Food and Friendship in Early Virginia

The final post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger in Vast Early America is by Rachel Winchcombe, a cultural historian of early modern England and America. She joined the University of Manchester in September 2017 as a Lecturer in Early Modern History. Alongside her teaching, Rachel is currently developing a new research project, provisionally titled ‘Emotional Eating in the Early American Colonies’. This project explores the interplay between diet and emotion in English accounts documenting dietary change in the early American colonies. Our food roundtable began on Monday. You can read Carla Cevasco’s introduction here, Zachary Bennett’s post here, and Bertie Mandelblatt’s here.

A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old nephew earnestly declared, “Rachel, sometimes meat makes me really happy!” Whilst this made me laugh, I could not deny the sincerity of the kid, or the veracity of his statement. After all, we all recognise the power of food to improve our mood and to provide comfort in times of sadness and heartache. For our early modern forebears, I would argue that this emotional aspect of food was no less powerful. In this post I will explore one facet of the emotional power of food, illustrating how it had the potential to irrevocably alter Anglo-Indigenous relations in early Virginia.[1] March 1622 marked a watershed moment in the history of the early Anglo-American settlements. On March 22, the indigenous population launched a devastating attack on the English settlements. In its aftermath, hundreds of English colonists were left dead, and a number of settlements razed to the ground. The attack also, unsurprisingly, resulted in the breakdown of positive emotional relationships between the English and the indigenous population, relationships that I will argue had been constructed around food exchange and commensality in the wake of the First Anglo-Powahatan War of 1609-1614.[2] Continue reading