Searching For Another Century -- At the National Geographic

Ivor Noel Hume was looking for something else entirely when he stumbled upon new evidence of Virginia's worst mass murder. The trail was cold, but after four years of digging he feels he can almost relive some of the bloody scenes from that March morning along the James River.

"Here's 'Granny,' as we call her," he said, waving at a life-size photograph of what appeared to be a contorted skeleton. "She was struck down and mutilated, we think, and then revived and crawled off into a rubbish pit, where she died, hours later or days later, there's no telling."

Noel Hume, a large pink person whose double-barreled name goes unhyphenated because such things are regulated by law as well as custom in his native Britain, warmed to his tale with the solemn gusto of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot.

"At first we thought she expired in agony, because of her position and what with having been scalped, but then I spent several days in bed with the flu and several times awoke to find myself in the same position. Forensic pathologists said it was a characteristic posture of an exposure death, in which the victim suffers no discomfort. So that made us feel better, along with the fact that she had had time to do up her hair that morning, and perhaps have a nice breakfast."

We began to feel better too, and even to look forward to the nice lunch that had been promised by Noel Hume's friends and sponsors at the National Geographic Society, where some of the fruits of his investigation into the Wolstenholme Massacre are on display in Explorers Hall. But then our queasiness returned as Noel Hume went on:

"We know about the hair because her metal hair roll was still attached. It was a style long out of fashion, but then she was a very old woman, perhaps 40. It had been very popular when she was a girl. The roll was out of position, though; they'd sort of yanked back on it as they cut away the scalp lock, but it stayed tangled in the remaining hair, around the ears and nape of the neck.

"She was lucky, one might say. Some of the victims were defaced, and by 'defaced' I mean 'de-faced,' literally, the flesh flayed from the living person."

Granny was one of several hundred people murdered on the morning of Friday, March 22, 1622. It was a coordinated Indian attack on Jamestown and its outlying settlements, designed to drive the white invaders back to their own continent.

The aborigines had been quite forbearing with the colonists, in Noel Hume's opinion, but where they had offered inches the English had taken miles, until the whole thing was out of hand. When the Indians rose, they spared not child, woman or man. There were 78 dead among some 140 residents of Wolstenholme Towne, seat of the private venture known as Martin's Hundred. After the slaughter it was abandoned, and later became famed Carter's Grove plantation.

Carter's Grove has been deeded to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, for which Noel Hume is director of archeology.He was looking for some 18th-century outbuildings or whatever, for purposes of restoration, when his team came across what turned out to be the earliest settlement site yet found. The Williamsburgers were less than enchanted, being already budgeted to the wall, but the Geographic Society stepped in to help underwrite the dig.

It has been a thundering great success, producing no end of firsts and unique discoveries, and Noel Hume's team is preparing books and reports that will revolutionize early colonial investigation. Noel Hume is modest and serious about all this, saying earlier and better sites remain to be found, including under the Confederate fort at Jamestown, but then along comes some slackjawed newsperson asking "human interest" questions and here we go again:

"There is always the temptation to go beyond the evidence," Noel Hume said, turning to a bust that has been modeled on the cast of a skull found at Wolstenholme. The "skullpture," done by Betty Pat. Gatliff according to the rules of forensic anthropology, revealed a strongly Scandinavian sort of fellow who all concerned would like to think was the settlement's military commander, Richard Kean. He was done in by a blow between the eyes with what Noel Hume would like to think was a garden spade. Noel Hume would like to think that Kean had taken his stand in the doorway near where he fell, and that by his sacrifice others made it to the fort and safety.

It is just as well, for a scientist who likes to think like that, to be married to an historian like Audrey Noel Hume, who sticks to what is known, so that, for instance, when Noel Hume says, "about 300 people," Mrs. Noel Hume whips back wih, "280 people known," and so forth.

Noel Hume says this arrangement suits him fine, and that he could not and would not do without Mrs. Noel Hume. But when he wanted to find out what it would be like for a colonial person wearing English armor to try to fight Indians in the humid, buggy Virginia woods, upon whom do you suppose Noel Hume strapped that armor?