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James Nelson Barker, The Indian Princess or, La Belle Sauvage (1808)

Alexandra Yantzi

Think of Powhatan as The Godfather and Miami, Grimosco, and Nantaquas as his consigliere, and you have the distinguishing feature of Barker's rescue scene. Pocahontas, to be sure, is the heroine. Take nothing away from her dramatic death-defying, in fact death-inviting display of courage. But Powhatan makes the final call. Powhatan is the rescuer. His Barker-imagined consigliere, if you will, argue Smith's case in front of him. Smith is the "enemy to the Great Spirit"; no, Smith is "beloved by the Great Spirit." Listen to the "unappeased spirits" of our fallen brothers; no, Smith is "my brother." Smith is a member of a "fearful race of beings" who come to "spoil and ravish"; no, Smith is a gift-giver who comes to make us "wise and happy." We must "wash our hands in the white man's blood"; we must respect "the chain of friendship." Listen to the Great Spirit; listen to your son. So the argument goes, back and forth, and so all the issues are laid out before Powhatan (and for us) in his role as leader of his nation before Pocahontas claims center stage. And then, Barker is careful to tell us, Powhatan "deliberates," that is, he engages in thoughtful, purposeful calculation. Powhatan is the necessary Decider, no question. And he takes all perspectives to heart and makes a decision he believes is best for his people: "Stranger, thou must prepare for death. Six of our brethren fell by thy hand. Thou must die." Barker's addition of this "preface" to the rescue, unusual in the album of rescues, forces the audience to truly appreciate Powhatan's leadership, forces us to think about what's at stake for him and through him to the Indian culture. When Pocahontas claims she will "die with the white man," Powhatan "deliberates" again before his toughness succumbs to his "tenderness" – both deliberative pauses signifying there's more to the man than one-dimensional savagery.