Uncovering the true story of Pocahontas
History buffs have long been skeptical of some of the tales told by English settler Captain John Smith, but few know the Native American perspective on this crucial time in America's history. A book published in 2007 raises disturbing questions about the settlers' treatment of Native American princess Pocahontas and now one of book's authors has returned to Charlottesville after seven years in Williamsburg.
"Pocahontas being portrayed as the only 'good' Indian is an underlying element in European and American teaching, but that just isn't true," says Angela Daniel ("Silver Star"), co-author of The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History.
Daniel 52, has had an interest in Native American oral tradition for most of her life. In 2003, after getting a bachelors and masters at UVA and while beginning work on her PhD at William and Mary, she started work with Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow to transcribe the history of the Mattaponi tribe.
Daniel began to see the differences between the oral tradition of the Native Americans and the history taught in most schools, specifically the story of Pocahontas.
"The overwhelming response people gave me was to tell the true story of Pocahontas, but I didn't know what that was," Daniel says. "I had never thought to ask about the Powhatan version of Pocahontas."
The Mattaponi version of the Pocahontas story is vastly different from the Smith version that includes the famous Pocahontas-saved-my-life story. Among the revelations from the book is that Pocahontas did not travel to England as a happy bride to John Rolfe, but that Rolfe abducted her.
Oral tradition is an important component of Native American history. Events were not written down, but rather passed from generation to generation, insuring that stories would be preserved. The Mattaponi story of Pocahontas largely comes from stories told by Pocahontas' sister who accompanied her to England, the journey from which the approximately 22-year-old princess would not return.
Daniel says that the truth about Pocahontas had been kept secret for hundreds of years.
"Society is more open to the Native American perspective now than ever before," she says. "Hopefully, people will want to hear these stories."
The book reveals one horrific detail that Mattaponi oral tradition is clear on– that Pocahontas was raped by her English captors.
Another grim assertion is that Pocahontas did not die from tuberculosis as mainstream scholars have long maintained. Mattaponi oral tradition tells a much more sinister tale that Pocahontas was likely poisoned on the ship bound for Virginia. While the oral tradition gives no clear motive for her poisoning, the book suggests that Pocahontas became aware that she was being used as a pawn in the English quest for dominance in the new world and that her English captors had no intention of letting her return to Virginia.
The book has garnered both criticism and praise. Some doubt the validity of stories that have been passed through word of mouth, while others applaud a new view of the celebrated young woman.
Edith Turner, an anthropologist at UVA, calls the book "path-breaking in its honesty."Read more on: pocahontas