Pocohontas, A True American Heroine

Let me mention from the start that I’ll be giving away a free gift to some lucky blogger today.  I’m not certain what the gift might be.  It might be a book, or it might be a beautiful pair of American Indian made earrings.  Anyway, to the post.  In my last blog of two weeks ago, I tried to give an overview and an idea of how Pocahontas came to be familiar with the English colonists and how they had come to know her.  If you would like, that post is still on the blog, the date of it is January 25th, and it is the beginning of this post on this subject.  You just keep going back in the previous posts until you find it.  Okay, so in my last post, I left off with Pocahontas coming of age and I promised to tell you about her marriage to Kocoum, as well as her abduction by a few of the colonists, as well as her subsequent marriage to John Rolfe.  It may take me more than this post to fill in all those holes.  But let’s at least start with how she might have met her husband, Kocoum.

pocanson1In the Powhatan society, a young girl and boy’s coming of age is celebrated, and it was no different for Pocahontas.  However, because there was a rumor of an abduction planned for Pocahontas, her celemony was limited to special friends and family only.  There is a special dance called the courtship dance during which male warriors searched the dancers for a mate.  This is probably where their courtship began.  After a time, they were married.smlkocoum1  Kocoum was an elite warrior.  He was among 50 of the top warriors that guarded the capital of the Powhatan confederacy.  He was also the younger brother of Wahunsenaca’s (Pocahontas’s father) friends, Chief Japazaw.  Because the priests (called quiakros) feared that the colonists plotted to kidnap Pocahontas, the couple went to live in Kocoum’s home, which was isolated from the colonists and farther north.  She was, in fact, being hidden from the English.  Kocoum and Pocahontas had a child, little Kocoum, a boy.  It was Captain Samuel Argall, an English colonist, who accomplished the feat of kidnapping Pocahontas.

3f06370r1Please excuse me as I pause from my story momentarily to tell you of a movie I once watched where it rendered that Pocahontas and her father had a falling out and that he had banished her from the tribe, thus she had taken up with the English.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Pocahontas was a princess, dearly loved by her father.  She was also married to Kocoum and had a child by him.  Never would she have been banished from the tribe.  That movie did nothing but further the false information about this very brave woman.  That said, back to Captain Argall.  Why did he wish to capture Pocahontas?  Why did he take such extreme measures, for he certainly did.  Once he had learned of her hiding place, he gathered together not only men, but weapons and arms to attempt her capture.  But why?

Let’s speculate.  Do you remember from my previous post that the English colonists were looting the Powhatan villages of their stores of food.  They were also raping their women and children and oftentimes stealing their women and children in order to make them servants for the English. Sometime I wonder at the foolishness of sending only men to the colonies.  It only courted trouble.  But I digress.  Perhaps he simply wanted her as his woman.  But I don’t think so.  I think the reason is much more complex and includes greed.  The Powhatan had many diverse and rich agricultural fields. There were no trees to cut, no land to clear.  In order to take the land, all they had to do was go in and destroy the village and take the land — it seemed this was considered easier than clearing the land oneself.  Because of doing this the colonists expected retribution from the very powerful tribe.  It could have happened, also.  But remember from my last post that Wahunsenaca considered the English a branch of his tribe.  Though the abuses were numerous, he still sought other ways to deal with the problem, rather than killing the colonists outright. 

