Pocahontas: Beyond the Myth (2017) Movie Script

Narrator: Pocahontas has been a legend for so long,
it's almost hard to believe she was an actual person.
Woman: Pocahontas was a real girl
who walked around the same way we walk around today.
Narrator: She grew up
to become the most famous American Indian woman
in history.
Woman: And that puts her in the class
of, you know, Cleopatra and Joan of Arc.
Narrator: But how much of the story we know is true?
Woman: Did they really understand
what they were seeing?
Man: Was Pocahontas a traitor to her own people?
Man: Maybe she was a double agent.
Narrator: And what keeps her memory alive
over four centuries?
Actress: Pocahontas asks him to give her this man's life.
Woman: Once a whole generation is told a story that they love,
it tends to last,
and this one lasted.
Man: We can tell you exactly where in the Church she stood.
That gives me the goosebumps.
Narrator: Hers is a story we tell ourselves about America,
a founding mother who still defines us today.
For 400 years, Pocahontas has been a household name.
We may think of her story as ancient history,
but her people are still very much alive.
Terry Mcauliffe: This is a historic year for us.
The Pamunkey Tribe has received
from The Bureau Of Indian Affairs,
they have been just recognized as a Federal Tribe,
So congratulations...
[Applause and cheering]
David Penney: The Indians that we project romantically
into our kind of past,
for many Americans to learn that, well, wait a minute,
the descendants of those same so-called mythical Indians
that are supposed to have faded away
are still with us today.
Narrator: The most famous and mythic
American Indian story of all
is Pocahontas.
Paul Chaat Smith: She was seen
as a really consequential person
in American history from the very beginning.
Narrator: She's been celebrated as an American princess.
Smith: She was seen as royalty.
She was famous on two continents while still a teenager.
Narrator: She's even a Disney princess.
The story that's been passed down through the centuries
is a romance,
a love that unites two cultures
and creates lasting peace...
forging two worlds into one.
But even written history
can have a curious habit of getting it all wrong.
Penney: The kind of Romeo and Juliet story,
The John Smith and Pocahontas story,
very likely never happened.
Narrator: The true story is less of a fairy tale.
An ocean journey...
and the future of an entire civilization
make up the real story of Pocahontas.
The story starts years before the Pilgrims
arrive at Plymouth Rock
when three British ships make landfall
in what is today the State of Virginia.
They are there to found the first English colony
in the New World.
James Horn: I'd say it's a pretty widespread belief
that the Puritans--
more accurately the Pilgrims--
who arrived At Plymouth in 1620,
was the first permanent English colony,
uh, but it was actually preceded by Jamestown
13 years earlier, in 1607.
Narrator: 104 settlers, financed by London investors
and with the permission of King James I,
have come to search for gold
and a water passage to the Pacific ocean.
They are explorers, mercenaries and tradespeople
looking to make their fortunes.
Of course, it's only the New World to them.
The Indian Algonquin people
have lived here for thousands of years.
Ashley Atkins: When the English arrived,
they were stepping into a really intricate landscape
that involved an extremely large and powerful chiefdom.
Narrator: The Chief, Wahunsenacawh,
or Chief Powhatan,
was Pocahontas' father.
As his daughter, she has gone down in history as a princess.
Smith: We know that the princess isn't very accurate
because she had tons of sisters and brothers,
and none of them were called princes or princesses.
But she was a daughter of a powerful leader.
I think America wants royalty, right?
There's an envy of royalty.
So it's kind of cool that, you know, our royal
will be like an Indian.
Narrator: Popular culture imagines her as a grown woman.
But in 1607, Pocahontas was a girl of 9 or 10.
Camilla Townsend: Pocahontas was a real girl
who walked around the same way we walk around.
What made her laugh may have been different
from what makes us laugh,
but that spark of joy when she was giggling
was the aame as the spark of joy in any young girl today.
Narrator: Her real name was Matoaka.
Pocahontas was just a nickname.
Depending on who you ask,
it either meant "Spoiled Child" or "Playful One."
Either way, it suggests a carefree childhood
for the Chief's daughter.
But the arrival of the colonists
would put that reality to the test.
Horn: I Think The English
Get Mixed Messages.
