POCAHONTAS AND THE POWHATAN DILEMMA by Camilla Townsend

POCAHONTAS AND THE POWHATAN DILEMMA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Not only did a love-struck Pocahontas not throw herself before John Smith and save his life, but she probably didn’t even like him much.

The English settlers who arrived in Jamestown in 1607 came with high hopes: they trusted that the Spanish, who practically owned the Americas, would leave them alone, and they trusted that the Indians of the York River region would gladly slip into serfdom and keep them fed. The Spanish, in fact, didn’t come calling. But they had before, and the Indians of the Chesapeake Bay region had suffered terribly from their visits. Naturally enough, they suspected that the English and the Spanish had similar designs on their homeland, and Chief Powhatan himself asked John Smith: “In how many daies will there come hither any more English ships?” The Chesapeake people had reason for their suspicions because, writes Townsend (History/Colgate Univ.), John Smith “saw Hernando Cortés as something of a role model, or . . . he at least saw himself as one in a long line of great conquistadors.” And what would Hernando do, given recalcitrant Indians and other frontier rigors? Why, he’d kidnap an Indian princess, in this case Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas, and then concoct a useful mythology that she had thrown herself at him out of sheer lust. Smith and other “storytellers subverted her life,” writes Townsend, “to satisfy their own need to believe that the Indians loved and admired them (or their cultural forebears), without resentments, without guile.” But, as it happens, the Indians had other feelings, and not long after the death of Pocahontas’s English husband John Rolfe and four years after Powhatan had died, the Indians staged one final uprising, their last hurrah. Townsend writes that nothing Pocahontas herself, who died young, or “Queen Cockacoeske, or others like them” could have done would have saved the native peoples of the region. Yet, she adds, “It is important to do them the honor of believing that they did their best.”

Colonial history that admirably complicates the history of Indian/white relations in Virginia.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-8090-9530-0
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2004




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