So, today, I thought I’d tackle a subject of some interest, since this woman is actually a great American heroine. I’m talking about Pocahontas. And, I’ll be giving away a free copy of THE ANGEL AND THE WARRIOR today. Just look off to the right here, please, for the rules regarding out give-aways.
Before I start, let me ask you a question: Do you believe the Disney story of Pocahontas? Or some version of it?
I did, well at least I did until I did some research into the actual story of Pocahontas. So, if you don’t mind dropping down a rabbit hole, come along with me in this fascinating subject that has been given a spin so as to cover up an actual murder of this true, American heroine.
Pocahontas’ real name, by the way, was Matoaka — which means “flower between two streams. Now, before I go on, let me do a disclaimer: 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.
To the left here is probably the most true picture (painting) that we have of Pocahontas. Now, this will probably be the subject of two or three blogs, simply because there’s just too much info to get into one blog. The information that I’m going to be telling you about 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 (Pocahontas’ 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 fact that I’m going to say here at the start of this post, 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, as is said in Blackfeet Country, 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, the 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 means, 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.
To the left here is the more European version of the above painting of Pocahontas and her child. Notice the smiles painted on the faces and the lack of dark circles under her eyes.
Pocahontas 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 politics 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 deity. 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.”
Does that sound like a man that a young girl would fall in love with? 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. 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.
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, “Although Smith alleged years later that Pocahontas saved his life during the four-day ceremony in the process of his being made a Powhatan werowance, his life was never in danger. 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.
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 excursions, 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 dispelled as untrue.
What 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 preserved 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 behind 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.
Danger 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.
Well, that’s all we have time and space for today. I hope you’ll bear with me and come seek out my post next month 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 my next post (Lord willing).
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. So come on in and tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.