Pocahontas. The most familiar Indian woman in American
history, and maybe the most familiar of all Indians. But who is
and why is
she so familiar? To Paula Gunn Allen, one of her latest
is medicine woman, spy, entrepreneur, and diplomat. To the
generation's Charles Larson, she's "Every Indian, the archetypal
Savage." In the popular mind – think of Terrence Malick's 2005
New World –
Pocahontas is still linked romantically, and erroneously, with
She's been glorified as the "the first lady of Virginia," "Our
of the James," "the Virgin
Queen of the West," "a daughter of Eve," "an angel of peace," "the
Indian Ceres," and, most tellingly, "the mother of us all."
In truth, she's been all things to all people. Used and abused. Since the beginning of the 18th century, Pocahontas has been the subject of a cultural industry. In many ways, this woman, about whom so very little is actually known, and who has left not one word undeniably her own on the historical record, is a complete product of the American imagination.
And what does she stand for? The story of her deliverance of John Smith, itself contested because of the discrepancy between Smith's 1608 and 1624 accounts, is one of our most cherished creation myths. If she had not saved Smith, himself the savior of Jamestown, "we" would not be here today. Leslie Fiedler sees Pocahontas as the "symbol of the White man's reconciliation with our land and its first inhabitants." The painting of her baptism that hangs in our nation's holy of holies, the United States Capitol rotunda, is a sign, though the act of a hostage, of Indian acknowledgment of White superiority. But perhaps Melville captures her cultural function best in The Confidence Man, and we should not miss the irony of the source: "When I think of Pocahontas, I am ready to love Indians." Pocahontas good, ugh!
If ever an historical figure needs to be put on trial,
it's Pocahontas. And, in fact, Custalow and Daniels' 2007 The
Story of Pocahontas,
based on the oral history of the Mattaponi, is a stark witness for
prosecution. But the debunking controversy began as far back as
1662 before hitting full stride with Charles Deane and Henry Adams
in the mid-19th century.
The Pocahontas Archive provides the basis for such a
trial. It is an ever-growing collection of materials relating to
Pocahontas (and, by association, John Smith, Jamestown, and early
from early America to the present day: histories, biographies,
textbooks, movies, music, essays, dissertations, newspaper
paintings, sculpture, recordings, genealogies -- whatever has
the shaping of the Pocahontas figure in our culture.
The History section of the Archive contains three parts: a
annotated list of all the
texts in which Pocahontas figured or should have figured in and
just after her
lifetime, and a list
of the legion of memorable epithets bestowed on her.
The Controversy section contains an annotated bibliography on the debunking of the Smith-Pocahontas relationship as well as clippings about crucial contested episodes of her life from the counter-narrative in the Mattaponi sacred history.
The entries in the bibliography (over 2000 as of 2015) are listed chronologically because my initial purpose for studying Pocahontas, influenced by the excellent work of Robert S. Tilton (Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative) and Anne Uhry Abrams (The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin), had to do with tracing representations of her over time.
The bibliography is fully searchable by any word in the
citations and annotations, and there is a drop-down list of over
search categories of
especial interest. As of 2015, annotation of entries and links to
full-text documents online is mainly complete through
1860. The many links to full-text online documents is one of the
distinguishing and most useful features of this project. Work on
finishing the annotations and linking continues.
Eventually (though we seem to be entering a world in
will soon be available online!) I hope to house all the
text documents I have collected in an appropriate library,
convenient one-stop resource for
students and scholars researching Pocahontas. For now, people
contact me directly in regard to documents that are not online or
available through their library channels.
The image gallery currently contains over 150 images of
Pocahontas, and, like the text documents, this part of the archive
continue to grow over time, especially as more works in the past
out of copyright.
The Essay section is broken into four parts: On Texts, On Images, On Films, and On the Rescue. We invite contributions for the Essay section as well as for the Teaching section.
The Clippings section contains a large and ever-growing collection of quotes from primary and secondary sources that provides a kind of oral history of Pocahontas representation as well as a rich, practical, and useful research resource.
Especially in the early stages of development, the Pocahontas
Archive would not have been possible without the
energetic collaboration of Lehigh University's Interlibrary Loan
and a very
special thanks is due Patricia Ward -- truly an unsung but much
partner on this long road. Rob Weidman, Lehigh University
Senior Library Technologist, did the web design.
No project like this can be complete or without error. In the spirit of scholarly community that web technology encourages, I invite others to help make this list of Pocahontas materials ultimately as comprehensive and as accurate as possible by sending me additions, corrections, suggestions.
Edward J. Gallagher
Dept. of English