Powhatan

 

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Powhatan

POWHATAN SITTING IN STATE (From an old engraving on a 1600's Map of Virginia)

Powhatan, Indian sagamore, or emperor; born about 1550; was on the Virginia peninsula between the York and James rivers when the English first settled there in 1607. His Indian name was Wah-un-so-na-cook. He lived about a mile below the foot of the falls of the James River, Richmond, and there Captain Smith and his companions, exploring the stream, found him. By his wisdom and prowess he had raised himself to the rank of sagamore, or civil ruler, over thirty Indian tribes, and was entitled Powhatan, having a significance like that of Pharaoh, the official title of a line of kings of Egypt. His subjects numbered about 8,000, and he is known in history simply as Powhatan. When he became emperor he resided chiefly at Weroworomoco (now Shelly), on the York River, in Gloucester county, Virginia. He treated the English people hospitably, but his younger brother, Opechancanough, King of Pamunkey, was always hostile to them. When Captain Smith was taken prisoner by him, he conducted the captain first to his own village, and then to the palace of Powhatan on the York. At the former place the Indians held incantations for three days to discover Smith's character, for they were in doubt whether he was the incarnation of the good or the evil spirit. Then they took him to Powhatan and asked him to decide the prisoner's fate. The emperor, seated upon a raised platform in a stately arbor covered with branches, and with a favorite daughter on each side of him, with solemn words adjudged Smith to death. The sympathy of one of Powhatan's daughters saved him, and through her influence friendship was maintained, with some interruptions, between the emperor and the English until Powhatan died.

In 1608 Captain Newport came to Virginia with presents for Powhatan. Among these was a basin, a ewer, some clothes, and a crown for the dusky monarch, with orders for him to be crowned. Captain Smith was then president of the colony, and he, as special ambassador of the King of England, summoned the emperor to Jamestown to undergo the ceremony of coronation. Powhatan, with dignity, refused to go, saying, " I also am a king; and if the King of England has sent me gifts, they should be brought to me; I shall not go to receive them." Newport went to Powhatan with the gifts. They were accepted ; but no persuasions could induce the Indian monarch to kneel to receive the crown. Only by two Englishmen bearing down heavily upon his shoulders could he be brought to a position that might be considered as kneeling; and so he had the crown placed upon his head. The act finished, a pistol was fired, and was followed by a volley from the boats in the Yor. Powhatan was startled by a fear of treachery, but when assured that all was right, he accepted this acknowledgment of his royal state, and gave a slight present to be conveyed to his brother the King of England.

Powhatan's friendship was almost destroyed when Captain Argall, a rough, half-piratical mariner, kidnapped POCAHONTAS to extort favors from her father. Powhatan was grieved, but remained firm. Meanwhile Pocahontas became betrothed to an Englishman, and with the consent of her father was married to him. After that Powhatan was the fast friend of the settlers. He died in April, 1618, and was succeeded by Opechancanough, an enemy of the English.

 

 

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