Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown

Introduction:

Take that part of the history, when the first interactions between the native Indians and the British settlers. Mostly, it began with the initial hesitation, mutual distrust, pitched battles ensued, lots of bloodshed resulted with loss of human lives on either side, the true and noble emotions of the human beings played their part, love episodes between the white man and black beauties happened. Did it help to smooth the relations between then tribes and the settlers, or worsened the situation resulting in more mistrust and bloodshed. Many constrains come in the path of writing the history of the sixteenth century and what really happened in Jamestown, in the absence of authentic historical records  as for the conditions and contributions of the native Indians. British historians have sidetracked many facts, according to Helen Rountree and she has tendered archeological evidences to prove her findings.

The Lives Changed:

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He gave his captor a compass, and told him the details about a spherical earth which revolved around the sun. He had apprehensions whether his captor was a cannibal in which case Smith’s life was in danger. That was a wrong assumption– he was no cannibal but he ‘knew’ that the earth was flat. John Smith was duly presented before the paramount chief Powhatan. The meeting had positive results as for John Smith. He got an opportunity to meet Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas. Thinking him to be a good individual and believing that he had a firm ally, he released Smith from captivity. Within the next few decades his people were the subjects of the British Crown.

The 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding:

Helen Rountree is a nationally renowned scholar of Native Americans. Historians could not get much of the events that shaped the lives of Powhatan or Opechancanough, but Rountree’s book fills up this lacuna.   Pocahontas steals the limelight as for the remarkable life that she lived. All the three historical figures have been adequately covered in the book. The initial introduction, the interaction period and the final confrontation between the natives with the English settlers have been taken into account. An interesting turn to the events of the era was the intriguing diplomacy following   the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. This personal event was against the social traditions then practiced by the tribal. During Opechancanough’s reign the native sovereignty came to an end.

The essential difference between the writing and recordings of the British Historians and Helen Rountree:

The book written from the ethno-historical angle, Rountree has utilized two important tools required for honestly constructing historical facts—anthropology and written records. The writers among the white settles did their own job. Their writings remained unchallenged, whether right or wrong, because there was not another writer, who could tell facts. By no account English can be termed as heroes. They were Tassantassas (strangers), squatters and invaders. The truth must be told, feels Rountree and she has constructed her recordings in an authentic manner on the basis of facts and evidences.

When romance scores over history:

History is an interesting subject; history with romance is very interesting. Historical fiction novels are good playing ground for the imaginative movies to sprout. For one thing, the historical characters lay quietly in their graves and they are not likely to challenge your version of their romance. John Smith, known in his day as a bad boy, would not have done anything good for the fifteen years young Princess Pocahonas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan. Did she play a role to save John Smith’s who was imprisoned by the Tribal Chief—can’t say but her contribution to lessen the tension between the colonists and the natives was noticeable and mentioned prominently by the historians. She married Jon Rolfe, a British nobleman. She learned to speak English. She adopted the Christian religion.She moved to London and became a lady. In the meantime, Powhatan tried and did his best for unity between the natives and colonists. He seemed to have succeeded for a while but later the conflicts resumed.

The systematic and scientific approach to writing by Helen Rountree:

Rountree writes without any prejudice, and calls spade a spade. She has termed the British settlers as invaders and rightly so. The book intensely covers the period from 1607 to 1644.She has highlighted three important points, a) Virginia Company’s settlement in Jamestown, b) deterioration of relations between colonists and natives and c) the wars of 1622 and 1644. She has given detailed description about the pre-invasion life of the tribes, highlighting the importance of   rituals in their life. She has mentioned the different lifestyles and environments, and shown how values were entirely different. The contents of the book give the overall picture of the founding of Jamestown from the Indian point of view.

“Jamestown’s founding approaches, nationally renowned scholar of Native Americans, Helen Rountree, provides in a single book the definitive biographies of these three important figures. In their lives we see the whole arc of Indian experience with the English settlers — from the wary initial encounters presided over by Powhatan, to the uneasy diplomacy characterized by the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, to the warfare and eventual loss of native sovereignty that came during Opechancanough’s reign.” (Three….) Rountree, with her scholarly approach gives facts about seventeenth-century Powhatan culture. It is being appreciated by the scholars for the wealth of understanding it brings.  The lay readers like it for the personable prose and lively narrative structure. Her interpretations are backed up by careful, acceptable research-based reasoning and extensive knowledge.

To get the truth, sieving the biased and none-sided approach of the British historians is a tough task and Rountree has managed her job well, despite hard constrains. Powhatan lacked a written language. She has relied upon evidence derived from archaeology. She has highlighted Powhatan’s own vocabulary of seasons linked to different forms of food getting. One feels of getting the other side of the story—the real story! “In particular, the three main subjects of the book all begin to emerge—Powhatan and Openchancanough from their relative obscurity, and Pocahontas from the myths that have surrounded her since at least the nineteenth century. Just in time for 2007, they appear with all of the complexity of character and motivation that the history books have typically reserved for only a few of the “strangers” like John Smith.” (Virginia….)

Hollywood portrayals:

“When Disney Studios released the 1995 movie, Pocahontas, Dr. Rountree subsequently devoted many interviews to debunking the myths surrounding the young girl who, today, plays such a pivotal role in the American imagination.” Recently Hollywood movie “The New World” is released. This movie is an adult version of the Pocahontas and John Smith romance.   The four hundredth anniversary of Jamestown’s founding was inaugurated, May 2006, that will last for 18 months.

Conclusion:

Helen Rountree’s credits and achievements through this book can be summed up thus. She has thrown fresh light on the life and culture of the native Indians. One is able to understand Jamestown in a better perspective. The indigenous voices are heard. She has shown how important are the lives of Pocahonas, Powhatan and Openchancanough to understand what happened in and to Jamestown in the sixteenth century.

References Cited:

Rountree, Helan C. Book: Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown. Publisher: University of Virginia Press; Edition (June 15, 2006) ISBN-10: 0813925967: ISBN-13: 978-0813925967

Article: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown. Target.comwww.target.com/gp/product/0813925967) Retrieved on 17th September 2007.

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography: Article: Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown.

..www.vahistorical.org/publications/review_rountree.htm – 9k – Retrieved on 17th September 17, 2007

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