Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Death of Pocahontas, 1617

         “As long as I live.” When Pocahontas spoke those words to John Smith, she had only a little time left. When she and her husband John Rolfe and their two-year-old son, Thomas, set sail for Virginia in March 1617, Pocahontas became ill. The nature of her illness is not known, but she was so sick that she begged to be taken ashore. She died at Gravesend, and her funeral was March 21, 1617, at St. George’s Church, in the little town of St. George’s, Gravesend, Kent. The church was destroyed by a fire in 1727, and the location of Pocahontas’s grave is unknown.

         Here is her husband’s account of her death, in JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL:

         “It was sudden—so unlooked for.” Rolfe gazed long and thoughtfully into his cup of sack as the others waited in silence. “I still can’t believe she has gone.” He paused, struggling for control of his grief. “She took sick after we came back from Brentford, and it being such wet, chilly weather in London, she could not get warm, somehow. Even when she sat by the fire all day, she was cold. We gave her hot milk possets to drink, and a doctor came and bled her, but it did no good at all. It came time for us to sail.” He glanced at Argall. “Samuel had the ship provisioned and ready, and Pocahontas was still not well, but she said she would go. She was so brave.”
         He looked at his three rapt listeners as if seeking confirmation of that fact, and then he went on, “She knew the Company was anxious for the ship to be off, with the supplies and all, and with Samuel and me to take up our duties here, and she would not hear of our delaying on her account. So we set sail on the twentieth of March. But by the time we had got to Gravesend, Pocahontas had to take to her bed. Breath came hard for her, and she was cold—so cold.” He shook his head. “We tried to keep her warm with hot bricks and a little warming stove, but they did no good. At last she begged me to take her ashore, so she might get warm before she died.” Rolfe cleared his throat. “And she asked if there was any way we could bury her on English soil.” He put his head in his hands and was silent for a moment.
         “She need not have worried. I was not about to bury her at sea,” Samuel Argall said softly. “Even if she hadn’t asked, John, you know I’d have put in at Gravesend for her.”
         “We carried her to the rector’s house near the church there,” Rolfe went on. “He prayed with her, and she was very glad of that. She said she hoped to meet Jesus, and she thanked us all—” Here he broke down and sobbed. . . .
          “She died some while before noon, and we buried her that same day. March the twenty-first, it was. We buried her in the chancel at St. George’s Church.” Leaning back, Rolfe took a drink from his silver cup. “I shall have to go and tell Powhatan. I dread that.”
         See more from the novel at

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Pocahontas and John Smith: The Farewell, 1617

Their reunion at Syon House, continued:

         Pocahontas touched his cheek, letting her finger trace the line where his beard began. The skin that she remembered as tanned and ruddy, almost as tawny as her own, was pale now, and two deep lines had etched themselves on his forehead between his eyes. The thick sandy hair was thinner on top now, though still full at the back and sides, and there was no gray in it.
         “How old?” she said, smiling at him.
         “Thirty-seven this past January.”
         “And I am twenty-two.”
         “Ah, Pocahontas, dearest Pocahontas!” With forced cheerfulness, he held her at arm’s length, pretending to examine her. “You will be a good wife to John Rolfe.” Tenderly, he put his hand under her chin and lifted it. “You are better off where you are, and I, where I am, even if it’s where I don’t want to be. God knows what’s best for us on this earth. You know that, don’t you?”
         “I do not know much about your God,” she said slowly. “Indian gods want people to be happy. Yours seems to want them to be sad. But if that is what you want, then I will be sad.”
         He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “No, you’ll not be sad. Promise me—” There was a catch in his voice. “Promise me you’ll not be sad, but that you’ll think of me sometimes.”
         She rose to her feet, shivering slightly in the chill of the great hall. “Yes, she said softly, “Oh, yes, my John Smith, I’ll think of you. I’ll think of you as long as I live.”


Saturday, January 16, 2016

“You were very young then, Pocahontas.”

