THE LEGEND OF POWHATAN.
Meanwhile treachery was at work without and within. The villians at the fort plotted with Powhatan to betray it. The Indians were being taught that King James would kill Smith for his ill-treatment of them. Besides these obstacles, the Virginia Company was greatly dissatisfied. A considerable investment of money in the colony had brought no return. The North Sea was undiscovered. This was without excuse, argued the London magistrates, when only a little longer trip, twenty, thirty, or forty miles would, doubtless, have brought the colonists to the other ocean. What want of courage and common sense was show by not pushing the matter! Besides, there were yet no cargoes of gold pigs or even copper pigs sent home. There must be gold there. Every one said there was. Probably Smith was amassing a fortune, and his colony rolling in a life of wealth and luxury, while he left the Honorable Board of Directors to hold the bag. No doubt there were mountain ranges of solid gold in Virginia, but the directors were not fault-finding. A certain report of one single mountain, or even hill, of gold would be satisfactory. Even a very little hill, say two hundred feet high and two thousand feet in circumference, if it were not full of caves, would be quite comforting. Such a modest demand, they argued, ought to be complied with.
Thus, at war with the Indians, betrayed by his own men, and misrepresented and abused by the English capitalists, Smith, no doubt, felt that, after all his hardships, his fall was at hand. Lord De La Ware and others obtained a new charter and commission from the English king. Preparations, more elaborate than for any previous expedition, were made. Several ships in the fleet were wrecked by a storm. Those which reached Jamestown brought many enemies of Smith, and a great crowd of the London riff-raff. Smith, not yet formally superseded, continued to exert his authority.
To relieve the Jamestown settlement somewhat of its unruly elements, Smith planned two new settlements, one under Captain West and one under Martin. Each, with its proportion of provisions, set out in high glee. Martin and his men went to Nausemon. The poor savages received him kindly, but the novice mistook their noisy mirth, as they celebrated his arrival, for hostility, and falling on the wretch Indians, captured their poor, naked king and his houses. The work of fortification was begun, and the savages, divining Martin's fear, attacked him, released their king, killed several men and captured a thousand bushels of corn which Martin had traded for.
The other expedition pitched its settlement in low, swampy ground, liable to inundation, and well suited to breed fevers among the men. To remedy this mistake Smith, still the president, sent to Powhatan proposing to buy the town called Powhatan, for the new settlement. A treaty was at last made between them, by the term of which Powhatan agreed to resign the town, its forts and houses, with the entire region thereabouts to the English. The latter, in return, were to defend him and his dominions from the Monacans, and to pay annually a certain proportion of copper. All thieves were to be promptly returned to their own people for punishment. Each house of Powhatan's was to annually furnish one bushel of corn in exchange for a cubic inch of copper. When this treaty of trade and friendship was completed, the swaggerers and roustabouts of the settlement denied Smith's authority, and refused to stir an inch from their swamp. In attempting to quell the mutiny Smith barely escaped with his life. Well knowing the importance of keeping faith with Powhatan, he exerted all his skill to induce the men to take advantage of the treaty. But the settlement had the notion that the Monacan country was full of gold, that they could prevent any one else than themselves from visiting it, and that Smith's desire to remove them was prompted by his wish to secure access to the gold fields for himself.
Meanwhile, Powhatan's people began to complain bitterly to Smith. The old emperor sent messengers, saying that those whom he had brought for their protectors were worse enemies than the Monacans themselves; that these "protectors stole their corn, robbed their gardens, broke open their houses, beat them, and put many in prison; that, heretofore, out of love for him, they had borne these wrongs, but after this they must defend themselves." The shrewd old diplomate also offered to fight with Smith against the settlement and quell the mutiny, which he was keen enough to perceive and understand.
Failing in his well-meant efforts, Smith sailed away. Accidents are sometimes fortunate. His ship ran aground. Messengers cam e running, begging him to return. In the brief interval since his departure, Powhatan's enraged people had made an attack, killing many of the settlement. Smith returned, restored order, removed the colony to the town Powhatan, where they found a fort capable of defense against all the savages in Virginia, good warm and dry houses to live in, and two hundred acres of land ready for planting corn. This comfortable and secure place was called Non-such. Hardly were they well settled, when the old infatuation seized them. Mutiny broke out. Smith, seeing the mutineers bent on their own destruction, gave up in despair and left them forever. They at once abandoned the eligible lodges and fort at Non-such to return to the open air, and poisoned at that, of the old swamp.
