William Wood.  New Englands Prospect.  A true, lively, and experientall description of that part of America, commonly called New England: discovering the state of the Countrie, both as it stands to our new-come English Planters; and to the old Native Inhabitants.  laying downe that which may both enrich the knowledge of the mind-travelling Reader, or benefit the future Voyager.  By William Wood.  London: Tho. Cotes…1634.

This is part of a collection reviewed:

A Library of American Puritan Writers.  The Seventeenth Century.  Sacvan Bercovitch, Ed.  Volume 9. Histories and Narratives.  AMS Press, Inc., New York, 1986. 

[NOTE:  Book pages used in this set of notes are those of the original text, published as facsimile in Volume 9 Histories and Narratives.  Pages were not numbered in the re-published versions of these texts.  For some of the texts noted in the following list, the actual title differs from the original, the title of which does appear in the facsimile.]


      (Those with relevant notes taken are asterisked)

William Bradford.  A Description and Historical Account of New England in Verse. 

Father Gabriel Druilletes.  Narrative of a Journey to New England.

*Francis Higginson.  A True Relation of the Last Voyage to New England. 

*John Josselyn.  An Account of Two Voyages to New England.

John Smith.  Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England, or Anywhere.

*John Smith.  A Description of New England.

Edward Winslow.  Good News from New-England.

*William Wood.  New England’s Prospect.

This text is presented in two parts.  The first is on New England, in twelve chapters, and the second on Natives in 20 chapters.  Part 1’s Chapters cover season, climate, soil, plants, beasts, bord and fowl, fish, plantations in general, the evils “hurtful to the plantation” and provisions to be made for travelling to New England.  Part 2 details various tribal groups such as Connectacuts, Mowhawks, Aberginians, etc., (Chaps. 1-4), followed by chapters on diet and cookery, their disposition, marriage, religious beliefs, fishing skills, arts, language, etc. 

Throughout, Wood details the goods and evils of New England, with emphasis on the first.  The ill effects of this region on body and health are noted in Part I, Chapter III (pp. 9-11), entitled “Of the Climate, and shortnesse of day and night, suiteablenesse of it to English bodies for health and sicknesse.”   Related notes are seen on climate (p. 5-6), and wind direction (p. 6). In Part I, Chap XI “Of the evills, and such things as are hurtfull in the Plantations” (pp. 49-54), he notes problems with wolves, rattlesnakes, “a wild Bee or Waspe,” the green flye, Gurnipper (gnat), and Musketoe” (p. 51). [Wood also complains about insect bites, and notes the effects of climate on these vermins. See “Natural History and Pathogenesis” section.]

Part II, Chapter XII. “Of their worship, invocations, and conjurations” (pp. 92-94) discusses “sucking charmes” or charming practices carried out by the medicine man–conjurer. (p. 93)  He described the process in considerable detail: “bellowing and groaning,” “spending his lungs, sweating out his fat,” tormenting his body in this diabolicall worship,” on invoking the manitou (devil) and the results of this practice.


Part I, Chapter V. “Of the Hearbes, Fruites, Woods, Waters and Mineralls” (pp. 15-20), Chapter XI. “Of the evills…” (pp. 49-54) have medical notes on the following pages.

Plant Listing (p. 15)

Trees [p. 18-20]

  • Of Oakes there be three kindes, the red Oake, white and black.”  Gives uses of wood, and of acorns as Hogs feed.  Comparing it with the English variety.
  • Walnut (Hickory or Butternut (Carya spp.), which he compares with the English Walnuts.)  Gives uses of wood.
  • Cedars, “a tree of no great growth…I suppose they be much inferiour to the Cedars of Lebanon so much commended in holy writ.”  With wood “smelling as sweete as Iuniper.”
  • Firre bee tree.  Rosin and turpentine.
  • Pine bee tree.  Rosin and turpentine. 
  • a candlewood bearing a kind of pitch
  • Ash, “For that countrey Ash, it is much different from the the Ash of England.”  [poss. Mountain Ash (Sorbus sp.) or Ash Maple (Acer sp.]
  • “The Hornbound tree is a tough kind of Wood, that requires so much paines in riving as is almost incredible.” [Hornbeam or Ironwood] (Carpinus sp.)
  • Cherrie

Noted in the verse on p. 18:

