pocahontas history

The types of people who watch Pocahontas

Historians: Wow, this movie is so inaccurate. It’s gross, really Pocahontas was 9 John Smith was like 30. Also she married John Rolfe, not John Smith.

Normal people: Wow! I love this movie! I know it’s not historically accurate, but the songs are great and the coloring is beautiful.

Fangirls: Wow! Someone should make a [insert fandom here] Pocahontas AU!

Shirley Little Dove Custalow-McGowan (Mattaponi) does an “American Indian exhibit” in West Point, 2007, showing cooking, technology, etc. from the early 17th century (photo by Mary Montague Sikes)

the Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and other native peoples of eastern Virginia (Tsenacommacah) existed/STILL EXIST in real life outside of Disney. just a reminder

A brief history of Colonial Virginia

Virginia was the very first of the 13 colonies to be (successfully) settled, and is at the heart of the story of colonial America, from the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, to being the home state of George Washington.

Before I actually get into the colonization of Virginia, I want to give some background on the area, since Virginia was already home to a fairly powerful empire when the English came to shore, and this kingdom plays a major role in colonial Virginia’s story. Most American tribes north of Mexico never established their own countries, living tribal lifestyles, but there were a handful of exceptions, one of them being the Powhatan Confederacy. The Powhatan confederacy was established around 1590 by, unsurprisingly, the Powhatan tribe, under a chief named Wahunsenacawh, also called Wahunsonacock (often just called chief Powhatan), who, with the help of his younger brother Opechancanough, a skilled warrior, managed to bring about 30 tribes under his overlordship, forcing their chiefs to give tribute to him and be subservient to him, turning a large part of coastal Virginia, around 20,000 square kilometers by Thomas Jefferson’s estimate, into a small Powhatan Empire by 1607, when the English arrived.

1612 depiction of Wahunsenacawh by John Smith

Speaking of the English, in 1606, King James I granted a charter to the Virginia company to establish colonies upon the coasts of the New World, however, the Virginia Company was split into competing factions, one based in London and one in Plymouth, so the 1606 charter actually gave two grants, one to each company. The Plymouth company was allocated land stretching roughly from the modern Maine-Canada border to Chesapeake bay, and the London company was granted lands from Long island sound to Cape Fear. If you’re familiar with American geography, you’ll notice that a considerable territory, from Long Island Sound to Chesapeake Bay, was actually granted to both companies. In order to prevent conflict, James ordered that in this area, the Plymouth and London colonies could not be within 100 miles of each other. Probably would have been easier to just make a clear border between the grants, but I digress.

On December 20 1606, 105 settlers and 39 sailors of the London company set forth on three ships to establish a colony in Virginia. After 144 days at sea, on April 26 1607, they finally made it to America! In order to prevent other potential colonizers (read: Spain) from attacking their new settlement, they were instructed to travel upriver and establish themselves inland, they sailed up the James river (named after their king), and founded their settlement, Jamestown (named after the same king), with plans to mine for precious metals and trade with natives to survive, which would prove easier said than done. The colonists couldn’t find any gold, couldn’t grow any silk, and couldn’t sell what little they could grow, coupled with losses from disease and Powhatan raids (which Opechancanough conveniently blamed on the Chesapeake, a rival tribe) made the settlers question if Jamestown could survive. 

What about our old friends in the Plymouth company, how’s their colonization effort going? The real question is; “What colonization effort?” It’s not that the Plymouth men didn’t try, they did, it was just a failure. In July of 1607, about 100 settlers for the Plymouth colony landed at the mouth of Maine’s Kennebec river, and established what’s known as the Popham colony, named after it’s leader, George Popham. by the end of 1607, half the colonists went home, as resources in Popham were scarce, and by that time next year, the rest had packed up and returned to England as well. With Popham a failure, in 1609, the London company was given the lands previously allotted to their counterparts in Plymouth, making them the sole English colonial authority in America. Back to Jamestown. Later that year, the company sent out a massive, crucial export of supplies and colonists to the colony, called the Third Supply, to help Virginia grow and prosper, but a massive hurricane destroyed most of the shipment, with the one of the nine ships, the Sea Venture, having been deliberately crashed on Bermuda to save it from sinking.

