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George Washington Custis, Pocahontas; or, The Settlers of Virginia, A National Drama (1830)

Ashley Yancy

Surprise! As Powhatan counts down to Smith's doom, Pocahontas is already de facto if not de jure a Christian! And hear her roar! "Rising with dignity" as her father mouths the fatal "thrice," the brazen, the audacious, the defiant Pocahontas literally commands her father's minions to "Strike," offering her martyrdom in the cause of Christian mercy. But not before she, in effect, executes the executioner himself in language as blunt and battering as any Native American club: "Cruel king, the ties of blood which bound me to thee are dissever'd, as have been long those of thy sanguinary religion; for know that I have abjur'd thy senseless gods, and now worship the Supreme Being." Fortunately for our Smith, the "subdued" Powhatan cannot endure the death of his paternity, and relents. Pocahontas sweeps the allegiance board clean, "dissevering" herself from her father, her chief, and her people's religion. Make no mistake, her defiance is rooted in and spurred by her Christianity. She's already one of "us." Custis anticipates her official embrace of the Christian faith during her captivity officially memorialized a decade later in the John Gadsby Chapman painting of her baptism that hangs in the Capitol Rotunda. Here in this play her love for, loyalty toward, and relationship with the Christian God has fueled a higher calling: "[it is] his Almighty hand that sustains me, 'tis his divine spirit that breathes in my soul, and prompts Pocahontas to a deed which future ages will admire." Thus, we can thank "our" Christian God working through Pocahontas for the creation of "our" country. But how can this be? It's through the providential agency of the last survivor of the previous Virginia expeditions at Roanoke that "the light of Christian doctrine" has already shone on Pocahontas's "before benighted soul." Custis's creativity as well as Custis's God works in surprising ways.