The True Story of Pocahontas is the first public publication of the Powhatan perspective that has been maintained and passed down from generation to generation within the Mattaponi Tribe, and the first written history of Pocahontas by her own people.
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About the Author
Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow was born on the Mattaponi Reservation in West Point, the eldest son of Chief Daniel Webster "Little Eagle" and Mary "White Feather" Custalow. Early in life he was given the mission of learning the oral history of his tribe and of the Powhatan Nation as passed down by his father and his grandfather. Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star" has strived to learn and preserve the oral history of the Powhatan people so it can be passed down to future generations. The late Chief Webster "Little Eagle" Custalow honored Daniel by giving her the name "Silver Star." He encouraged her to learn and pass on the oral history of the Mattaponi.
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The True Story of Pocahontas
The Other Side of History
By Linwood Custalow, Angela L. Daniel
Fulcrum PublishingCopyright © 2007 Mattaponi Eagle Trust, Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow, and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star"
All rights reserved.
Pocahontas: A Favorite Child
The story of Pocahontas is first and foremost a great love story. The love that was the moving force within Pocahontas's life was the spiritual bond and filial affection between Pocahontas and her father, Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, and the love they had for the Powhatan people. Wahunsenaca was the paramount chief of the Powhatan nation.
Pocahontas and Wahunsenaca's father-daughter relation-ship was so strong that even the English colonists recognized that Pocahontas was the favorite child of the paramount chief. What the English colonists did not know was why Pocahontas was held so dearly in the heart of this paramount chief. After all, Wahunsenaca had many children.
Customs were different in seventeenth-century Powhatan culture. Being the paramount chief of the Powhatan chiefdom, called Tsenacomoca, Wahunsenaca married young maidens from each of the tribes within the alliance. The tradition was to infuse all the tribes with blood from the primary leader and to provide relational ties and obligations throughout the chiefdom to unite the tribes under one paramount leader and enlarge the Powhatan nation.
It was a great honor for a young woman to be asked by her tribe to be taken in marriage with the paramount chief. She could decline, if she so desired. Women were not forced into marriage, not even with the paramount chief. However, this was considered not only a great honor, but it provided the woman with a great deal of political and social clout. Few would have declined the opportunity. If a woman refused, the position would have been filled quickly by a woman who was agreeable to the arrangement.
These were alliance marriages — not marriages of love, but of politics and agreement. Love marriages were more permanent. An alliance marriage was meant to seal the alliance between the Powhatan nation and the incoming tribe. It was a temporary marriage in order to infuse royal blood into the alliance tribe and to establish kinship ties. This custom was limited to the paramount chief of the Powhatan nation. After the alliance wife gave birth, she had the choice of living in Werowocomoco, the secular capital village of the Powhatan nation, or returning to her village. Due to the prestigious nature of this position in Powhatan society, the alliance wife would have had no difficulty in finding a "real" husband. Instead, she would have been highly sought after for marriage. She would have been highly esteemed.
The mother of little Pocahontas was Wahunsenaca's first wife; her name was also Pocahontas. They were married before he became the paramount chief. The mother of little Pocahontas was his wife of choice, the wife of love to Wahunsenaca. The marriages to the young maidens from the alliance tribes held more of a sense of responsibility and obligation to the welfare of Tsenacomoca, the entire chiefdom. The mother of little Pocahontas was his wife of love, not of compliance to customs; therefore, Pocahontas's mother held a special place in Wahunsenaca's heart.
Sadly, Pocahontas's mother died while giving birth to Pocahontas. Wahunsenaca was devastated. Overcome with grief, he found a spiritual connection to his lost wife in their child. Little Pocahontas was given the name Matoaka at birth. Matoaka translates as "flower between two streams." The name was most likely given to her because the Mattaponi village was located between the Mattaponi and the Pamunkey (York) Rivers. Matoaka's parents were from the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes — her mother was Mattaponi; her father was Pamunkey.
