Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma: The American Portraits Series

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9780809077380: Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma: The American Portraits Series

Camilla Townsend's stunning new book, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, differs from all previous biographies of Pocahontas in capturing how similar seventeenth century Native Americans were--in the way they saw, understood, and struggled to control their world---not only to the invading British but to ourselves.

Neither naïve nor innocent, Indians like Pocahontas and her father, the powerful king Powhatan, confronted the vast might of the English with sophistication, diplomacy, and violence. Indeed, Pocahontas's life is a testament to the subtle intelligence that Native Americans, always aware of their material disadvantages, brought against the military power of the colonizing English. Resistance, espionage, collaboration, deception: Pocahontas's life is here shown as a road map to Native American strategies of defiance exercised in the face of overwhelming odds and in the hope for a semblance of independence worth the name.

Townsend's Pocahontas emerges--as a young child on the banks of the Chesapeake, an influential noblewoman visiting a struggling Jamestown, an English gentlewoman in London--for the first time in three-dimensions; allowing us to see and sympathize with her people as never before.

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About the Author:

Camilla Townsend lives in Hamilton, New York, and is an associate professor of history at Colgate University. She is the author of Tales of Two Cities: Race and Economic Culture in Early Republican North and South America.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

  Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma
ONEAmonute’s People
Casa cunnakack, peya quagh acquintin uttasantasough?(In how many daies will there come hither any more English ships?)—Powhatan query, recorded 1608-1609, quoted in John Smith, A Map of Virginia (1612)
The canoe bearing the news skimmed rapidly over the water. It was a spring day in 1607, and the rivers and streams of Tsenacomoco were swollen with rain and melted snow that came cascading down to the tidewater from the western mountains. The boat’s messengers were bound for the main settlement of Powhatan, their paramount chief, and they used the riverine network that connected his dominions to move with their customary speed. There may have been an added urgency to the well-timed dips of their paddles, though, for they carried important news. The strangers on the three great ships that had entered the bay near the place where the Chesapeakes lived were not leaving. On the contrary, they seemed to be seeking a water supply and a camping ground—in short, a place to stay.1The messengers drew near Powhatan’s village of Werowocomoco, or “King’s House.” It was on the north shore of the Pamunkey (the York River, in today’s world). Strangers unfamiliar with the area might have passed by without seeing anything other than a lovely bay, for the village was nestled back in the trees, but to these men the spot was well known, with a long history of power. It was a remarkable bay, like no other on the river: three creeks made their way in almost perfect symmetry down to the enfolded semicircle of water. To the left of the central creek, it was perfectly flat. But to the right, a knob of land rose up twenty-five feet, a fitting platform for a king.2The men had to leave their canoe in a cove formed by the creek wrapping around the side of the village. Toward the rear a spring gushed, and beyond that lay the people’s fishing weirs. Here the village land sloped gradually down to the water. But if, as often happened, several of the men sprang lightly off their craft right at the riverfront rather than entering the secluded cove, they had to follow a path up the twenty-foot bluff before they could see the village spreading out on either side, reaching into the ancient woods. It covered at least fifty acres, spreading over a much larger territory than like numbers of people usually chose to claim. Normally it was impractical to live like this. Powhatan, however, was a chief of chiefs. He had a point to make to visitors. And he had prisoners of war to do some of the requisite work. If the messengers turned around, they could see the whole bay spread before them and, beyond it, the wide grayness of the slow-moving Pamunkey Herons stood patiently near the shore; ospreys swooped low, seeking unsuspecting fish.3That evening the sky over the water glowed as it always did as the sun prepared to slip down behind the river. The summer light filtered into the woods, illuminating bits of stone or wood or leaf with low beams shot with gold. Powhatan may have received the messengers in state, as was his wont, reclining on a low platform at one end of his eighty-foot longhouse, the wall mats pinned back to let the breeze carry away some of the smoke from the hearth, his wives and children listening. Or he may have spoken alone and outdoors to those who brought the tidings, leaving his family to learn what there was to learn through village gossip. Werowocomoco, with its constant activity, was a poor place to keep a secret.Sometime soon the chief’s nine-year-old daughter, Pocahontas, would have heard the whole story.4 News of this magnitude invariably entered the rumor mill: great boats had come again, this time perhaps to stay. Even a nine-year-old child who had never seen a ship would have understood what was anchored in the bay—boats larger than any canoe, able to catch the wind with huge blankets more finely woven than any net, perhaps something like the ones wealthy chiefs acquired through long-distance trade. These boats were widely known, their arrival even anticipated, for at least one appeared off the coast every few seasons. Mostly they just passed by. Some were driven by storms into the mouths of the four rivers of Powhatan’s kingdom and sought shelter for a few days before departing.Twice before, though, in Powhatan’s long memory, such strangers had come with the intent to stay. Both times it had boded ill. Over forty years ago, when he was young, a kinsman—the son of the chiefly family of