Pocahontas (meaning the naughty one or the spoilt child) was the nick name for Matoaka. She was the chief of the Pawhatan’s daughter. She had stopped her father from killing John Smith when she was barely seven years old. Later, during her teenage years (1612) she was captured by the Jamestown people when she was visiting them. Her freedom came at the cost of her marriage to a 28-year- old widower named John Rolfe. She was converted to Christianity; she became Rebecca Rolfe and was married to John Rolfe. Anumita revisits history to reveal the true story of Pocahontas, which is different from the Disney’s animated character, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
My younger son in the middle school was reading through the “Time of Peace” after the “Starvation Times.” He looked up at me and asked, “How can a marriage can help in peace?” He was reading about the settlement at Jamestown by the Virginia Company.
Hearing the name of Pocahontas, the song “Colors of the wind,” by Vanessa Williams came to my mind. Disney had popularised the character of Pocahontas in their animated movie. I loved that song. Those who are unfamiliar with the settlement history of America, here is a short synopsis of it according to the historical fact sheet my son was reading:
The Virginia Company acquired a Charter from the King James and set sail toward the new world in search of riches. They sailed towards the Chesapeake Bay and dropped anchor and named the river as James River and the settlement as Jamestown in honor of the King. The settlers were not very labour oriented and found it difficult to settle at the beginning, but under the leadership of John Smith they settled down. The area was initially inhabited by the Powhatan Indians. The interaction between the Indians and the settlers proved beneficial to provide them with resources but conflicts were sporadic. When Smith was injured and returned to England, the situation in the settlement got worse. Due to the increase in the conflict between the Powhatans and the settlers and series of droughts resulted into the “Starvation Times.” As the settlers were about to abandon the settlement, a new group of settlers and a new leader arrived.
Among them was John Rolfe, who took interest in Pocahontas, who was the captured daughter of the Pawhatan chief. He married her and the “Time of Peace” followed.
I tried to help my son understand the social norms of maintaining peace and decorum when two clans decide to get connected. Case in point was the European settlers and the other were the Pawhatan people, native of America. I told him that even begrudgingly, most of the time relationships are to be honored with peace.
I did explain to my son the issue of marriage between Pocahontas and John Rolf, but my explanation to me felt lopsided. I did not know the Pawhatan side of the story. So, I looked it up on the internet. There, I found this page by the Pawhatan People. This web page was actually a protest against the distortion of the story of Pocahontas by Disney.
According to the Pawhatan people, Pocahontas (meaning the naughty one or the spoilt child) was the nick name for Matoaka. She was the chief of the Pawhatan’s daughter. She had stopped her father from killing John Smith when she was barely seven years old. Later, during her teenage years (1612) she was captured by the Jamestown people while she was visiting them. Her freedom came at the cost of her marriage to a 28-year- old widower named John Rolfe. She was converted to Christianity; she became Rebecca Rolfe and was married to John Rolfe. She bore a son named Thomas Rolfe, who was also called the “Red Rolfe.”
This make me think, did this particular name prompt the Europeans in calling the Native American Indians as “Red Indians.” Was this a matter of coincidence or not?
The marriage of Pocahontas let to a cease fire between the settlers and the Pawhatans. Life changed and became better for the settlers, as John Rolfe was able to flourish tobacco plantation.
It turned out to be profitable and instant cash crop. The Pawhatans resulted in being moved out of their own place.
I wonder why peace comes at a cost. In this case, the cost of Pocahontas, an innocent girl, who died a sad death at the age of 21, in a land not her own!
©Anumita Chatterjee Roy
Pix from Net.