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Born about 1596 — Died 1617
Who will shield the fearless heart?
Who avert the murderous blade?
From the throng, with sudden start,
See, there springs an Indian maid.
Quick she stands before the knight;
"Loose the chain, unbind the ring;
I am daughter of the King,
And I claim the Indian right!"
Dauntlessly aside she flings
Lifted ax and thirsty knife;
Fondly to his heart she clings,
And her bosom guards his life!
In the woods of Powhatan
Still 'tis told by Indian fires,
How a daughter of their sires
Saved the captive Englishman.
— THACKERAY'S "Pocahontas."
IN the greater part of what we now call the United States, before the white people came to disturb their habits, the savages lived a roving, primitive life in the forest and along the banks of streams, with only wigwams for shelter. We already know that the Northmen called the savages Skraelings, because they thought them inferior to Europeans, and that five hundred years later Columbus named them Indians, thinking that he had reached the East Indies. Sometimes the white people spoke of them as redskins, for they were reddish brown in color.
The Indians were a tall, straight, fearless race of men, with small black eyes, high cheek bones, and coarse black hair.
They liked to decorate their faces and bodies with bright-colored paints, using certain colors in times of war and others for feasts and festivals. Each warrior allowed one lock of his hair to grow long. This was the "scalp lock," which he was proud to adorn with eagle’s feathers as tokens of his bravery.
The chiefs sometimes wore a headdress of feathers that reached nearly to the ground.
What little clothing they needed for warmth and protection they made from the skins of animals.
On their feet they wore deerskin moccasins which the squaws trimmed with bright-colored embroidery, and with beadwork that was often very beautiful. The beads were tiny pieces of white and purple seashells strung upon strips of bark of the slippery elm tree, or on the sinews of deer. The Indians wore long strings of beads about their waists and necks and arms, and also used them for "wampum" or money. Sometimes many strings were joined together into a belt, and these wampum belts may now be seen in any museum that has a collection of Indian relics.
As the Indians seldom stayed very long in one place, they made their houses so that they could be folded up and carried about on the backs of the hunting dogs. These tents, or wigwams as they were called, were circular or oblong in shape.
They were made of strips of bark or hides of animals firmly sewed together and stretched over poles. At the top of the wigwam was an opening to allow the smoke to escape from the fire which was built in the center. On the cold winter nights the Indian boys and girls liked to sit before the wigwam fire and watch their elders smoke their long pipes, and hear them tell stories of good and evil spirits, and of their own deeds of valor.
There was very little furniture in the wigwams. Blankets made of animals' skins served for bed covering, and the bare floor or the soft green grass answered for beds, chairs, and dining tables. Dry sticks rubbed together until they produced a spark were used as matches to light the fire, and for cooking utensils fashioned from stone or clay. Large seashells made excellent plates and platters.
The Indians' food was chiefly game and fish, but they also had little gardens in which they raised maize, or Indian corn, and sometimes beans and squash. The squaws did all the work in the gardens, their only tool being a stone, or clam-shell hoe. The braves thought it was but right that the squaws should do the gardening, as their own time was needed for killing game and for fighting, which was their chief occupation.
The various tribes were constantly at war with one another. Their weapons were swift-flying, flint- tipped arrows, and stone knives and tomahawks.
To this day the Indian arrowheads are dug up from time to time in our pastures.
When he was not fighting, the Indian spent his days in hunting and fishing, or in building canoes. These were made of birch bark or of skins, and sometimes were hewn from solid logs. The bark and skin canoes were very light in weight, yet strong and swift. They were managed 'with great skill in dangerous currents and rough water.
The Indians delighted in feasts and festivals. For amusements they played ball, ran races, threw quoits, and had many other games not unlike our own. The famous game of Lacrosse was invented by the Indians. In their sports and games, as in warfare, they were often crafty and cruel.
The "talking pages," as the Indians called the books of the palefaces, were meaningless to savages. A rude kind of picture-writing served their simple purposes. An Indian boy had no school to attend, but was taught to use the bow and arrow and tomahawk, and to paddle a canoe. He learned also self- control and to bear pain silently, as the savages had great contempt for anyone who could not endure torture without a sound. The little girls, some of whom were exceedingly pretty, helped in the work of the wigwams and in the care of the corn ground. They learned early how to string beads and to make moccasins.
By instinct an Indian child could find his way through thick woods where a white child would have been hopelessly lost. The savages had no roads, for they had no wagons or horses or oxen. Their only animals were hunting dogs. Their trained eyes were keen and their sense of direction accurate. They knew how to avoid steep hills and troublesome swamps, and many of our roads and railways, as for example, the New York Central Railroad, follow the old Indian trails through the wilderness.
Each tribe or nation held its own land, and had its chief, and some of the tribes were governed by wise laws. The religion of the Indians was simple. In a vague way they believed in "spirits "and thought that every plant and animal as well as every human being possessed one. Sometimes they talked of a Great Spirit that watched over the world. They had many fantastic dances as a part of their religious ceremony. They knew how to make use of healing herbs in sickness; but their "medicine men" often resorted to sorcery.
