Pocahontas and the English boys Caught between cultures in early Virginia

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, 1939-

Book - 2019

In Pocahontas and the English Boys, the esteemed historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman shifts the lens on the well-known narrative of Virginia's founding to reveal the previously untold and utterly compelling story of the youths who, often unwillingly, entered into cross-cultural relationships--and became essential for the colony's survival. Their story gives us unprecedented access to all the players in early Virginia. Kupperman presents the real story of Pocahontas, who, from the age of ten, acted as emissary for her father, the great Powhatan, alongside the never-before-told intertwined stories of Thomas Savage, Henry Spelman, and Robert Poole, young English boys who were sent to live with powerful Native leaders and became importan...t intermediaries. Pocahontas and the English Boys is a riveting seventeenth-century story of intrigue and danger, knowledge and power, and four youths who lived out their lives between cultures. As Pocahontas, Thomas, Henry, and Robert collaborated and conspired in carrying messages and trying to smooth out difficulties, they never knew when they might be caught up in developing hostilities. While their knowledge and role in controlling communication gave them status and a degree of power, their relationships with both sides meant that no one trusted them completely. Written by an expert in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Atlantic history, [this book] unearths gems from the archives--Henry Spelman's memoir, travel accounts, letters, and official reports and records of meetings of the governor and council in Virginia--and draws on recent archeology to share the stories of the young people who were key influencers of their day and whose stories are now set to transform our understanding of early Virginia. -- Dust jacket flaps.

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New York : New York University Press [2019]
Main Author
Karen Ordahl Kupperman, 1939- (author)
Physical Description
xi, 233 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Notes On Sources and On Terminology
  • Introduction
  • 1. Settling In
  • 2. New Realities
  • 3. Knowledge Sought and Gained
  • 4. Pocahontas Becomes Rebecca Rolfe
  • 5. English Experiences
  • 6. Virginia's Transformation
  • 7. Atlantic Identities
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
  • About The Author
Review by Choice Review

Kupperman (New York Univ.) draws on decades of work for this evocative account of the encounters of Indigenous people and English adventurers in the new colony of Virginia. Opening with the meeting in 1608 between adolescents Thomas Savage and Pocahontas in Powhatan's "capitol," the author uses the experiences of these two and a few other English boys as interpreters and "go-betweens" to brilliantly plumb several aspects of Virginia's story. First, Kupperman weaves into several chapters a nuanced comparison of Indigenous Virginian and English cultures, social norms, and economies. Second, she covers in a comprehensive yet concise manner the complex story of Virginia's first few decades, including its suffering under incompetent leadership, its role in the maneuverings among Indigenous groups, its connections to English politics, and the transformation tobacco wrought. Finally, in describing the terrible 1622 war and its aftermath, she delves into the boys and the girl at the center of her story, who represented the "countless people who chose, or were forced into, a life that required a fluid identity" in "early modern Europe and its Atlantic" (175). The beautifully illustrated and produced volume complements the quality of Kupperman's scholarship and writing. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates, graduate students, and general readers. --Daniel Richard Mandell, Truman State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

In Captives and Cousins, James L. Brooks detailed the importance of the exchange of captives between American Indian peoples and Euroamericans, beginning with the Spanish and later with U.S. citizens. The practice forged ties among the groups and created cultural intermediaries. Kupperman (emerita, history, New York Univ.; The Jamestown Project) examines a manifestation of the same phenomena during the establishment of the Jamestown colony in Virginia in the early 17th century through the experiences of Pocahontas, a Powhatan, and three English boys: Thomas Savage, Henry Spelman, and Robert Poole. They were not the only teenage captives exchanged between the Algonquin peoples of Chesapeake Bay and the English but were the ones who appear most often in the historical record. With a unique perspective shaped by living within a different culture, these young men became valuable mediators between the Native Americans and the English for their entire lives. At the same time, they were not viewed as members of either group, thus their motives were always suspect. VERDICT This enlightening study highlights a form of slavery that has been often overlooked in histories of colonial Virginia and should be read alongside Helen C. Rountree's Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough.-John R. Burch, Univ. of Tennessee at Martin © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.