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A Young Jamestown Settler Becomes Powhatan's Interpreter

As a young boy, Henry Spelman was part of the early Jamestown settlement, under the leadership of John Smith. In 1608, Smith arranged an exchange with the Indian leader Powhatan that included beads, provisions, and "sons," who were to act as interpreters and liaisons between the two groups. Spelman, along with a man named Thomas Savage, was one of these "sons." Published in London in 1872, this narrative is believed to have been written by Spelman in 1613, after he returned to England.

Having here unladed our goods and bestowed some senight [seven night] or fortnight [fourteen days] in viewing of the country , I was carried By Capt Smith our president to the Falls , to the little Powhatan where unknown to me he sold me to him […] and leaving me with him the little Powhatan, […] myself having been now about seven or eight dayes with the little Powhatan who though he made very much of me giving me such things as he had to win me to live with him. Yet I desired to see our english and therefore made signs unto him to give me leave to go to our ship to fetch such things as I left behind me, which he agreed unto and setting himself down, he clapped his hand on the ground in token he would stay there till I returned. But I staying somewhat too long, at my coming [ back ] to the place where I left him I found him departed whereupon I went back to our ship being still in the Falls and sailed with them to Jamestown , where not being long there, before one Thomas Savage with 4 or 5 Indians came from the great Powhatan with venison to Capt. Percye, who now was president. After the delivery thereof and that he must return he was loath to go with out come of his countrymen went with him, whereupon I was appointed to go, which I the more willingly did, by Reason that vitals were scarce with us, carrying with me some copper and a hatchet which I had gotten. Coming to the Great Powetan I presented to him such things as I had which he took, using me very kindly, [setting this Savage and me at his own Table mess]. And After I had been with him about 3 weeks he sent me back to our English bidding me tell them, that if they would bring their ship, and some copper, he would freight her back with corn, which I having reported to our English and returning their answer to the King.

Source | Henry Spelman, Relation of Virginia by Henry Spelman, (London: Hunewell, 1872) 16-19; from University of Virginia Library's Electronic Text Center, "First Hand Accounts of Virginia, 1575-1705," Virtual Jamestown,
Creator | Henry Spelman
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Henry Spelman, “A Young Jamestown Settler Becomes Powhatan's Interpreter,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 2, 2023,

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