Misfortunes come not singly but in whole battalions. As Smith was returning to Jamestown, disgusted at the folly he had witnessed, a bag of powder in the boat was accidentally fire, tearing the flesh from his body and thighs and inflicting terrible burns. In his agony he leaped into the river, and was barely saved from drowning. Lack both doctor and nurse, flat on his back at the fort, suffering untold torments from the wounds, poor Smith succumed at last. His enemies deposed him; a plot to murder him in his bed was almost consummated, an elaborate indictment for his misdeeds was drawn up, and on September 29, 1609, he sailed away from the inhospitable shores of Virginia to return no more--
Powhatan at once commenced active hostilities.
Henry Spelman was an English boy whom Smith had given to Powhatan in the trade for the town of the same name. He had afterwards left Powhatan and returned to the fort. Powhatan sent Thomas Savage, the other boy whom Newport had given him, to Jamestown on an errand. Savage complained of loneliness, and easily persuaded Spelman to return with him. Powhatan now made use of him by sending word to the fort that he would sell them corn if they would come up for it. It may be easily believed that supplies were running low, now that Smith was no longer there to plan and execute methods for their procurement. An expedition of thirty-eight men set out at once. No suspicion of treachery was felt. As the boat landed, the Indians, who lay in ambush, sprang forth in overpowering numbers and killed every man in the party except Spelman, who was returning with them. He fled through the woods, made known his distress to Pocahontas, whose tender heart seems to have been ever responsive to misfortune. Through he help he was hidden for a while, furnished with provisions by her own hand, and then assisted to secret flight.
Powhatan henceforth haughtily refused all trade. The forests were filled with lurking savages. Many a man went out from the fort to hunt game who never returned. Such food as they had on hand was consumed and wasted by the officers. The colonists bartered away their very swords and guns, with which alone corn could be procured. Of the five hundred colonists at the time of Smith's departure there remained, at the end of six months, only sixty, and these subsisted chiefly on "roots, herbs, acorns, walnuts, and berries, and now and then a little fish." It is almost impossible to believe the stories of this "starving time." The corpses of two savages who had been killed, were seized by the poorer colonists, boiled with roots and hers, and greedily devoured. "One among the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was known." This man was burned alive for his crime. Strange as this story is, it was reaffirmed in most particulars in the published report of an official investigation into the affairs of the colony by the London directors in the year 1610. These extremities were the result of sloth, vice, and crime as much as of the natural hardships of the situation. The colony was composed of the very offscourings of London. All planting and gathering of crops was abandoned, the houses decayed, the church became a tumbling ruin. They ate their fish raw rather than build a fire and cook it. When Somers and Gates, after terrible adventures, arrived with re-enforcements, they said the colony would have been extinct in ten days had not succor arrived.
With wavering fortunes the colony continued to exist. We have little account of Powhatan, owing to the fact that his remorseless hostility cut off all intercourse with him. In 1613 the princess, Pocahontas, had developed into the maturer beauty of eighteen years. Captain Argall, Smith's ancient enemy, was making a voyage in search of supplies, when he learned that Pocahontas, instead of being with her father, the emperor, was living with the King Potowomek's people. It is not certainly known why she was away from home. There are reasons for thinking that she went to Potowomek, partly because her father suspected her of friendship to the English, and desire to remove her from their vicinity, and partly, because she herself was glad to escape from the scenes of torture and butchery which took place on the occasion of every capture of an Englishman.
Another account is, that she was making a friendly visit on the occasion of an Indian fair. Argall resolved to capture her if possible, and force Powhatan to ransom her by the release of his prisoners, the restoration of stolen property, and abundant gifts of corn. He resorted to a mean stratagem. Among the tribe whose guest she was, Argall found a low savage, named Jabazaws, to whom he offered the bribe of a copper kettle, to decoy her on board his ship. The scoundrel had a keen insight into his victim's character. Having no chance to play upon her curiosity, because Pocahontas had seen many larger vessels, he instructed his wife to pretend her great desire to see one.
