By Bryan Fischer
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Pocahontas was the daughter of a powerful native American chief, Powhatan, at the time of the settlement of Jamestown. According to John Smith, Pocahontas intervened to save him from certain death at the hands of her own father.
She also did much to help the early colony of Jamestown avoid both starvation and attack from the surrounding tribes, by bringing both food and information during what became known as “the Starving Time.” In fact, John Smith subsequently said that, “next, under God, [she] was still the instrument to preserve this Colonie from death, famine and utter confusion.”
She subsequently was captured by English settlers, who intended to exchange her for English prisoners who had been taken into captivity by the Algonquins, or Powhatans, who also helped themselves to various weapons and tools. The Powhatans, along with many of the indigenous peoples, seemed to have little respect for private property, including boundaries, and little regard for obedience to the eighth commandment and its prohibition against stealing. (On the Oregon Trail, the primary problems travelers suffered from the indigenous peoples were not massacres but thievery.)
Chief Powhatan released the prisoners, but did not return the weapons and tools which his people had stolen, so the English held on to Pocahontas. During a chance encounter with the Algonquins, Pocahontas rebuked her own father, accusing him of valuing her “less than old swords, pieces, or axes,” and informed him that she preferred from that time forward to live with the English.
During that year-long wait, she was treated with “extraordinary courteous usage,” according to colonist Ralph Hamor. A local minister by the name of Alexander Whitaker taught her about Christianity and helped her to learn English. She became a follower of Christ, was baptized, and took the Christian name “Rebecca.”
The rotunda of the United States Capitol since 1840 (before political correctness began radically distorting American history) has featured a huge mural by John Gadsby Chapman which pictures the Christian baptism of Pocahontas.
The explanatory note that accompanies the reproduction of this painting on the website of the architect of the U.S. Capitol indicates that Pocahontas, or Rebecca, “is thought to be the earliest native convert to Christianity in the English colonies.”
Her marriage to John Rolfe shortly after her baptism into the Christian faith established peaceful relations between the Tidewater tribes and the early colonists until her death in 1617.
But Chapman included, in the shadows of the painting, intimations of trouble to come. Pocahontas’s regally dressed brother turns his head away from the ceremony, while an uncle of Pocahontas sits sullenly on the floor, refusing even to watch. Upon Powhatan’s death in 1618, this uncle replaced him as chief and led the Pamunkey River massacre of 1622 in which 347 colonists, about a third of the population, were cut down in cold blood.
After her baptism and wedding, Rebecca traveled to England with her new husband, where she was honored and feted as a princess, the daughter of a king in the New World. She met King James, the King James of Bible fame, while there.
John Smith, who by then was living in England, wrote to Queen Anne in anticipation of Rebecca’s visit, remarked on her “present love to us and Christianity,” and urged the Queen to treat her well during her time in England. And treated well she was.
Rebecca reunited with Smith during her stay in England, although she apparently was miffed he hadn’t stayed in touch. But she told him forthrightly, “I tell you then,...you shall call me child, and so I will be for ever and ever your countryman.”
It’s arresting to think of how different the history of the American settlement and expansion could have been if the other indigenous peoples had followed Pocahontas’s example. She not only recognized the superiority of the God whom the colonists worshipped over the gods of her native people, she recognized the superiority (not the perfection) of their culture and adopted its patterns and language as her own.
In other words, she both converted and assimilated. She became both a Christian and an American (technically, of course, an Englishman). She melded into European and Christian civilization and made her identity as a Christian and an Englishman her primary identity. She was the first manifestation of what became our national slogan, “E Pluribus Unum,” “Out of many, one.”
Had the other indigenous people followed her example, their assimilation into what became America could have been seamless and bloodless. Sadly, it was not to be.
Pocahontas was the Rahab of the American continent. Rahab, you will remember, was a Canaanite woman who lived in Jericho at the time of the Israelite conquest. She placed her faith in the God of Moses, rather than the gods of Canaan, provided material assistance to the coming settlers, and assimilated into the nation of Israel. She played a highly honored role in Israel’s history as a result, occupying a place in the bloodline that led both to King David and to Christ.
She had access to the same truth her follow Canaanites did, but she chose to embrace it while they rejected it. The results for her native countrymen were both avoidable and tragic.
Alas, not enough of her fellow indigenous peoples were willing to follow in Rebecca’s footsteps, and a long and sordid trail of bloodshed and violence followed, which lasted until the turn of the 20th century.
But Rebecca, the former Pocahontas, showed us what could have been.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)