3a08570r1Through trickery and deceit, Captain Argall managed to get Pocahontas onto his ship.  She was supposed to be returned.  She never was.  She was held for ransom.  What Captain Argall demanded from Pocohontas’s father was:   a) the return of English weapons that had been taken from Jamestown, b) the return of the English prisoners Washunsenaca held captive and c) a shipment of corn.  Washunsenaca at once paid the ransom.  In fact Argall’s writes of the transaction in his log in 1613, “This news much grieved this great king (Wahunsenaca), yet without delay he returned the messenger with this answer, that he desired me to use his daughter well, and bring my ship into his river (Pamunkey), and there he would give me my demands; which being performed, I should deliver him his daugher, and we should be friends.”  Although Wahunsenaca quickly carried out the ransom demands, Pocahontas was never released.  images27According to the book, THE TRUE STORY OF POCAHONTAS, by Dr. Linwood “little Bear” Custalow and Angela L. Daniel “Silver Star,” “…oral history states that abefore Argall took sail (back to Jamestown), several of Argall’s men returned to Pocahontas’s home and killed her huusband, Kocoum.”  It was tradition that he would have come for her and rescued her, something that Argall could not permit.  Little Kocoum survived because upon Pocahontas’s capture, he was put into the care of several of the women of the tribe.  As an aside, there are still many descendents of Kocoum who are alive and well to this day.  You may again wonder why the Powhatan didn’t retaliate.  Part of that is Pocahontas’s father’s fear for her life if he did so, the other reason he didn’t attack is because of a tribal custom — part of the cultural foundation of the tribe, which was that of appeasing evil.  If one could, one always sought a balance between submitting to evil demands and preventing the loss of life.  Even so, the quiakros  (priests) of the tribe advised a swift retaliation, but Wahunsenaca would not do it, fearing for his daughter’s life.

pocahontas1One of Pocahontas’s elder sisters, Mattachanna, and her husband, Uttamattamakin, who was also a priest, were allowed to visit Pocahontas during her captivity.  Oral tradition is very distinct on the fact that Pocahontas confided that she had been raped and that worse, that she suspected she was pregnant.  Again, rape was unheard of in Powhatan society.  Interestingly, shortly after this confession to her sister, Pocahontas was quickly converted to Christianity in order to rush her into marriage.  At this time, it would have been inconceiveable for a Christian man to marry anyone who was not Christian.  It is supposed that Sir Thomas Dale was actually the biological father of Pocahontas’s child, since, according to scholars William M.S. Rasmussen and Robert S. Tilton, it was Thomas Dale who was most closely linked to Pocahontas during her kidnapping.  Note also that her son’s name was not “John,” but rather “Thomas.”  It would also explain why Rolfe (who was secretary of the colony at the time) did not record the birth of Thomas.

smlrolfe2Was the marriage one of love?  Oral history casts doubt on this.  She had just had a child, was rushed into marriage in order to make it appear that the birth had taken place after the marriage, plus she was not free to live her own life.  Did John Rolfe love her?  In a letter to Dale, Rolfe refers to her as a “creature,” not a “woman.”  But regardless, love her or not, they were married and Rolfe became the heir to the friendliness of the Powhatan people, which included their knowledge of the tobacco plant and how it was processed.  Here is where the prospect of greed enters into the equation.  The Virgina company wasn’t doing well.  There was no gold in the New World, there was no silver, no gems, nothing to make the venture successful.  There just  had to some way to make the colony prosperous.  Would the tobacco plant foot the bill?

Rolfe had left England in 1609 with the goal of making a profit growing and processing tobacco.  He arrived in 1610 and for three years, he had been unsuccessful at both growing the tobacco and in the processing of it.  The year 1616 was the “deadline for the initial investments in the Virginia colony.” From the book THE TRUE STORY OF POCAHONTAS.  Time was running out.  The colony was failing.  And Rolfe’s crop was failing.  Thus, Rolfe himself was failing.

pocahont1Well, that’s all I have time for today.  I’m afraid the story is going to have to continue for another two weeks.  In my next post, however, I hope to answer the questions of what possible motive John Rolfe, Captain Argall and Thomas Dale might have had for kidnapping Pocohontas?  And then marrying her?  Then there’s the question of who killed her?  And why?  What could her death have accomplished?  Most of all, however, how was the deed accomplished and covered up so thoroughly?  To the point where it was believed that she had died of small pox?

So turn in in two weeks for the conclusion of The Murder and Abduction of Pocohontas.

Come on in and let’s talk a little.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this very real American legend.