From the timbers of the Sea Venture, her sailors, all of whom had survived the storm, built two small ships to carry the remaining suppies to Virginia, while some stayed behind to claim the uninhabited, unclaimed Bermuda for England. Seven of the other ships, all carrying colonists but no supplies, managed to make it safely to Virginia. But, with only a fraction of the supplies intended for the colony, the third shipment ended up ushering in one of the most devastating events in the young colony’s history: The Starving Time. In the winter of 1609-10, a combination of low supplies, a drought stifling agricultural production, and hostility with the locals preventing trade, led to a famine that, of the 500 men, women, and children living in Jamestown in late 1609, left only 60 alive by spring of 1610. Archaeological evidence shows that the situation was so dire, the Virginian colonists were forced to cannibalize the dead to stay alive. With all seeming lost, they set sail to return to England and Jamestown was abandoned.

Skull fragment of a teenage girl found at Jamestown, showing chop marks indicative of cannibalism.

Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, better known as Lord Delaware, was unwilling to give up, and after the King gave him authorization to take over the Virginia colony, he sent a fleet of relief ships with supplies and colonists to Jamestown. These ships just so happened to intercept the ships carrying the survivors of the Starving Time, who regarded the relief fleet as a miracle, and with new hope for the colony, they returned, ready for Jamestown round 2. Although Lord Delaware helped breathe new life into the colony, his time in leadership also strained the already tense relations with the Powhatan. Raids by poth Powhatan and English were frequent, and Lord Delaware engaged in the conquest of Powhatan lands by capturing small villages near Jamestown. By July, tensions had reached their climax, and Lord Delaware demanded that the Powhatan return all English captives and property, or face war. Wahunsenacawh, unwilling to negotiate with the Baron, made a counter-demand that the English stay in Jamestown, or leave Virginia, prompting Delaware to up the stakes, demanding the return of captives and property or face the destruction of every Powhatan village around Jamestown. Wahunsenacawh never even responded to this message. A month passed with no response, and Delaware was tired of waiting. War was declared, and Delaware sent men to attack the Paspahegh, one of the Powhatan tributary tribes, burning their capital and executing the family of their chief. The war carried on for four years, with the English sporadically burning Powhatan villages, and the Powhatan raiding Jamestown in response.

While all this was happening, John Rolfe, a sailor who had been aboard the Sea Venture, was experimenting with new tobacco strains to try and create a cash crop for the colony, and in 1612, he had succeeded, and the prosperity of Jamestown was secured. Rolfe also helped the colony by ending the war, in 1614, he married Pocahontas, daughter of Wahunsenacawh, bringing peace between the English and Powhatan, however, the peace would not last. Three years later, Pocahontas died after contracting a disease in England, and disease spread back in Virginia, coupled with poor harvests, caused tensions to escalate. Opechancanough, who was chief now that his brother had died, tried to maintain friendly relations, but once his diplomat and advisor, Nemattenew, who had been suspected of killing a settler named Morgan and stealing his hat was felled by an angry mob, Opechancanough wanted to get rid of the English, and planned a surprise attack. On March 22 1622, Opechancanogh’s plan was put in action, and all along the James River, Powhatan warriors massacred English settlers, sometimes wiping out entire towns, leaving  347 colonists dead. Jamestown was actually spared from the attacks thanks to a native named Chanco who forewarned Jamestown, giving them time to prepare. The next year, colonists William Tucker and John Potts sought revenge by tricking the Powhatan into a phony truce where they toasted with poison-laced alcohol, killing around 100 Powhatan and making another hundred ill. Throughout the next decade, the second war raged on much as it did before 1632, when both sides agreed to an uneasy truce.

1628 depiction of Powhatan warriors killing colonists in the 1622 massacre

It’s during the Second Anglo-Powhatan war, in 1624, that Virginia was transferred from the authority of the London company to the English government, becoming a proper colony, although in the following decades the crown cut lands off from Virginia to create new colonies such as Maryland and Carolina. After 12 years of peace, Opechancanough, wanting to restore his empire to it’s former glory, decided to wage one last war on the English. On March 18, 1844, Opechancanough waged another series of surprise attacks, killing over 500 colonists, which, although a larger number than had been killed in the 1622 strikes, was a smaller percentage of the population (10% as opposed to ~30%), as Virginia had seen great population increase as it became rich off tobacco exports. Opechancanough, sticking with his old tactics, didn’t make any followup, instead waiting for the English to respond with surrender or attack. That July, the Virginians made their move, marching on nearly all tribes still within the confederacy’s borders, waging war and burning villages as they went. The war went on for only 2 years, until Virginia governor William Berkeley led his men on a siege of Opechancanough’s stronghold, capturing him and his advisors, imprisoning most of them, but choosing to execute the old chief, Opechancanough at Jamestown, where he, nearly 100 at this point, was shot in the back.

