Tag Archives: Native American History

Pocahontas: First American Celebrity

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English: Artist depiction of Pocahontas saving...

English: Artist depiction of Pocahontas saving the life of Capt. John Smith. MEDIUM: 1 print : chromolithograph, color. B size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1995, Disney’s Pocahontas was released. Across the country, a new generation of girls fell in love with the Native American Princess. Not only was she able to communicate with animals, but she was brave and made her own decisions by following her heart. Ever since Pocahontas journeyed to England in 1616, the world has been fascinated by her. Though her life has been fantasized, beginning with John Smith, Pocahontas is an important part of America’s history. Pocahontas helped Jamestown survive at a time when several settlements were killed by natives or diseases.

Pocahontas was born around 1595 to Chief Powhatan and one of his wives. Her birth name was Matoaka, though it was common to the tribe to have several names. Though she had numerous siblings, she was her father’s favorite. In December 1607, Englishman John Smith was taken captive and taken to the Werowocomoco Village. By his account, he was first welcomed by the chief and offered a feast, but then he was forced to stretch out on two large stones while the natives stood over him with clubs, ready to kill him. Suddenly, a young girl rushed to him, protecting him from the clubs. She helped Smith stand up and then Powhatan adopted him as his son. Though the execution may have been a tradition of welcoming a stranger into the tribe, Pocahontas was known for saving Smith’s life forever.

In the early 1600’s, England was trying to create settlements in America but it was having trouble due to disease, Indian attacks, and weather. Smith and Pocahontas’ relationship ensured Jamestown would survive because Pocahontas brought food and supplies to the Englishmen once a week. In October 1609, Smith was injured by a gunpowder explosion and was forced to return to England. When Pocahontas came to visit Jamestown, she was told he was dead. The next year she married Kocoum, but she was kidnapped by Captain Samuel Argall in exchange for English prisoners and items the Indians had stolen. Pocahontas was sent to a different settlement called Henrico where she was educated; she also met tobacco planter John Rolfe. After a year of captivity, Dale brought 150 armed men and Pocahontas into Powhatan territory to obtain the ransom. After a fight between the two groups, Pocahontas was sent ashore where she was reunited with her family. The fight between the two ended and would last until 1622. Pocahontas also told her father that she wished to marry Rolfe, who gave her his consent.

Pocahontas was baptized as a Christian, given the name Rebecca, and on April 5, 1614, she married Rolfe. The two had a baby and lived happily on Rolfe’s farm until 1616 when the family traveled to England. The Virginia Company was hoping to attract settlers to Virginia by convincing the Englishmen that the Indians could convert to Christianity. In England, Pocahontas became a celebrity, even meeting King James I. She also reunited with Smith, who was actually alive. After several months, Rolfe decided to return to Virginia in 1617. Sadly, Pocahontas became ill on the boat and was taken ashore in Gravesend, England. While dying, she told her husband that “all must die.” She died on March 21, 1617. Her husband and father returned to Virginia.

England knew about the New World, since the early 1500’s, but was having trouble creating a permanent profitable settlement due to the strange environment, disease, and frequent attacks from the Native Americans. Due to the friendship of Pocahontas and John Smith, the English were able establish its first permanent settlement in America. The marriage between Pocahontas and John Rolfe is the first interracial marriage in America. Pocahontas’ descendants, through her son Thomas, include politicians, generals, scientists, and first ladies. Though Pocahontas’ life is a mystery, John Smith paints her as a smart, brave woman who followed her heart.

Sources:

Pocahontas

Pocahontas. biography

Pocahontas

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Sacagawea: Guide of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

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Statue of Sacajawea in Washington Park, Portla...

Statue of Sacajawea in Washington Park, Portland,  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson “purchased” 828,000 square miles of Louisiana territory from France. Since little was known about the West, a group of U.S. Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark was chosen to explore and map the newly acquired land so that America could claim the the western land before European countries could. When Lewis and Clark returned three years later, they brought home news of the Pacific Ocean, the Rocky Mountains, multiple Native American villages, and descriptions of new plants and animals. They also brought home the story of Sacagawea, the Native American who helped lead them on their journey.

Sacagawea was born in 1790 to a Shoshone chief, but was kidnapped by the rival tribe Hidatsa when she was ten years old. Three years later, she and another Shoshone girl were purchased by Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian trapper. Sacagawea was 16 and pregnant when she met Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark were in South Dakota in 1804 asking fur traders to be interpreters. Though Charbonneau knew several Native American languages, Lewis and Clark were impressed with Sacagawea because she knew Shoshone. The travelers needed horses to travel across the Rocky Mountains, but since they were traveling by boats at first, they could not bring the horses with them. They knew the Shoshone tribe used horses so they planned to ask the Shoshone tribe to use the horses. Thus, Sacagawea and her husband were chosen.

On February 11, 1805, Sacagawea gave birth a bay name Jean Baptiste, nicknamed Pompey by the travelers. For the rest of the journey, Sacagawea carried Pompey on her back. Within a month of traveling, the small boat Charbonneau was navigated capsized. While Charbonneau panicked, Sacagawea gathered important papers, books, and medicines was making sure her baby was safe. In her honor, the river was named after her.

When the group made contact with the Shoshone, Sacagawea served as the interpreter. To her surprise, the chief was her older brother. The siblings were reunited and celebrated their reunion. Though Sacagawea could have stayed with her family, she continued with Lewis and Clark. Throughout the trip she was able to identify plants that were either medicinal or poisonous and she helped guide the travelers, leading them through a mountain pass in Montana. Sacagawea’s biggest contribution was the fact that she was female. The American travelers would have alarmed many tribes, but seeing a woman with a baby meant the Americans meant no harm. After seeing the Pacific Ocean, the group returned home. Sacagawea and her husband parted with Lewis and Clark at the Hidatsa village in Missouri on August 14, 1806. Three years later, they visited Clark in St. Louis. Clark made a deal with them; he would provide the family with farming land if he could educate Pompey. Farming didn’t work out for the family, but the parents left Pompey in Clark’s care. In 1812, at the age of 22, Sacagawea died from poor health.

Sacagawea walked hundreds of miles with her baby on her back, climbing mountains, riding horse back, sailing down rivers, and camping out during blizzards. Sacagawea also made the difficult decision to have Clark raise her child because she knew her son would receive the best education and life with Clark and not her and her husband. Because of her, Lewis and Clark were able to finish their journey, coming in contact with 72 tribes and mapping out the trail to the Pacific Ocean. If Sacagawea was not there, the travelers may have been viewed as a threat and killed, alternating history. Though Sacagawea had a short and difficult life, her contributions to the United States are the reasons why she has more statues and monuments than any other female American in the United States.

Sources:

Sacagawea

History: Sacagawea