- Museum number
An Indian medicine man, 'The flyer'; in a dancing posture, headress adorned with bird, tobacco pouch at his belt
Watercolour over graphite, touched with white (discoloured)
- Production date
Height: 246 millimetres
Width: 151 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For an introduction to this group of drawings by John White and a list of abbreviations used in the Literature at the end, see curatorial comment for 1906,0509.1.1, the title page inscription to the album.
The following text is taken from K. Sloan, 'A New World: England's First View of America' (London, BM Publications, 2006), no. 17, pp. 128-9:
[NB. If you use any of the text or information below, please acknowledge the source]
White used a label for this figure which at first seems objective, in that it is descriptive of the ritual dances he performed, but his pose also recalls representations of Hermes, the ancient messenger of the gods who was also associated with medicine. Harriot described these men as conjurors – soothsayers who were ‘familiars’ of the devil, foreseeing the future by asking him what their enemies were doing. In fact these men fulfilled both roles, healer and conduit of sacred knowledge; but in the latter they appeared as magicians, of course deeply suspicious in the eyes of Protestant English and hence the change of title in Harriot’s description in de Bry. This figure joined the priest shown worshipping the Kiwasa idol on the pediment of de Bry’s title page, translating them into figures understood by his European audience.
Their hair was roached, without any longer locks or crests, and they often wore a bird above their ear as a ‘badge of their office’. This one does not appear to be tattooed but seems to have the scars for bleeding that the chief in no. 12 bore. He does not wear a breechcloth but instead an animal skin hanging from his belt and also a pouch – many figures are shown with one strung through their belts, which probably contained tobacco. His may have contained other herbs, plants or powders. The tobacco that grew locally was the stronger Nicotiana rustica, which has a high nicotine content (18 per cent); the milder Nicotiana tabacum favoured in Europe was imported from South America. Rustica was ingested in enormous quantities by shamans to trigger an ecstatic visionary-trance state. They believed it was beloved of their gods and cast the precious powder on the water and in the air as a sacrifice to them: ‘but all done with strange gestures, stamping, somtime dauncing, clapping of hands, holding vp of hands, & staring vp into the heauens, vttering therewithal and chattering strange words & noises’ (Harriot, p. 16). It may be one of these ceremonies that is being depicted here.
Harriot does not mention or was not aware that some Spanish had taken up smoking cigars, which they had encountered amongst the Indians further south, but he was completely convinced of its curative powers, as it was smoked in pipes by the Algonquians. He stated that it purged phlegm and other gross humours, opened the pores and passages of the body and rid them of ‘obstructions’. He credited the Indians’ good health and lack of disease to tobacco and noted that the English began to ‘suck it after their maner’ while they were there and since their return ‘& haue found manie rare and wonderful experiments of the vertues thereof; of which the relation would require a volume by itselfe: the vse of it by so manie of late, men & women of great calling as else, and some learned Phisitions also, is sufficient witnes’. Sadly Harriot did not follow his own frequent advice that moderation was the key to the success of the health of the Indians. Thirty-five years later he was to die from cancer of the nose caused by his faith in this plant. By then it had become the foundation of the economy of the first successful English settlement at Jamestown, where South American Nicotiana tabacum was brought to viable cultivation as a cash crop by John Rolfe, the husband of Pocahontas.
Engraved by Gysbrecht van Veen in ‘America’ Pt I, pl. XI: 'The Coniuerer'
Lit.: LB 1 (17); Quinn, pp. 344–6, 442–3; ECM 49; PH&DBQ 53(a); PH 49; Solmon, passim; Feest 1978, p. 280; Kupperman 1980, p. 48; Kupperman 2000, p. 125; Shirley, pp. 425–60, for Harriot’s cancer; and Furst, pp. 279–81, on tobacco
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1965 Jan 30-Feb 22, NGC, Washington, John White, no.71
1965 26 Feb-14 Mar, NC Mus of Art, Raleigh, John White, no. 71
1965 17 Mar-5 Apr, NY, Pierpont Morgan Libr, John White, no. 71
1984 May 1-Dec 31, BL, Raleigh & Roanoke, no.65
1985 Mar-Jun, Raleigh, NC Mus of History, Raleigh & Roanoke, no. 66
1985 Jun-Aug, New York, Public Library, Raleigh & Roanoke, no. 66
2007 Mar-Jun, BM, 'A New World:...', no.17
2007/8 Oct-Jan, Raleigh, North Carolina Mus of History, 'A New World:...'
2008 Mar-Jun, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 'A New World:...'
2008 Jul-Oct, Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, 'A New World:...'
- Associated titles
Associated Title: America
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The provenance given above refers to the moment when the album of drawings connected with John White was purchased by the Department of Manuscripts in what is now the British Library. The album was transferred to the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1906, where it was assigned new register numbers.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number