native America Essay

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Native Americans living in the vicinity of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement on the North American continent, were members of a confederacy of over 30 Algonquian tribes living in about 200 villages. Chief Wahunsonacock [Wa hun SEN a cawh], who was called Powhatan [pow HAT tan] by the English, was the dominant leader of over 10,000 Indi- ans in the region. Before the English arrived Spanish explorers had attempted to form settle- ments along the Chesapeake in Virginia and had gone to war with the Indians. For this reason Powhatan’s confederacy attacked one of the English ships before it could land at Jamestown. Although suspicious of the English settlers, Powhatan sensed that he had nothing to fear as the English settlers dashed around searching for gold rather than providing for necessities.John Smith meeting with the Powhatans near Jamestown Library of Congress
Powhatan agreed to trade with the colo- nists but as other colonists arrived later that year the English began to demand more and more food. Captain John Smith who assumed leadership of the colony tried to establish trade with the Indians. Smith believed that the English colonists should live like soldiers and force the Indians to supply them the food they needed. When Powhatan re- fused to continue trading with the En- glish, Captain Smith took food from the Indians by force. On one raid in De- cember 1607 only a few months after arriving, Captain Smith was captured and brought to Powhatan.
Powhatan ordered that Captain Smith be killed. According to legend Powhatan’s favorite daugh- ter Pocahontas, who was about 12 years old, threw herself on the prisoner to save him. Some historians believe that Powhatan arranged a fake execution in order to show his power and impress the English with his mercy. It is commonly believed that this was Powhatan’s way of using Smith’s capture and release to get better relations with the English and stop the raids on his confederation. The colonists, on the other hand, believed that Smith had been saved by God intervening to direct Pocahontas, out of her love for the English, to stop the execution.Powhatan Speaks to Captain John Smith, 1609
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Captain Smith, you may understand that I having seen the death...of my people...I know the difference of Peace and War better than any in my Country. ...What will it avail you to take ... by force what you may quickly have by love... What can you get by war, when we can hide our provisions and fly to the woods... Think you I am so simple, not to know it is better to eat good meat, ...sleep quietly..., laugh and be merry with you...then be forced to flee from all, to lie cold in the woods, feed upon Acorns, roots, and such trash, and be so hunted by you, that I can neither rest, eat, nor sleep....Let this therefore assure you of our loves, and want of that, every year our friendly trade shall furnish you with Corn; and now also, if you would come in friendly manner to see