America's Freedom Documents
American History Texts
State and Local History


The Story of Pocahantas

By Charles Dudley Warner

The simple story of the life of Pocahontas is sufficiently romantic without the embellishments which have been wrought on it either by the vanity of Captain Smith or the natural pride of the descendants of this dusky princess who have been ennobled by the smallest rivulet of her red blood.

That she was a child of remarkable intelligence, and that she early showed a tender regard for the whites and rendered them willing and unwilling service, is the concurrent evidence of all contemporary testimony. That as a child she was well-favored, sprightly, and prepossessing above all her copper-colored companions, we can believe, and that as a woman her manners were attractive. If the portrait taken of her in London--the best engraving of which is by Simon de Passe--in 1616, when she is said to have been twenty-one years old, does her justice, she had marked Indian features.

The first mention of her is in "The True Relation," written by Captain Smith in Virginia in 1608. In this narrative, as our readers have seen, she is not referred to until after Smith's return from the captivity in which Powhatan used him "with all the kindness he could devise." Her name first appears, toward the close of the relation, in the following sentence:

"Powhatan understanding we detained certain salvages, sent his daughter, a child of tenne yeares old, which not only for feature, countenance, and proportion, much exceedeth any of the rest of his people, but for wit and spirit the only nonpareil of his country: this hee sent by his most trusty messenger, called Rawhunt, as much exceeding in deformitie of person, but of a subtill wit and crafty understanding, he with a long circumstance told mee how well Powhatan loved and respected mee, and in that I should not doubt any way of his kindness, he had sent his child, which he most esteemed, to see mee, a Deere, and bread, besides for a present: desiring mee that the Boy [Thomas Savage, the boy given by Newport to Powhatan] might come again, which he loved exceedingly, his little Daughter he had taught this lesson also: not taking notice at all of the Indians that had been prisoners three daies, till that morning that she saw their fathers and friends come quietly, and in good termes to entreate their libertie.

"In the afternoon they [the friends of the prisoners] being gone, we guarded them [the prisoners] as before to the church, and after prayer, gave them to Pocahuntas the King's Daughter, in regard of her father's kindness in sending her: after having well fed them, as all the time of their imprisonment, we gave them their bows, arrowes, or what else they had, and with much content, sent them packing: Pocahuntas, also we requited with such trifles as contented her, to tel that we had used the Paspaheyans very kindly in so releasing them."

The next allusion to her is in the fourth chapter of the narratives which are appended to the " Map of Virginia," etc. This was sent home by Smith, with a description of Virginia, in the late autumn of 1608. It was published at Oxford in 1612, from two to three years after Smith's return to England. The appendix contains the narratives of several of Smith's companions in Virginia, edited by Dr. Symonds and overlooked by Smith. In one of these is a brief reference to the above-quoted incident.

This Oxford tract, it is scarcely necessary to repeat, contains no reference to the saving of Smith's life by Pocahontas from the clubs of Powhatan.

The next published mention of Pocahontas, in point of time, is in Chapter X. and the last of the appendix to the "Map of Virginia," and is Smith's denial, already quoted, of his intention to marry Pocahontas. In this passage he speaks of her as "at most not past 13 or 14 years of age." If she was thirteen or fourteen in 1609, when Smith left Virginia, she must have been more than ten when he wrote his "True Relation," composed in the winter of 1608, which in all probability was carried to England by Captain Nelson, who left Jamestown June 2d.

The next contemporary authority to be consulted in regard to Pocahontas is William Strachey, who, as we have seen, went with the expedition of Gates and Somers, was shipwrecked on the Bermudas, and reached Jamestown May 23 or 24, 1610, and was made Secretary and Recorder of the colony under Lord Delaware. Of the origin and life of Strachey, who was a person of importance in Virginia, little is known. The better impression is that he was the William Strachey of Saffron Walden, who was married in 1588 and was living in 1620, and that it was his grandson of the same name who was subsequently connected with the Virginia colony. He was, judged by his writings, a man of considerable education, a good deal of a pedant, and shared the credulity and fondness for embellishment of the writers of his time. His connection with Lord Delaware, and his part in framing the code of laws in Virginia, which may be inferred from the fact that he first published them, show that he was a trusted and capable man.

