Pocahontas, An American Heroine

Good Morning!  I hope you all are settling in from the Christmas break.  I know it’s sometimes hard to jump back into things, so I hope that is going well for you.  One thing that I hope will pick you up.  I’ll be giving away one of my books to some lucky blogger today.

I thought I’d post again about a subject that interests me very much.  Pocahontas.  Perhaps it’s because there’s so much story out there about her, much of which is invented and simply isn’t true.  Her real name, by the was Matoaka — which means “flower between two streams.  This post in no way pretends to “know it all,” about this very definite heroine, but I think we might be able to set the story straight, at least a little.

smlpocwn1This will probably be the subject of two or three blogs, simply because there’s just too much info to get into one.  The information that I’m going to give you here comes from the book THE TRUE STORY OF POCAHONTES, by Dr. Linwood “Little Bear” Custalow and Angela L;. Daniel “Silver Star.”  This story that I’m about to present to you is one that is the story that has been passed down orally for hundreds of years by the priests of the Powhatan tribe.  It is the story of Pocahontas as told by her own people.  It is the story passed down by the tribe’s quiakros — or the chosen few of the tribe, who have spent their lives in learning.  One thing I’m going to say at the start, mostly because it fascinated me, is that Pocahontas did not die of something.  She died for something.  And she did not die of smallpox as is generally reported.  She was murdered.

But I get ahead of myself.  Let’s continue.  Pocahontas was indeed a princess.  She was born to the paramount chief, Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca.  She was born to Wahunsenaca’s first wife, his wife of  his heart late in life.  Her mother died giving birth to her — and interestingly enough, her mother’s name was Pocahontas.  Wahunsenaca had truly loved his wife and when she died, he showered the love that he’d had for her, upon his newborn child.  Pocahontas menas, by the way “Laughing and joyous one.”  As mentioned in the book, the story of Pocahontas is a story of love — not the love between her and John Smith, but rather the story of a father and daughter’s love for one another and for their people.  Pocahontas had many older brothers and sisters — many were already married so that caring for the young child was not a problem.  She grew up being nursed by several different women of the tribe, which according to the book, might be one reason why her ties to her people were so strong.

aa_pocahonta_newworld_3_m1Pocahontas was only 10 years old when the colonists stared to arrive in 1607.  Because she was the daughter of the paramount chief, she was watched over very, very closely.  No running around wild for her.  Captain John Smith was 27 years old when he arrived in the New World.  The Powhatan tribe was made up of 6 different tribes, with other tribes in its alliance, as well.  There were other chiefs, but Powhatan Wahunsenaca was the paramount chief.  They all spoke the Algonquain language.  Part of the polijsmith1tics of the day was to bring into the tribe an alliance with other peoples and other tribes.  Thus, although the Powhatan could have destroyed the colonists at any time, they did not.  Instead, they sought to ally the newcomers to them.  Perhaps, looking back on history, this was their true mistake.

John Smith — about 6 months after their arrival in the New World — went to explore the countryside.  Warriors out hunting for food, discovered him and his party and after a skirmish ensued, Smith was taken captive.  Because the English used “thunder sticks” to kill the Indians, the people were afeared of them and were beginning to think of the English as though they were a diety.  This next is from the book quoted above — I found it highly interesting:  “Smith would pretend to come into a village in a friendly manner.  When he was in close proximity to the chief of the village, he would put his pistol to the chief’s head, demanding a ransom of food in exchange for the chief’s release.  Smith and his men would proceed to take all the corn and food in the village.  As they left, Smith would throw down a few blue beads, claiming to have “traded” with the Powhatan people.”

140px-pocahontas11Does that sound like a man that a young girl would fall in love with?  Please forgive.  I am sorry about the image cutting off part of her head, I have tried to fix it but alas, computers and I don’t always agree.  Anyway when Smith was taken to Wahunsenaca, it is uncertain whether Pocahontas met Smith at this time or not.  Wahunsenaca asked John Smith why the English had come here, to which John Smith replied that they had come to this land to escape the Spanish.  Now, the Indians of this country had some trouble with the Spanish, already.  In fact they called the Spanish, “sons of the devil..”  Remember that Spanish ships would patrol the coasts of the Atlantic coast, sometimes capturing Native people.  Relations between the Spanish and the Powhatan were hostile.pocanson1  A little known fact:  the word “Indian” does not come from Columbus’ error.  Rather it comes from the Spanish word, “indio” meaning to walk with God.  I like that meaning.