The English colonists learned many valuable things from the Indians. The red man taught the paleface to girdle the tall trees so that they would die, and thus admit light and sun to make the corn and vegetables grow; and to fertilize the corn by putting a dead fish in each hill where it was planted. From their dark-skinned neighbors the Englishmen learned to make maple sugar, to spear fish through the ice in winter, and to make moccasins and snowshoes. They learned also new methods of warfare.
As we know, Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, a powerful chief among the Indians in the vicinity of Jamestown. We have learned, too, that Captain John Smith said she saved his life at a time when the Indians were preparing to put him to death.
After Smith had been released by his Indian captors and permitted to join his companions, Pocahontas came frequently to the Jamestown settlement, bringing corn to the famished Englishmen. She grew very fond of Smith and his white friends, and they in turn liked to have her visit them. Once she gave warning of an attack the Indians were preparing to make upon them, and so prevented the colonists from being surprised and massacred. Soon after Captain Smith went back to England.
The new governor, Sir Samuel Argall, was a selfish, dishonorable man, who cared for nothing except getting money for his own pocket. He took all the corn that the colonists could raise, loaded it on ships, and sent it to England, where it was sold at a profit; but not a cent did the poor settlers get.
As Argall did not allow his conscience to trouble him, you can understand how he could plot with a treacherous Indian for the capture of Pocahontas. She was stolen from her fond old father and delivered into the hands of the tricky governor.
Again and again the grief-stricken Powhatan tried, by pleading, threat, or offer of ransom, to get his daughter back, but the English would not give her up.
Pocahontas had by this time grown to be a charming, graceful young woman. She became a great favorite in the English settlement and one of the young colonists, John Rolfe, fell in love with her.
Now King James had said in his charter to the colony that there was to be no religion except that of the Episcopal Church. Pocahontas was called a heathen, and therefore Rolfe could not marry her until she became a Christian. Accordingly, in 1614, in the rough little log church at Jamestown, Pocahontas was christened and given the name Rebecca, after which, in broken English, she took the marriage vows and became the wife of John Rolfe.
Rolfe was the first Englishman who had ventured to wed an Indian girl. Powhatan was much pleased because his daughter had married a white man. He forgave the palefaces and became their friend. For a long time the settlers had nothing more to fear from attacks of his tribe.
As Longfellow says in the "Song of Hiawatha": —
"Buried was the bloody hatchet,
Buried was the dreadful war-club,
Buried were all warlike weapons,
And the war-cry was forgotten.
There was peace among the nations;
Unmolested roved the hunters,
Built the birch canoe for sailing,
Caught the fish in lake and river,
Shot the deer and trapped the beaver;
Unmolested worked the women,
Made their sugar from the maple,
Gathered wild rice in the meadows,
Dressed the skins of deer and beaver."
In 1612, five years after John Smith had established the colony at Jamestown, John Rolfe planted the first tobacco. Before that time the emigrants had cultivated only corn and a few other vegetables. Rolfe's tobacco crop was a great success and sold in England at a handsome profit.
At last a way had been found to earn money, and all the colonists were now eager to raise the tobacco plant and send it to Europe. From that time forward the colony increased rapidly in numbers and Jamestown became prosperous. So anxious were the settlers to put every foot of land under the cultivation of tobacco, that it was finally necessary to pass a law compelling them to plant enough corn for food.
In connection with tobacco-raising there is another thing that history forces us to remember—the introduction of slavery into Virginia. It was difficult to find enough laborers to care for the enormous quantity of tobacco that England was willing to buy. Orphans were taken from asylums in England and even convicts from jails, but Jamestown still had need for more workers.
In 1619 a Dutch ship sailed up the James River with a cargo of twenty negroes who were sold as slaves to the Englishmen. This was the beginning of slavery in the South, and it quickly spread, until, as the years went on, slaves were found in every colony.
Before the opening of this sad chapter in American history, John Rolfe and his wife sailed for England. The English people were so accustomed to kings and princesses that they called Powhatan an Indian king and Pocahontas a princess. It is said that King James was deeply offended because Rolfe had dared to marry a foreign princess. The English, however, were eager to see one of the natives of the New World about which they had heard so much, and they treated Pocahontas with great kindness.
At last King James relented and the Indian "princess" was presented at court. How rejoiced her tribe would have been, could they have seen their favorite thus honored; and how they would have exulted in the sight of the bright-colored robes and sparkling jewels worn by the lords and ladies!
Pocahontas never came back to her dear Virginia, never again spoke her own language with the redskins. As she was preparing to sail for America with her husband and infant son, she was taken ill, and died at Gravesend, England, in 1617.
Rolfe returned with his boy to Jamestown and continued to cultivate tobacco, although the king wrote a book against the "vile weed" and denounced it in Parliament.
The young planter became secretary, and later recorder general, of Virginia. The son, Thomas, grew to a prosperous manhood. He was a useful and influential citizen and some of the best families in Virginia to-day proudly trace their ancestry back to the Indian Pocahontas.
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