There were some Indian peoples along the James River
who welcomed them.
Um, trade.
And there are Indian peoples that are more hostile.
Narrator: Just a month after making landfall,
the settlers are attacked by 200 Indians.
Two colonists are killed,
and 11 are wounded.
[Bird calls]
[Gunfire and yelling]
The attack was just the first sign
that life in Jamestown might not live up to expectations.
It was swampy, mosquito-infested,
and the water was impure.
Before long, the colonists were battling disease and hunger.
Horn: Finding food and finding provisions
to keep that colony alive
was one of the toughest jobs.
Um, not just for Jamestown, actually.
Most European colonies failed within 12 months.
Narrator: They soon realize they are woefully unprepared.
Townsend: The English have been laughed at,
in a sense, by historians
for arriving without any clear sense
of how they were going to support themselves.
Narrator: Despite abundant fishing and hunting,
the English simply lack the requisite know-how
to make their food supply meet demand.
Atkins: Here they're surrounded by food.
Like, I go to Jamestown Island,
and I'm like you could have eaten that,
you could have eaten that.
I mean, maybe it wasn't there, you know, 400 years ago,
but I'm pretty sure it was.
Narrator: As winter sets in, the problem intensifies.
To the Powhatan, they hardly seem like a threat.
Smith: For a long time, Indians in Virginia
actually thought the English came to look for food,
because their experience of seeing the English
was they were desperately hungry all the time,
they were clueless about fishing,
they were clueless about farming.
So maybe they came here
because where they're from, it's even worse.
Narrator: Jamestown was led by a short, brash soldier-for-hire
named John Smith.
Smith actually arrived in the New World a prisoner
after a conflict at sea landed him in the brig.
But the colony quickly realizes they need him to survive.
It is his search for food
That brings the English into contact with Pocahontas.
Townsend: It was John Smith, in fact, who met her.
He had gone up the Chickahominy River,
hoping to be able to trade for some corn
because the colonists were so hungry.
Narrator: With Jamestown on the verge of starvation,
a desperate Smith travels through unexplored territory
and is set upon by a group of Powhatan warriors.
Horn: John Smith was someone
who never lacked for, um, self-confidence.
Um, he believed he knew best, uh, almost in any situation.
He's trying to hold them off with his pistol.
Narrator: Despite the weapon,he's far outnumbered.
They capture Smith, and over the next several weeks,
march him from village to village,
displaying him like a curiosity.
[Cheering and yelling]
Townsend: He was paraded around at various villages
before being taken to Werowocomoco,
which means King's house or Chief's house.
That's where Powhatan, Pocahontas' father, lived
and where she lived, too.
Narrator: At Powhatan's Werowocomoco longhouse,
he is brought before the great Chief.
It's a historic meeting of cultures.
Horn: He is the first settler
to really, um, involve himself with, with the Chiefs.
No one had done it before him, no.
Narrator: As a European,
he likely would have underestimated Powhatan.
Townsend: We have every reason to believe
that a man like, like Powhatan
was extremely intelligent,
extremely sharp,
would have had a higher IQ than your average person anywhere,
including your average person in England.
Narrator: What Smith says happened next
is the genesis of the Pocahontas legend.
John Smith: Two great stones were brought before Powhatan.
Then as many as could laid hands on him,
dragged him to them,
and there on laid his head,
and being ready with their clubs
to beat out his brains.
Narrator: It was to be an execution.
But just when death seemed like a certainty,
he was saved.
John Smith: Pocahontas, the King's dearest daughter,
when no entreaty could prevail,
got his head in her arms,
and laid her own upon his to save him from death.
Narrator: She saves Smith,
and with him, the colony itself.
The legend lasts through the ages.
But is it even true?
For throwing herself
between the leader of the Jamestown colony
and a warrior's club,
Pocahontas becomes a bridge between cultures
and a savior of the future nation.
Or at least that's how the story plays in the movies.
And that's how it's enshrined in the very heart of democracy,
the U.S. Capitol Building.
Cecile Ganteaume: The rotunda of the U.S. capitol
was built to evoke the Roman Pantheon,
and it's a very majestic place.
And in the top of the dome
is the painting, The Apotheosis of George Washington.