a neighboring tribe—was kidnapped when he dared to board one of the great boats. The strangers returned with him ten years later, after he had traveled over the sea and back again. By then he was a full-grown man who spoke their tongue; he had acquired one of their names, “Luis.” He told everyone that the strangers came from a land of thousands and should be killed, or many more would come. His tribe took his advice and killed them all, sparing only a child. More came anyway. Vengeful, powerful, and ignorant, they attacked with deadly force, but wreaked their retribution on the wrong tribe.Then about twenty years ago, when Powhatan was already a chief and had begun to conquer many of the tribes he now ruled, more strangers arrived, this time to the south of his lands, where the Roanoke and Croatan lived. These coat-wearers, as his people began to call them, were from a different tribe—“English” they called themselves, insisting they were not “Spanish.”5 It was said that they, too, took at least one chief’s son hostage. And they, too, came and went, came and went. Once a group of them traveled northward and stayed for a few months with the Chesapeake tribe on the coast, just across the river from Powhatan’s lands, before returning to their settlement at Roanoke. There they starved and declined until the few remaining fled the little colony and were probably sold as slaves among inland tribes.Only four years ago, in 1603, there had been another incident that everyone still remembered, probably even those as young as Pocahontas. More English had come, this time to the place where the Rappahannock lived, right in the middle of Tsenacomoco. No one was foolish enough to board the boat, but the coat-wearers still managed to seize some men, killing others who tried to stop them. Powhatan and the werowance—the chief—of the Rappahannock wondered if these coat-wearers, too, would return.Now in April 1607 they asked themselves if those who had come this time were the same men. The relatives of the kidnapped Rappahannocks, remembering the story of the return of “Luis,” would have heard the news of the ship with greater and more heart-stopping interest than did Pocahontas. They lacked information, had only some of the puzzle pieces. They could not know that the earlier ship had indeed come on a reconnaissance mission for the present expedition, but that its crew was composed of different men. Nor could they know that their kinsmen had already died: in 1603 some “Virginia Indians” had been made to demonstrate their handling of canoes on the Thames, and their subsequent deaths had gone unremarked in a city where thousands were perishing of the plague.6Indeed, there was much that the Indians could not then know about the Europeans’ interest in them, and about how the short-lived Spanish mission, the failed colony at Roanoke, and the recent English arrivals were all part of a much larger geopolitical contest. Confusing the Indians’ minimal knowledge of Europe, however, with no knowledge at all—or worse, with essential innocence—would be to misread the historical record and do them a disservice. Powhatan clearly knew there was more to the story; he undoubtedly would have given much to have had more information earlier on.Later Pocahontas and others interacting with the newcomers would learn the whole history. There had, as they knew, been dozens of European ships plying the continent’s eastern seaboard in the preceding century. Perhaps Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 was the first of them to pass the four rivers of Tsenacomoco (now the James, the York, the Rappahannock, and the Potomac), but the Spanish settling farther south had been the most frequent passersby as they worked to perfect their cartography of the New World. They recognized that the economic potential of this territory paled in comparison to that of the warm and resource-rich lands of Mexico, Peru, and the Caribbean, but they believed some sort of northern settlement could still be useful. Colonists might discover a sea route to the Pacific, capture Indian slaves, and trade for valuable furs. And a settlement would provide a deterrent to French ambitions, as well as a port for beleaguered Spanish ships tossed by storms and chased by the much-feared English pirates.The Spanish had their own version of the story of the kidnapped Luis, which, combined with what the Indians knew, yields a much fuller picture. In 1561 a fleet on an exploratory expedition seized a young lord who was probably of the Chiskiak people and almost certainly a cousin of Powhatan, if not a nearer relation. Some of the Spanish claimed he had come with them of his own free will, to learn their language and their religion, but it is impossible that he could have understood all that was about to happen; other chroniclers said his family did not know he had been taken. He was taken to Spain, then sent to Mexico to be educated by Dominicans. There, living among the conquered Aztecs, the man who said he was called “Paquiquineo” at home was baptized and given the princely name Don Luis de Velasco, after the viceroy of New Spain. A few years later, one of the Spaniards who had been involved in organizing the expedition that took him became adelantado of Florida. Determined to settle the coast, and needing to communicate with the natives, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés asked the Spanish king if the valuable boy could be given into his care. Thus Don Luis was sent to Havana, and in 1566 he set sail with thirty soldiers and two Dominican friars to find his homeland.Don Luis failed to recognize anything familiar. Or so he said. Perhaps his fellow travelers didn’t press him. Many of those on board were eager to return to Spain, whither they sailed when a storm gave them a good excuse to say they had lost their bearings. In 1567, discouraged but still hopeful, the eager adelantado of Florida himself went to Spain and got himself named governor of Cuba. In 1570, Don Luis sailed back to Havana, along with a group of Jesuits seeking a foothold in the Americas whom either he or Menéndez had succeeded in interesting in the project of settling the coast. The missionaries sailed north without any soldiers. It was a most unusual decision, but Cuba and Florida had none to spare just then, and the Jesuits