Sarah Baxter, Times (London), April 29, 2007
THE Queen is being urged to apologise for the slaughter of American Indians and the introduction of slavery when she visits Virginia this week as guest of honour to mark the 400th anniversary of the first English settlement in the New World at Jamestown.
She will be landing in the middle of a row over political correctness after officials in Virginia banned the use of the word “celebration” for the anniversary. It is being called a “commemoration” out of respect for the suffering of native Americans, who were attacked after the colonists arrived in 1607.
Africans begin to appear in the English settlement’s records as indentured servants in 1619 and were later codified in Virginia’s statutes as slaves. Virginia passed a resolution earlier this year expressing “profound regret” for the enslavement of millions of Africans.
“Leaders and heads of state have a responsibility to set the tone and it would be a welcome move for the Queen to express regret,” said Virginia state representative Donald McEachin, a descendant of slaves, who sponsored the resolution.
The Queen is to meet survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre in Richmond, and will refer to the shootings of 32 students and teachers in her speech to the state assembly on Thursday.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said she would also meet “native Americans and representatives of the African American community to recognise that they formed part of the early history of America and not necessarily in a particularly constructive way”.
He added: “It is not an entirely backwards looking gesture but is one that recognises the diversity of Virginia today.”
From Richmond, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will travel to the Jamestown settlement where Captain John Smith’s life was saved by Pocahontas, the daughter of an Indian chief who was portrayed in a Disney film.
Dr Linwood Custalow, author of The True Story of Pocahontas and a descendent of Indian chiefs from the Mattaponi tribe—part of the Powhatan nation—hopes to be introduced to the Queen. “She should definitely apologise,” he said. “The first Americans were very welcoming to the colonists, but they launched a war against them.”
Mary Wade, a native American member of the Virginia Council on Indians, said: “You can’t celebrate an invasion. Whole tribes were annihilated.”
The Jamestown exhibition portrays the Indians as “in harmony with the life that surrounds them” while Britain is described as a land of “limited opportunity” ravaged by unemployment and low wages and run by a “small elite” of aristocrats.
The first 107 colonists arrived in three small ships in the midst of a drought. By the end of a year, disease and starvation had reduced their numbers to 38 and they fought the native Americans for scarce resources. By 1609, full-scale war had broken out.
Jim Horn, a British historian at Colonial Williamsburg, who helped to organise the exhibition, said: “The English wanted to develop fair trade with the Indians but they quickly resorted to violence when they needed to.”
Rex Ellis, vice-president of Colonial Williamsburg, added: “Jamestown is the birthplace for America and the birthplace for chattel slavery in America.” The British actor Steven Berkoff describes America’s attitude to guns as “helpless tolerance in the face of a chronic disease”. In a letter to The Sunday Times he says the gun has been “grist to the movie machine” and is now “god, almighty and potent”.