Pocahontas And The Powhatan Dilemma Essay

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Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma
By Camilla Townsend. (Hill & Wang - A Division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 2004. Pg. xi, 223. Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-8090-9530-0.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - November 10, 2004

Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma is a compelling biography that details the life of Pocahontas and the period in which she lived. Written by Camilla Townsend, an associate professor of history at Colgate University in New York, this book separates the facts from the mythology that surrounds this fascinating and vibrant woman. The daughter of King Powhatan, Pocahontas was able to cross the boundary between Native American Culture and the culture of the English invaders. Her life's history tells us just as much about this potent noblewoman as it does about the two cultures in which she lived her life.

In Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, Townsend takes a new look at a woman who has been the focus of many books, movies, and legends. In writing this book, Townsend has tried to describe Pocahontas' life the way she might have described it. Into this history, Townsend also interweaves the events, personages, and political machinations that were endemic to the 'New World. In this regard she described the ambitions and tactics of the English settlers, and she chronicles the efforts taken by the Native American's to defend their land and their way of life.

Written in a flowing narrative style, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma sheds new light on the life and times of Pocahontas and the role that she played in the burgeoning dissonance between the native population and the English settlers in Virginia. Following Pocahontas from her childhood and her encounters with John Smith, through her marriage to John Rolfe and her sojourn and death in England this book provides a complete overview of Pocahontas' life and the influence that she exerted. In telling Pocahontas' story, this book also offers a powerful testimony to the strength, intelligence, and sophistication of the Native Americans that the English discovered upon entering Virginia. It also illustrated the ploys and deceits used by the English on those whom they saw as beneath themselves. Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma is a rousing story about a powerful and independent woman, and her people, who struggled against superior military forces, to maintain their independence.

Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma includes copious endnotes and a short bibliographical essay that will lead you to equally compelling and significant works on Pocahontas. This captivating book is ideal for anyone interested in the true story of Pocahontas, as well as historians and students interested in early Colonial American History.

Related Reviews:

War Under Heaven - Pontiac, The Indian Nations, & The British Empire, by Gregory Evans Dowd.
An innovative analysis of Pontiac's War, including its causes, and consequences.

Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, by Camilla Townsend.
An insightful biography that explores the life and times of Pocahontas and the tenacious relationship between the Native American population in Virginia and the invading English settlers.

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Camilla Townsend's stunning new book differs from all previous biographies of Pocahontas in capturing how similar seventeenth century Native Americans were--in the way they saw, understood, and struggled to control their world---not only to the invading British but to ourselves.

Neither naïve nor innocent, Indians like Pocahontas and her father, the powerful king Powhatan, confronted the vast might of the English with sophistication, diplomacy, and violence. Indeed, Pocahontas's life is a testament to the subtle intelligence that Native Americans, always aware of their material disadvantages, brought against the military power of the colonizing English. Resistance, espionage, collaboration, deception: Pocahontas's life is here shown as a road map to Native American strategies of defiance exercised in the face of overwhelming odds and in the hope for a semblance of independence worth the name.

Townsend's Pocahontas emerges--as a young child on the banks of the Chesapeake, an influential noblewoman visiting a struggling Jamestown, an English gentlewoman in London--for the first time in three-dimensions; allowing us to see and sympathize with her people as never before.


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