When the woman of his heart died, Matoaka was all Wahunsenaca had remaining of the woman he had cherished. Due to Wahunsenaca's great love for his beloved wife, he often called his daughter Pocahontas after her mother, for her mother's name was Pocahontas. Pocahontas means "laughing and joyous one."
There was no question that Pocahontas was his favorite child. It is as if he said to himself, "I really have to go all out and love this baby because I lost everything I had to get her!" It was that type of love. If the baby had been a boy, he would have been a special boy, but it was more special because Pocahontas was a female. She resembled her mother, making Wahunsenaca especially caring as a father.
Wahunsenaca decided that it would be better for little Pocahontas to be nurtured by the women in the Mattaponi tribe than at Werowocomoco. The people of the Mattaponi village were her closest relatives and they would give her special attention and tender care because she was a part of them. Little Pocahontas needed breast milk. Her aunts and cousins, who were nursing, were more than willing to nurture little Pocahontas. They had a special love for her. In essence, Wahunsenaca felt like they would nurture little Pocahontas as their own child.
It was the way of the Powhatan people to care for those in need, such as the elderly, widows, and orphans. To take in a relative in need went unquestioned, so the baby was welcomed with enthusiasm and love. Instead of one mother, Pocahontas had many, as the women of the tribe took turns nursing her. This may be one reason why as a child she became so friendly with everyone.
Little Pocahontas was not the only child born to Wahunsenaca and his wife Pocahontas. Little Pocahontas had numerous older brothers and sisters by her parents. Little Pocahontas was born late in her parents' lives. Most of her older full brothers and sisters were adults and held prominent positions in Powhatan society. Her eldest full sister, Mattachanna, was married to Uttamattamakin, a priest of the highest order.
Their names reveal their tribal affiliations and social status. Mattachanna came from the Mattaponi tribe; Matta, as in the name of the Mattaponi tribe, is attached to channa, the root of her personal name. Uttamattamakin's name signifies that he was from the Uttamusak Temple, the highest temple for the Powhatan nation, which housed the highest order of Powhatan quiakros (priests), and was also from the Mattaponi tribe. The Utta in Uttamattamakin's name signifies his association with the Uttamusak Temple. Utta is followed by matta, which also indicates his association with the Mattaponi tribe.
Two of little Pocahontas's elder brothers by her Mattaponi mother were chiefs. Parahunt was the chief of the Powhatan tribe; the Powhatan tribe was the headquarters of the priests, or quiakros [ke-ä-kros]. Pochins was chief of the Kecoughtan tribe. There could have been more; some of them may have been in the priesthood line. Wahunsenaca set them in higher positions.
Being related to Wahunsenaca brought on expectations of setting a good example to the Powhatan people. Greater responsibilities and duties rested on the shoulders of Wahunsenaca's family members.
After little Pocahontas was weaned, her father, Wahunsenaca, requested she live with him at the capital village of Werowocomoco, where her eldest full sister, Mattachanna, cared for her.
Everyone loved little Pocahontas for her laughing and joyous nature. Although Wahunsenaca had other children by Pocahontas's mother and children by his alliance wives, he had a special love for Pocahontas, and she, in return, had a special love and respect for her father. She was always doing something to make her father laugh — a gesture, perhaps, that would remind him of her mother, not necessarily because the behavior was similar, but he would remember his wife and love Pocahontas all the more because of the fact that she came from the mother who died for Wahunsenaca to have her. Little Pocahontas brightened Wahunsenaca's heart.
He was also very protective of Pocahontas. He saw that Pocahontas was watched over carefully, and he kept her close to him. By the time Pocahontas was ten years old, the bond between father and daughter had grown deep and strong.
