Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sex, Drugs and Rockahomine, One

Part 1 of 3

I’ve been re-reading a book published three hundred years ago, John Lawson’s A New Voyage to Carolina (1709). John Lawson (1674-1711) never made it into Cherokee country, but he did explore the Carolina Piedmont and wrote of the Native Americans that he met on his travels.

Until Lawson published his natural history, the Carolina backcountry was virtually unknown to Europeans. In 1701, Lawson led a party of ten on a two month trip through the colonies. Starting north of Charleston, they paddled up the Santee River, crossed the Catawba near present-day Charlotte, passed through the Uwharrie Mountains, and after turning eastward, followed the Tar River to the North Carolina coast.

Lawson was a keen observer and an engaging writer; this excerpt from “A Journal of a Thousand Miles Travel” displays his sense of humor. Examples of misogynist racism are found throughout early American travel writing and Lawson is no exception. But if one wants an eyewitness account of sex trade in the Carolina backcountry, circa 1701, Lawson is the source:

We pass'd by several Cottages, and about 8 of the Clock came to a pretty big Town, where we took up our Quarters, in one of their State Houses, the Men being all out, hunting in the Woods, and none but Women at home.

Our Fellow Traveller of whom I spoke before at the Congerees, having a great Mind for an Indian Lass, for his Bed-Fellow that Night, spoke to our Guide, who soon got a Couple, reserving one for himself. That which fell to our Companion's Share, was a pretty young Girl.

Tho' they could not understand one Word of what each other spoke, yet the Female Indian, being no Novice at her Game, but understanding what she came thither for, acted her Part dexterously enough with her Cully, to make him sensible of what she wanted; which was to pay the Hire, before he rode the Hackney.

He shew'd her all the Treasure he was possess'd of, as Beads, Red Cadis, &c. which she lik'd very well, and permitted him to put them into his Pocket again, endearing him with all the Charms, which one of a better Education than Dame Nature had Bestow'd upon her, could have made use of, to render her Consort a surer Captive. After they had us'd this Sort of Courtship a small time, the Match was confirm'd by both Parties, with the Approbation of as many Indian Women, as came to the House, to celebrate our Winchester-Wedding.

Every one of the Bride-Maids were as great Whores, as Mrs. Bride, tho' not quite so handsome. Our happy Couple went to Bed together before us all,and with as little Blushing, as if they had been Man and Wife for 7 Years.

The rest of the Company being weary with travelling, had more Mind to take their Rest, than add more Weddings to that hopeful one already consummated; so that tho' the other Virgins offer'd their Service to us, we gave them their Answer, and went to sleep.

About an Hour before day, I awak'd, and saw somebody walking up and down the Room in a seemingly deep Melancholy. I call'd out to know who it was, and it prov'd to be Mr. Bridegroom, who in less than 12 Hours, was Batchelor, Husband, and Widdower, his dear Spouse having pick'd his Pocket of the Beads, Cadis, and what else should have gratified the Indians for the Victuals we receiv'd of them.

However that did not serve her turn, but she had also got his Shooes away, which he had made the Night before, of a drest Buck-Skin. Thus dearly did our Spark already repent his new Bargain, walking bare-foot, in his Penitentials, like some poor Pilgrim to Loretto.

After the Indians had laugh'd their Sides sore at the Figure Mr. Bridegroom made, with much ado, we muster'd up another Pair of Shooes, or Moggisons, and set forward on our intended Voyage, the Company (all the way) lifting up their Prayers for the new married Couple, whose Wedding had made away with that, which should have purchas'd our Food.

[Drawing by John White, 1540 - 1593 ]