Saturday, May 28, 2016

Pocahontas: What’s in a Name?

         Donald Trump recently called Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas, a name that is offensive in some usages to Native Americans, especially women. Every school child in America knows who Pocahontas was, bur not many know her other names.

         When John Smith met her in 1608, she was a little girl of ten or so. Pocahontas was her nickname. It meant Little Mischief. Her real name was Matoaka, an Algonquin Indian name of unknown meaning. It has been said to mean Bright Stream between the Hills, or One Who Kindles, but who knows? The first record of it is in a letter by a Virginia colonist in 1614, when she married another colonist, John Rolfe. If, as some have suggested, Matoaka was Pocahontass secret name, kept secret by a superstitious fear of hurt by the English, (Samuel Purchas, 1625), we have no proof that this was so. If Pocahontass secret name might cause the English to harm her, why did she let it appear in A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia, a public relations tract put out by the Virginia Company in 1615?
         Her other name was Rebecca, given her when she was baptized as a Christian in 1614.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Jamestown: "Savages" and "Foreigners" meet.

        Four hundred and nine years ago this month, in May 1607, a small group of Englishmen exploring Virginia met an Indian werowance (or chief). This werowance had invited them to visit him, and he came out to meet them. One of the Englishmen, George Percy, wrote that this chief wore  “a crown of deer’s hair colored red in fashion of a rose fastened about his knot of hair, and a great plate of copper on the other side of his head, with two long feathers in fashion of a pair of horns placed in the middle of his crown, his body was painted all with crimson, with a chain of beads about his neck, his face painted blue, besprinkled with silver ore as we thought, his ears all behung with bracelets of pearl, and in either ear a bird’s claw through it beset with fine copper or gold. . . .”  
         --George Percy, “Observations . . . in Virginia . . .  1606.
        Besides that, this werowance was walking to meet them and playing a flute made of a reed.
         Seventeenth-century Englishmen weren’t the only ones who liked ceremonies and dressed elaborately. Yet the English colonists called the Indians “savages.”
         The Indians, more politely, called the English “foreigners.” 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Jamestowne Talk

Giving a talk for the Jamestowne Society today about JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL.
"From History to Fiction--and Back."

More about John Smith to come.