Carefully planning for Pocahontas to overhear them, the savage proceeded to beat his wife for her mock importunities. She cried lustily, and at last he told her that if Pocahontas would go aboard with her, she might go. The amiable girl, always glad to oblige others, fell into the snare. Once on board the ship, Argall decoyed her into the gun room, and locked her up, in order to conceal from her the treachery of her own people. Jabazaws and his wife gleefully received their reward. Then Argall told Pocahontas she was his prisoner, and must be the means of making peace between the English and her father. At this announcement the cheat, Jabazaws, and his wife, cried louder than poor Pocahontas herself, finally, with many tears and embracings, taking leave of her. The meanness of the man Argall, who could thus take advantage of a young girl, a barbarian forsooth, whose very life she had risked again and again to help the English, is almost beneath the whip of scorn.
This gallant gentleman took his prize to Jamestown, which she looked upon for the first time since Smith's departure, four years before. Messengers were dispatched to Powhatan, announcing the capture of his daughter and the requisite ransom set on her head. English captives, stolen tools, captured guns, were to be restored, with much corn. Powhatan was greatly disturbed by this news. Pocahontas was still his favorite daughter. But it was a great sacrifice to give up the English weapons. Besides she had always inclined to aid the English, which was wrong. Whatever were the thoughts of the white-haired emperor, as this new sorrow burdened his heart, it was three months before he responded to the message. This delay was singular, and is hard to account for. It may have been caused by the struggled between private affection for his daughter and public duty to his country and people. At the end of three months, he sent back seven of his English captives, each armed with an unserviceable musket, and promised, on the release of his daughter, to give five hundred bushels of corn. This was promptly declined, and a demand made for the return of every captive, gun, and sword. Powhatan was so angered at this reply that he was not heard from for a long time.
In the following Spring, an expedition of one hundred and fifty men took Pocahontas, and went up to Powhatan's seat. The emperor refused to see their messengers. The English then told his people they had come to receive a ransom for Pocahontas and restore her to liberty. To this the Indians replied with showers or arrows. A fight ensured. Forty houses were burned. Then a palaver was had, and a truce arranged till the following day. Meanwhile Pocahontas went ashore, and two of her brothers and some friends were permitted to see her. She welcome them, but in a frigid way. She spoke little to any but her brothers, and told them plainly, that if her father loved her, he would not value her less than old swords, axes, and guns; that for her part, she preferred to remain with her captors, who treated her more kindly than her father, unless he manifested his affection more actively. Her brothers were fond of her, and were glad to find her gently treated. They promised to persuade the emperor to make a peace. Two Englishmen, John Rolfe and one Sparkes, at once started to Powhatan's court to arrange a treaty. He haughtily refused to see them, but his brother, Opechancanough, intimated that a peace might be effected.
But while these elaborate negotiations were working to patch up a cumbrous and probably short-lived treaty, another power, with more skillful hands, was knitting a surer alliance. Pocahontas, whose gentle and refined nature from the first seemed to yearn toward the civilization of the English, had changed greatly during her residence with them. her tears and entreaties to be set free, at the time of her capture, are in marked contrast with her indifference, at the interview with her brothers, toward her own people, and her willingness to remain with the English. The real reason for this was known only to a single one of her captors, Mr. John Rolfe, a steady, industrious, and enterprising man, one of the best of the colony. He was a widower, his young wife having died. When he came in contact with Pocahontas, her charms of person and graces of character filled him with an admiration tinged with emotion.