This picture to the left is the image of Pocahontas that is considered by her own people to be her true image.  It is said that Wahunsenaca truly liked John Smith.  It was his plan to bring John Smith into the tribe and make him part of the tribe in an effort to consolidate their friendship against the Spanish.  Then if the Spanish did come in, they would be faced with the English-Powhatan people.  According to Pocahontas’ people, “Athough Smith alleged years later that Pocahontas saved his life dring the four-day ceremony in the process of his being made a Powhatan werowance, his life was never in dager.  His life did not need saving.”  A werowance was a commander — male.  Also, at this time, Pocahontas was a child.  Children were not allowed to attend these kinds of ceremony.  The priests would not have allowed Pocahontas to be at the ceremony.  After the ceremony, not only was John Smith considered to be a member of the Powhatan tribe, but the entire English colony was considered to be members, too.aa_pocahonta_newworld_3_m1

In fact, when Smith returned to the English fort, it was the English who tried to kill him.  He was put on trial and was sentenced to death.  It was Christopher Newport’s arrival in the colony that saved John Smith.

Because the English were now considered part of the tribe, Wahunsenaca sent envoys with food to the Jamestown colony.  Because he now trusted John Smith, he allowed his favorite daughter, Pocahontas, to accompany the envoy.  Although she was closely watched and chaperoned during these excurtions, the colonists became familiar with her, and they associated Pocahontas with the food — not the powerful chief who was in fact sending it.  Thus, the rumor that Pocahontas brought food to the colonists against her father’s will, is disspelled.

320px-baptism_of_pocahontas1What Pocahontas was at this time was a symbol of peace.  She was not a spy as some historians have liked to believe.  It was during the summer of 1609 that relations between the Powhatan tribe and the English began to deteriorate.  Smith entered into villages rudely and with full arms, demanding and taking food.  In some instances, he left the Powhatans with no food for the winter.   As a matter of fact, this is the speech perserved that Wahunsenaca said to Smith. 

“Why do you take by force (that which) you may quickly have by love?  Or to destroy them that provide you food?  What can you get by war when we can hide our provision and fly to the woods?”  Yet John Smith continued to force arms upon the villages in order to take all their food stores, again leaving a few beads as though he had traded for the supplies.  Maybe he was simply a bully and it’s all he knew.  Smith continued to allege that Wahunsenaca wanted to kill him.  However, if this were true, it would have been done without apology or explanation.  Yet, it wasn’t.  Why?  Because Smith was considered to be part of the tribe.

jsmith1Danger came to the Powhatan tribes in the form of rape.  In Powhatan society, the children went naked in the summer and women were bare-breasted.  It was part of their dress, and did not excite the men in particular because it was such a common sight.  Rape was not permitted in Powhatan society.  Often the women of the tribe would offer themselves to the English to prevent them from raping their children.  Because the English had guns, this was all they could do.  Whenever the English would come to the village, the elders would often take the children and hide them in the woods.  As more and more English colonists arrived, the atrocities began to grow.  Children were often taken to be slaves to the English.  The women were simply raped.  The Powhatan became shocked at the behavior of the English and set up guards to determine when they were coming to their villages.  For their own part, the English kept expecting some sort of retribution by the Powhatan.  Neither Wahunsenaca nor Pocahontas had seen John Smith since 1609 and they were told that he was dead.  Wahunsenaca discontinued allowing Pocahontas to go to Jamestown.  It was no longer safe.

smlkocoum1Well, that’s all we have time and space for today.  I hope you’ll bear with me and come seek out my post two weeks hence as I’ll be discussing Pocahontas’s coming of age.  Her marriage to Kocoum, her abduction and her subsequent marriage to John Rolfe.  And last but not least, her murder.  Why she was murdered and who did the deed, or at least who was responsible for it.  Facts, all.  Facts that have been hidden all these years which have only recently been brought to light by the people of Pocahontas’s own tribe.  I hope you have enjoyed this excursion into history and a look at this very brave heroine.  The enormity of her bravery and what she gave up and its cost to her, we’ll go over in a couple of weeks, okay?

