Thursday, September 4, 2008

If not for the help of Pocahontas the Jamestown Colony would have failed.

Welcome to our first posting! Just a quick reminder for those of us that are taking this course for in-service credit - you must contribute to the online discussion twice on two postings. You should contribute once before the meetings and once after the meetings. This means you will have a total of at least four discussion contributions. You are not limited to these four contributions. You may contribute to as many discussions as you like. Those of us taking the course for graduate credits should jump in as well - the more the merrier!

Well, enough with requirements - what do you say? If not for the help of Pocahontas the Jamestown Colony would have failed - what say you all?


Mr. Madeiras said...

It seems that David Price really favored John Smith as the hero of the colony. He could do no wrong. Logically, we could assume if Smith saved Jamestown and Pocahontas saved Smith, then Pocahontas ultimately saved Jamestown., but I don’t think it was that easy. Price doesn’t give Pocahontas that big of a role in the book and the colony does in fact survive some of the toughest times after Smith is no longer a factor in the decision making. Ultimately, I don’t think Pocahontas saved Jamestown. I give more credit to a little bit of luck and English determination.

Joe said...

I think the colony may have failed in the short term without Pocahantas and John Smith. Smith was a natural leader in the wild and unpredictable new world. Even if he was killed, however, I think the English would have sent other colonists. The potential gain seemed to outweigh the potential risks such as war with the Spanish and war with Native American tribes.

sryan said...

I was disappointed that the author didn't delve further into the life of Pocahontas. Yes, it appears she saved Smith's life on two occasions, but saving Jamestown…that’s something she shouldn’t be credited with. Although Smith is painted as one of the true heroic figures in early American history, other factors came into play regarding the successful establishment of Jamestown.

bkilkenny said...

Pocahontas played an indirect but significant role in saving the Jamestown colony from failure. Pocahontas had an impact on the survival of Jamestown during 2 specific events; the first event being her intercession in the possible execution of John Smith. If Smith had been executed by Powhatan the settlement could have become another Roanoke or simply abandoned. Without the leadership of Smith, throughout the early stages of the colony, the settlement would have most likely dissolved before more resources and settlers were able to arrive.
The second event was her marriage to Rolfe which helped Powhatan and the settlers reach a sort of peace agreement. This delayed Powhatan's destruction of the settlement through either starvation or war. The temporary peace after Pocahontas' marriage allowed the settlement to gain more economic and military stability in Virginia.

Daniela McKee said...

John Smith emerges as the savior of Jamestown in David Price’s book. Based on the book, one can make the argument that Pocahontas did indeed save the colony by virtue of saving Smith. However, I felt that her voice was lost in this retelling of the Jamestown story. With so much of the focus on Smith (and I do understand why), it is hard to provide much more evidence than the initial saving of Smith’s life and her later marriage.

In the Marginalia, Price presents the different arguments about “The First Rescue and Its Critics.” Though Price clearly believes that Pocahontas did save Smith’s life and presents strong evidence, some historians continue to argue that this event has been misinterpreted through time. I would have been interested in reading more about the counterargument before truly being able to answer the question of whether or not Pocahontas saved Jamestown.

Rich R said...

I agree with sryan and Daniela. I was hoping to read more about Pocahantas. However, her role in saving the colony is minimal. Yes, she saved John Smith's life and married John Rolfe. This did improve relations between Powhatan and the English. However, the real success of Jamestown belongs to John Smith's leadership. The two times Pocahantas intervened only bought the colony time. The Natives had several opportunities over the years to wipe out the English and did not. The 1622 surprise attack that killed about one-third of the colony seemed to strengthen the resolve of the English to make Jamestown work.

Mr. Nadramia said...

I think Kevin M is on to something in pointing out that the "if-than" logic of Pocahontas's saving Smith's life doesn't equate with the entire colony's survival. At the same time, Price doesn't seem to want to make this connection either; perhaps because he can't be sure there really was a cause-effect relationship between the two events. Given the author's obvious penchant for hero worship it seems clear that he would have made this case if it was possible.

This controversy aside, I think Price's treatment of Smith and the "naturals" is dead on. Some in the group have appealed for a more gentle treatment of Powhatan and his people, but I don't agree. Price paints the Native Americans not as savages, but as a well-organized and practical race of people who, after an initial period of shock, sought to benefit in every way from the Jamestown Colony. Powhatan was shrewd and cunning in all of his dealings with Smith and the rest of the leadership. Price is right to stand firm against revisionists seeking to recast the Jamestown experience as another campaign of European exploitation.

middy2525 said...