Rolfe was a very religious fellow, and he made his Christian duty to the untutored maiden the excuse for frequent calls, long conversations, and earnest persuasions to renounce her idolatry, and adopt the true Christian religion. Love is a cunning fellow. He knows the foibles of human nature. He delights to masquerade long in the characters of duty, friendship mutual improvement, pleasure, or religion, and then suddenly to throw aside his masque and startle his victims with the sight of his own true self. Thus it was that Master Rolfe kept assuring himself that his talks and persuasions with Pocahontas were merely done from a sense of duty; and, as the girl slowly yielded to his influence, until at last, just before her wedding, she renounced the religion of her fathers, and formally professing her adoption of Christianity, was baptized and re-christened by the name of Rebecca, she too persuaded herself that she was animated wholly by the strength of Master Rolfe's arguments and the truth of his cause.
When the expedition set out, of which the object was to restore Pocahontas to her people, Rolfe must have undergone great inward torment. He resolved to ask the governor, Sir Thomas Dale, for permission to marry Pocahontas. Instead of speaking to Dale, whom he saw every day, Rolfe drew up a long letter, a sort of theological treatise, to him, and when he set out to interview Powhatan on the subject of the peace, left this curious document with a faithful friend, who was to deliver it to the governor in the author's absence. The letter is a glorious illustration of the perfection of love's masquerade, his deft concealment of his real character from his victim.
It began with solemn assertions that the writer was moved only by the Spirit of God; that he sought only to obey his conscience, as a preparation for the "dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all men's hearts shall be opened;" that he was in no way led by "carnall affection," and that he sought only "for the good of this plantation, for the honor of our countrie, for the glory of God, for my owne salvation, and for the converting to the true knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, an unbelieving creature, namely Pokahuntas." He went on to describe how long the subject had borne on his mind, how he had set before his mind the proneness of mankind to evil desires, how he had studied the rebukes of the Bible against marrying strange wives; how the fearful struggle had kept up day and night between the powers of light and darkness; how "besides the weary passions and suffering, he had daiely, hourely, yea, and in his sleep indured; even awaking him to astonishment, taxing him with remissnesse, and carelessnesse, refusing and neglecting to perform the duteie of a good Christian, pulling him by the eare and crying; why dost thou not indeavor to make her a Christian?" Still he proceeded with his foolish delusion. He said that the Holy Spirit often demanded why he was created, if not to labor in the Lord's vineyard. Here was a good chance for him. Besides all which were her apparent love for him, her intelligence and desire to be taught, her willingness to receive good impressions, "and also the spirituall, besides her owne incitements stirring me up hereunto." That these "incitements" and the rest had great influence over the writer of this remarkable love-letter is plain. "Shall I be of so untoward a disposition as to refuse to lead the blind in the right way? Shall I be so unnatural as not to give bread to the hungrie, or uncharitable as not to cover the naked?"
Such horrible wickedness was not to be thought of. He determined to sacrifice himself on the altar of duty. He could not close, however, without renewed protests that he was not influenced by his own desires or affections. In fact, one thinks he doth protest too much. He finishes, saying, "I will heartily accept of it as a godly taxe appointed me, and I will never cease (God assissting me) untill I have accomplished and brought to perfection to holy a worke, in which I will daily pray God to bless me, to mine and her eternal happiness."
Governor Dale read this tedious missive, and no doubt saw the size of the joke. But, nevertheless, he could see the marriage would be a good thing for the colony, and lay the foundation for a lasting peace. He approved of it heartily, humoring Rolfe by giving his assent in the same style in which the letter was written, and, so far as we are informed, without wounding the susceptible heart of the widower by any facetious reflection on his cant and self-delusion.
Word was sent to Powhatan, and he, too, seemed to approve of it. He was growing conservative in his old age, and he saw in the marriage a career suited to the tastes of his daughter as well as an assurance of long continued peace for his weary people. The expedition returned to Jamestown, where Pocahontas, as before remarked, formally announced her conversion to Christianity. This was really a good joke on Rolfe, for it demolished at one blow the entire fabric of mock reasoning, by which he justified his desire to marry Pocahontas. However, the question was not sprung. Preparations for the wedding went on merrily. Powhatan shortly sent down an old uncle of Pocahontas to represent him at the wedding and give the bride away. The ceremony was performed in the Jamestown Church, about the 5th of April, 1614. This marriage is justly celebrated as being the basis for a peace with the Powhatans as long as Pocahontas lived. Other tribes, among them the Chickahominies, who are said to have had no king, but a rude sort of republican government, sent in their submission to this colony, which no longer had occasion for war.