         The 1617 meeting of Pocahontas and John Smith, continues as Smith speaks to Pocahontas in the great hall:

         “I told them that we were going to speak in your language,” he said in Algonquin, “and that if we were alone, you might speak more freely about your father and the Indians in Virginia.” He winked, and then grew solemn. Taking her by both hands, he drew her closer to the fire. “Let me look at you.” His gaze moved slowly from the ornamented coif that bound her hair, to the cambric ruffles at her throat, to the red velvet gown, to the small gold ring that was her wedding band. “What happened to that little girl in the doeskin apron?” he said softly. “The one who used to turn cartwheels round and round the palisade?” Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Ah, Pocahontas, you are truly a princess now, a king’s daughter, indeed.” He was still speaking in Algonquin, but Pocahontas spoke to him in English.
         “I am not my father’s daughter anymore,” she said. “He does not love me, nor I him. But he loved you, and he told you that what was his, was yours.” She looked into the fire.
         “You were very young then, Pocahontas.” Smith looked away. Was he thinking, as she was, of that November night at Werowocomoco when she had danced the love-dance for him?
         “I am not so young now,” she said. “And you have no woman.” She did not know that for a fact; she was guessing.
         “No, Pocahontas.” There was a note of resignation, of sadness in his voice. “You are not young, and I have no woman. But you have a husband.”
         “He wants to go back to Virginia,” she said. “But I want to stay in England. I want to be forever and ever English, like you.”
         John Smith laughed bitterly. “But I want to go back to Virginia. I would give my right arm to go back, and here you are, trying to stay.”
         “Then why don’t you go?” she asked, and then she paused. “I would like to go back to Virginia, if you went.”
         “I can’t go back.” He sighed. “My wound kept me idle far too long, and others took my place. Now I cannot raise the money to go back as I’d like.” Catching hold of her hand, he sat down on a settle by the fire, and drew her down beside him. He did not let go her hand, but put his other hand on top of it with an affectionate little slap. “Now, Pocahontas, I have no prospects, and I am getting old.” He tried to speak lightly, but neither of them laughed.

excerpt from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, to be continued.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pocahontas and John Smith: A kiss and a familiar voice

         Percy and Dale bowed low to Pocahontas, but John Smith quickly crossed the room, went down one knee before her, and kissed her hand. He will feel how cold it is, she thought. That was all she could think of. His fingers were warm in her palm, his beard prickly against the back of her hand.
         Slowly he raised his eyes to hers and said, “Welcome to England, Princerss Pocahontas.”
         Pocahontas caught her breath and turned her head away. At the sound of his voice on the syllables of her name, she felt as if he had walked up to her and suddenly fondled her breasts. Blushing, she could feel her cheeks growing as hot as her hands had been cold. She could not speak with him here, before these other men.
         “I am very glad to see you,” he said loudly, but I have business to talk before I can take pleasure in your company.” The slight pressure of his hand on hers told her that he had understood. “Do me the honor of waiting here.”
         Somehow he persuaded the others to leave, on the pretext of inspecting Sir Henry’s garden. People generally did what John Smith told them to, Pocahontas thought. It was a long time before he came back.

--more from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, to be continued.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Pocahontas and John Smith meet again. . . .

         [“John” was not John Smith, but John Rolfe, Pocahontas’s devoted husband.]

         “There is someone here who wants to see you. . . . As John led her toward the great hall, she heard men’s voices, and then a familiar laugh, a deep, throaty chuckle, made her pull back.
         So he had come at last.
         “What is it?” Her husband was looking at her in total bewilderment.
         “I don’t know,” she said. How could she explain to him that she did not want to be in the same room with him and the man she had loved since she was thirteen? Just hearing that laughter made her knees weak. What would she feel when she saw him? Was this some kind of game these Englishmen were playing with her, keeping her from seeing him for so long, and now, when I suited them, presenting her to him for their amusement?
         “Then come on,” John said cheerfully. “The company is waiting.”
         Her hands had grown suddenly ice-cold. If only I had a muff, she thought frantically,and then she remembered that muffs were only for outdoors, no matter how cold your hands were. Stupid, these English were, about some things. All stupid, except for John Smith. She lifted her chin, clutched her husband’s arm, and swept into the cavernous, tapestry-hung hall, her red velvet gown trailing behind her. Three men were standing with their backs to her, facing the warmth of the huge fireplace. 
         “Here she is,” Rolfe said proudly, and they all wheeled around. There was George Percy, much healthier looking than when he had been at Jamestown. There was Thomas Dale, without the Indian mistress he had yearned to bring back, looking vaguely discontented.
         The third was John Smith.

--from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, to be continued.