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Powhatan's Speech to John Smith (1607)

POWHATAN'S SPEECH TO JOHN SMITH (1607)


In his speech, Powhatan (1547–1618), the father of Pocahontas, makes a plea for peace to John Smith, a leader of the English settlers at Jamestown. From the very beginning, relations between the Native Americans and the settlers were uncertain at best. When John Smith and his fellows from the Virginia Company arrived on the shores of the New World in 1607, they faced an uncertain future. The landscape was unforgiving and alien. The local Algonquian tribe hoped to run the settlers off by raiding their settlement and stealing essential supplies, gunpowder, and tools. When in 1607 native hunters captured Smith, they presented him to Powhatan for judgment. What occurred next has been the subject of considerable conjecture and revisionist speculation. Whatever the facts, Smith, a proud and boastful man prone to exaggeration, became convinced that Powhatan's eleven-year-old daughter, Pocahontas, was responsible for his survival. He was made a subordinate chief in the tribe and released a month later. Powhatan was a powerful chief, the leader of a confederacy of some thirty tribes and eight thousand people from his capital in Werowocomoco. His words here reflect the anxiety and doubt surrounding the arrival of white settlers in the New World and presage the generations of conflict and bloodshed between Europeans and Native Americans that would darken much of the history of both peoples for the next three hundred years.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also: Chesapeake Colonies

I am now grown old, and must soon die; and the succession must descend, in order, to my brothers, Opitchapan, Opekankanough, and Catataugh, and then to my two sisters, and their two daughters. I wish their experience was equal to mine; and that your love to us might not be less than ours to you. Why should you take by force that from us which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions, and fly into the woods; and then you must consequently famish by wronging your friends. What is the cause of your jealousy? You see us unarmed, and willing to supply your wants, if you will come in a friendly manner, and not with swords and guns, as to invade an enemy. I am not so simple, as not to know it is better to eat good meat, lie well, and sleep quietly with my women and children; to laugh and be merry with the English; and, being their friend, to have copper, hatchets, and whatever else I want, than to fly from all, to lie cold in the woods, feed upon acorns, roots, and such trash, and to be so hunted, that I cannot rest, eat, or sleep. In such circumstances, my men must watch, and if a twig should but break, all would cry out, "Here comes Capt. Smith;" and so, in this miserable manner, to end my miserable life; and, Capt. Smith, this might be soon your fate too, through your rashness and unadvisedness. I, therefore, exhort you to peaceable councils; and, above all, I insist that the guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy and uneasiness, be removed and sent away.


SOURCE: Drake, Samuel G. Biography and History of the Indians of North America. Boston: O. L. Perkins, 1834.

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