It is instructive to notice that the colony at this time abandoned the communal system of property, because while all were fed out of the common store, some would shirk the labor, and even the most industrious would "scarcely work in a week so much as they would for themselves in a single day." The prosperity of the colony was assured. Communism is the very soul of barbarism; individual property the earliest sign of civilization.
The first time a thing occurs it is remarkable. The wedding of Rolfe and Pocahontas, famous as the first marriage of a white man with an Indian woman on this continent, recalls an incident which had transpired twenty-seven years before. This was the birth of a little waif known to history as Virginia Dare, the first white child born in America. It took place in 1587, in the unhappy colony at Roanoke, Virginia, founded under the auspices of Sir Walter Raleigh, whose transcendent genius more nearly apprehended the glorious destiny of America than that of any other man of the age. This little maiden was baptized when she was a week or two old. The scene was one of thrilling interest to the anxious group of spectators. That ceremony performed over the unconscious babe has been described with touching interest by every historian of America. Well might it be. What a world drama has been and will be enacted on the new continent between the births of the first white child and of the last white child in America! But the history of little Virginia Dare closes with her baptism. Shortly after, her father, leaving his wife and child behind, went to England for food and help. When he returned no trace was to be found of the colony, save the single word "CROTAN" carved on a tree. Historians have speculated upon the fate of the lost colony of Roanoke and of Virginia Dare, but no satisfactory solution has ever been given of the mystery.
Such benefits had flowed from the marriage of Pocahontas that good Governor Dale piously ascribing it to the Divine approval which rested on the conversion of the heathen, and reflecting that another daughter of Powhatan would form an additional pledge of peace, sent Hamor and the interpreter, Thomas Savage, to Powhatan, for the purpose of securing another daughter for himself. At the town of Matchcat, farther up the river than Werowocomoco, from which the emperor had remove don account of the proximity of the English, the visitors were received. The emperor seemed glad to see Savage, and invited him to his house. After a pipe of tobacco had been passed around, Powhatan inquired anxiously about his daughter's welfare, "her marriage, his unknown son, and how they liked, lived, and loved together." Hamor answered that Rolfe was very well, and "his daughter so well content that she would not change her life to return and live with him, whereat he laughed heartily, and said he was very glad of it."
Powhatan then desired to know the reason of the unexpected visit. Hamor said his message was private, and he desired no one to be present. The emperor at once ordered the room cleared of all except the inevitable pair of queens who sat on either side of the monarch. As a propitiatory introduction to the subject, Hamor delivered a message of "love and peace," supplementing it with presents of coffee, beads, combs, fishhooks, and knives, and a promise of the long-wished-for grindstone, whenever Powhatan would send for it. Hamor then proceeded to speak of the great reputation for beauty and attractiveness which Powhatan's youngest daughter bore, of the desire of Pocahontas to have her sister's companionship, of Governor Dale's intention to remain permanently in Virginia, and his desire, in case the young lady proved to be all that was reported of her, to make her his "nearest companion, wife, and bedfellow." Such an alliance, Hamor represented, would be an honor to all concerned, and would form a new bond of alliance and friendship.
When Hamor had finished, the emperor gracefully acknowledged the compliment, but protested that his daughter had been three days married to a certain one of his kings. Hamor replied that this was nothing, that the groom would readily relinquish her for the ample presents which Governor Dale would make, and further, that the emperor might easily exert his authority to reclaim his daughter on some pretext. To this base proposition the old monarch made an answer, of which the nobility and purity might have put to shame the brazen Hamor. He confessed that his real objection was the love he bore to his daughter, who was dearer to him than his own life; that though he had many children, none delighted him as much as she; that he could not live unless he saw her every day during the few remaining years of his life, which he could not do if she went to live with the English, as he was resolved never to put himself in their power by visiting them. He desired no other pledge of friendship than the one already existing in the marriage of his Pocahontas, unless she should die, in which case he would give up another child. Finally, he urged with vehement and pathetic eloquence, "I hold it not a brotherly part for your king to endeavor to bereave me of my two darling children at once. Give him to understand that, if he had no pledge at all, he need not distrust any injury from me or my people. There hath been already too much of blood and war. Too many of my people and of his, have already fallen in our strife, and by my occasion there shall never be any more. I, who have power to perform it, have said it; no, not though I should have just occasioned offered, for I am now grown old and would gladly end my few remaining days in peace and quiet. Even if the English should offer me injury, I would not resent it. My country is large enough, and I would remove myself farther from you. I hope this will give satisfaction to your king. He can not have my daughter. If he is not satisfied, I will move three days' journey farther from him, and never see Englishmen more."