I have to agree with Mr. Madeiras that a lot of luck is what saved Jamestown; not Pocahontas. George Percy(the man in charge of Jamestown during the "Starving Time") alone played a bigger role than Pocahontas. Over a 20 year period the inhabitants of the Jamestown Colony dealt in numerous issues( disease, lack of food, hostile neighbors, political in house fighting) that nearly caused the collapse of Jamestown. The colony survived these issues with our the assistance of John Smith or Pocahontas

Thone said...

I have to agree with all the other posts that the book does lack in its coverage of Pocahontas. I also agree with many of the posts that one cannot attribute Jamestown's survival to the sole actions of Pocahontas. While she may have played a role in helping to keep John Smith alive, it was John Smith's leadership and ability to keep the Indians at bay that kept Jamestown alive in its infancy. The hypothesis that Pocahontas was only acting in some form of an adoption ceremony also questions her role in saving the colony.

Powhatan's decision to never completely massacre Jamestown also allowed Jamestown to survive. The strength and numbers that Powhatan possessed could have easily eliminated the English threat in its first few years. For whatever reasons Powhatan had, Jamestown was able to struggle on until constant resupplies of colonists and eventually the discovery of tobacco sealed Jamestown’s fate as being the first successful English colony.

LMorpurgo said...

I too was disappointed that the author did not delve further into Pocahontas's life as stated by Daniela. I don't believe that Pocahontas saved Jamestown but she did make som important contributions as stated by BKilkenny. The author definitely showed that Smith's involvement did help the colony but as Mr. Madeiras stated some of the most important decisions regarding the colony took place after Smith was gone. The author should have included some economic discourse on the Virginia Company to have a better understanding of how far the investors/company were willing to go to make the colony work. The author gave some economic points but did not elaborate. In one paragraph the author discussed how the lottery device proved successful and helped the colony to grow but there is only a brief mention as to how much the colony benefitted. I get the impression that Pocahontas and John Smith were players in a bigger corporate and political quagmire totally out of their control.

Christy said...

I have to agree that Smith saved Jamestown and since Pocahontas saved Smith, she was responsible for keeping the colony alive. It is true that the colonists overcame some great obstacles after Smith left, but he was the one who really established the colony and got it going.

I still do not understand why the colonists would rather starve than work. I guess the colonists were just out to get rich and didn't think they would have to face tough times. It's hard to believe that they kept sending "worthies" instead of "practical" people to settle the colony. It just doesn't make sense.

It also seemed to me that the colonists were a little too naive. I couldn't believe it when they basically provoked some of the attacks carried out by the natives. It just seems like they should have expected the natives to resent their settlement.

I think John Smith was the only one who had any brains!

Mr. Ferrante said...

I thought the book was hero-worship. John Smith is painted as someone that could do no wrong. I don't buy it. I found an article from the Natural History Museum magazine (November 2006)about this very incident. The author's take on it is that the whole saving of John Smith by Pocahontas was more ritual and statecraft than anything else. The Powhatan's threat to smash Smith's head was part of a ritual to bring the English settlement into the Powhatan world. Pocahontas played her part by pretending to save Smith (his life was never in danger). If anybody saved the English I would say it was Powhatan - he gave his blessing to trading with the English and tried to incorporate them into their state. The English just did not understand what was going on and kept trying to fool the Powhatans. Powhatan saved the English inspite of their best attempts (including John Smith's) to destroy themselves.

Roger Smith said...

In an indirect manner Pocahontas is a savior of the Jamestown colony. It has been debated by historians for some time now whether or not Pocahontas did actually save John Smith from imminent death. Some historians suggest that when John Smith's head was placed on a chopping block and Pocahontas placed herself over him feigning protection, that it was actually all part of a Powhattan ritual in which she was given charge over the stranger that had come into the Powhattans midst. If we are to assume that she did indeed save him and he was to later play an integral part in the continued survival of the colony, then she did save the colony from becoming lost like that of Roanoake a little more than a decade earlier. The reading goes to great lengths to show how John Smith was responsible for the colony’s early survival so Jamestown.

stapes1976 said...

As stated in the earlier posts the book's lack of information about Pocahontas is disappointing. However the limited text does show an indirect role by Pocahontas in saving Jamestown.
Her union with Rolfe and the temporary peace that followed allowed Jamestown to gain stability and exist long enough for it to benefit from the discovery of tobacco. I feel at the time this event was more pivotal in the success of Jamestown than her “rescue” of Smith.
John Smith's leadership had taken Jamestown through the early hardships of the colony, yet I feel his relations with Native Americans was
deteriating, and Jamestown would have failed without the time of peace that followed the marriage. The question is how much of that is the result of “Pocahontas’s Union”.

Morgan said...

