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“She Pocahontas never spoke of herself, she never represented her emotions, presence or history. He [John Smith] spoke for and represented her” –Edward Said Orientalism 6
Pocahontas, a Powhatan Indian Princess, emerged from a culture of dark superstitions and bettered the relationship with a small group of English settlers in Jamestown and the English rulers of the New World. Her father, Chief Powhatan, was a respected and influential leader, who, by the seventeenth century had made his people not less primitive, but certainly stronger and more formidable than before. In 1605 the English were just discovering the new country of America, and the Indians were just discovering the Europeans. Young Pocahontasmanaged to upholdmoral relations between the Powhatan Indians and early English colonists in Jamestown, Virginia through John Smith, and English captain. Pocahontas single handily instigated one of the scarce eras of harmony between the Indians and the European colonist.
John Smith and two of his troops were shot at from behind bushes and wounded by the Powhatans. John Smith took up his gun and started shooting; killing four of the fifteen Indians, but the Indians backed Smith up to a river. He fell in, and could either let go of his gun or drown. Smithreleased the firearm and accepted the help of the Indians. Pocahontas, who Smith recalled as “a child of ten years old”, witnessed this catastrophe and “Got his head in her arms, and laid her own upon his to save him from death: whereat the emperor was contented he should live to make him hatches.”
John Smith was brought before Chief Powhaton and questioned. Many historians speculate the authenticity of the “execution and salvation” story, told by Smith. His Englishmen force landed in Jamestown, twelve miles from the Indian reservation. The Powhatons were a ceremonious people who greeted important visitors in a formal manner with a large feast and festive dancing. However, it was not uncommon to put prisoners to death in a public ceremony, it was no more savage than the English customs of public disembowelment of thieves and the burning of women accused of being witches. John Smith was captured and forced to stretch on two flat stones, then the little Indian girl cam up and put herself on his body as to say, “Kill me instead”. After she “saved” him, Smith and the Indians became friendly for the following year. Smith stayed in Jamestown, Virginia and Pocahontas visited him frequently. She carried messages from her father, and other Indians carried food, fur, and then traded hatchets and trinkets.The Virginia Company of London quickly recognized Pocahontas’s enormous propaganda value as an example of Anglo-Indian harmony, of missionary success among the natives, and of the prospect that Indians could be persuaded to adopt English ways.”Were you not afraid to come into my father’s country, and caused fear in him and all of his people and fear you here I should call you father: I tell you I will, and you shall call me child, and so I will be for ever and ever your countryman.” Pocahontas to John Smith
Relations between the Powhatans and the English remained shaky, however. Capt. Samuel Argall kidnapped Pocahontas in 1613 in hopes of exchanging her for the return of English prisoners, food, and weapons that the Powhatans had taken. The plan fell through when Pocahontas’ father refused to meet their demands and sent only a small portion of what the English demanded.
Pocahontas remained with the English and soon adjusted to her new circumstances. By 1614, with the help of Reverend Alexander Whitaker and colonist John Rolfe, Pocahontas rejected her tribal religious beliefs and converted to Christianity. She was baptized and renamed “Rebecca.” In the meantime, Rolfe, who would earn fame by developing a new strain of tobacco plant, had fallen in love with Pocahontas while he was instructing her in the Christian faith. Rolfe convinced the deputy governor of Virginia and representatives of the Church of England that his marriage would prove that the native tribes could be civilized and Christianized for “our Country’s good, the benefit of this Plantation, and for the converting [of] an irregenerate to regeneration.” With Powhatan’s assent, Pocahontas married Rolfe on April 5, 1614. Their marriage brought a brief period of peace between the Powhatans and the colonists, as well as the birth of a son, Thomas. After a while, Smith’s relationship with the Powhatas worsened. Pocahontas’ visits started to lessen, and in 1606, Smith was injured, and had to go back to England. Pocahontas with her attendants brought … so much provision, that saved many of their lives [in Jamestown], that else for all this had starved with hunger.” – John Smith
To attract new settlers and fresh investments, the company in 1616 brought the Rolfes, their son, Thomas and an entourage of a dozen or so Indians to England. She met many of the era’s major figures, was presented at court, and had her portrait painted. She also took ill, probably from diseases that had no American counterpart.
He was besotted by Pocahontas and wrote that she showed a “great appearance of love to me.”
In the portrait Pocahontas appears grave, her cheeks are sunken and her hand is skeletal. Perhaps this was simply the artist’s rendering. However, it may have reflected her failing health. In common with so many natives exposed to Europeans in this period, she and her young son fell ill in England, possibly from tuberculosis.Pocahontas died in March 1617, after boarding ship for a return to Virginia, and was buried in Gravesend, England. With the death of Pocahontas and, soon after, of Chief Powhatan, the fragile peace between colonists and Indians eroded. “Her marriage to John Rolfe and the threat of concerted attacks caused Powhatan to make peace, and until his death in 1618, his people and the English coexisted quietly.”Pocahontas and John Rolfe’s son, Thomas Rolfe, inherited his father’s plantation, married a colonist and joined the militia, which defeated his mother’s people when they rose up a last time in rebellion.Ironically, the Indians’ major grievance was the colonists’ insatiable demand for land, triggered principally by windfall profits from the tobacco species introduced by John Rolfe.
One may think that Pocahontas is only a child’s story created for entertainment and that children outgrow the image of the Indian princess or realize there are women that do not fit the other category of Indian squaw.” Pocahontas was the instrument to preserve this colony [Jamestown] from death, famine and utter confusion.” – John Smith
However, once logic and reason begin to develop, the childhood Indian vision remains mythical.“Historians have described Pocahontas as everything from the savior of English America to a traitor to her people.”
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