His speech was ended. The barbarian's hall of state was silent. The council fire, unreplenished, had burned low during the interview, and the great, crackling logs lay reduced to a dull heap of embers, fit symbol of the aged monarch who had just spoken; within their midst still burned the glowing heart of fire, but more and more feebly, while over all the white and feathery ashes were weaving the shroud of death. Call him a savage, but remember that his shining love for his daughter only throws into darker shadow the infamous proposition of the civilized Englishman to tear away the three days' bride from the arms of her Indian lover, and give her to a man who had already a wife in England. Call him a barbarian, but forget not that, when his enemies hungered he had given them food. When his people were robbed, whipped, and imprisoned by the invaders of his country, he had only retaliated, and had never failed to buy the peace, to which he was entitled without money and without price. Call him a heathen, but do not deny that when he said that, if the English should do him an injury, he would not resent it, but only move farther from them, he more nearly followed the rule of the Master, of whom he was ignorant, than did the faithless, pilfering adventurers at the fort, who rolled their eyes heavenward and called themselves CHRISTIANS.
In 1616 John Rolfe and Pocahontas went to England, taking several Indians with them. Here Rolfe well-nigh got into trouble over his marriage. The intelligent King James, the same who wanted his minister to procure him a flying-squirrel, because he was "so well affected to such toys," took it into his limited head that Rolfe, a private gentleman, by marrying into the imperial family of Powhatan, had committed high treason. The "anointed" pedant was deeply offended, and insisted that Rolfe meant to claim the Virginia dominion as his wife's heritage, and have the crown descend to his posterity. His counselors succeeded with difficulty in showing him how far-fetched the notion was. The Lady Rebecca, as Pocahontas was called in England, received, for a little while, considerable attention. The aristocracy ventured to patronize her slightly on account of her rank. She was received by the king and queen, taken to the theaters, and called on by several of the nobility. Captain Smith, busy with other matters, did not see her for some time, but either to help Pocahontas or draw attention to himself, wrote the queen a letter, in which he gave a brief and spirited account of the many kindnesses which Pocahontas had bestowed on the colony, and earnestly requesting that she receive the royal favor and attention while in England.
In a little while, however, Pocahontas seems to have been neglected. The novelty wore off. After the first weeks of her visit she was no longer spoken of as the wife of Rolfe at all. Either on account of the London smoke or the neglect of the Virginia company, she was staying at Branford. Smith relates the story of a singular interview which he had with her here. After a modest salutation, she, without a word, turned her back to him, and passionately buried her face in her hands. At length she broke forth with pathetic reproaches, recalling the old scenes at the colony, and her sacrifices for the English, how he had called Powhatan "father" when he was a stranger in a strange land, yet how, now that their positions were reversed, he neglected her and objected to her calling him "father." She said that after his departure the English always told her he was dead, yet Powhatan had commanded those of her people that were with her to search for Smith, and find out whether he was living, "because your countriemen will lie much." The reason of her conduct is obscure. Many have thought that Rolfe had told her Smith was dead, because she was resolved never to marry to any one as long as he was alive. It is not impossible that she had loved him, and was deeply grieved to find the trick which had been played upon her. More likely she was homesick, and, grieved to find the English no longer paid her any attention, was deeply sensitive to Smith's neglect, in not visiting her earlier and renewing their old acquaintance.