So enduring was her love for her father that the story of Pocahontas cannot be told without talking about Wahunsenaca. All their actions were motivated by their love for each other. Wahunsenaca did everything he could to protect his daughter. In all that she did, through all that she endured, Pocahontas was guided by her love and respect for her father and for her people. Her love for her father never wavered, even though events to come would force them both onto a tragic path.CHAPTER 2
Captain John Smith: An English Chief
Pocahontas was about ten years old when the English colonists arrived in Tsenacomoca during the spring of 1607. She was living with her father at Werowocomoco, the secular capital of the Powhatan nation. Her father, Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, was the paramount chief of the Powhatan nation.
Seventeenth-century Powhatan society had a clear division between childhood and adulthood. The distinction was marked by physical appearance as well as what types of behavior were permitted or not allowed. Physical appearance was evident in clothing — or the lack thereof — and hairstyle. Children could go naked and barefoot until they started coming of age. Their hair was not cut until they came of age. There were also distinct things that a child was not allowed to participate in.
These cultural standards applied to Wahunsenaca's children as well. As a child, Pocahontas could not have surpassed the cultural boundaries pertaining to children. Regardless of how deep Wahunsenaca's affections were for Pocahontas, even he would not have expected the quiakros (priests), warriors, or adult women to bend the social rules for Pocahontas. Instead of spoiling the children of chiefs, people expected more responsibility and discipline of them. To meet these high standards, children of chiefs were provided more supervision and training.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, Powhatan children did not run wild. They were watched over with attention and care. Children ensured the continuity of the Powhatan people. They were protected from harm by all possible means. Being a member of the royal family, Pocahontas would have been supervised at all times. She may have been provided even more security due to her favored status with her father.
Captain John Smith was twenty-seven years old when he arrived with the other colonists in the land they often referred to as the New World. He was not an upper-class Englishman of high social status. Instead, he was an adventurer.
The English colonists called Pocahontas's father Chief Powhatan or simply Powhatan. They did not understand why the paramount chief had different names. Besides Chief Powhatan or Wahunsenaca, he was also called Mamanatowick, Ottaniack, as well as Werowance Powhatan Wahunsenaca. The English colonists did not understand that Wahunsenaca was his personal name, whereas the other terms referred to his political position as paramount chief. For instance, today the term president in the context of the president of the United States is a positional name,whereas the personal name of the president changes according to who is in office. Mamanatowick and ottaniack are nongendered positional terms that the Powhatan people used to refer to the paramount chief. On the other hand, werowance is a gender-specific Powhatan word. Wero translates as "secular leader" or "commander," whereas the ending -ance indicates that the commander is a male. A female leader would be called a werowancesquaw, ending in -squaw. In order to distinguish the paramount chief from a tribal or village chief, often the word Powhatan would be used after the word werowance. The word Powhatan was the name of the nation. Thus, Werowance Powhatan means "male commander of the Powhatan nation." Wahunsenaca was his personal name.
The Powhatan nation comprised six original tribes with other tribes in its alliance, together totaling more than thirty tribes. Most of the tribes had their own secular chief, or werowance. An alliance tribe did not have to have a werowance, but every village that came under the Powhatan structure had to have at least one, if not more, quiakro, or Powhatan priest. If a village did not already have a quiakro, priests would be set up in that village for them from the larger pool of quiakros within the Powhatan nation. However, most of these incoming villages already had priests who were familiar with the ways of the Powhatan priests because they communicated with each other. They all spoke the Algonquian language, and the dialect was the same as with any other tribe of the Powhatan nation.
The political structure in the Powhatan nation was balanced between the werowances, secular chiefs, and the quiakros, the Powhatan priests. The quiakros held the power to accept or reject proposals made during council among the secular chiefs. In essence, the quiakros had the final word. The quiakros held different positions within the Powhatan society. Some were spiritual leaders, political advisors, medical doctors, historians, and they enforced Powhatan norms of behavior. Another job of the quiakros was to gain, maintain, and analyze intelligence information. They would circulate through the villages to catch the tone of the villagers, hear what was being said, and monitor situations. They paid close attention to the movement of outside tribes and the actions of Europeans.
