Primary Source

Native American Children and Toys [Engravings]

Annotation

Theodore de Bry included this colorful engraving in his publication of Hariot's, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1590). It was based on a watercolor by John White (fig. 2) painted five or six years earlier. Despite their differences, in both versions a mother is standing with her 8- to 10-year-old daughter who is wearing a string of beads and a leather string around her waist (tied to another holding moss between her legs). The girl is holding an English "puppet" or "poppet." In 16th century England, wax dolls (of adult women) like this one were mass-produced from molds. According to Hariot, a scientific advisor who sailed to Roanoke in 1585-6 and collaborated with John White while colonizing the mid-Atlantic region, the native people were "greatlye delighted” with the "puppets and babes" "broughte oute of England." The rattle, which did not appear in John White's water color, was a popular toy in early modern Europe.

Representations like these can be useful sources of information about Native-American children. However, those who produced them drew upon artistic traditions and Western cultural values in their often embellished and stylized representations of indigenous children. As a result, these visual sources must be used critically, cautiously, and comparatively. For instance, how does the girl in John White’s watercolor compare with one in the lavish engraving? Also compare the girl in the hand-painted illustration to the boy in the 1705 engraving published in The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts (fig. 3).

What might account for the change in the sex of the child and the toys in their hands? Robert Beverley did write this book just a few years after his 16-year-old wife died while giving birth to their only son. In what ways might the boy also have served as a more suitable representation of emergent Enlightenment notions of childhood innocence and activity at the dawn of the 18th century?

Source

Theodore de Bry, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590. Image courtesy of the Mariners' Museum; John White, water color, c. 1586, courtesy British Museum; Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts. London: Printed for R. Parker, MDCCV, 8-9, Documenting the American South, http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/beverley/beverley.html (accessed November 7, 2009). Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell.

Primary Source Text

Caption: "Woman, and a Boy running after her."
"The Boy wears a Necklace of Runtees, in his right hand is an Indian Rattle, and in his left a roasting Ear of Corn. Round his Waste is a small string, and another brought cress thro his Crotch, and for decency a soft skin is fastn'd before."

See: Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts. London: Printed for R. Parker, MDCCV. 8–9.

How to Cite This Source

"Native American Children and Toys [Engravings]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #361, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/items/show/361 (accessed October 1, 2014).