William Strachey left behind him a manuscript entitled "The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britanica, &c., gathered and observed as well by those who went first thither, as collected by William Strachey, gent., three years thither, employed as Secretaire of State." How long he remained in Virginia is uncertain, but it could not have been "three years," though he may have been continued Secretary for that period, for he was in London in 1612, in which year he published there the laws of Virginia which had been established by Sir Thomas Gates May 24, 1610, approved by Lord Delaware June 10, 1610, and enlarged by Sir Thomas Dale June 22, 1611.

The "Travaile" was first published by the Hakluyt Society in 1849. When and where it was written, and whether it was all composed at one time, are matters much in dispute. The first book, descriptive of Virginia and its people, is complete; the second book, a narration of discoveries in America, is unfinished. Only the first book concerns us. That Strachey made notes in Virginia may be assumed, but the book was no doubt written after his return to England

[This code of laws, with its penalty of whipping and death for what are held now to be venial offenses, gives it a high place among the Black Codes. One clause will suffice:

"Every man and woman duly twice a day upon the first towling of the Bell shall upon the working daies repaire unto the church, to hear divine service upon pain of losing his or her allowance for the first omission, for the second to be whipt, and for the third to be condemned to the Gallies for six months. Likewise no man or woman shall dare to violate the Sabbath by any gaming, publique or private, abroad or at home, but duly sanctifie and observe the same, both himselfe and his familie, by preparing themselves at home with private prayer, that they may be the better fitted for the publique, according to the commandments of God, and the orders of our church, as also every man and woman shall repaire in the morning to the divine service, and sermons preached upon the Sabbath day, and in the afternoon to divine service, and Catechism upon paine for the first fault to lose their provision, and allowance for the whole week following, for the second to lose the said allowance and also to be whipt, and for the third to suffer death."]

Was it written before or after the publication of Smith's "Map and Description" at Oxford in 1612? The question is important, because Smith's "Description" and Strachey's "Travaile" are page after page literally the same. One was taken from the other. Commonly at that time manuscripts seem to have been passed around and much read before they were published. Purchas acknowledges that he had unpublished manuscripts of Smith when he compiled his narrative. Did Smith see Strachey's manuscript before he published his Oxford tract, or did Strachey enlarge his own notes from Smith's description? It has been usually assumed that Strachey cribbed from Smith without acknowledgment. If it were a question to be settled by the internal evidence of the two accounts, I should incline to think that Smith condensed his description from Strachey, but the dates incline the balance in Smith's favor.

Strachey in his "Travaile" refers sometimes to Smith, and always with respect. It will be noted that Smith's "Map" was engraved and published before the "Description" in the Oxford tract. Purchas had it, for he says, in writing of Virginia for his "Pilgrimage" (which was published in 1613):

"Concerning-the latter [Virginia], Capt. John Smith, partly by word of mouth, partly by his mappe thereof in print, and more fully by a Manuscript which he courteously communicated to mee, hath acquainted me with that whereof himselfe with great perill and paine, had been the discoverer." Strachey in his "Travaile" alludes to it, and pays a tribute to Smith in the following: "Their severall habitations are more plainly described by the annexed mappe, set forth by Capt. Smith, of whose paines taken herein I leave to the censure of the reader to judge. Sure I am there will not return from thence in hast, any one who hath been more industrious, or who hath had (Capt. Geo. Percie excepted) greater experience amongst them, however misconstruction may traduce here at home, where is not easily seen the mixed sufferances, both of body and mynd, which is there daylie, and with no few hazards and hearty griefes undergon."

There are two copies of the Strachey manuscript. The one used by the Hakluyt Society is dedicated to Sir Francis Bacon, with the title of "Lord High Chancellor," and Bacon had not that title conferred on him till after 1618. But the copy among the Ashmolean manuscripts at Oxford is dedicated to Sir Allen Apsley, with the title of "Purveyor to His Majestie's Navie Royall"; and as Sir Allen was made "Lieutenant of the Tower" in 1616, it is believed that the manuscript must have been written before that date, since the author would not have omitted the more important of the two titles in his dedication.