With the death of the warrior chief, all the remaining tribes under Powhatan rule broke off, reducing the confederacy back to just the Powhatan tribe, with the new chief, Necotowance, swearing vassalage to England, the confederacy would later fall and become part of Virginia in 1684. In order to try and prevent further bloodshed, the English created a border between English and Indian lands, with people on both sides needing to get a special pass from border forts to enter the other territory. In 1649, three years after the war, the mother country, England, had fallen into control of the Parliamentarians at the end of the English civil war, beheading king Charles I, and putting the authoritarian puritan Oliver Cromwell in control. Although most colonies, particularly the ones settled by puritans, pledged allegiance to the new government, Virginia was among those to remain loyal to the crown, and was regarded by the English Commonwealth’s government as being in rebellion, in 1650, parliament declared an embargo on Virginia and other rebellious colonies (Antigua, Bermuda, and Barbados), and authorized privateers to attack any vessel that broke the embargo. The civil war led to many cavaliers (royalists) settling in the colony to escape the Cromwell regime, but in 1652, the puritan Richard Bennett was made governor, and Virginia now answered to Cromwell. Despite being under Commonwealth rue for the next 8 years, when the English crown was restored in 1660, Virginia was held in high regard for it’s loyaty, being dubbed  "the Old Dominion" by Charles II, a nickname Virginia has kept to this day.

In 1676, 100 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Virginians under the command of Nathaniel Bacon, in an army made up mostly of indentured servants and African slaves but with others from all demographics of Virginian society, who were opposed to governor William Berkeley’s refusal to address native attacks near the frontier (Berkeley profited greatly from trade with the frontier tribes, and didn’t want to lose the income), or consider expanding westward.  Bacon and his men marched on Jamestown, confronting the governor and the burgesses (Virginian colonial government leaders), forcing them at gunpoint to allow an increased military presence on the frontier, but, they failed to deliver, and once news of eight colonists on the frontier being killed came to Bacon, he raised his army up again and marched on Jamestown, burning the city to the ground. After months of violence, Bacon died of dysentery and his rebellion collapsed. Berkeley returned to power, and a new capital was built at Williamsburg, and 23 men were executed as rebels. After an investigation, King Charles II relieved Berkeley of his duties and forced reforms to be implemented in Virginia to keep the colonists happy.

The ruins of Jamestown as they appeared in 1854, long after Bacon and his men burned the city.

For the next century, things were relatively quiet in Virginia, until the 1760s, when tensions between the colonists and the British government began to boil. As the British passed acts of taxation to pay for it’s debts from the Seven Years War (known to Americans as the French and Indian War), and Virginians, notably Patrick Henry, began to denounce this “taxation without representation” as tyrannical, and dissent grew among both the Virginian government and populace, their chief argument being that since they were a colony, without any parliamentary representation, they owed no allegiance to parliament, only to the king. After the Boston Tea Party, the House of Burgesses announced their solidarity with Massachusetts, much to the dismay of governor Lord Dunmore. That August they held the First Virginia Convention, agreeing on a boycott of British goods, solidarity with the other colonies, and elected delegates for the Continental Congress. On April 20, 1775, a day after the battles at Lexington and Concord, some of the first battles of the war for independence, Dunmore ordered Williamsburg’s gunpowder supply to be seized before it coud fall into rebel hands, but Patrick Henry and his militiamen seized it. In November, with his popularity at near-zero, Dunmore fled Virginia and declared that the colony was in a state of rebellion, at this point, George Washington, a Virginian himself, was leading the Continental Army, and Virginia’s government was solidly in rebel hands. In December of that year, Virginian militias won the Battle of Great Bridge, securing Norfolk.

