By Catalina Righter
Dr. James D. Rice has been chosen by the Faculty Selection Committee as the Patrick Henry Writing Fellow for the school year. Last Thursday, Rice gave a lecture in Hynson Lounge titled “At a Given Signal: The Powhatan Uprising of 1622” in order to introduce the topic he will write a book about in the 9 months of his residency at Washington College.
The Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship is awarded yearly. According to the application page on the WC website, it “supports outstanding writing on American history and culture by both scholars and nonacademic authors.”
Rice did his undergraduate studies at Colorado College before completing his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, College Park. Currently he is a professor of history at SUNY Plattsburg, NY. His written work includes the 2012 book “Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America” for which he gave the Guy F. Goodfellow Memorial Lecture in history at WC in 2013.
As part of the Patrick Henry fellowship, Rice will spend an academic year in residence at the Patrick Henry House in Chestertown. The home is “a seething container of American history,” said Adam Goodheart, director of the C.V. Starr Center for the American Experience, who introduced the lecture. “Let me tell you a story about a house,” he said in introduction before recounting many historical residents of the Patrick Henry House, including the esteemed WC professor Norman James.
Rice then took the floor in front of a full house to give faculty, students, and visitors a better understanding of what is called the “uprising” of 1622, in which Native Americans of the Powhatan tribe killed nearly 1/3 of the settlers of Jamestown.
According to accepted knowledge, the retaliations by settlers “shifted the balance of power, assuring the settlers supremacy.” They did this through a 10-year “war” in whcih they destryed Powhatan corn fields during every harvest season.
Rice said that this episode in history is “a set piece, a canonical episode. Textbooks are forbidden to leave it out.”
He first came into contact with this episode in history from reading books as a child. “ I was a bloody-minded little boy- if that’s not redundant,” he said.
However, he thinks there is more too add to it. “The difficulty of the story is what’s missing, not what’s wrong with it,” he said. “Everyone writes about it, but always on their way to something else.”
One problem he has is the name “uprising,” because “For the Indians to rise up, the Indians would have to have been on bottom,” he said. At the time, the Powhatan Indians numbered over 30,000 compared to several hundred colonists. “Had they fought like Englishmen, there would be no more Englishmen,” said Rice, displaying his sense of humor.
Rice’s research will give new focus to the conflict in the currently untitled book he is writing. “What’s missing as it’s been told, is Native American history,” he said. “It’s a story that deserves a popular audience.”
In addition to writing, Rice will teach a course during the spring 2015 semester, entitled “Native Americans, Modern America.”
To conclude his talk, Rice reiterated his point of focus. He said, “You can’t teach US history without American Indians.”