20, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/593.