Manataka American Indian Council
The Pocahontas Myth
By Chief Roy Crazy Horse, Powhatan Nation
In 1995, Roy Disney decided to release an animated movie about a Powhatan woman known as "Pocahontas." In answer to a complaint by the Powhatan Nation, he claims the film is "responsible, accurate, and respectful." We of the Powhatan Nation disagree. The film distorts history beyond recognition. Our offers to assist Disney with cultural and historical accuracy were rejected. Our efforts urging him to reconsider his misguided mission were spurned.
"Pocahontas" was a nickname, meaning "the naughty one" or "spoiled child." Her real name was Matoaka. The legend is that she saved a heroic John Smith from being clubbed to death by her father in 1607 (she would have been only about 10 or 11 at the time). More accurately, Smith's fellow colonists described him as an abrasive, ambitious, self-promoting mercenary soldier.
Of all of Powhatan's children, only "Pocahontas" is known,
primarily because she became the hero of Euro-Americans as the "good
Indian," one who saved the life of a white man. Not only does Disney
predictably use the "good Indian/bad Indian" theme, but the history,
as recorded by the English themselves, is badly falsified in the
name of entertainment. In truth, the first time John Smith
told the story about his rescue was 17 years after it happened, and it was
but one of three reported stories by the pretentious Smith in which
he was saved from death by a prominent woman.
Yet in an account Smith wrote after his winter stay with Powhatan's people, he never mentioned such an incident. In fact, the starving adventurer reported he had been kept comfortable and treated in a friendly fashion as an honored guest of Powhatan's brothers. Most scholars think that the "Pocahontas incident" would have been highly unlikely, especially since it was part of a longer account used as justification to wage war on Powhatan's Nation.
Euro-Americans must ask themselves why it has been so important to elevate Smith's fibbing to status as a national myth worthy of being recycled again by Disney. Disney embellishes upon the story even further by changing Pocahontas from a little girl into a young woman.
The true Pocahontas story has a sad ending. In 1612, at the age of 17, Pocahontas was treacherously taken prisoner by the English while on a social visit to Jamestown, and was held hostage for over a year.
During her captivity, a 28-year old widower named John Rolfe
took "special interest" in the attractive young prisoner. As a
condition of her release, she agreed to marry Rolfe, who the world
can thank for commercializing tobacco. Thus, in April 1614, Matoka,
also known as "Pocahontas," daughter of Chief Powhatan, became
Rebecca Rolfe. Shortly after, they had a son, Thomas Rolfe. Descendants were known as the "Red
Two years later in the Spring of 1616, Rolfe took his wife to England where the Virginia Company of London used her in their propaganda campaign to support the colony. She was wined and dined and taken to theaters. It was recorded that on one occasion when she encountered John Smith, she was so furious with him that she turned her back on him, hid her face, and went off by herself for several hours. Later, in a second encounter, she called him a liar and showed him the door. Rolfe, his young wife, and their son set off for Virginia in March of 1617, but Rebecca had to be taken off the ship at Gravesend. She died there on March 21, 1617, at the age of 21.
She was buried at Gravesend, but the grave was destroyed in a reconstruction of the church. It was only after her death and her fame in London society that Smith found it convenient to invent the yarn that she had rescued him.
History tells the rest. Chief Powhatan died the following spring of 1618. The people of Smith and Rolfe turned upon the people who had shared their resources with them and had shown them friendship. During Pocahontas' generation, Powhatan's people were decimated and dispersed and their lands taken over, setting a clear pattern which would soon spread across the American continent.
While Euro-Americans may find it embarrassing, unfortunately, Disney makes entertainment of this sad story and perpetuates a dishonest, self-serving myth at the expense of the Powhatan Nation.
Chief Roy Crazy Horse, Powhatan Nation
[Editor's Note: Matoaka, otherwise known as Pocahontas and Rebecca Rolfe gave birth to one child, Thomas. She was not a "princess" - the Powhatan Nation does not recognize royalty.]
We give NO credit to the obvious copyright holder of the cartoon drawings depicted on this page. They stole the story, so we steal their pictures.
and the Strangers
Reading Level: Ages 4 to 8
Scholastic Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 1995)
Jamestown, John Smith, and Pocahontas
by Judith Edwards
Reading level: Ages 9-12 Library Binding: 128 pages
Enslow Publishers, Inc. (February 2002)
Pocahontas: The Life and the Legend
by Frances Mossiker
Reading Level: Adult Paperback: 383 pages
DaCapo Press; Reprint edition (April 1996)
ISBN: 0306806991 $13.75
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