One of the main problems that Jamestown had, as a get-rich-quick colony, is that it was founded by men alone... in addition they only had a few skilled laborers because Jamestown was originally just a fort, and not designed to be a permanent colony, it was filled with men who did not want to work in the field, and because of that famine was always inevitable… it was John Smith who initiated martial law to force labor for the extension of life. It is only with food or warnings of attack that we can believe Pocahontas could be responsible for the saving of the Jamestown colony. We are lead to believe that she helps John Rolfe with the tobacco farming that the colony begins and we can assume that with this help the cycle of success begins… I’m not sure if I can take a true position – I can say I no longer see the “Colors of the Wind” in this not so Disney story.

Rick said...

The main question should be "did Pocahontas save John Smith?" There seems to be little argument about Smith's importance to the early survival of Jamestown. So if you believe she did save his life then the answer to the "did she save Jamestown"(directly or indirectly) question is obvious.
So did she save Smith's life? Yes. I believe only Smith's account of what happened during his first rescue is credible. As Price notes, no knowledge of 17th century Powhatan adoption ceremonies exists. We don't even know if they had a ceremony for such an occasion. There are no other eyewitness accounts and no logical reason Smith would lie. I'll take Smith at his word.

Mr. Ferrante said...

I disagree with Rick - and not just because he beats me at chess. I think Smith had every reason to lie about his role in the colony. The man was an unrepentant self-promoter who was always looking for a way to "move up the ladder". He had every reason to make himself look more important and smarter than he really was. We do have accounts of other than his - the company's and they did not seem to trust him.
If his skills were so obvious to everyone then why did he not get another job? Why was the 'savior' of Jamestown not hired by another company?

Vin Bronzino said...

Well..."not to beat a dead horse" , but like others who have blogged, I feel that if it were not for the help of Pochahontas, the Jamestwon Colony would have failed. The inconsistent relationship between Smith and Natives was puzzling to me. At times, it seemed as though the Natives would entertain Smith with feasts and dancing and other times, they were ready to kill him for his puzzling antics. Ultimatley, I think Powhatan was not sure what to do with him. In either case, Pochahontas did save his life twice on two different occasions. The first occasion, whether it was a pre arranged ritual or not, as some have suggested, Pochahontas did save his life. The second occasion, warning him of an ambush, she indirectly saved John Smith and the colony. Without John Smith, the colony fails, plain and simple. His tough no nonsense approach towards the gentlemen and interaction with the Natives, ultimaltey gets the colony on its feet.

Like others, I wish Price had more analysis regarding the relationship between Pochahontas and John Smith and the actual "saving of his life". What was there one paragraph devoted to "saving his life" the first time and second time? I guess if Price did, we would not have much of a controversy.

Ms. Gentile said...

I agree with many of your thoughts. It seems to me that without John Smith, the colony may have failed, as evident by the Starving Time that developed following his departure. However, it is not clear whether another colonist may have risen to the challenge of dealing with the natives, which is definitely possible. In terms of Pocahontas, I agree with "stapes1976" that her marriage was a more pivotal event in relations with the natives because Powahatan abandoned his starvation campaign. So perhaps Jamestown's success is due to Argall's spur of the moment idea to capture Pocahontas and hold her for ransom.

All in all, it seems like many factors and people contributed to the success of the Jamestown colony. Pocahontas and Smith each contributed to the success of Jamestown, but if their paths had not crossed, the colony would probably have succeeded due to the determination of the Virginia Company, which kept raising funds despite dire reports from the colony. Eventually, they learned from their mistakes and sent competent (if harsh) governors and realized that the riches they would earn would not be from gold, but cash crops and other resources.

Rick said...

Unless I'm wrong, I don't believe the company had representatives present during the supposed "adoption ceremony." Smith's account is all we have. He lost 3 men, was shot and then captured only to then have his life saved by an 11 year old girl. Not exactly the most heroic story. Sure he was prone to exaggeration, but this does not necessarily make him a liar in this particular case.
Go ahead and cling to your "Natural History Magazine." It is all conjecture. I'll side with the HERO :)

To answer your question about Smith not getting another job... my guess would be it had something to do with not being born into nobility.

Mrs Raftery said...

I am sure we will be enlightened tomorrow in class, but I kept awaiting some revelation by Price as to the critical role Pocahontas played in Jamestown's survival.

Other than Kevin's (aka "Mr. Madeiras") logic, I see Price's only hero being Smith.

msmilow said...