Among the Indians who accompanied Pocahontas was Tocomoco, her brother-in-law, who was sent by Powhatan to take the number of people in England, and bring an account of their strength and resources. When he arrived at Plymouth he got him a long stick, and began to cut a notch in it for every person he met. But he soon wearied of the endless task, and threw away the stick. When he was asked by Powhatan on his return, how many Englishmen there were, he said: "Count the stars in the sky, the leaves on the trees, and the sand on the sea-shore; for such is the number of people in England." This same savage accidentally met Captain Smith in London, where their old acquaintance was renewed. He at once begged Smith to show him his God, king, queen, and prince, about whom Smith had told him so much. Smith put him off the best he could about showing his God, but told him he had already seen the king, and the others he should see when he liked. The Indian stoutly denied having seen the king, James not coming up to his notion of the ruler of such a people. When convinced that he had really seen the king, he said, with a melancholy countenance: "You gave Powhatan a white dog, which he fed as himself; but your king has given me not a mouthful nor a present; yet I am better than your white dog."
In May, 1617, Rolfe, who had been appointed secretary of Virginia, with his wife and child, prepared to return to America. They were on board their ship, which was detained a few days in the Thames by contrary winds. During this delay the lovely Pocahontas was taken ill, and, after an illness of three days, died, in a stranger's land.
Thus ends one of the briefest and loveliest romances to be found in all literature. Amid the darkness of barbarism and savagery, bloomed the rare and delicate nature of Pocahontas, a wild rose in the rocky cleft of black precipices and gloomy mountains. She seemed born for a different sphere than that in which she was placed. The brutality of her people was wholly absent from her affectionate heart. She took naturally to the civilization which she so little understood. Whatever motives may have influenced her in her adoption of Christianity, it is on record that she "lived civilly and lovingly" with her husband. From the first she had no fear of the English, going freely to their fort and on board their ships. Nearly every one in the colony had some favor, bestowed in the days of her frolicsome visits to Jamestown, for which to remember her. On all occasions she was their friend, supplying them with provisions, concealing them from her father, and aiding them to escape. Her influence over her father was unceasingly exerted in behalf of the strangers. Modern criticism has regarded some of the stories told of her as romances. But after disentangling the flower from all the weeds and mosses of legend which may have sprung up around it, the beautiful, affectionate nature, the refined manners, and apt intelligence of the Indian princess, remain in all their lily-like freshness and fragrance. Her early death, though sad enough, was perhaps fortunate, both for her and for her history. As to herself, had she lived, her keen intelligence would have learned to understand more and more fully the difference between her people and the English, a knowledge which would have brought only pain and sorrow to her loving heart. And as for her history, her early death has left us only her portrait in the perfect bloom of youth, a youth which has been made immortal by the pens of countless historians.
In 1618 died the great Powhatan, "full of years and satiated with fightings and the delights of savage life." He is a prominent character in the early history of our country, and well does he deserve it. In his prime he had been proportionally to his surroundings, as ambitious as Julius Caesar, and not less successful. He had enlarged his dominions by conquest to many times their original size, and had spread the terror of his arms over a vast extent of country. He had many towns and residences, and over a hundred wives. In his government he was despotic and cruel. Offenders were beaten to death before him, or tied to trees and torn limb from limb, or broiled to death on red-hot coals.
His people had a sort of religion, with priests, temples, and images, but "the ceremonies seemed not worship, but propitiations against evil," and they appear to have had no conception of an overruling power or of an immortal life. Their notions of personal adornment were very decided, if not pleasing. Oil and paints were daubed all over the person. Their ears had large holes bored in them, in which were hung bones, claws, beads, "and some of their men there be who will weare in these holes a small greene-and-yellow colored live snake, neere half a yard in length, which crawling and lapping itself about his neck, oftentimes familiarly he suffreeth to kiss his lips. Others wear a dead ratt tyed by the tayle."
In his last days Powhatan much feared a conspiracy, between his brother Opechancanough and the English, to overthrow his government, to prevent which his diplomacy was carefully exercised. There is much that is pathetic in the close of his career, his dominions overrun with strangers, his well-beloved daughter sleeping her last sleep in a foreign land, and himself, no longer opposing armed resistance to the English, which he was shrewd enough to see must in the long run result in the extermination of his people, but simple "moving farther from them."
