Let’s Talk History 26: The Importance of Being Pocahontas
English captain Samuel Argall kidnaps Matoaka/Amonute (Pocahontas) in demand of food and Wahunsunacawh (Chief Powhatan’s) release of English weapons and prisoners. Held captive for several years, Pocahontas is christened “Rebecca”. She also meets John Rolfe.
*Pocahontas was the daughter of a powerful chief, a symbol of peace to the English, and deemed “royal” by King James I.
now consider which historical account is true?
- In 1610, Pocahontas marries Kocoum, believed to be of the Patawomeck tribe. It is assumed to be a marriage of love due to the fact that Kocoum is not a chief. Knowing of the deteriorating relations between the Powhatan and English, and Pocahontas’ home amongst the Patawomeck, Samuel Argall meets with Chief Iopassus, also known as Japazaw, and brother of the chief of the Patawomeck, to kidnap Pocahontas. Initially, the chief is reluctant for fear of Chief Powhatan, but eventually agrees to aid Argall. (Japazaw can claim that their cooperation was coerced) Pocahontas accompanies the chief and his wife to see Argall’s ship. She is hesitant to follow the chief’s wife aboard, a permission that the chief will only grant in company with Pocahontas, but concedes when the chief’s wife begins to cry. After eating, Pocahontas is taken to a room on the ship to spend the night. The next morning, as the visitors disembark, Pocahontas is refused by Argall, who declares that Pocahontas is being held ransom. The chief and his wife feign surprise, and are given a small, copper kettle and some trinkets for their cooperation. Pocahontas is first taken to Jamestown and eventually what is believed to be the small English settlement of Henrico. Powhatan agrees immediately to many of the English demands. Pocahontas is placed under the charge of Reverend Alexander Whitaker at Henrico and learns the English language, custom and religion.
“Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend” — Historic Jamestown: Part of Colonial National Historical Park Virginia. www.nps.gov.
- Pocahontas and Kocoum move to Kocoum’s home village in response to resurfaced rumors of English plans to kidnap Pocahontas. Pocahontas gives birth to a son. Samuel Argall demands cooperation from Chief Japazaw. Tribal priests hold council and news is dispatched to Chief Powhatan. Chief Japazaw is reluctant to cooperate, as Pocahontas is his sister-in-law, but concedes in fear of a retaliatory attack by Argall. The chief’s wife is sent to retrieve Pocahontas; however, Argall breaks his promise of an brief and unharmed captivity; Pocahontas is taken to Jamestown and though Powhatan releases English weapons and prisoners, Pocahontas is placed under the care of Sir Thomas Gates and held for several years. Argall gives the chief and his wife a copper kettle as both a reward and evidence of their complicity. Powhatan suffers a deep depression but upholds a solution of peace, despite the advisement of tribal priests, particularly for the safe return of Pocahontas. While captive, Pocahontas is taught English custom and religion by Reverend Alexander Whitaker at Henrico; she is also repeatedly told that her father, Chief Powhatan, does not love her and eventually suffers a nervous breakdown. The English send for Pocahontas’ sister Mattachanna, who arrives with her husband, to care for Pocahontas. Pocahontas confides to her sister that she is pregnant as a result of being raped. (Pocahontas had been transported to Henrico to hide the pregnancy) As Pocahontas had little choice in converting to Christianity, whether she “truly” converted is unknown.
Custalow, Dr. Linwood “Little Bear” and Angela L. Daniel “Silver Star” [direct descendants of Pocahontas]. The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History. Golden: Fulcrum Publishing, 2007. www.nps.gov.
The “why’s” of history sometimes form the narratives of history and so are often the most contentious.
According to who? Which account is true? Which account are you most likely to believe and why? What is your background? Race? Ethnicity? Gender?
Between the “factual accounts” of “the oppressor” and the “wild tales” of “the oppressed”, therein lies the truth.
Who is Pocahontas?
- Daniel, Angela L. “Pocahontas: “A Reflection of Powhatan Culture.” A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century, principal investigator Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, Colonial National Historical Park, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2005, Chap 9.
- Reutiman, Joe. “The Forgotten Kidnapping: The Transformation of the Pocahontas Captivity Story.” History on Trial: The Pocahontas Archive: Essays. Edward J. Gallagher, Lehigh University Digital Library.
- History on Trial: The Literature of Justification: Jamestown — Timeline
Hamor, Ralph. A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia, 1615.
Purchas, Samuel. Purchase, His Pilgrimage, 1613.
Tilton, Robert S. Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative, 1994.
“What Can You Get By Warre?” [Chief Powhatan’s request for peace as recorded by John Smith, from The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles… 1624] (p 76)
We’ll close up the Pocahontas timeline with her marriage to tobacco planter John Rolfe. >>> See ya next Tuesday!