While Smith appears to have been an unabashed self-promoter, he was certainly no slouch when it came to his dealings with Powhatan. His own practical approach allowed him to view the natives as more than capable of annihilating the English. He never underestimated the natives and one gets the sense that he appreciated Powhatan's Machiavellian approach to diplomacy. Smith, unlike his less astute countrymen who thought themselves superior to Smith and the Powhatans, understood that making nice and overpaying for corn was not a productive strategy. You can be sure that he would not have been "fried alive" as was Ratcliffe.

The fact that Smith was much adored by Pocahontas, most likely contributed to his survival and ultimately the survival of Jamestown in those early years. Since Pocahontas was the favorite child of her father, it seems fair to assume that Powhatan would spare Smith's life to keep her happy. Price also notes that Powhatan would not kill Smith and risk a confrontation with Pocahontas in front of his subjects.

More importantly, Pocahontas' marriage to John Rolfe and the ensuing peace between the Powhatans and the English ensured the prosperity that came from tobacco production and the real success of Jamestown. Several posters have noted that Price does not provide much information regarding Pocahontas but it should be noted that she did not keep journals like Smith and the other obsessive record keepers of the day. However, he does extrapolate a good deal of insight into her personality based on her actions. It was telling that Pocahontas refused to go back to her father because Powhatan would not return all the weapons taken from the English. She consistently demonstrated a strong will, one that would make her the most likely protector of John Smith and the helpmate of John Rolfe.

sryan said...

As was debated (almost to the brink of violence during the whole group discussion), at yesterday’s most enlightening TAH session, Pocahontas played some sort of role in saving Jamestown. Was it significant enough to give her credit for its success? My answer remains nay. Ultimately it was a combination of factors that resulted in the continuation of Jamestown. The key figures deserving the honor of saving Jamestown from failure were Chief Powhatan and John Smith. They, along with the support of King James and the financial backing of the Virginia Company, played a greater role than the beloved favorite daughter Matoaka.

I found the presentation by Dr. Kupperman to be quite fascinating. We can only hope the remaining visiting historians are just as knowledgeable and personable.

One last thing… Here’s an interesting link from the Jamestown Rediscovery program you may wish to share with your students:

Mr.Sill said...


Back in 1607, John "Ferrante" Smith had risked his life to come to the new world and establish a colony at Jamestown for the Virginia trading company. There were many hardships along the way and Captain John was determined to establish a functioning fort that could defend and feed itself.

One day, during a voyage to trade food with the natives, he and his men were captured! (DA DA DUMMMMMMM) "Don't worry fellas," Captain John said, "Just do what they say and soon we will be welcomed into the bosom of their chief!"

After being captured, one of Smith's men began to panic as they witnessed the natives stripping George Cassen of all his clothing and tying him up to a pair of stakes. "Oh snap, Captain," said of his men as they set sail to get away, "They got Georgie naked strapped to those poles!"

"Lucky Son of a gun!" replied the good Captain, "They're gonna perform the pole dance ritual for him! Unfortunately, we can't stay to watch. If they see us, the natives won't trade with us anymore! Georgie can tell us all the gory details later!"

Of course, as the boat sailed away, poor Georgie did not get the pole dance...but he did get the gore! His face was peeled off, fingers cut off, belly sliced open and finally burned at the stake!

Later, Captain John was captured. "Alright... you got me..." He explained in a playful tone. "Take me to your LEADER." He said in a space alien accent followed by a hearty laugh. "Hey, squanto... look at this cool compass! Cool right! I AM YOUR GOD! OBEY ME!"

After a few days of being held in captivity, Captain John was transported to the chief of all chiefs, Powhatan, and couldn't wait to see what awesome ritual was in store for him. Would he get the pole dance ritual, the blindfolded orgy ritual, the golden shower ritual... he could only dream. Finally, after a few days, a young girl named Pocohantas came to see him.

"You.. death ritual!" she said in a concerned tone. "I save you," she said.

"Hmmm, I never heard of this one before, but boy, am I excited! You guys know how to throw one funky, kinky party!" With that, Powhatan's men grabbed him, tied his hands behind his back and marched him to the center of the village. Everyone was there! "Oh... okay... you want me to put my head over these rocks..." Captain John said as he searched for direction.

"Oh I get it, you’re going to pretend to bash my brains out and right before your sticks plunge into my skull, Pocohantas here will come and save me. I'll be reborn, become the chief’s white anglo son, save the colony, yada yada yada! Alright, let's do it"

The Indian warriors raised their sticks high above their heads. Their faces strained as they waited for the word from Powhatan. Captain John looked over and saw Pocohantas running towards him. "Wow, you guys have this thing timed pretty well. Very realistic looking, you guys really take this thing seriously. Just don't swing those sticks too hard, you may hit the girl as she comes running in!"

