Wolves were one feature of New World nature that normally frightened newcomers and travelers, but Byrd saw the wolves whose howls he heard as a natural train behind the company, scavenging the remains of game that the men had killed and eaten. He even introduced harmony into their howling by describing it as a chorus of distinct tenor, treble, and bass parts. Indeed, since they were feasting on the found bounty of the party's leavings, Byrd suggested that the serenade was the wolves' way of expressing their gratitude to Providence. Although a more colorful writer than some other observers, he was not alone in downplaying the role of natural sounds.
Instrumental sound remained a component of important communal occasions. Official public celebrations such as the king's birthday, the arrival of a royal governor, the death or accession of a monarch, and the formalization of treaties were customarily accompanied by gunfire and cannonades from forts, ships, and the governor's palace. While with the surveying commission, and far from settled society, Byrd noted on the king's birthday that the party celebrated by putting canes in the fire, which exploded on being heated for, as Byrd wrote, "all Public Mirth shou'd be a little noisy."
Anglican services differed acoustically from other denominations in another way. Much of what Puritans had objected to in the Church of England was visual ritual; Puritan emphasis was on sermonizing. For this, clear articulation of individual words, not just corporate sound, was essential. Although all Protestant churches differed acoustically in this regard from Catholic ones, with less reverberation from vaulted ceilings and clearer sounds emanating from a repositioned pulpit, in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake Bay region there may have been a reversion back to an emphasis on corporate sound, as opposed to clear articulation. Pulpits were not always placed against a wall, so lacked that sounding board, and some of the testers above the pulpits seem to have been more decorative than functional. That sermons were downplayed is evident from the comments of the Presbyterian Philip Fithian, who noted at Anglican services short sermons, or even the entire omission of a sermon because it was too cold to ask the congregation to sit for one.
Virginians interpreted some speech in what the historian Richard Cullen Rath has referred to as a "paralinguistic" sense. That is, sound alone, and not the meaning of the words, is the focus for hearers; those whose expressions are rendered rationally meaningless are thereby relegated to the lower reaches of society, or even outside its borders. Early writers promoting Virginia exhibited this aspect of sound when referring to the "black mouths" or "hissing" of English detractors. Byrd likewise represents misinformation and repetition of shopworn stories as sound without meaning, as haranguing or gabbling, which came mostly from the backcountry settlers or from the Carolina commissioners. In his most extreme case of condescending toward the lower classes by robbing their speech of meaning, Byrd stated of the local inhabitants that they "live so much upon Swine's flesh, that … many of them seem to Grunt rather than Speak in their ordinary conversation."
Sound in Virginia Indian Culture
Both noise and silence were a part of Indian soundways. Stealth was an important tactic for hunting and ambush alike, but surprise attacks were initiated with war whoops. The visual and aural were not necessarily seen as oppositional in Indian culture, but rather reinforced each other. For example, treaties were formalized and committed to public memory both by repeating them aloud and by using wampum belts and "memory sticks" that acted as visual cues. Neither did Indians make a distinction between sounds they considered to be of natural and supernatural origins. Indian signals to other people normally mimicked natural sounds. This contrasted with Europeans' use of manmade instruments such as trumpets and bells.
Sound among Enslaved People
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
McGill, K. O. Sound in Colonial Virginia. (2019, February 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Sound_in_Colonial_Virginia.
- MLA Citation:
McGill, Kathy O. "Sound in Colonial Virginia." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 12 Feb. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 22, 2018 | Last modified: February 12, 2019