wanted to be free of the reins of government. Besides, Don Luis promised that all would be well. This time he had no trouble finding his homeland: halfway up the James River, he and his blackrobed friends were welcomed joyfully by his kin.7Luis helped the fathers find a place to build their mission. He said he had mistakenly led them up the wrong river: they would travel north over a narrow neck of land to the next river up and settle where his brother now ruled, quite near his own home village. He stayed with the Jesuits for a few nights, as their equipment was unpacked from the boat, and explained something of the region to them. One of the men prepared a letter to send back on their ship, which was to return to Havana to collect further supplies: “Don Luis has turned out as well as was hoped, he is most obedient to the wishes of Father.”8 Luis had explained that it would be impolitic and unnecessary to abduct and send back another Indian boy as the Spaniards had planned: “In no way does it seem best to me to send you any Indian boy, as the pilot [of the ship] will explain.” Don Luis waited until the ship left with its letter. Then—after ten years—he went home.The fathers waited at their mission settlement for Luis to return to them, but he did not come back. They languished, without food or converts. They sent pleading messages to his village. There was no response. Finally, after the winter, three of them decided to visit him: they cast public reclamations in his face, shaming to any Algonkian, and no doubt reminded him of the coming wrath of his Spanish sponsors if he did not mend his ways. Luis promised he would return to the mission.He did so, leading the war party that came to kill the strangers and remove all trace of their presence from the land. The three who had visited him were already dead, having met their fate on their way back to the settlement. Only a young boy named Alonso was spared and adopted, over Don Luis’s objections. Luis said the boy should die so as not to tell tales, but he was overruled by those who did not know the power of their new enemies.The next year the supply ship came but could not find the mission. The crew seized two Indians. One jumped overboard; the other was brought back to Havana. There he was questioned in chains—perhaps he was tortured, following European custom—but he would or could communicate only that Alonso alone was left alive. A year later the governor himself led a punitive mission to find Luis. On the James River, in the general area of the first landing, one of the expedition’s ships came upon a group of Indians who showed no fear and boarded the boat when the Spanish invited them to trade. Obviously they were not of Luis’s tribe, but the Spanish did not understand that and only marveled at their innocence. Those who boarded were held at gunpoint, while last year’s prisoner, who could now speak some Spanish, explained that they would be freed in exchange for Alonso. One of the hostages was sent as a messenger to Don Luis’s people, who did decide to release the boy, but not to the tribe that was hoping to exchange him for their captive brethren. Rather, Luis’s family sent Alonso straight to the captain of the Spanish fleet, whose ship lay at the mouth of the James River. They hoped, most likely, to convince the foreigners that they themselves were their friends, though other Indians might not be.The Spanish holding the hostages upriver waited for two days, and when Alonso did not come, they blasted a round of shot at the assembled Indians crowding the shore, killing many who were undoubtedly relatives of their prisoners. Then they sailed back to the mouth of the river to discover that Alonso was already there—and that he had told all. One of the prisoners was released with the message that the renegade Luis must be turned over to them within five days or the others would be killed. But the captives were apparently Chickahominy, no friends of Luis’s people. They would have known there was little prospect of Luis turning himself in. After five days a few men were released as “innocent”—perhaps Alonso had spoken for them—and the rest were hanged from the ship’s rigging in full view of the shore. Years later the Chickahominy still remembered the Spanish with bitterness.9It was the English, not the Spanish, who could have told Powhatan what he wanted to know about the Roanoke colony. It was their first attempt to settle this area, which they saw as being just beyond real Spanish control. Their tactics were in many ways comparable to those of their Catholic rivals. Sir Walter Raleigh, the force of energy behind Roanoke as well as numerous English explorations of the Caribbean, embraced the practice of taking Indian boys to England to be trained as interpreters. If they were to be effective, however, he ...

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Buchbeschreibung Hill Wang, United States, 2005. Paperback. Buchzustand: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Camilla Townsend s stunning new book, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, differs from all previous biographies of Pocahontas in capturing how similar seventeenth century Native Americans were--in the way they saw, understood, and struggled to control their world---not only to the invading British but to ourselves. Neither naive nor innocent, Indians like Pocahontas and her father, the powerful king Powhatan, confronted the vast might of the English with sophistication, diplomacy, and violence. Indeed, Pocahontas s life is a testament to the subtle intelligence that Native Americans, always aware of their material disadvantages, brought against the military power of the colonizing English. Resistance, espionage, collaboration, deception: Pocahontas s life is here shown as a road map to Native American strategies of defiance exercised in the face of overwhelming odds and in the hope for a semblance of independence worth the name. Townsend s Pocahontas emerges--as a young child on the banks of the Chesapeake, an influential noblewoman visiting a struggling Jamestown, an English gentlewoman in London--for the first time in three-dimensions; allowing us to see and sympathize with her people as never before. Buchnummer des Verkäufers AAC9780809077380

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