Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Clothes and Weapons
Of his initial encounter with Roanoke Algonquians, Captain Arthur Barlowe wrote the following:
We remained by the side of this Island two whole dayes before we saw any people of the Countrey: the third day we espied one small boate rowing towardes us having in it three persons: this boat came to the Island side, foure harquebuzshot from our shippes, and there two of the people remaining, the third came along the shoreside towards us, and wee being then all within boord, he walked up and downe upon the point of the land next unto us: then the Master and the Pilot of the Admirall, Simon Ferdinando, and the Captaine Philip Amadas, my selfe, and others rowed to the land, whose comming this fellow attended, never making any shewe of feare or doubt. And after he had spoken of many things not understood by us, we brought him with his owne good liking, aboord the ships, and gave him a shirt, a hat & some other things, and made him taste of our wine, and our meat, which he liked very wel: and after having viewed both barks, he departed, and went to his owne boat againe, which hee had left in a little Cove or Creeke adjoyning: assoone as hee was two bow shoot into the water, hee fell to fishing, and in lesse then halfe an houre, he had laden his boate as deepe as it could swimme, with which hee came againe to the point of the lande, and there he divided his fish into two parts, pointing one part to the ship, and the other to the pinnesse: which, after he had, as much as he might, requited the former benefites received, departed out of our sight.
I have just finished my chapter that recounts this event, narrated from English scientist Thomas Harriot’s and Algonquian warrior Wanchese’s viewpoints. It was necessary for me to research the clothing these exploring Englishmen could have worn and the weapons they probably possessed. The internet article “Arms and Armor of the Roanoke Colonists” (https://www.nps.gov/fora/learn/education/arms-and-armor-of-the-roanoke-colonists.htm) and follow-up internet articles about these weapons and articles about sailors’ clothing in the late 16th Century provided me the information I wanted.
Let me first describe the clothes.
A seaman's shirt was typical of the peasant worker, loose fitting and flowing so as to not constrict movement. The shirt may or may not have a collar depending on when and where it was fabricated. Collars became more typical in the mid-sixteenth century onwards as a fashion statement, known as a ruff. A common sailor generally favored the gathered neck, and a loose flowing shirt. It became common to place a knotted kerchief around the neck as an enclosure. The black neckerchief or bandana first appeared in the 16th century and was utilized as a sweat band and a collar enclosure. Black was the predominant color as it was practical and did not readily show dirt.
Here is a ship captain or bosun wearing "Venetian Breeches" or "knee-breeches."
I have the hot-tempered, aggressive Philip Amadas wear chest armor, part of what was called a corselet. The corselet consisted of two plates connected on the sides via hinges and bronze pins. It was made up of a gorget, breast covering, back and tassets, full arms and gauntlets.
Now for the weapons.
A halberd was a two-handed pole weapon use prominently during the 14th and 15th centuries. The halberd consisted of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft. It always had a hook or thorn on the back side of the axe blade for grappling mounted combatants.
They were armed. They had swords, inside something covering them, hung from something about their waists. They were long swords, not the length or shape of the wooden swords he and his village’s warriors sometimes used in battle. They also had something [petronels] nearly the length of their forearms, something narrow that pointed. These they also had tucked under the something about their waists. One of them had a long spear, longer than what he and his friends used to fish. It [the bill] was not made of wood but of something he had not ever seen. At the end of it was a point but also two curved cutting pieces and something else that chopped. To defeat a man with this killing spear, a warrior would have to get himself past the cutting and piercing things, grab the center of the spear, and wrenched it away, a very difficult task.
These Tassantassuk carried these weapons not for self-protection – he, one against six, was no threat – but for display, a warning to him of their superior montaoc.
The one in the center of the group, the shortest one – too young to be their leader, Wanchese thought – spoke. His eyes flashed. He was not content. Wanchese saw emotion close to anger. Anger because I do not understood his words. The Tassantassuk had a strange protection [a corselet] over his arms, chest, and stomach. It was gray in color. Its surface looked hard. Wanchese imagined the point of an arrow bouncing off it. On his head he wore a strange object [a morion], tall and ugly and hard-looking like what protected his chest.
The others were not so protected. They covered their bodies not with animal skins but other things, things very strange. Even their arms, legs, and feet were covered. One of them, the oldest of them, wore something [a jack] over his chest that did not have the hard surface that the shorter man wore. The surface looked soft. He could see that sewing had been done. Not like the shorter man, all the others wore something tight and soft [Monmouth cap] over their hair. Coarse hair extended from cheek bones and chins. They and what they wore stank!
“I’ll have the bugger know something first!” Amadas stepped over to the savage, who, cat-like, turned to face him. Amadas pointed at the hilt of his sword. “I saw you looking at it. You may see it.” His eyebrows, an invitation, lifted.
The savage stared at the hilt, looked briefly at Amadas, nodded.
“He needs to know how the land lies!” Amadas said aggressively. He drew his blade.
Head lowered, the savage stared. His right fingers touched the steel. He felt its edges with his thumb and forefinger. He then straightened, looked at Amadas again, nodded.
“He takes your meaning,” Barlowe said.
The savage pointed at Amadas’s petronel, slung from the belt that crossed the little man’s chest.
“Rot me!” Amadas exclaimed. “Inquisitive bugger!”
“Give him a demonstration!” Fernandez grinned.
“I wonder at this,” Barlowe said.
“God’s breath, old man! I don’t give a fart in hell! I command here! White! Get a hand to bring up spare fardage! I’ll put a hole in it!”
Amadas produced a petronel ball. He held it two feet in front of the savage’s face. He pantomimed inserting the ball in the petronel’s barrel. He took aim at a distant sailor, made an explosive sound, walked with the ball the length of the quarterdeck, and thumped the ball against the sailor’s chest.
White reappeared holding the slat of wood.
“Have that man prop it against the capstan! Tell him to stand afar!”
The petronel already primed, the match lit, Amadas aimed, its butt against his chest close to his right shoulder. “Not very accurate but meant to kill charging cavalry,” he excused. Harriot was amused that Amadas felt the need to explain, especially using words the recipient could not understand.
The savage leaned toward the petronel. The explosion and profuse smoke sent him staggering backward. Nearly squatting, he arrested his fall. Instantly, he sprung upright, muscles strained, eyes enlarged, face taut.
“Come with me!” Amadas ordered. He motioned toward the section of fardage. They walked to it, examined the hole made by the ball.