Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10/29/08-Merrywings and Hurricanes

In today's excerpt--early English settlers in the Caribbean in the 1600s dealt with insects and hurricanes:

"The early settlers constantly complained about the tormenting insect life on the islands. Jonathan Everard, newly arrived in Jamaica, especially disliked the gnats, or merrywings, 'which doe so sting that one would be apt to dance without a fiddle.' Richard Ligon, in Barbados, ... found mosquitoes more bothersome than merrywings, but of course neither Ligon not any other seventeenth-century settler realized that mosquitoes were the chief killers on the islands. To combat these stinging insects the colonists soon learned to clear the foliage around their houses, to set smoky fires, and to daub vinegar on the bites. To combat the ants and woodlice that devoured cloth, paper, and wooden articles inside their houses, they swept the floors frequently, stood their table legs inside cups of water, and hung shelves from the ceiling by tarred ropes for food storage. Cockroaches were likely to attack the colonists at night, unless they slept in hammocks. The skin of Barbados Negroes, Ligon said, looked currycombed from cockroach bites. Most hateful of all were the chiggers, which burrow under the toenails and ulcerate the feet. ...

"Then there were the hurricanes. The English on St. Christopher got their first taste of this West Indies specialty within nine months of their arrival, when a hurricane wiped out their first tobacco crop in 1624. And this was just the beginning of a long parade of ferocious wind-and-rain storms, which generally struck in August. It was easy to believe that these terrifying storms were the devil's work. An early disaster in St. Christopher was reported home in a London pamphlet of 1638: News and strange Newes from St. Christophers of a tempestuous Spirit, which is called by the Indians a Hurrin-cano or whirlewind. The excited author told how some of the colonists hid in caves, some lashed themselves to tree trunks, some climbed into hammocks suspended between two trees where they swung to and from 'like a Bell when it is rung.' ...

"Thirty years later the English were deeply suspicious of the Carib Indians' ability to forecast hurricanes. St. Christopher and Nevis were hit in 1657, 1658, 1660, 1665, and 1667, and every time the Caribs on Dominica and St. Vincent sent a warning ten or twelve days in advance--obvious evidence that they practiced witchcraft and consorted with the devil. ... The Caribs were to blame. If barbarous and sinful Indians had not lived on St. Christopher, God would not have punished the island."

Richard S. Dunn, Sugar & Slaves, University of North Carolina Press, Copyright 1972 by University of North Carolina Press, pp. 40-42.


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