Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: Pocahontas, American Biographies

Pocahontas, American Biographies, by Gail Fay, Heinemann Library, Chicago, Il, 2013.
This book clarified for me some false ideas I had about Pocahontas.  I guess most of my information came from the Disney movie.  This book indicates that Pocahontas and John Smith were not romantically involved as Pocahontas was only 10 or 11 at the time.  However it is certain Pocahontas was instrumental in the Jamestown settlement surviving.  The story of Pocahontas saving John Smith was told by John Smith, but he is the only source of this story.  The relationship between the Powhatans and the settlement at Jamestown varied from being helpful to being at war.  There were periods the people of Jamestown could not hunt for fear of being killed, and this lead to starvation.  The winter 1609-1610 was particularly bad for the settlers at Jamestown.  Many died of starvation.  They were ready to abandon the settlement when three boat loads of setters arrived. 
This book indicates Pocahontas married Kocoum in 1610 at the age of 15.  At age 18 Pocahontas was tricked by the new governor of Virginia and held captive at Jamestown and then Henrico a more defensible settlement.  The settlers tried to use Pocahontas as leverage.  The insisted her father, Chief Powhatan, the leader of the Powhatan Indians return weapons they had stolen, and provide them with food.  As he refused to return weapons, Pocahontas remained prisoner.  During this time, she lived in the settlement, wore European clothes and was “Christianized.”  She was baptized.  She was taught to read and read from the Bible.  One of her teachers was John Rolfe.  John Rolfe’s wife had passed away shortly after he had arrived in North America.  He fell in love with Pocahontas and they were married.  Pocahontas traveled with him to England.  They had one son. Thomas Rolfe.  While in England Pocohantas became sick and she died, perhaps of tuberculosis.  She was only twenty-two.
However her son reached adulthood.  Her son returned to America where his grandfather, Chief Powhatan had left him lands where he grew tobacco. 
Pocahontas was a peace giver.  She gave the people in Jamestown peace after they first arrived.  She was able to influence her father to provide them with food.  After her marriage to John Rolfe there was also a time of peace.  She had provided peace once again to her peoples.  However, after her death in England, there was no reason for the Powhatan people to maintain peace.  After Chief Powhatan passed away, his brother became the head chief.  His brother did not like the settlers, and a period of conflict resulted with many deaths.
The Powhatan people still live in this area.  There are two reservations.  Pocahontas also has descendants through her son.

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