And then three images of Pocahontas
are under that painting of George Washington.
So she's in a very, very significant place.
Narrator: Most famously,
she appears in the Frieze that encircles the Dome.
Ganteaume: The colony is the first place in the New World
that representative form of government takes root.
And so that morphs into Pocahontas saving
the birthplace of democracy.
Narrator: According to legend,
without Pocahontas, the Capitol itself might not exist.
The story is part of the country's DNA.
But did it really happen?
Townsend: John Smith sent a report home to England
as soon as he was released, a couple months later,
and he never said anything about that at all.
In fact, he said that they treated him
with what kindness they could, was a quote,
and clearly wanted to negotiate with him,
form some sort of trade relationship.
Narrator: It's possible
that Smith misinterpreted an adoption ceremony
as an execution.
Horn: Another theory is that he was being tested by,
by Indian priests as to whether he was worthy of being saved.
And this culminates when he reaches Werowocomoco
because Powhatan offers to adopt him as a Powhatan,
the elite group of this Chiefdom.
Penney: His capture and then his release
was an attempt to make him a kind of captain
or a member of the Confederacy
to try to bring Jamestown under the rule of Powhatan.
Atkins: After John Smith is saved,
Powhatan refers to him as "Son."
And some have argued that that was his way
of initiating Smith
into this kind of Powhatan system of hierarchy
where John Smith is now his son,
Powhatan is his father.
You are subservient to your father, right?
Narrator: Adopting Smith would make perfect sense
for a shrewd leader like Powhatan.
Horn: John Smith is going to be a valuable ally of the Powhatans
within James Fort.
They want to turn, if you like,
one of the leaders to their cause.
Narrator: Ceremony or execution,
historians don't believe
Pocahontas would have been present.
Penney: Experts insist
that she was far too young as a young woman
to participate in ceremonies like that.
Um, so very likely, from their perspective,
she didn't participate.
Narrator: If it happened at all,
Smith kept the life-saving story under wraps for decades.
Although he published about his Virginia adventures
in 1608 and 1612,
it doesn't appear in print until his 1624 book,
"Generall Historie of Virginia."
Townsend: Only years later,
when all the principals were dead,
did he come up with that story.
Nobody was left to contradict it.
Narrator: He also spins the romantic tale.
Smith: Wouldn't it be cool if the daughter of the Indian guy
fell in love with the leader of the English colony
and they had this hot romance and lived happily ever after?
Narrator: From a literary point of view,
it makes a much better story.
Of course, she was around 11 years old.
He was 27.
Penney: They certainly knew of each other,
but the romance between them
very likely was total fiction on John Smith's part.
Narrator: In fact,
Smith has a history of fictionalizing his adventures.
Ganteaume: Today, Captain Smith is considered a fabulist,
that he exaggerated a lot of his tales.
Narrator: He'd told the identical story
more than once before.
Ganteaume: Tales about princesses,
young women in other parts of the world
also coming in and saving his life
just when he was about to be dispatched.
Narrator: But truth or invention,
the story of Pocahontas saving his life
takes on a life of its own.
A century and a half later,
when America achieves independence from Britain,
it's back in the spotlight.
Penney: The United States wanted to define themselves
in contrast to their European origins.
How are we American and how are we different
from our European foundations?
American Indians provided, you know,
a kind of a route, a pathway.
Narrator: From then on,
it is taught to generation after generation
of American schoolchildren.
Townsend: Noah Webster wrote not only a dictionary
but also a textbook.
And that textbook was used in most of the public schools,
and so they all got to know the story of this Pocahontas
who had loved white men so much, especially John Smith,
and had thrown herself over his body to save him.
And once a whole generation is told a story that they love,
it tends to last.
And this one lasted all through the years.
Narrator: So is the story of Pocahontas all a myth?
Not exactly.
She probably didn't save Smith's life,
but she did help save the colony itself.
She frequently delivers much-needed food to the fort.
And she quickly becomes bilingual.
Townsend: There is real evidence
that she was functioning as a translator,
as a useful and successful translator within months.
Horn: Language is critical.
Early on there, there was a good deal of misunderstanding.
Uh, sign language has got limits, obviously.