And don’t forget, SENECA SURRENDER is still for sale at bookstores on the internet, everywhere.  Pick up 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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31 thoughts on “Pocohontas, A True American Heroine”

  1. Karen, Thank you so much for giving us all this information. I have long felt that there was much more to the story than I had ever before read. I love reading all I can about this time in our history even though it makes me sad that there is so much violence and so many lies involved.

  2. Such a sad story on so many levels. What a remarkable woman to lose everything, be forced to live in a totally different culture, and endure so much heartbreak. No wonder she became a legend. Looking forward to the next chapter of her story.

  3. I love this look at history.
    I’m from the midwest and my native American history is so steeped in Sioux information and beyond that, the tribes further west. I’ve heard very little about any of this.


  4. Great info.But such a sad story on so many levels.Different culture,different heritage,some much heartbreak.SENECA SURRENDER,is a book I have on my TBR list,which is constantly growing by leaps and bounds.So many wonderful authors with great stories to tell.I also,have an Indian heritage,my great-great-great grandfather was an Indian chief,for a tribe toward the Eastern coast of North Carolina,possibly Tuscoroana,but my grandmother couldn’t remember the name only they had colorful headdresses.

  5. Hi Connie!

    Thanks so much for you imput today on this very interesting — though heartbreaking story. The only thing I can say is that she truly is heroine.

  6. Hi Judy!

    Yes, it is a heartbreaking story on some levels, but on others, it’s an inspiration. Inspiration because she loved her people so much, that she endured much to try to ensure they were safe. That she wasn’t completely successful doesn’t matter. It was the fact that she was so heroic that it important.

  7. Hi April!

    Were they the Tuscaroa’s — I’ll have to check that spelling. They were the sixth tribe to join the Iroquois Confederation. They were at first in the Carolinas but were pushed elsewhere because of the incoming settlers, and they eventually settled in NY.

    It might be possible.

  8. Hi Karen, Thanks for this latest chapter in the
    story of Pocahontas, I read the first when it
    was published here. How devious some of the colonists were! I look forward to the upcoming

    Pat Cochran

  9. Hi Karen,
    Times like this I don’t like to have English ancesters. Seems like all through history these guys weren’t very nice.
    However, this history that you have presented is fascinating. I always thought that Pocahontas was a fictional character. Even in school, her story didn’t ring true. And obviously, reading this oral history, is wasn’t. Thanks for bringing us the real story.

  10. Boo, what a horrible tale. I knew Pochantas was too young for John Smith when she “saved” him, but in my romantic heart I had alway presumed the marriage to Rolfe had been one of love. This is an maazing series, Kay. I am enjoying every word, and as usual when I read Native American history, very tearful, even shocked. It always bugs me when information like this is NEVER in textbooks. Not until I read Busy My Heart at Wounded Knee did I have any idea on that part of American history. Great work here. oxoxoxox

  11. Amazing… so much that I had not known… looking forward to more when next you post! Thank you for such an in depth look into her life.

  12. Hi Pat!

    Yes, it was devious. Doesn’t it make you question, though, the history that we’ve been spoon-fed? At least it does with me. 🙂

  13. Hi Mary J.!

    I, too, have some English ancestory. But they weren’t all bad. Our Magna Carta comes from England and our Anglo Saxon sense of moral responsibility and fairness of play comes from that part of the world, also.

    But this — “do anything for financial gain — the end justifies the means” type of thing — is so against the Anglo Saxon heritage as well as the lessons from the Bible, not to mention antipathic to the American Indian way of life.

    Rather, I look to the individuals — Smith, Rolfe, Thomas Dale and Captain Argall as those of loose morals — certainly loose enough to lie. Sigh…

  14. Thanks for your vote of approval, Tanya. I know that you are well educated in American Indian history and I am always wanting to hear your viewpoint on things, too.

    I found this story fascinating. In truth, it’s more dramatic and real and she is shown to be such a heroine, that I felt it should be told.

  15. My first thoughts too were, why should we believe most of what we’ve been told? And I feel the same way about things that are happening now and someday will be history.It seems it takes hundreds of years to find out some truths, and sadly, sometimes not at all. I’m looking forward to hearing more of the real truths of Pocahantus.

