“Indian man and woman eating”

“Indian man and woman eating” from Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590 Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History, Special Collections (A 1590-1634 .B79 GE)

Picturing Virginia’s Native Inhabitants

In 1585 Englishmen John White and Thomas Hariot traveled to present-day Roanoke Island, North Carolina (then known as Virginia), as part of an expedition to establish the first English colony in the land they called the New World. Although the settlement ultimately failed, White and Hariot, charged with documenting the venture, recorded invaluable information about the people, flora and fauna, and terrain they encountered. White’s sketches and watercolors and Hariot’s words created a vivid first-hand account that continues to inform our understanding of the region’s original inhabitants. A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, published in 1590, paired Hariot’s text with engraved illustrations by Theodor de Bry.

Although de Bry closely followed White’s watercolors, comparisons between the versions reveal a few significant differences. In “Indian Man and Woman Eating,” de Bry added foodstuffs in the foreground and a landscape in the background. More importantly, the engraver Europeanized the subjects, changing their facial features and placing their bodies in more formal poses, with their legs extended in front of them, which would have been more consistent with European artistic conventions. Scholars believe that White’s depiction--showing the man and woman in more of a squatting posture--is accurate because of his direct observations of Native peoples. Throughout the engravings, de Bry--like other artists of the time--added details that reflect European notions of the “New World” rather than its reality.