Townsend: John Smith recorded a sort of set of language lessons
that he had had with her--
simple phrases and then simple sentences
in the Algonquian language that the Powhatans spoke.
And in these sentences, he mentions Pocahontas.
So he will say, Pocahontas says bring me two baskets.
And then he will write those same words
in the Algonquian language that she was teaching him.
[Pocahontas speaks Algonquian word]
[Smith repeats Algonquian word]
[Pocahontas repeats Algonquian word]
Narrator: The written record of their language lessons
are the only sentences of the now extinct Algonquian language
that survive.
It was also a matter of survival for John Smith.
Horn: Smith is leveraging this position
whereby he's the only one who can talk to the great Chief
and therefore leverage his position amongst the English.
So the rise and fall of John Smith
is intimately connected with language
and his ability to speak Algonquian
and his relationship with, with Powhatan
and with Pocahontas.
Narrator: For her part,
Pocahontas becomes a crucial figure in Jamestown--
a child ambassador from the tribe
whose goodwill is keeping the colonists alive.
Townsend: All the English at the fort,
at the Jamestown fort,
knew her, knew about her.
She was a famous Indian to them.
Not quite so famous as her father, father, Powhatan,
but well known to them nonetheless.
Narrator: For one thing,
numerous accounts from Jamestown colonists
tell us she was famous for her cartwheels.
But the days of playing in the sunshine won't last.
From the original 104 settlers,
only 38 remain by the end of 1607.
A resupply ship brings new blood and food,
but much is lost in a fire in early 1608.
A year after arriving in Jamestown,
the English still don't seem like a threat to the Powhatan.
But they are one.
Narrator: John Smith and Pocahontas
have become pop culture icons.
Al Jolson: Now here's what I'd like to know
Who played poker with Pocahontas
When John Smith went away?
Narrator: But what really separates them
is not very funny.
In 1608, Smith becomes President of the colony.
He runs a tight ship.
John Smith: He that will not work shall not eat.
Narrator: He has negotiated a tenuous peace
and the all-important supply of food with the Powhatan.
But he can't give the Indians the one thing they really want.
Horn: What they want from the English
is English weaponry.
Copper as well, but primarily weaponry,
And not just steel-edged weapons.
Um, not just swords and poleaxes and so on.
They want firearms.
They want cannon, and they want muskets and pistols.
Narrator: Naturally,
the Virginia Company's Charter forbids this.
Horn: Because he can't deliver,
those personal relationships
that Smith had built his fortunes around broke down.
That was the end of his preeminence, really,
in the colony.
Narrator: Never well-liked, his hard-line leadership
results in more than one attempt on his life.
He survives but is injured.
Townsend: He was losing popularity among the men.
It was time to go home for political reasons.
Narrator: Nursing his wounds, he sets sail to England.
Pocahontas is told he has died,
and her visits to Jamestown come to an end.
Following Smith's departure,
conditions in James fort again grow desperate.
Townsend: The white people had worn out their welcome.
The Indians were no longer bringing corn
and other foodstuffs, either as gifts or even to sell.
Um, and in fact the Indians sometimes were attacking them
when they left the fort.
So the English couldn't even plant crops
and try to live on that.
Narrator: In 1609,
their salvation sets sail from England--
A great fleet carrying 500 more settlers
and supplies for all.
But nothing goes according to plan.
Horn: This fleet was caught in a hurricane in the Atlantic.
Many of the ships were damaged, and stores were damaged.
So 500 people arrive at Jamestown
without sufficient provisions.
At the same time, there'd been plague
in one of those ships that arrived,
so you have lack of provisions,
disease that swept through Jamestown,
and then Indian peoples choose that moment
to... to attack the English to get rid of them.
So you have a trifecta, really, of disasters.
Narrator: As cold turns to freezing,
hunger turns to starvation.
They eat rats.
They boil and eat their belts and shoes,
and when those are gone,
they are forced into a darker Corner.
The 2012 discovery of a colonist's skull--
a teenage girl--
led Jamestown archeologists to a grisly reality.
She had been eaten.
Doug Owsley: I've seen cannibalism
in many different situations, actually,
in North America, prehistoric North America, for instance,
and there's just no doubt that that occurred.