  16. This is such a sad story. I can not imagine what horror this poor woman was put through. It makes me so sad to hear how poorly some of our Native American brothers and sisters were mistreated by the Spanish/French/English colonists. The Native Americans were, in the beginning, so welcoming to these people who came over to the New World. I agree with Mary J….I too am ashamed to claim that I have some European ancestors when I hear stories like this.

  17. What a sad, sad story, Karen. I never could stand to watch the Disney version, knowing how far it was from the truth.
    Thanks for a fascinating blog. Looking forward to the rest of the story.

  18. Hi Kay,
    What a wonderful post, as always! You are amazing. I never knew so much of this, and just want to thank you for all your wonderful research and keeping us informed on this story. I had a wonderful American History teacher in my junior year of high school. Yes, he was a coach, but he also found history fascinating, so he wasn’t just stuck teaching history because he was a coach. LOL He always tried to give us some “true” facts about history. That was when I became interested to the point that I knew I wanted to study it in college. I didn’t major in it because I didn’t want to teach, but it is my minor. This is just fascinating, and you do such a great job of bringing it all to life for us.
    Cheryl P.

  19. thanks for another informative and interesting post. The English never fail to disappoint when it comes to acting on greed and their self-interest. All of course at the expense of anyone who could get in their way. Women and children – no problem: kill them or enslave them. Men: slaves or killed. Treaties or agreements: are followed only as long as it is to their advantage, then they are ignored. Local laws and culture: use those that are to your advantage and ignore or circumvent those you don’t like and make your own rules. It seems every country or people that have gotten in their way – the Americas, Ireland, Scotland, India, etc. – has suffered a loss of lands, people, wealth, culture, and sovereignty .
    It seems Pocohontas was right in the middle of one of these English power plays. She was pivotal as a hostage to guarantee the English could do as they pleased without fear of repercussions.
    I look forward to you conclusion.

  20. Hi Catslady!

    I so agree. I’ve started to really be skeptical when it comes to research. The good thing is that almost always you can find the truth. But sometimes it takes some digging.

  21. Hi Tammy!

    I do understand and unfortunately it appears as if the “English” are to blame. Perhaps the society lets such things as greed and lies remain and if so…

    But for the most part, what I see are 3-4 men who had to come up with something to show to their lords at home, or abandon the property altogether. Perhaps it would have been best if they had abandoned the property and allowed some other more honest people to settle it. 🙂 Sigh…

  22. You know, Elizabeth, I loved that movie. I used to go to Disneyland when it was playing on stage and watch and watch and watch it. I loved the music from the movie, etc.

    When I found out the truth… I still like the music for entertainment value, but I’m no longer “in love” with that story that perpetuates such lies.

    So I really understand.

  23. Patricia, you hit it on the nail. She was caught in the middle of a power play and didn’t realize it. When she finally did see what was going on, she knew she had to inform her father…

    And that’s where the blackness of the human soul reared its ugly head from those who stood to be ruined had they been found out. At least those are my thoughts.

  24. Thomas, the son, never went to England. He was raised her on the plantation known as Smith’s Fort Plantation,in Surry, Virginia right near the James River. The brick home built on the home site was done after the 1700’s. However, the ladies who reside as caretakers of this historic site, will tell you Powhatan’s people helped work the land. They stayed there safe from persecution. It’s quite an honor to walk those grounds. Also, near this site are the remains of the small church where Chanco, worshiped. His canoe ride to warn Jamestown colonist of the coming attack by Oppachancano in 1622 saved the colony from extinction. Five miles from my home on Dumpling Island were the Powhatan grain storage raided by Smith in 1609. My road, none other than Matoaka Road in her honor. At St. Luke’s Church near Smithfield, the oldest church in North America, a stain glass window stands in her honor. In Virginia, We adore our Indian Princess. Her blood rain through one of our nations First Ladies as well.


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