For most of the war’s early years, Virginia actually saw fairly little fighting, but Virginians still played a crucial role in this early stage of the war, with Virginian soldiers marching north, south, and west, to help the other colonies fend off the redcoats, as well as creating a prison camp for British and Hessian captives. On May 15 1776,the Fifth Virginia convention declared that Virginia was independent, no longer part of the British Empire, and encouraged other colonies to do the same, leading to the continental congress approving the Declaration of Independence (penned by another great Virginian, Thomas Jefferson), on July 4 1776, giving birth to the United States of America. In May of 1779, the British made a move on Virginia when Admiral George Collier attempted to cut off the state’s trade with the West Indies by capturing Portsmouth and using it as a base to attack the Americans, but this strategy ultimately failed when planned reinforcements failed to arrive. In response to the renewed assault on the state, Thomas Jefferson, who was now governor, moved the capital of Virginia further inland to Richmond in 1780, but that didn’t prevent the traitorous Benedict Arnold from successfully attacking the city, burning most of it in December.

Arnold and General William Phillips continued to attack Virginia, and the American militias were unable to fend off the British advances, prompting Washington to send General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette to Virginia to help defend the state. Lafayette avoided any direct confrontation, fearing Arnold and Phillips’ superior numbers (7,200 to 3,200), instead choosing to join up with other generals to consolidate his forces before moving to follow General Charles Cornwallis who moved to Yorktown to make a base, and on October 6 1781, the Americans laid siege to the city, forcing Cornwallis to surrender. The Victory at Yorktown was one of the most significant of the war, as it played a role in forcing British Parliament to accept peace with the United States, and on September 3 1783, The Treaty of Paris was signed, and American Independence was secured.

1791 painting depicting the surrender of Cornwallis

She was a Chosen Child to perhaps take this position [of a chief] and therefore she was with her father all the time, because accounts told us that she was… she would have learned about trade, she would have learned about diplomacy, all of the things that a chief would know about.
—  Anne Richardson, Chief of Rappahannock from the PBS documentary NOVA, Pocahontas: Revealed (2006)

anonymous asked:

Question: what about Pocahontas makes Bakugou so mad?

the way that disney glorified colonization and made pocahontas way older than she was to excuse the relationship between john smith when in reality she was around 12, raped along with many other members of her community, and taken back to england to be married to some too-old white man and was forced to dress like an english woman and forget her past culture. bakugou is a history buff.


Disney’s Pocahontas left out A LOT of the dark history, especially about how John Smith really treated the Native Americans. A little less love story and a lot more violence. We reveal all of Disney’s Dark Secrets in our latest video! http://frdr.us/2pXsr2C

*Pocahontas in London, aged 21 (1616). This portrait currently hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian. It is based on an engraving by Simon van de Passe, and is a more flattering, apparently more accurate representation.

Today we’re going to talk about Pocahontas, one of the most popular and enigmatic figures in history.

Pocahontas was born in 1595, in Werowocomoco, today’s Virginia. She was the daughter of the Powhatan chief, yet this didn’t exactly make her a princess, at least not within her own culture. Her mother’s identity is unknown, since tradition dictated that the chief would take many wives; each would give him one child and then return to their original tribe. Though never considered in line for her father’s place, she was nonetheless his favourite.

Pocahontas wasn’t her only name; Powhatan traditions called for a child to be given several names according to personality and occasions (think of T.S. Elliot’s The Naming of Cats). Her first name was Matoaka, which was kept private to protect her private self from any harm lest other enemy tribes or the English invaders could do to her. She only revealed this name when she had become Rebecca. Another name she was known under is Amounte.

The subject of many theories and speculation is the nature of the contact between Pocahontas and John Smith. They did meet, several times, but it was never a romantic relationship. Their first encounter took place when Pocahontas was around ten years old and John was in his early thirties. Pocahontas and other children of the tribe were frequent visitors at the explorers’ camps, and this provided an interesting cultural exchange. Pocahontas would have interacted with several newcomers, Smith among them. They would meet again later, during another of Smith’s trips to Virginia when Pocahontas was around 16 years old, but there still isn’t any indication of romance.

A lot is said about the anecdote according to which she saved Smith from execution. The story as was told by Smith is that he had been taken prisoner by the Powhatan, who presented him to their chief. Smith was laid on his head while the chief and others readied clubs to smash his skull with. It was then that Pocahontas appeared and put her arms around his head; the huge favour and preference she held before her father’s eyes convinced him to spare Smith’s life.

Some claim this is entirely untrue, others think the episode has changed significantly over time, with retellings and adjustments while going from mouth to mouth. There is nothing to prove the story entirely false or entirely true –records and writing kept by Smith as he travelled around Virgina all seem to make sense with it, in terms of time and facts. Still, there is no certainty. What could have been Pocahontas’ reasons to save him? At that time she couldn’t have been older than 11, so no love story blossomed between them.