It would be unjust to the man, to whom we are indebted for the story of Powhatan and his lovely daughter, to close this account without referring briefly to his career after leaving Virginia. He was forever after a hobbyist on America. He was always laboring to get up new expeditions, of which he should have command. Once he did go to New England, and as usual, met with thrilling adventures. But he was pursued by the same ill luck which had been his evil star. His ambitious plans were never fulfilled, or, if he did get men to invest in his enterprises, they always met with disaster and ruin. Smith had the great good fortune to be his own historian. He took care to tell his own story, and he told it well, making himself the center of every scene. He was a graphic writer, full of wit, and his pages, though crude in style and bungled in arrangement, are the most interesting chronicles of his time.
Smith was a prolific author. His first work was "The True Relation," written by him, while in America, narrating the history and condition of the colony, published in London, 1608. In 1612 he published his "Map of Virginia and Description of the County." This map shows that he had a fine eye for topographical outline. Other works were "A Description of New England," 1616; "New England's Trials," 1620; "The General Historie," 1624, with three later editions. He wrote also "A Sea Grammar" and several other books, which went over the same ground of his own adventures and the history of the Jamestown colony. These books were written and published by him at his own expense. He distributed them gratuitously in large numbers, solely with a view to exciting interest about America, and helping him in working up his plans.
Reading between the lines, we see a man of strong nature, full of conceit, of manners disagreeable because egotistical, impatient of opposition, and insufferably fond of talking about and magnifying his own adventures. Yet he was no ordinary character. The very rashness and impulsiveness which he manifested in England made him fertile in expedients in fighting Powhatan. The very strength of his dictator-like intellect, which gained him the hate of the Jamestown colonists, whether of lower or equal rank, caused him to achieve success with the savages and keep the storehouse of the fort full of corn. His great energy expending itself on the one hobby of working up expeditions to America, no doubt, made him to some extent a nuisance in England, after he was discountenanced and insulted by the Virginia company. But that Smith was a smart man, of rare force and ingenuity, far ahead of his age in foreseeing the future greatness of America, and possessing executive ability of a high order, must be conceded. he came, in time, to regard himself as the originator of all the discoveries and colonizations of his busy age, mentioning the Virginia colony as "my colony," and in relating the story of an expedition, of which he was only a private in the rear rank, saying, "I took ten men and went ashore," "I ordered the boats to be lowered," and so forth. His swaggering rhetoric brings a smile to the face of the reader. his latest and best biographer says: "If Shakespeare had known him, as he might have done, he would have had a character ready to his hand that would have added one of the most amusing and interesting portraits to his gallery. He faintly suggests a moral Falstaff, if we can imagine a Falstaff without vices." Smith was not only a good Churchman, but a good man. His private life, passed amid the roughest characters and surroundings, was upright and pure. He was never heard to use an oath.
In spite of his incessant efforts, by writing books, making speeches, and addressing letters with offers of his services, to colonization societies, Smith was compelled to remain a mere spectator of the rapid settlement of the New World. Though out of money and out of reputation, his buoyant spirits never sunk. He was a Micawber, always expecting something to turn up, or better yet, a Colonel Mulberry Sellers, who was never without a scheme with "millions in it." Hardship and disappointment made him prematurely old, if it did not make him unhappy. His last years were spent in poverty-stricken seclusion, a "prince's mind imprisoned in a pauper's purse," as was said of him by a friend. Fed by his "great expectations," he held up his head to the end. Almost his last act was to make his will in due form, pompously disposing to Thomas Parker, Esq., of "all my houses, lands, tenements, and hereditaments whatsoever." They were located only in his fancy. When the instrument was duly drawn, he, who had written so many books, could only make his mark. The end had come. On June 21, 1631, being fifty-two years old, he passed away. He lived and died a bachelor. He was wedded to his love of adventure. While there is much about him at which to laugh, there is more which begets admiration and sympathy for him who called himself, on the title-pages of his books, the "sometime Governor of Virginia and Admiral of new England."
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh
The Legend of Powhatan
Created November 16, 2000
Web design and graphics by Kathy Leigh