Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Starting in 1995, Pocahontas emerged in the United States through popular media as a young, sexy adult female who famously betrayed her people to save her then lover, Captain John Smith. Although loved by many moviegoers, this is all false. Historians sought to tell the real and true story of Pocahontas that Disney refuses to portray. Throughout Camilla Townsend’s entire work, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, Townsend attempts to tell the full story of the Powhatan people and their interactions with some of English’s first settlers. Townsend reclaims the popular myth perpetrated by Disney and even before that, with some of John Smith’s personal extravagant stories. She provides the readers with three stages of Pocahontas’ life that enable readers to understand and identify with the Powhatan’s people beyond the fabrications of popular media.
Pocahontas first emerges as a young child living near the Chesapeake’s bay, by the name of Amonute. She would hear stories of great boats coming into her father, Powhatan’s, land, with the intention to stay (5). Already, Townsend established a point of sympathy for the Native living on the land. This is their land, the people “had lived in Tsenacomoco for three hundred years” and the culture there “evolving from earlier cultures that had been present for millennia” (22). These settlers coming in with big and powerful boats disrupted the land the Natives had lived in and cultivated for themselves. The cultures and history carried from generations to generations by the Powhatan people gave way to the settlers, who Townsend portrays as invaders. This vividly strikes the reader and forces readers to look beyond the “kinder, gentler, and more spiritual” (14) myths that persist about Native Americans even until this day. Townsend’s portrayal of the settlers shows them in a poor light and thus rendering Powhatan’s struggle against the early Englishmen more poignant.
As the settlers attempt to live and survive in Jamestown, Amonute, now named Pocahontas, appears as a young, mischievous noble visiting the struggling town with curiosity and purpose. When the English captured some Indian hostages, Powhatan sent Pocahontas on her first visit to the fort to try and secure the prisoners’ release (69). The negotiation proved successful. After this, Pocahontas began to visit the fort more often, thus sharpening her language skills, making her “more powerful – more welcomed at the fort, and more important to her father” (71). It is interesting to note that Townsend remarks that Pocahontas is more welcomed at the fort given the fact that relationships between the two nations were not at all peaceful. By implying her welcoming status, the betrayal will only be more heartbreaking. In addition, Townsend acknowledges that historians lack the proper evidence that will give them a better understanding of Pocahontas’s thoughts and personality, stating that historians can only read between the lines of what the white settlers written about Pocahontas, and even then it is not much since “the colonists make clear how little they care” (71-72). The author depicts Pocahontas and her people curiosity about the settlers. They wanted more information on the threat, whereas the settlers were indifferent towards her visits to the fort. This dispels the notion that Natives looked upon white settlers as some holy savior.
Pocahontas eventually married and was whisked off to London to showcase, although now an adult, she prefers the name Matoaka. Her marriage was the result of kidnapped and imprisonment. She spent some time with Reverend Alexander Whitaker, who schooled her in Christian education (113). Through Whitaker, she and her not-yet husband, John Rolfe, meet. The Disney retelling of Pocahontas’s story noted that she married John Smith after saving him from her father, however, the true marriage lies between Pocahontas and John Rolfe, a widower who is relatively new to the settlement. Townsend confesses that no one really knew how Pocahontas really felt about Rolfe but she must have found him “interesting” (120) for her to marry him, if only for political advantage. One of the biggest myths still prevalent today is the marriage between Pocahontas and John Smith, which simply did not happen. Townsend provided the truth and also added additional comments in an attempt to justify Pocahontas’ action.
In an attempt to provide a true account of Pocahontas and her people, the author utilizes many sources. However, Pocahontas and the Powhatan people left no written records and can historians only “make judicious use of what we have” (211). The lack of evidence from the Native impairs any form of objectivity the author has. There is evidence of bias towards the Powhatan people throughout the book, thus degrading the value of this particular account. Of course, Townsend does utilize many historical facts and data to illustrate to the readers a more accurate representation of Pocahontas and her people. In this case, some bias is necessary to unravel the truth, or rather, a more truthful myth. While Camilla Townsend attempts to provide a true story of Pocahontas and the Powhatan people, it would also appear that at certain parts, she was using Pocahontas’s story to tell the story of the Jamestown’s settlers. Nonetheless, Disney’s domination of this popular story allows no room for Pocahontas’ true story amongst children.