Narrator: This wasn't murder.
The girl, reconstructed here, was already dead
when some unknown starving settlers consumed her.
Owsley: There are chops here, four to the forehead,
that are very tentative
in the sense that they do cut into the bone,
But they don't go very deep.
It's not something that the person was alive,
because you would never get such closely spaced chops.
Narrator: It's the first known evidence of survival cannibalism
in North America.
Owsley: It completely speaks to just how horrible the time was
and the fact that they just had nothing to eat.
Narrator: By the end of winter,
more than 150 English-- nearly 75% of the colony--
are gone.
60-some desperate colonists abandon the fort,
only to be turned around by another ship from England
and a new Governor,
Lord De La Warr.
His supplies resurrect the colony,
but open warfare with the Indians
now threatens its survival.
Man: And fire!
In 1613, Pocahontas, now a grown woman of 16,
once again becomes the colony's unlikely savior.
She's visiting the nearby Patowomeck tribe
when her Indian hosts,
threatened with war by an English ship Captain,
lure her onto his vessel and betray her.
Penney: The kidnapping of Pocahontas
is plotted and achieved
as a part of creating this kind of leverage
over the Powhatan confederacy
in order to maintain a certain amount of stability and peace
And also to maintain the trade, which for Jamestown means food.
Narrator: Pocahontas is the currency
that pays for the colony's survival.
She is held prisoner aboard ship for days,
then marched from the port through the gates of James fort.
The place she played as a child
is now a village of unfamiliar faces.
The English demand a ransom of hostages and stolen weapons,
which goes only partially paid.
Negotiations will drag on for more than a year.
Inside the fort walls, in this English world,
Pocahontas, the Powhatan woman, is remade,
at least on the surface.
Ganteaume: We don't know what was going on in her head.
She was involved in all these incredible events
during a very momentous time in history,
but we do not know what she was thinking.
Narrator: We do know what she meant to the colony.
Horn: Pocahontas,
her status as the daughter of the great Chief
is, is hugely important to the English.
Narrator: She's important as a piece of collateral,
but she's also seen as a soul ripe for conversion.
Horn: The Church of England was only 50 years old
at the time of the founding of Virginia.
It was well known that the Spanish
had converted millions of Indian peoples to Catholicism
in South America and Middle America.
North America was to be English, and it was to be Anglican.
It was to be Protestant.
Building The Church of England
by bringing in the entire Powhatan nation
was the first step
to converting all Indian peoples in North America
to the Anglican Church.
Narrator: Baptizing Pocahontas was the first step
in converting the Powhatan nation.
Horn: That's why it was important
that she was directly related to the great Chief.
Narrator: Over the months in captivity,
she's instructed in the Anglican faith,
and she becomes the first indigenous person
to convert to Christianity in the English New World.
She is baptized "Rebecca."
A soul saved that helped the English justify
the moral correctness of colonization.
Pocahontas: ... Upon the earth.
Chief Robert Gray: Europeans and Christians
loved the idea of coming over here
to save the poor heathen Indians from themselves,
spread Christianity,
and steal our land at the same time.
Narrator: Was Pocahontas helping them do it?
Was she truly devout?
Or was she brainwashed by her kidnappers?
Townsend: Was she exhibiting
something like the Stockholm Syndrome?
That is that she was, had become so disempowered, so victimized,
that in her psychological devastation,
she was identifying
with the people who had power over her.
Narrator: The same questions are asked again
more than three centuries later
with the kidnapping of another important daughter.
When heiress Patricia Hearst is captured
by a radical leftist group in 1974,
she appears to join their cause--
even helping them rob a bank--
And raises comparisons to Pocahontas.
Smith: There become these analyses in the Press
that talk about, well, gee, Pocahontas was a daughter
of a really rich and powerful leader.
She was kidnapped,
and then we didn't quite know what side she was for.
Was she still with her people?
Was she for the English?
[Bell tolling]
Narrator: We still don't know,
but the woman who is both
Rebecca and Matoaka,
nicknamed Pocahontas,
is about to meet another Englishman named John.
Unlike John Smith, this would be a real love story.
Or would it?
[Crowd cheering]
Narrator: On the silver screen,
the romance of Pocahontas and John Smith
plays like a fairy tale.
