On this date in 1614, Pocahontas was married to John Rolfe. Never mind that she was already married to Kocoum and had a child.
At this point she was being held hostage, raped, and impregnated. Her first husband had been killed. Her father, King Powhatan, had already paid her ransom once, but the English figured they’d hold on to her and try to get another ransom in weapons and corn.
To pass the time, Pocahontas learned English and the basic tenets of Christianity. But they probably did not read her this verse: You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife Bathsheba to be your own.
She was taken to London where she was paraded as a good Indian. She quickly got sick and died. Two-hundred years later, she was romanticized as the perfect Indian.
Her abuse continues today. Pocahontas, Amonute, Matoaka, what have they done to her?
It started before she was born, in 1575, when they painted Amerigo Vespucci welcomed to America by a naked Indian princess on a hammock. They said she wanted him.
In the 1800s, when they called for removal and established the camps, the nation became obsessed with Pocahontas. She became the shining star on the hill, appealing to children from school books and jigsaw puzzles. They made her the mother of their nation. A Confederate militia called themselves the Guard of the Daughters of Powhatan. Her breasts and blowing hair helped sell chewing tobacco.
Their story of her story persisted centuries. In 1946, Samuel Eliot Morison won a Pulitzer Prize when he said that “the New World gracefully yielded her virginity to the conquering Castilians.”
Today her portrait, with white skin and brown wavy hair and a face like English royalty, attired head to toe in the latest London fashion, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Twelve feet tall by seventeen feet wide, her baptism adorns the Capitol Rotunda. The painted figures are life sized. The artist is not shy about his purpose: “She stands foremost in the train of those wandering children of the forest who have at different times—few, indeed, and far between—been snatched from the fangs of a barbarous idolatry, to become lambs in the fold of the Divine Shepherd. She therefore appeals to our religious as well as our patriotic sympathies and is equally associated with the rise and progress of the Christian Church as with the political destinies of the United States.” (I put this as #11 on my list of Twelve Things More Offensive than the Washington Redsk*ns.)
She became the good Indian, spreading her legs to welcome white penetration. Burlesque dramas told her story in blackface. They made her sexy, alluring, exotic and erotic, an object of forbidden jungle love. They gave her the body of Barbie.
It is the power of the oppressor to write the defining story about a person. Disney put her on the big screen. She became the ultimate Appropriated One. They call her Pocahottie.
She is Anne Frank in love with a Nazi soldier, painted with blue eyes and blond hair, topless, selling cigarettes, while her portrait hangs in Hitler’s hall.
Pocahontas, Amonute, Matoaka, what have they done to her?