Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma

by Camilla Townsend

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In Camilla Townsend's Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, what was Powhatan's dilemma and who held Jamestown's power for its first 15 years?

Quick answer:

John Smith's Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles was published in 1624. In this book he recounted the early days of the Jamestown settlement. The first settlers arrived at Jamestown in May 1607. Some incidents that occurred are as follows: Captain Newport left for England on June 10, 1607; then some settlers went to Croatoan Island (croatoan is an Indian word meaning "my home"); then Smith went to explore Chesapeake Bay; he returned to Jamestown on September 24, 1607; two days later Smith went upriver with a small party and found cornfields and dwellings; they stole corn from the Indians and were caught by Powhatan'

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As Townsend makes clear right throughout the book, the Powhatan were constantly faced with a serious dilemma. They knew that the English settlers wanted their land but at the same time couldn't be too aggressive towards them, as they knew that the English had superior firepower.

That being the case, they had no choice but to adopt a very subtle strategy which involved a fair amount of compromise, but not so much that it would weaken the Powhatan's already weak bargaining position. So for instance, the Powhatan would warn the colonists not to display the use of their weapons as they, the Powhatan, would steal them and use them against the English. As this was the last thing the English wanted, they wisely heeded the warning.

The English undoubtedly held the balance of power during the early years of the Jamestown settlement. However, through the kind of compromise and expert negotiation that we've just examined, the Powhatan were able to ensure that the colonists didn't always get their own way.

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