In real life, there may also have been romance,
but with an entirely different suitor.
While a hostage in Jamestown,
she meets a wealthy planter named John Rolfe.
In 1614, Rolfe writes to Sir Thomas Dale,
Governor of the colony,
declaring and defending his love for Pocahontas.
John Rolfe: To whom my heart and best thoughts are,
and have long time been so entangled,
and enthralled in so intricate a labyrinth.
Narrator: Rolfe is clearly smitten.
Pocahontas may have been motivated
by more diplomatic thinking.
Her father ruled over a confederacy
formed by matrimonial alliances,
and he readily agreed to the match.
Atkins: This alliance through marriage
was, I think, twofold:
To end the warfare,
but to also help Powhatan have
more of an influence over the colony.
Horn: Was it a marriage of convenience,
that it guaranteed her safety?
Did she love John Rolfe?
Who knows, really?
Narrator: The Governor grants his permission,
and they marry on April 5, 1614.
In 2010,
archeologists discovered the site of the wedding.
William Kelso: In our excavations in the fort,
we found various building sites,
One of which was the first church.
And it was there that Pocahontas was married in 1614,
and according to the ceremony,
we can tell you exactly where in the church she stood.
Now, I think that... that gives me the goosebumps.
Narrator: Today, visitors can stand on the actual spot
where the ceremony took place.
Once Virginia is firmly established,
this kind of interracial union will first become unthinkable
and then, after the abolition of slavery,
Three and a half centuries later,
less than 100 miles from Jamestown,
another couple will invoke Pocahontas
and challenge that law.
Mildred Jeter,
of African American and Native American Descent,
marries Richard Loving, who is white.
Like Rebecca and John Rolfe,
their wedding will make history.
Smith: These are two of the most famous
interracial marriages, you know, in North America,
And with such consequences.
Narrator: The Lovings were jailed for marrying
and forced to leave their home state.
At trial, the judge declared:
Man: "Almighty God created the races,
white, black, yellow, malay and red,
and he placed them on separate continents.
The fact that he separated the races
shows that he did not intend for them to mix."
Narrator: The couple took their case to the Supreme Court,
and in 1967, the decision in Loving V. Virginia
invalidated the prohibition of interracial marriage nationwide.
Smith: It's really powerful that, um, how central that was
and how appropriate it was that decision happened in Virginia.
I think that's really kind of perfect.
Narrator: Pocahontas' marriage
also had political ramifications.
As Governor Thomas Dale wrote in 1614,
it ushered in a period known as "The Pocahontas Peace."
Thomas Dale: Powhatan's daughter is since married
to an English gentleman of good understanding,
another knot to bind this peace the stronger.
Narrator: The royal hostage had become a bride
and a diplomat putting the colony on steady ground.
Townsend: When John Rolfe and Pocahontas married,
the English agreed to stop demanding tribute,
payments in corn from Powhatan,
and to stop demanding
that they return all the weapons they had stolen.
And the Indians agreed that, for a while at any rate,
they would stop attacking the English
whenever they left the fort.
Narrator: During this honeymoon period,
Rebecca and John Rolfe have a baby boy.
They name him Thomas.
Townsend: John Rolfe wrote in ecstatic terms
both about the peace
and about the life he was living on the farm
with, with Pocahontas.
Narrator: On that farm, Rolfe experiments with a crop
that will reverse the fortunes of the colony
and determine the future of the country:
Penney: North American tobacco, Nicotiana Rustica,
um, was much harsher
and not as pleasant to smoke socially
as Southern tobaccos--
Uh, Nicotiana Tobacum, for example,
which was the tobacco that the Spanish were exporting.
The Spanish guarded their access to that species of tobacco
very carefully.
It was a capital offense
to sell tobacco seeds from the South.
Narrator: We don't know how Rolfe acquired
the precious seeds,
but he introduces the Southern tobacco
to Jamestown.
And according to oral tradition,
he learns Powhatan methods for curing tobacco from Pocahontas--
hanging it to dry rather than laying it on the ground.
Townsend: It grew so well
and sold for so much money back in London
that pretty soon almost all of the Virginia colonists
were planting tobacco,
even when they should have been planting food.
