Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Pocahontas Myth

Pocahontas, the daughter of the powerful chief of the Algonquian Indians, Powhatan, born about 1595, was named Matoaka at birth. Most people know her as Pocahontas, meaning “Little Wanton” because of the baby girl’s playfulness. Most likely, the first white people she saw were at Jamestown in 1607. The story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith is well known. It is known because John Smith, later in his journals, romanticized the story.
According to Captain Smith, he was on an expedition in December 1607 and taken captive by Indians. They took him to the town of Werowocomoco to the official household of Chief Powhatan. Smith described that the Indians took him to a room and made him lie down on two flat stones. During this time, the Indians stood around him with clubs in their hands as if they would attack him at any moment. Smith’s story went on to describe how a young girl ran into the room and took his head into her arms to save him. The girl was Pocahontas. Her father, Powhatan proclaimed that they were friends.
However, the Powhatan Nation disagree with John Smiths version of the story until this day. According to the Powhatans, “Pocahontas” was a nickname that meant, “the naughty one” or “spoiled child”. They want her to be remembered by her real name of Matoaka. According to the Powhatan Nation, the colonists of the time described Smith as abrasive, ambitious and a self-promoting mercenary.
The Powhatan’s are embittered of the existing memory of Matoaka. According to the descendants, the truth was that the first time John Smith told “his story” was at least 17 years after it occurred. It was one of three reported by Smith of being saved by a prominent Indian woman. The story aided in the good Indian/bad Indian theme popular of the times. Pocahontas was seen as a hero by supposedly saving a white man. Most scholars believe Smiths story highly unlikely.
The Powhatan Nation states the true story of Pocahontas ended sadly. In 1612 when she was 17, she was taken prisoner by the English settlers while she was on a social visit. She was held for over a year. During this time, a young widower name John Rolfe took a special interest in her. They ended up married and she became Rebecca Rolfe. They then had a son, and named him Thomas. Their descendants were known as the “Red Rolfes”.

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