  • Oake
  • Cypris
  • Pines
  • Chesnuts
  • Cedar
  • Walnut
  • Firre [and rozin]
  • sprewse [Spruce], for making Boatsmen’s “Oares light”
  • Ash
  • Aspes
  • Elme
  • “water spungie Alder”
  • Small Elderne
  • knottie Maple
  • “pallid Birtch”
  • Hawthornes
  • “The Horne bound tree that to be cloven scornes”
  • Vine [Grape]
  • Indian Orchard fruits
  • ruddie Cherrie
  • jette Plumbe
  • Hazell
  • sweet Saxaphrage [Sassafras] (mentions its use in making a beer for allaying hot fevers)
  • The Diars [Dyers] Sumach
  • Vines…grapes…two sorts, red and white.
  • Fruit
  • Cherry
  • Plummes
  • White thorne [Hawthorn]

Garden plants [p. 15]

  • “whatsoever grows well in England, growes as well”
  • Turnips
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Pumpkins
  • “Muskmillions”
  • Isquouterquashes
  • Coucumbers
  • Onyons

Medicines [p. 15]

  • “all manner of Hearbes for meate and medicine, and that not onely in planted Gardens, but in the Woods, without eyther the art ofthe helpe of man”
  • sweet Marjoran
  • Purselane
  • Sorrell
  • Peneriall [Pennyroyal]
  • Yarrow
  • Mirtle
  • Saxisarilla [possibly misread from transcrtipt by printer from “Saxifras Sarsaparilla” or “Saxiphrage Sarsaparilla”]
  • Bayes

Fruit [p. 15]

  • Strawberries
  • Gooseberries
  • Bilberies
  • Rasberries
  • Treackleberies
  • Hurtleberries
  • Currants

Fiber Crops [p. 15]

  • Hempe
  • Flax

Nut Trees [p. 18-29]

  • Wallnuts

Natural History–miscellaneous notes

Watershed/Swamp Ecology

Wood notes the importance of climate, Sunshine, and “sweet waters” for making “good Beere.”  [p. 16]

Effects of local climate and weather on cattle. [p. 16]

The burning of woodlands by Native [p. 17]

Natural History and Pathogenesis

In Part I, Chap XI “Of the evills, and such things as are hurtfull in the Plantations” (pp. 49-54), Wood notes problems with wolves, rattlesnakes, “a wild Bee or Waspe,” the green flye, Gurnipper (gnat), and Musketoe” (p. 51).

He complains about insect bites on both humans and cattle, and notes the effects of climate on these vermins; for example, of the Gurnipper or small black fly, “this fly is busie but in close mornings or evenings, and cintinues not above three weeks, the least winde of heate expels them.” (p. 51).   “Flies cannot endur winde, heate or cold, so that these are onely troublesome in close thicke weather, and against raine many that be bitten will fall a scratching, whereupon their faces and hands swell.” (p. 52) 

Wood also notes the presence of “flies that are called Chantharides, so much esteemed of Chirurgions” in which he is perhaps referring to the “glow worms” or fireflies mentioned by Josselyn, who noted them as  Cantharides substitutes. (p. 52.  See also Josselyn notes, or his writings in the Microfilm set at PSU on seventeenth century English writings following the improvements made in the printing press.)  It is interesting to note this mimicry of Cantharides continued into the early 1800s with the Missionary healers.  The Missions had healers who practiced regular [English-based] medicine and so considered the local gnats and flies applicable to the use of Cantharides.  In actuality, the Cantharides had a true blistering power, whereas the local gnats and fireflies didn’t.  This could either be judged as a mistaken application on behalf of the Missionary medics, or an inappropriate one of no matter since after all they were practicing faith healing or sanative medicine.  [See notes on Northwest Fur Trade notes for a description of an attempted blistering performed by a missionary, which made use of the recipe employing gnats.]


The following is a philosophical concept underlying this rattlesnake cure: 

The illness and/or cure of a Rattlesnake bite is based on a Transferrance of vital force, from the snake or snake medicine which bears a similar vitality.  During the envenomation process, this vital force first transfers from the snake to the victim of the bite, and next begins to express itself in a hostile manner by spreading throughout the body, forming streaks and lesions in the flesh along the way.  The person bitten may begin to develop a mottled appearance of the skin, due in part to shock and subdermal bleeding from the snake’s anti-coagulants.  The victim may break out into a sweat and then lying semi-conscious, undergo convulsions. 

