Much of the written history about Native Americans was written by colonists, making the colonists voice a very powerful one when looking at primary sources of Native Americans. While colonists may have gotten some information on the history of Native Americans from the Powhatans themselves, the colonists’ interpretations were generally different from Native Americans’. This is because colonists would take their oral histories and alter it to shape their personal agenda, one that often portrayed Native Americans as savages. I plan to research colonist narratives that describe Powhatan Indians. Specifically, I want to focus on the way that colonists took native’s history and shaped it to be viewed by white audiences, giving a colonist view of Native American history.
For primary sources, I found several engravings and watercolors, letters from colonists, and a book by John Smith. The engravings and water colors depict images of Native Americans and some activities that they performed. Since they are paintings, the creators were able to have more creative liberty to demonstrate their view of Native Americans. One specifically is an image of a man and woman eating; in this watercolor they are eating on the ground with their hands. Native Americans were often referred to as “savages” by the colonists and this watercolor furthers this fact because it was so different from how the colonists and Europeans ate. They are works from the British Museum and Brown University. The letters are mostly between Thomas Jefferson and Peter Stephen Duponceau that I found on the National archives. In these letters they talk about the language of Virginia Native Americans. In one letter Jefferson mentions a history that Duponceau wrote about the Native Americans. I have not been able to find what the history was, but I am still looking into it. The book, A Map of America, by John Smith includes several things. It includes a brief translation of Native American words that he felt would be important for incoming settlers and Englishmen to know. It also including information about Native Americans such as their appearances, customs, religion, government, and so much more.
For secondary sources, I choose works both by those with Native American backgrounds and those without, to see how their opinions about the colonists’ writings vary. Helen Roundtree has written many books about Native Americans, several of which are specifically about the Powhatan tribe. Because she has done so much research especially on the Powhatan’s, I have found two works from her to use that demonstrate the Native American view of Powhatan History. One book I found particularly interesting was Powhatan Lords of Life and Death: Command and Consent in Seventeenth-century Virginia by Margaret Williamson because it is about a Native American leader that is only really known about today because of the writing of the colonists. Williamson mentions that most of the information that is available about him come from the writings of colonists rather than the Powhatan tribe. These sources reflect how the writing of colonists affected history and how they may have skewed their writing to fit their needs.
Colonist representations of Native Americans often vary widely from how the people truly were. The colonist would take the information they learned from the tribes and shape it into a view that benefited them and their personal agenda. They laid the foundation for the written history of Native Americans that would be used to write other future histories and in turn, they helped shape the tone of Native Americans as savages. That has had a huge impact on how Native Americans are viewed both as a historical idea and as a group of people that still exist today.
Bry, De. 1590. Their manner of fishynge in Virginia. Engraving. Brown University.
“From Thomas Jefferson to Peter Stephen Duponceau, 14 March 1819,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/
“From Thomas Jefferson to Peter Stephen Duponceau, 7 July 1820,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/
Smith, John. “A Map of Virginia: With a Description of the Countrey, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion,” in Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625, edited by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, 75-204. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907. www.americanjourneys.org/aj-075/ [accessed February 7, 2017].
“To Thomas Jefferson from Peter Stephen Duponceau, 12 September 1820,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/
Veen, G. 1590. A younge gentill woeman doughter of Secota. Engraving. Brown University.
White, John. 1585-1586. Indian Man and Woman Eating. Watercolor. British Museum.
Gallican, Martin. James River Chiefdoms: The Rise of Social Inequality in the Chesapeake. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.
Hoobler, Dorothy. Captain John Smith: Jamestown and the Birth of the American Dream. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2006.
McCary, Ben. Indians in Seventeenth Century Virginia. Williamsburg: 350th Anniversary Celebration Corporation, 1957.
Quitt, Martin H. “Trade and Acculturation at Jamestown, 1607-1609: The Limits of Understanding.” The William and Mary Quarterly 52, no. 2 (1995): 227-58.
Rountree, Helen C., and E. Randolph Turner. Before and After Jamestown: Virginia’s Powhatans and Their Predecessors. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.
Roundtree, Helen. “Powhatan Indian Women: The People Captain John Smith Barely Saw.” Ethnohistory 45, no. 1(1 January 1998): 1-29.
Stebbins, Sarah. “Meet the State-Recognized Virginia Indian Tribes.” National Park Service, February 8, 2017. https://home.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/virginia-indian-tribes.htm
Williamson, Margaret. Powhatan Lords of Life and Death: Command and Consent in Seventeenth-century Virginia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.