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What does a talking tree, a racoon, and a hummingbird have in common? They were all acquainted with Pocahontas…the 1995 Disney film version of her.  But what was the real Pocahontas like?  Born in the Powhatan tribe, she became famous for her interactions with the settlers of Jamestown, as well as accounts of her saving John Smith from being executed by her tribe.  But how accurate is that?  Does Disney do her justice and present her like her real-life counterpart?  Let’s break it down!

Part I: Breaking Down History

The ship was actually one of three ships, aside from the Discovery and Godspeed, that was sent by the English Virginia Company to settle in Jamestown.  However, while Governor Ratcliffe was shown as the captain of the ship in the movie, it was actually run by Christopher Newport.  Ratcliffe was on the Discovery!

Not much was known about Governor Ratcliffe, but there have been accounts that he was disliked by the colonists.  He often made poor trade deals with local Native American tribes, with colonists complaining that they would run out of materials to trade.  While the colonists starved and suffered from disease, he was also said to have ordered the construction of a capitol, which the people of Jamestown were incredibly unhappy about.  While gold may have been a resource that was searched for by the settlers, most towns such as Jamestown were actually created to acquire other resources available only to the New World, as well as establish a foothold in the name of their country.

Pocahontas was actually well acquainted with the Jamestown colonists and often played with the boys or delivered resources and trade goods to the settlers.  However, while the movie portrays her as a young woman, she was actually only around 10 years old when John Smith first met her.

Not exactly.  In 1607, John Smith was captured by a relative of Chief Powhatan and was brought to the capital at Weromocomoco. A feast was held and Powhatan offered to give him control of the town of Capahosic.  There was no account of him meeting Pocahontas until much later.  However, at Queen Anne’s court, he told the audience that he was saved from being executed by the tribe by Pocahontas, who had wrapped Smith’s head in her arms and placed her own head over his to prevent his death.  It’s likely that this was an embellishment to please the Queen’s court and improve his own reputation with the London Company (which funded Jamestown) due to his own failures.  There were no indications that there was any romance between her and John Smith.

There are differing accounts of her romantic life.  According to some, she had married Kocoum, a member of the Potowomac (Potomac) tribe, and had a child with him. In the movie, he was presented as a love interest to the fictional Pocahontas, but he was killed before he could marry her.  The real Kocoum was killed later on in a conflict between the colonists and local tribes, after which Pocahontas was captured in 1613.  After her capture, she married John Rolfe in 1614 after she converted to Christianity and took Rebecca as her baptismal name.

In the movie, he was injured by a gunshot and had to return to England to recover.  In reality, he was severely injured when gunpowder exploded in his canoe, forcing him to return to England in 1609 to recover.  He never returned to Jamestown.

Pocahontas returned to England with Rolfe, becoming somewhat of a celebrity in the eyes of some, and a curiosity in the eyes of others. She was often invited to various gatherings in London and was frequently presented as a princess of the Powhatan tribe (due to being daughter of the chief) despite not actually being royalty in Powhatan culture.  In 1617, as she was leaving England to sail for Virginia, Pocahontas became very sick and died at the age of 21.  

Part II: Recreating History – Corn Pone (6 Servings)

Now that we broke down the historical accuracy of Pocahontas, why don’t we recreate some history?  Corn (also known was “maize”) was a staple crop among Native American tribes.  Due to its versatility and ability to be dried or ground into cornmeal, it would often be kept in storage for a few years in case of a poor harvest.  Corn pone, a type of cornbread, was usually made with cornmeal.  Using water, the cornmeal was turned into a dough, flattened, covered with leaves, and layered with hot ashes to bake it.
We will be making a type of corn pone with ingredients they had available at the time:

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Cornmeal

  • 1 Teaspoon Salt

  • ¼ Cup Lard (or butter if you don’t have lard)

  • ½ Cup Buttermilk (or ½ cup of milk with ½ tablespoon of vinegar mixed in)

  • ¾ Cup Boiling Water

  • Honey, Butter, or Maple Syrup (optional for serving)

Steps:

  1. Mix cornmeal and salt.
  2. Add lard or butter to the mixture.
  3. Add boiling water and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add buttermilk (or the milk/vinegar mixture) and mix thoroughly until it becomes a dough.
  5. Roll 12 equal-sized balls out of the dough and flatten them into small cakes.
  6. In a large cast-iron skillet (or a large baking sheet), cover the surface with lard or butter and place the cakes on top.
  7. Cook for 30 minutes in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven.
  8. Serve hot with butter, honey, or maple syrup and enjoy!

Original Recipe

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