Essential Books on Pocahontas
There are numerous books on Pocahontas, and it comes with good reason, she was a Native American woman, belonging to the Powhatan people, notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of America’s most consequential figures to interact with colonists from faraway lands, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on Pocahontas.
Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat by Dr. Paula Gunn Allen
In striking counterpoint to the conventional account, this gem among books on Pocahontas is a bold biography that tells the extraordinary story of the beloved Indian maiden from a Native American perspective. Dr. Paula Gunn Allen, the acknowledged founder of Native American literary studies, draws on sources often overlooked by Western historians and offers remarkable new insights into the adventurous life and sacred role of this foremost American heroine. Gunn Allen reveals why so many have revered Pocahontas as the female counterpart to the father of our nation, George Washington.
Pocahontas and the English Boys by Karen Ordahl Kupperman
Here for the first time outside scholarly texts is an accurate portrayal of Pocahontas, who, from the age of ten, acted as emissary for her father, who ruled over the local tribes, alongside the never-before-told intertwined stories of Thomas Savage, Henry Spelman, and Robert Poole, young English boys who were forced to live with powerful Indian leaders to act as 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 in the firing line of 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.
Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma by Camilla Townsend
Camilla Townsend’s stunning new book, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, 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.
Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price
A gripping narrative of one of the great survival stories of American history: the opening of the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Drawing on period letters and chronicles, and on the papers of the Virginia Company – which financed the settlement of Jamestown – David Price tells a tale of cowardice and courage, stupidity and brilliance, tragedy and costly triumph. He takes us into the day-to-day existence of the English men and women whose charge was to find gold and a route to the Orient, and who found, instead, hardship and wretched misery. Death, in fact, became the settlers’ most faithful companion, and their infighting was ceaseless.
Price offers a rare balanced view of the relationship between the settlers and the natives. He unravels the crucial role of Pocahontas, a young woman whose reality has been obscured by centuries of legend and misinformation (and, more recently, animation). He paints indelible portraits of Chief Powhatan, the aged monarch who came close to ending the colony’s existence, and Captain John Smith, the former mercenary and slave, whose disdain for class distinctions infuriated many around him – even as his resourcefulness made him essential to the colony’s success.
Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough by Helen C. Rountree
Pocahontas may be the most famous Native American who ever lived, but during the settlement of Jamestown, and for two centuries afterward, the great chiefs Powhatan and Opechancanough were the subjects of considerably more interest and historical documentation than the young woman.
It was Opechancanough who captured the foreign captain “Chawnzmit” – John Smith. Smith gave Opechancanough a compass, described to him a spherical earth that revolved around the sun, and wondered if his captor was a cannibal. Opechancanough, who was no cannibal and knew the world was flat, presented Smith to his elder brother, the paramount chief Powhatan. The chief, who took the name of his tribe as his throne name (his personal name was Wahunsenacawh), negotiated with Smith over a lavish feast and opened the town to him, leading Smith to meet, among others, Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas. Thinking he had made an ally, the chief finally released Smith. Within a few decades, and against their will, his people would be subjects of the British Crown.
Writing from an ethnohistorical perspective that looks as much to anthropology as the written records, Rountree draws a rich portrait of Powhatan life in which the land and the seasons governed life and the English were seen not as heroes but as Tassantassas (strangers), as invaders, even as squatters. The Powhatans were a nonliterate people, so we have had to rely until now on the white settlers for our conceptions of the Jamestown experiment. This important book at last reconstructs the other side of the story.
Pocahontas’s People by Helen C. Rountree
In this history, Helen C. Rountree traces events that shaped the lives of the Powhatan Indians of Virginia, from their first encounter with English colonists, in 1607, to their present-day way of life and relationship to the state of Virginia and the federal government.
Rountree’s examination of those four hundred years misses not a beat in the pulse of Powhatan life. Combining meticulous scholarship and sensitivity, the author explores the diversity always found among Powhatan people, and those people’s relationships with the English, the government of the fledgling United States, the Union and the Confederacy, the U.S. Census Bureau, white supremacists, the U.S. Selective Service, and the civil rights movement.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Pocahontas, check out our list of The 5 Best Books on Sacajawea!