Looking for Pocahontas

From their housing, to their crafts, to their struggles, I have always had a fascination with all things Native American. This interest really began in high school when we were asked to read creation stories. It was fun imagining the Apache’s trickster coyote causing trouble, and seeing the Spider Woman of the Hopi creating the flora, fauna, and mankind.

Around the time of my enchantment with all things Native American, Disney released Pocahontas, and I was hooked.  Now I realized that there is little truth in the Disney film, but I loved that sound track.  I spent the entire summer of 1995 blasting it on my boom box and creating some weird interpretive dance in my backyard to “Colors of the Wind”.  (My mom still reminds me of the season-long entertainment my graceless dancing provided for the family.)  If that wasn’t bad enough, my three-year-old brother and I collected every action figure from McDonald’s happy meals and reenacted scenes from the film.  I think it’s safe to say I was a teeny bit obsessed.

So when my husband and I decided to take a road trip to visit some family in the Washington D.C. area,  I told him we just had to make the two and half hour detour to stop in Jamestown on the way back.  He conceded and we were off  to explore one of my childhood obsessions.

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As we were driving I saw this sign and we just had to stop for a photo op.

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Arrival at the fort

Upon arrival, the cherry trees were in full blossom, and when the wind shook the limbs, the blossoms would float to the ground like snow flurries.  It was pure beauty to watch.  But, alas, I was there to see Pocahontas, not cherry trees, so we continued on to the entrance.

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Cherry blossoms on a chilly morning.

After making our payment we went out into to fort proper, and we walked into a ranger who had just begun his talk.  While listening to park ranger go on and on about the history of the area was not my idea of fun–I wanted to start exploring–he was so dynamic to listen to that we ended up spending over an hour listening to him describe the life of the Powhatan tribe the settlers.  As he spoke, he stood in front of a Pocahontas statue.  The one thing that I distinctly remember from his talk was that the statute we were all looking at was not historically accurate.  Pocahontas was wearing the clothing of a Plains Indian.  The ranger informed us that Pocahontas would have only wore a skirt since she was being portrayed in her summer attire.  Well, patrons of the statue found that a topless Pocahontas would be inappropriate  for the public to view and would commission the statue of Pocahontas if she was appropriately attired.

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Pocahontas in her non-traditional dress.

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Everyone deeply engrossed by the park ranger’s stories.

Realizing that we had spent so much time listening to the ranger, we decided it was time to move on to the Powhatan village.  In the village there were replicas of housing, farming, canoemaking, games, and all sorts of other lifestyle elements of the Powhatan.

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One of the “natives” creates a dugout canoe.

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Trying my hand at one of the traditional Powhatan games.

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Demonstration of how fishing nets were made

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Inside of a wigwam

After exploring the Powhatan village, it was on to the fort.  Inside the fort were similar types of replicas–housing, weapons, armor, etc.    The mattresses were so thin and often infested with mice and insects.  It made my skin crawl to think about these sleeping conditions.

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My own personal John Smith.

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Settler’s sleeping quarters

Finally we were off to see the replica ships.  We were able to embark on The Discovery.  When I thought of the ships that carried these explorers across the ocean to America, what I was standing on did not fit what I had imagined.  I could walk the entire ship in about fifty steps.  After being on cruise ships,  it was incredibly hard to believe that these vessels were sea worthy enough to make that voyage.  There were definitely not the luxury accommodations of a cruise ship.   I would have hated to hit a hurricane in this little matchbox of a ship.

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The Discovery

All too soon we were heading back to our car to make the long drive back to Orlando.  But before we left the settlement, we came upon the man himself.  John Smith’s statue stood overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.  What a disappointment to see this statute did not look like the Mel Gibson inspired John Smith from the Disney film. He wasn’t even a very nice guy.  So with my distorted image of John Smith corrected, we left banks of the Chesapeake Bay with me thinking, “you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”

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The man. The myth. The legend.

 

 

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