So, what do you think?  Did you already know this, or does this shed a different light on history.  It is said, that what is written of history is written by the victors.  This has, indeed, been true in the case of Pocahontas.  Thank heaven for oral tradition and keeping the truth alive against all odds.  And thank heaven we live in a place in this time where the truth can come out.  So come on in and tell me what you think. 

Remember I have two books that are out on the market, SENECA SURRENDER and BLACK EAGLE.  Order your copy today!

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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23 thoughts on “Pocahontas, An American Heroine”

  1. Thanks Karen for the fascinating information on Pocahontas. It never ceases to amaze me how much of the history that we are taught (in schools and elsewhere)that is inaccurate. Pocahontas and many of our Native American ancestors have such amazing life stories. It is such a shame that they have been neglected for so long. I really enjoy your posts. Keep up the great work!

  2. wow….VERY interesting!
    can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!

    why is it she was called Pocahontas if that was actually her mother’s name?

    thanks for sharing kay!

  3. Oh Karen what a great post! I have always been interested in story’s about Pocahontas ever since I was a child, so this brought back memories. Thanks so much for sharing with us today.

  4. Hi Tammy!

    Wow! Thank you for your compliments. 🙂 Yes, I agree with you about history. It’s really been buried. Thank goodness there are people in the world who keep it alive.

  5. Hi Tabitha!

    I believe it was in honor of her mother. It does go into that in the book, but I don’t remember specifically now. But I do believe that her father had loved her mother so much, that he began to call her her mother’s name.

  6. Hi Quilt Lady!

    Me, too. I’ve always loved this legend. It is interesting to see the story as told by her own people — passed down from generation to generation.

  7. Hi Kay, as always, a tremendously informative and moving post. I knew some of this about Pocahontas from my years teaching American Lit. I knew it was not a romance between her and John Smith. Also Jamestown’s first years were called The Starving Time” because many of the Englishmen wanted adventure and riches, not the hard work a settlement entails. I have never learned that she was murdered, so I eagerly await the next installment!

    Good work, filly sister! oxoxox

  8. Quite a few facts in there that were unknown to me… always happy to learn more historical info. Thanks for another wonderful and informative post! 😀

  9. Hi Tanya!

    Wow! You are definitely more informed than most. But what isn’t know is that while they didn’t want to do the hard work of settlement — they took the food from the Indians by force (leaving a few beads as though in trade.)


  10. Always interesting and informative. I knew some of the facts (maybe from something you said before).Isn’t it horrible that history is written always by the victors. You would think by now our history books would get the facts right. Of course, that means putting us in a not so perfect light as they like us to think. How can we learn not to repeat history if we never learn it in the first place.

  11. Late, again. She was murdered? Wow! I can’t wait for chapter 2. Was the reason for the wrong story because the real one was boring to them? So they had to make it more exciting? Maybe all our history is that way. Right now the real story is much more interesting than the other. It shows how much misinformation is out there.
    Great Post.

  12. Love reading this information. Thank you for sharing with us. I have always read anything I ran across about Pocahontas. It has always been hard to figure out truth from fiction. Thanks again.

  13. Kay,
    What a wonderful post, as always–so informative and so interesting. I had no idea about all these facts about Pocahontas–her story is so interesting. Great pictures too, btw–your posts are always so good.
    Cheryl P.

  14. Thanks for another interesting and informative post. I knew much of this thanks to your previous posts and a few other things I had read. Much of the early history of our nation was definitely written from the perspective of the victorious settlers. Condense what really happened, clean it up so you look good, and dress it up as fact and proof of manifest destiny. Too bad the facts don’t often survive this process. We are lucky the native oral traditions kept their side of the story alive. Yes, it is very likely edited to slant in the Powhatan’s favor, but it more than balances the misrepresentation of events of the time. I think their story is much closer to the truth than what we have been taught.
    I look forward to “the rest of the story.”

  15. Hi Mary J,

    Unfortunately, I do believe the reason for the “lies” is that those who did it cannot stand the light of day. What better way to hide than by passing around a story to cover up the real one. Perhaps I’m getting too critical in my old age, but I do believe that’s the reason for the lies. That and the truth puts the victors in an unsavory light.

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