The Native belief is that the snakeroot medicine bears the image of the snake, and so bears that snake’s power.  This may be likened to the power of Manitou (Okee/Oki to the Iroquois) in climate (Gici-Manitou) or animals.  In the minds of the Europeans, this reaction to the venom is instead due to the venom, which in early years was likened to an ill-humour. 

Both cultures held a belief that the healing power of a plant was borne by and displayed by its appearances–known in contemporary writings as Doctrine of Signatures, but in the late Renaissance as Phytognomonics [See Giambattista Porta’s text Phytognomonica (text in Latin), or references to it in general herbal medicine writings.]  As evidenced by phytognomonics, it was believed that the parts of plants (as well as animal parts), and therefore also take on either a sympathy or antipathy healing power.  The cat’s skin noted by Josselyn, for example, was used to treat Cat Scratch Fever, which caused a reddening, swelling and eruption of vesicles on the skin; the same remedy was later applied in colonial times as a common treatment for scarlet fever.  Domestic Colonial writers judge this healing practice to be folklorish, based on  witchcraft, or perhaps even demonic, but in view of the belief in the powers of sympathy and antipathy, a trait common to all cultures in the world, the use of such cures makes sense.  At the time such healing practices were taking place, an important part of the cure thus became what is today called placebo effect. 

Applying phytognomica and sympathy-antipathy to the snakebite cures used by Native Americans, it was felt the remedy for an animal bite was born by a plant in the form of signature indicating its use as an antidote or antipathy cure.  Most of the time, such a remedy had to exist in the locality of where the disease or illness took place, since in part that illness was due to Gici-Manitou, or in Anglican terms, the local climate and/or miasma.  In the case of treating the snakebite, the remedy had to have a powerful effect on the body, which in turn could serve to balance out or overpower the foreign effects of the invasion of animal spirit or venom, or the animal bite.  The plant’s antipathy doctrine (Doctrine of Signature) for snake bites was its resemblances to parts of that snake.   Many times the rhizome and rootstock resembled the jointed tail of a snake.  The flowers of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) for example are white and jointed.  The scraggly rhizome of Polygala senega matched the appearance of Crotalus.  Aristolochia bore a flower which appeared like the gaping mouth of a snake, and was a vine that clung to and around the trunks of trees.

Since an antipathy plant bears the matching power of the venom or snake, use of this plant without need for it will cause the antipathy power to intoxicate its user.  It may thus cause similar effects in the minds of early writers as William Wood, who wrote: 

“…that which is most injurious to the person and life of a man is a rattle snake which is generally a yard and a half long, as thicke in the middle as the small of a man’s legge, she hat a yellow body, her back being spotted blacke, russet, yellow, and green colours, placed like seales; at her tail is a rattle, with which she makes a noyse when she is molested, or when she seeth any approach neere her, her necke seems to be no thicker than a man’s thumb yet she can swallow a Squerril, having a great wide mouth, with teeth as sharp as needles, where with she biteth such as tread upon her; her poyson lyeth in her teeth, for she hath no sting.  When any man is bitten by any of these creatures, the poyson spreads so suddenly through the veines & so runs to the heart, that in one houre it causeth death, unless he hath the Antidote to expell the poyson, which is a root called snakeweed, which must be champed, the spittle swallowed, and the root applyed to the sore; there is present cure against that which would be present death without it: this weed is ranck poyson, if it be taken by any man that is not bitten: whoever is bitte[n] by these snakes his flesh becomes as spotted as a Leaper untill hee be perfectly cured.  It is reported that if the party live that is bitten, the snake will dye, and if the partie die the snake will live.  This is a most poysonous and dangerous creature, yet nothing so bad as the report goes of him in England.  For whereas he is sayd to kill a man with his breath, and that he can flye, there is no such matter, for he is naturally the most sleepie and unnimble creature that lives, never offering to leape or bite any man, if he be not trodden on first, and it is their desire in hot weather to lye in paths where the sunne may shine on them, where they will sleep so soundy that I have knowne foure men strive over one of them, and never awake her: 5 or 6 men have beene bitten by them, which by using snakeweede were all cured, never any losing his life by them.  Cowes have been bitten, but being cut in divers places, and this weede thrust into their flesh were cured.  I never heard of any beast that was yet lost by any of them, saving one Mare.”