Then, Powhatan gave the word, the warriors started to swing their sticks with all their might... Pocohantas was still running towards him (We're in slow motion now)! "Wow, this is soooo cool! What a rush!" shouted Captain John. But as he watched the sticks approach closer to his head, he looked over and saw Pocohantas lose her balance, stumble and fall. Caring about her well-being, he leaned up to see if she was alright but instead of seeing the angelic indian princess, his head was beaten repeatedly by the death sticks of the warriors!

Captain John Ferrante Smith died that day and the Jamestown colony was soon to follow! Without their great leader, and without the successful rescue of Pocohantas, the world would never be the same!

Bottom line, even if it was a ritual, how comfortable would you have been in that situation. I would have peed my pants and screamed like a girl! Don't try to strip John Smith of his heroic qualities and don't underestimate the influence of Pocohantas!

Rich R said...

Jamestown was saved by a combination of factors:

1. The Virginia Company's persistence. They reorganized in 1609 and 1618 after the death of Pocahontas. She represented the civilized Native Americans who could be converted to Christianity. Combined with the economic investment and religious aspect, which cannot be underestimated, Pocahontas played an important role. By 1622, after 1/3 of the colony was wiped out, they could have picked up and left, but Jamestown was too committed to tobacco. Dr. Kuppermann was very persuasive with her arguments regarding this issue.

2. John Smith's no nonsense approach in the early years of the colony helped save the colony. His relationship with Powhatan and their interdependence for economic reasons sustained the colony.

3. John Rolfe's marriage was critical because it allowed Pocahontas to assume the role of the "Civilized Indian." How she played the role by being received in Court, etc. increased the Virginia company's investment and thus kept them 'interested" in Jamestown.

Mr. Madeiras said...

Surprisingly as it may be, Ferrante has a point. How much of Jamestown’s history do we know outside of Smith’s work on the colony? He was still an important figure to the survival of the Jamestown, but maybe he exaggerated his role. I think we all pretty much agree that the relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas was influential early on , but the true savior of Jamestown was tobacco. It’s all about money (or credit in today’s dismal world). What purpose would the colony possible have if it didn’t provide the incentive for making a return on one’s investment? John Rolfe, maybe not as heroic as John Smith, is the real savior of Jamestown. I find it interesting how Pocahontas ends up marrying him. She is somehow involved with the two most influential men of the colony.

Morgan said...

Ok here goes - Greg is a tough act to follow... this is simple... compare the New England and the Southern colonies - it is only with the help of women that the colonies begin to flourish :) maybe it was not all Pocahontas but we can definitly say that women and not just women - just like we can say not just Smith - well that all put together is the reason for success.

Christy said...

The fact that Jamestown was eventually successful was a pretty amazing accomplishment considering the lack of knowledge and skills held by the original colonists. Although John Smith did play a large role in saving Jamestown, I now see that other people and events should be considered.

Powhatan himself was the one that allowed the colonists to survive. If he had wanted to, he could have had the colonists killed or just withheld food from them. Other important people include George Somers and his crew and John Rolfe.

So, as discussed in class, it wasn't just Smith or Pocahontas that should get all of the credit.

bkilkenny said...

It seems that, even after the debates and class discussion, it is difficult to conclusively determine whether or not Jamestown would have failed or succeeded without the intercession of Pocahontas. But it can be shown that both she and John smith played pivotal roles in the colony.
Jamestown may have succeeded without them but the story and events would have been different.

Daniela McKee said...

Even after class, it is hard to determine exactly how much Pocahontas directly led to the success of the Jamestown colony. It is clear, however, that no one single person had enough impact to receive full credit for the unlikely success of the colony.

stapes1976 said...

I feel that Pocohantas was an important reason why Jamestown succeeded. She served as the face for the trading company, and made Jamestown more appealing to others who would otherwise have been detered. However the building blocks of the colony have to be attributed to Chief Powhatan and Smith.

Vin Bronzino said...

I still feel that without the help of Pochahontas, the Jamestown Colony wold have failed. Pochahontas gave invaluable help to the English colonists and became an indispensible intermediary between the English and Powhatan. She frequently visited Jamestown, bringing food and gifts and establishing trade between the two groups. It's safe to say that she protected colonists from her father's anger during disputes. When she becomes less visible, we see that relations between the English and Powhatan begin to strain. Therefore, she was an essential component to the sucess of Jamestown.

Rick said...

Clearly Pocahontas must have had at least a minor role in the saving of Jamestown. However, to say it would have failed without her would be ignoring the importance of Smith, Powhatan and more than a little bit of luck.
Pocahontas the hero makes for a better story, but I'm not sure one can say it is historically accurate.