Narrator: Despite high hopes for gold or a route west,
Jamestown has never delivered on the investment of its backers...
until now.
But Rolfe's tobacco is a devil's bargain.
Smith: You know, this incredibly addictive drug
that's killed millions of people around the world, um,
depletes soil, everything else.
Narrator: It will create a demand for labor
that will kick off the slave trade
and force Indians off their land.
But in the 16-teens,
The golden leaf was simply a money maker.
The first of its kind in Virginia.
Its success will also propel Pocahontas' fame.
Ganteaume: Her association with tobacco,
which never goes away,
It starts being used to sell tobacco.
Narrator: In her lifetime,
she's going to be used to sell something else--
America itself.
[Bell ringing]
[Yelling in distance]
Narrator: In 1616,
Pocahontas boards an English ship
for the second time.
It is captained by the very same man
who kidnapped her just three years before.
But on this voyage,
she is an honored guest of the Virginia Company,
setting sail for London.
Townsend: She was pressured to go with her husband
and her then very young toddler child to England
by the Virginia Company because they needed,
desperately needed to use the marriage,
her marriage to John Rolfe,
as proof that the settlement was viable,
that the Indians weren't going to attack,
and that it was safe to settle there.
Narrator: She is very possibly the perfect person for the job.
Ganteaume: So, all throughout the 1500s,
Europeans were thinking of indigenous peoples as cannibals,
as idolaters,
as brutish,
and most of all as being irredeemably non-Christian.
Ok. Enter Pocahontas.
She is none of these things.
Narrator: In London,
all things Virginia are the rage.
The 1609 Bermuda Shipwreck of the Sea Venture--
The ship John Rolfe sailed on to the New World--
inspired Shakespeare's "The Tempest"
and romanticized the promise of Virginia.
Pocahontas arrives to find herself very much in fashion.
Ganteaume: She took Europe by storm.
She shows up speaking English in Elizabethan garb.
She shows up as a Christian wife.
She shows up as somebody who was invited
to the court of King James.
So, Pocahontas right away
becomes somebody that Europeans can relate to
and they can understand.
Narrator: To advertise her visit,
the Virginia Company commissions her portrait.
Townsend: Simon Van De Passe, an artist at the time,
was asked by the Virginia Company
to sketch her
and then make an engraving for a brochure.
Narrator: It's the only picture of her made from life.
Townsend: It is noteworthy that he did not, at that time,
attempt to make her look like your average white English girl
or German girl or French girl.
Right. She is very clearly in that image
a native American person.
Narrator: What did she think of it all?
The image contains clues.
Townsend: They wanted to prove to the London public
that the Indians love us,
the Indians want us to go to Virginia.
so they needed an image of a happy Indian
dressed in Elizabethan clothes, okay.
But sometimes I wonder if it was partly her decision
to put on that fierce expression staring straight out.
Narrator: And then there is the Algonquian word for Virginia,
phonetically spelled out in English.
Townsend: Around the band of the picture there is text.
Then underneath, it says Virginia,
that is called Tsenacommacah.
So where could Simon Van De Passe, the artist,
have gotten his information?
Clearly from her.
Narrator: She may well have been carefully controlling her image,
even as she promoted colonization.
Gray: Was Pocahontas a victim?
A pawn?
There's even been talk, you know,
some people even equate her with being a traitor
to her own people.
Narrator: Was she selling the Powhatan out?
Or just playing both sides?
Smith: Maybe she was a double agent.
She's there to gather intelligence,
to see this thing that had to be seen to be believed.
Narrator: We know she made the trip
with her father's blessing.
Townsend: In fact, he sent high-ranking people with her
in order that they should learn more about the English
and bring back that information.
Atkins: I have no doubt
that Powhatan was also being strategic
about her going to this place
to learn more about who these, you know, interlopers were,
these invaders were.
Narrator: A meeting with an old friend
returned from the dead
reveals something of her allegiances.
John Smith: Pocahontas.
Townsend: John Smith loved fame,
and he chased it in any way that he could.
And he certainly worked hard when Pocahontas came to London
to advertise his own prior connection with her.