She had befriended the explorers, but so had many others from the tribe, and she didn’t seem to have any specific attachment to any of them. Many others had been taken captive and tortured to death without anyone interceding for them. When they met again in England she was reportedly angry at him for the way he treated her father and the rest of her people. What truly happened there and why, we may never know.

Eventually Pocahontas was betrayed by her own people: kidnapped and sold to the English in exchange for a copper pot. This took place during the first war between English invaders and Native Americans, which began around 1609 in Jamestown. In 1613 the English pressured and bribed the villagers of Passapatanzy until they tricked Pocahontas into boarding an English ship; from then on she remained captive. For a year, she was held in what today is known as Chesterfield County, Virginia. There aren’t many details about this period, but it is said that she might have been raped.

In any case, it was during this time that Pocahontas was forced / pressured / convinced / talked into becoming a Christian and taking the name Rebecca. In 1614 Pocahontas was allowed to talk to a group of Native American representatives, and she reportedly turned her back on the tribe and her father, for he valued her ‘less than old swords, pieces, or axes’, and decided to stay with the English permanently.

It was also during this year-long captivity that she met John Rolfe, a widower devoted to his plantations of tobacco. He claimed to have fallen in love with her, but when he asked permission to marry her one of the strongest reasons he offered was his desire to ‘save her soul’, as well as ‘for the good of this plantation, for the honour of our country, for the Glory of God, for my own salvation’. They got married on April 5, 1614, and their marriage helped soothe the relationship between their people. They had a son, Thomas Rolfe, born in January 1615.

Nothing is known about Pocahontas’ feelings towards John Rolfe. Some stories claim that she had previously (before being taken prisoner) married a warrior, Kocoum, and that perhaps that had been a union born from love since Powhatan women were free to choose their husbands; according to this, Pocahontas and Kocoum had even had a child. But Kocoum was killed at some point, and then Pocahontas betrayed and sold. None of this is supported by any evidence, and some even question the very existence of Kocoum.

In 1616 she was taken to England, along with eleven other Native Americans, to be showed and presented as examples of the ‘tamed savages’ from the New World. It is here that we find John Smith once again, for though he did not reunite with Pocahontas, he wrote to Queen Anne to demand respectful treatment towards her, as a royal visitor. So, though she was paraded around, she suffered no further humiliations. Her status slowly went from a ‘chief’s daughter’ to a ‘princess’, partly due to her own grace and dignity, and the way she carried herself. This title might also trace back to John Smith (again, this constant but unclear relationship with Smith), who referred to her as a ‘King’s daughter’.

Yet she was still shown to people as some sort of curiosity and attraction, a new amusement, and the idea of her being a princess only contributed to the people’s fascination with her as some sort of weird curiosity. Let’s remember that most Europeans still had trouble regarding Native Americans as fully human and thought of them as an entirely new creature, a plaything.

Pocahontas died in March, 1617, while on her way back to Virginia. She fell ill, but the exact nature of the illness isn’t known. She was only twenty-two.

Admin’s note: as someone who has been told she looks just like Pocahontas (a resemblance considering the Disney version; I was even nicknamed Pocahontas while I worked at Walt Disney World) ever since she can remember, I can’t help but feel something rather special towards her. When going abroad there seems to be a strange interest in my physical appearance –skin colour, facial features, etc. I’ve had people call me ‘exotic’ and say to others ‘look at her, you can tell she’s the true Indian thing’. Though I’m not necessarily offended because these comments are usually accompanied by something along the lines of ‘beautiful’, I can’t begin to imagine how uncomfortable it must have been to Pocahontas to be showed around like some sort of freak to look at and wonder about, someone so physically different she’s almost another species, never as someone who is so much more than her skin colour.

Pocahontas has been the subject of many fantasies, stories, and re-imaginations. It is peculiar how so much is known about her, yet so little is known about her: we know her tribe, but not her personality; we know what was said about her, but not what she said; we know the thoughts and feelings and opinions of everyone around her, but not her own. We don’t have quotes, we have very few stories, we know what she did but now how or why, we don’t know what she thought about her religious conversion, her new name, her husband, her trip to England, her very own life. Even now, she continues to be regarded more as an object of study than a human being. She was never given a voice for herself and only lives through the words of others, who have built the Pocahontas they want and not the one she was; the real Pocahontas, the woman behind the stories and myths, we will never know.