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.
In 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. 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.
Please 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.
Through 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. According 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.
One 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.
Was 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.
Well, 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?
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!