Sassafras  (Sassifras albidum) v. Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)

Noted in the prose preceding his writing on the value of Trees in “Chap. V. Of the Hearbes, Fruits, Woods, Water and Mineralls.” (p. 18) 

“Snake murthering Hazell, with sweet Saxaphrage,

Whose Spurnes in beere allays hot fevers rage.”


The first paragraph of Chapter V text (not told as prose or verse) states:

“there is likewise growing all manner of Hearbes for meate, and medicine, without eyther the art or helpe of man, as sweet Marjoran, Purselane, Sorrell, Peniriall, Yarrow, Mirtle, Saxisarilla, bayes, &c.”

Saxisarilla is perhaps Saxifrax/Saxifrasse and Sarsaparilla, combined by the printer as a misreading of the original hand-scribed draft of the text by Wood.   We see in the early 1600s Newfoundland writings, for example, this common use of the spelling “Saxifras” and variations to refer to the Sassafras albidum being collected.  This spelling error may also be the result a misreading of notes on Sarsaparilla as Saxisarilla.


Notes on identity of Sassafras and Sarsaparilla:



Sassafras sassafras (L.) Karst.  From Ontario, southward through the eastern U.S.

Other names: Saxifrax, Ague-tree, Cinnamon-wood, Saloop, Smelling stick, Panameholz (German). 

Officinal names: Sassafras (French Codex); Sasafras (Spanish Codex); Sassafras USP.; Sassafras Radix Br.;  Lignum Sassafras P.G.;  Lignumpavanum (for Pith).

Contemporary latin name: Sassafras albidum


Lyons plant #1865 SMILAX.  SARSAPARILLA.

Lyons (ca. 1900) notes 195 species to have existed, mostly in tropical America and Asia; 18 species were residing in the U.S. 

S. china L.  China-Root. Squine (Fr. Codex).  Of Japan and Eastern Asia.  The Rhizome (Rhizome s. Tuber] was used medicinally as an alterative. 

Of North American

S. herbacea L.  Of Canada and the Eastern U.S.  Carrion-flower, American’s Jacob’s-Ladder.

S. pseudo-china L.  Southeastern U.S.  Bamboo Brier, American China Root; False or Bastard China Root.  Long-stalked Green Brier.; Bull Brier.  The Rhizome is Alterative.

S. bona-nox L.(Also S. hastata Willd.)  Bristly Green-Brier.  U.S.  Rhizome: Alterative.

S. rotundifolia L.  Ontario and eastern U.S. 

 Other names: Green-brier, Cat-brier, Horse-brier, Bamboo-brier, Biscuit leaves, Bread-and-Butter. Devil’s Hop-vine, Hungry-vine.  Rhizome: alterative.  Used to make the brier-wood pipes.

Of Central and South America

S. medica Sch. & Cham.   Mexico, esp. Vera Cruz and Tampico.  Mexican Sarsapailla.  Sarsaparilla: from Span. “bramble-vine” [sarsa=bramble or thorn; parilla=vine.)  Officinal: Sarsaparilla USP.  Sarsae Radix Br.  Radix sarsaparillae s. [sans] sarsae; Sarsaparille; Sarsapareille du Mexique (Fr. Codex); Zarzaparilla (Span.)

S. officinalis Humb. & Kunth.  Red or Bearded Sarsaparilla.  Of New Granada.  Source of Jamaican Sarsaparilla.  Source of Jamaican Sarsaparilla.  The British Pharmacopoeia only recognizes this species.  See S. medica for other officinal notes.

S. papyracea Duham. [Brazil: Rio Negro, Para or Lisbon]

Of Eurasia

S. aspera L.  Mediterranean to India.  Italian Sarsaparilla.  Rough Bindweed.  (See S. medica for properties.)

S. glycyphylla Smith.  Australia.  Botany Bay or Sweet Tea.  Alterative.

Other Smilax spp. noted by Lyons:

S. cordato-ovata Richard

S. eucalyptifolia Kunth.

S. ornata Hook.

S. scabriuscula Kunth.

S. syphilitica Kunth.