When the English colonists reached the shores of Powhatan land, various Powhatan werowances, tribal chiefs, sought to entertain them and procure friendly relations and trade. Meanwhile, the quiakros kept a close watch on the English colonists and began discussing the situation of their arrival and their building a fort. The quiakros had to decide how to contain the English colonists. Rather than going in and destroying the English colonists, which they could have done in the first days of the colonists' arrival, the quiakros wanted to try to contain them, to make them allies and part of the Powhatan nation. Wahunsenaca and the quiakros were in agreement in this strategy. Thus, from the Powhatan perspective, the Powhatan showed friendship to the English colonists from the beginning of their arrival.
Approximately six months later, during the winter of 1607, English colonist Smith took some men with him to explore the territory. They ventured deeper inside the territory ofTsenacomoca along the Chickahominy River. Powhatan warriors were out hunting for food when they discovered the colonists. By this time, the presence of the English fort on Jamestown Island was well known among the Powhatan people. A skirmish ensued, ending with Smith being taken captive by Opechancanough and the party of Powhatan warriors.
Opechancanough was a younger brother of Wahunsenaca, and he was the werowance of the Pamunkey. Most of the Powhatan warriors were probably Pamunkey because the Pamunkey at that time had more warriors than any other tribe. It is likely that there were also warriors from the Youghtanund and the Mattaponi tribes because they lived in close proximity to each other and often worked together.
Many of the Powhatan people were afraid of the English because they used "thunder sticks" to kill them. They had begun to believe that Smith was like a deity because of his gun and sword. When Smith went into any village, he would take four or five armed English colonists with him. They would traumatize the people with their weapons to the point that they would give Smith what he wanted to get him to leave. For instance, Smith would pretend to come into a village in a friendly manner. When he was in close proximity to the chief of the village, he would put his pistol to the chief's head, demanding a ransom of food in exchange for the chief's release. Smith and his men would proceed to take all the corn and food in the village. As they left, Smith would throw down a few blue beads, claiming to have "traded" with the Powhatan people.
Opechancanough took Smith around to various villages to demonstrate to our people that he was as human as the Powhatan were. The purpose was to show that Smith did not possess supernatural powers, to demonstrate that he was not a deity. Opechancanough proved that Smith was a mortal because the Powhatan were able to capture him, indicating that Smith was not out of their domain of control. It is most likely that the directive to Opechancanough to take Smith around to the villages came from Pocahontas's father, Wahunsenaca, after consulting with the quiakros. The quiakros did not like the fact that our people were deifying Smith.
Excerpted from The True Story of Pocahontas by Linwood Custalow, Angela L. Daniel. Copyright © 2007 Mattaponi Eagle Trust, Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow, and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star". Excerpted by permission of Fulcrum Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsMaps: Tsenacomoca 1607-1613 and Present-Day Virginia....................xiii
Foreword Why Tell the Story Now? Letter from Mattaponi Chief Carl "Lone Eagle" Custalow....................xvii
Prefaces Who We Are by Dr Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow....................xix
The Other Side of History by Angela L Daniel "Silver Star"....................xxv
Part One Introduction How to Tell the Story?....................1
Chapter One Pocahontas: A Favorite Child....................5
Chapter Two Captain John Smith: An English Chief....................11
Chapter Three Pocahontas: The Powhatan Peace Symbol....................23
Chapter Four Powhatan Rule: Not by Force....................29
Chapter Five Danger in Pocahontas's Homeland....................35
Chapter Six Pocahontas Comes of Age....................41
Part Two Chapter Seven Pocahontas Kidnapped....................47
Chapter Eight No Retaliation....................55
Chapter Nine Marriage in Captivity....................61
Chapter Ten The Colony Saved by the Powhatan....................71
Chapter Eleven Pocahontas's Revelation....................79
Chapter Twelve Murder in England....................83
Epilogue In the Years That Followed....................89
Afterword The Other Side of History by Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, PhD....................99
Chronology of Events from 1580 to 1618....................109
About the Authors....................127