Narrator: If Smith anticipated a heartfelt reunion,
he was disappointed.
To Pocahontas, he was the sell-out.
Townsend: She felt lied to
in terms of having promised not to take their land,
to treat them respectfully, et cetera.
And she said that very vociferously
in front of a number of people.
Narrator: Rejecting Smith as a traitor to her people
suggests that she was still loyal to the Powhatan,
despite her position among the English.
What would happen to the Powhatan
seems obvious today,
but that was not so in the moment.
Smith: We're blinded because we know the ending.
So everything about Pocahontas
is knowing that the English settlement
was disastrous for Indian people.
And we're collapsing a century of history
into, you know, these moments.
Narrator: After all, in 1616,
Jamestown was a struggling colony,
always on the verge of starvation.
Smith: You would have been the town fool
to come in and say, oh, this is what's going to happen,
and it's going to be terrible,
and we should kill them all now while they're sleeping.
Narrator: The work of promoting the colony done,
in March of 1617,
the Rolfe family casts off from London
and sails down the Thames en route to Virginia.
But they never even reach the ocean.
Several passengers, including Pocahontas,
are too ill to go on.
Penney: We don't know, um, what she was afflicted with.
Some even are afraid that she might have been poisoned,
that they didn't want her to go back.
We don't know.
Narrator: At just 22 years old
and an ocean away from her home,
Pocahontas dies.
[Baby cries]
John Rolfe leaves their son
to be raised by his brother in England.
The two will never meet again.
But Pocahontas' impact does not end with her death.
Her son, Thomas Rolfe, grows up in Britain,
but returns to America as an adult in 1635.
Penney: He has the estates that John Rolfe created,
and he is very wealthy as a result,
as a tobacco plantation owner and manager.
Narrator: His becomes one of the most important
first families of Virginia.
His mother's bloodline quite literally founds America.
Penney: Not only Thomas Jefferson's sister
married a descendant of Pocahontas,
but his daughter married a descendant of Pocahontas
from a different branch of the family ss well.
Narrator: Today there are more than 30,000
documented descendants of Pocahontas
through Thomas Rolfe.
Townsend: It seems to be appealing to many Americans
to say that they are descended from an Indian princess.
Narrator: Descendants of Pocahontas
include Robert E. Lee
and First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson.
It's lineage that confers status,
like being related to passengers on the Mayflower.
But is it truly meaningful?
Townsend: Many of the people who claim to be descendants of her
can't even say when they're asked
what tribe or tribes she was affiliated with,
know almost nothing about her life.
Narrator: It's a complicated legacy
that would take a surprising turn.
Smith: In the 1920s,
this is when these ideological chickens come home to roost.
Narrator: In 1924,
Virginia's Registrar of Vital Statistics,
an avowed white supremacist, Walter Plecker,
leads an effort to "purify" the white race.
He classifies anyone with one drop of non-white blood
as "colored,"
which includes Pocahontas' descendants.
Smith: Uh-Oh.
I brag about my Pocahontas ancestry.
So how does that get fixed?
Narrator: It's fixed
by what comes to be known as the Pocahontas exception.
Atkins: It basically protects these white individuals
who claim descendancy from Pocahontas
from being moved into the colored category.
Narrator: At the same time,
the colored category lumps everyone together,
and on paper, native Americans lose their unique heritage.
Less than a hundred years later,
the Pamunkey, the surviving members of Pocahontas' tribe,
take on the Federal Government to get that recognition back.
At last, the Pocahontas exception does some good.
Gray: Plecker, all his efforts to fight against us,
basically helped our recognition
because if he was fighting so hard against us,
then we must have existed.
If, uh, if we didn't exist, why was he fighting?
We maintained our identity.
It was tough,
But we came out of it just knowing who we were.
Narrator: Pocahontas' fame is eternal.
We have been telling ourselves her story
for 400 years.
Actress: Pocahontas asks him to give her this man's life.
Smith: It's really important for the country
to see Indians in some way partners to the United States.
Pocahontas was there, she was part of things,
and we love Pocahontas.
People are saying it still matters
and Indians are fundamentally part of the country.
Narrator: John Smith and Disney may have made her famous...
but beyond the myth,
hers is a story at the core of the founding of America.