NARRATOR: A powerful legend, from the first days of our nation's history...
MARTIN GALLIVAN (College of William and Mary): The story of Pocahontas saving John Smith is part of the origin myth of the American experience.
NARRATOR: A dashing adventurer...
JAMES HORN (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation): John Smith has had a lifetime of adventures even before he embarks for Virginia.
NARRATOR: An extraordinary young girl...
DAVID SILVERMAN (The George Washington University): Pocahontas was a special kind of person: bold, vivacious, obviously very, very smart.
NARRATOR: English colonists seeking fame and fortune face off against a people who have lived here for thousands of years.
It's the 400th anniversary of the legendary rescue of John Smith by Pocahontas. [Editor's note: The 400th anniversary fell in 2007, when this program first aired.]
MARTIN GALLIVAN: We don't know if that event actually took place, but if it did take place, it probably happened somewhere around here.
DAVE BROWN: About 70 feet, going north-south in that direction.
NARRATOR: Major archaeological discoveries are now filling holes in the historical record and revealing another side to the tale.
CHIEF KIRK MOORE (Pamunkey Tribe): It's an opportunity for Virginia natives, so they can tell their story. And that is really important, because we never had that opportunity.
WILLIAM KELSO (Director of Archaeology, Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Jamestown Rediscovery): This excavation just continues to amaze me. I mean it's always a surprise.
NARRATOR: Exploring an American myth: Pocahontas Revealed, up next on NOVA.
Major funding for NOVA is provided by David H. Koch, and by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, serving society through biomedical research and science education: HHMI.
Major funding for NOVA is also provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by PBS viewers like you. Thank you.
PEGGY LEE (Recording of "Fever"): Captain Smith and Pocahontas had a very mad affair.
NARRATOR: The name Pocahontas is recognized almost everywhere, around the world. Her story has been told over and over, in paintings and plays, movies, novels, comic books and advertisements.
It's an interracial love story, a tale of love at first sight. A young Native American woman risks her own life to save that of an Englishman named John Smith.
Thanks to the devotion of Pocahontas, Smith and his colony at Jamestown survive, more English come, the colony prospers. Jamestown is the first successful English settlement in the New World, the birthplace of what will become the United States of America.
It's a powerful story, but how much of it is true?
Until recently, virtually everything known about relations between Virginia Indians and the first settlers was one-sided. The English wrote down their version of history; the Indians had no written language at the time.
New insights into the story of John Smith and Pocahontas will come with the collaboration of modern Virginia Indians. To recreate and reexamine the past, NOVA has received help from traditional Indian artisans with knowledge of ancient crafts, costumes and makeup, experts in weapons, boats and 17th century technology, and archaeologists, who are making major discoveries in the Virginia soil.
The first step is finding the places where the legendary events took place 400 years ago: James Fort, site of that first English settlement on the James River, and Werowocomoco, home of Pocahontas, on the York River.
Locating Jamestown Island, where the fort was, is easy, thanks to English maps and accounts written by some of the first settlers. But the actual wooden fort, where the first colonists lived, rotted away centuries ago. The land was plowed under, new structures were built, and people eventually forgot where the old fort had been. When Bill Kelso came here as a student, he was told the historic location had been washed away by the river.
WILLIAM KELSO: When I first came to Jamestown, it was, like, 45 years ago. And one of the tour guides pointed out into the river and said, "The fort's out there." I asked where it was, and he said, "It's out there, and you're two centuries too late."
NARRATOR: In 1994, after becoming an archaeologist, Bill Kelso returned to the site and began to dig.
WILLIAM KELSO: We right away began to find things, clay pipe stems and pieces of pottery that I knew were old enough to be James Fort period.
NARRATOR: Contrary to what other experts claimed, only one corner of the triangular fort had eroded into the James River.
WILLIAM KELSO: To find 87 percent of the footprint of the fort that was talked about and known, the place where legendary people were walking around...were walking around here, right here. We know that.
NARRATOR: The layout of the fort, and the events that occurred here, can now be reconstructed with a level of detail that would never be known from written accounts alone.
The most famous and colorful accounts of Jamestown's earliest days were written by John Smith. He and just over a hundred other Englishmen, no women, arrived on three small ships in May of 1607. Smith was only 27 years old. He had been born into a family of middleclass farmers.
JAMES HORN: John Smith fits the mold of a classic adventurer. He decides that neither farming nor becoming a merchant is for him, and he takes up soldiering.
He goes first to the Netherlands and France, and then, in subsequent years, he finds himself fighting in Eastern Europe against the Turks. He's captured in Russia, he's enslaved, he walks several thousand miles through Russia to escape. So John Smith has had a lifetime of adventures even before he embarks for Virginia.
NARRATOR: The English knew from previous explorations that they would not be alone in America. Smith later published his accounts of the earliest encounters.
JOHN SMITH (In A True Relation): For six or seven days we had alarms and ambushes; a boy was slain in the pinnace. The Indians' loss we know not, but as they report, three were slain and divers hurt.
NARRATOR: Bill Kelso and his team use the eyewitness accounts to help them interpret what they find in the ground.
WILLIAM KELSO: Right in this area here, we found a burial of a...looks like a 15-year-old boy that was killed, with an arrow in his leg. And the arrow point was still there. It wasn't actually in the bone, but it was right next to it, and pointing right in.
That's pretty poignant, because the first attack of the Indians that's recorded, they say a boy was killed. Could be him.
NARRATOR: The excavations at Jamestown are sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.
BLY STRAUBE (Curator, Historic Jamestowne): Of course we count every nail. We sort out the nails with heads from the nails without heads.
NARRATOR: In over 12 years of work, archaeologists here have uncovered more than a million artifacts, making this one of the most significant archaeological digs ever conducted in North America.
BLY STRAUBE: ...something we found in the well and...
NARRATOR: In addition to 85 skeletons from the early 1600s, archaeologists have recovered weapons, dishes, coins and tools. The tools, in particular, are of great interest to historians, because they give us new insight into the commercial aspirations of the first settlers, aspirations that put them on a collision course with the Virginia Indians.
WILLIAM KELSO: One thing that's misunderstood is how serious an operation this was, and that the first people that landed here, they hit the ground working.
NARRATOR: These are the tools of skilled craftsmen: a fishmonger, metallurgists, a botanist, perfumer, glassmakers and a jeweler. They came to the New World looking for exploitable resources that could be shipped home for a quick profit.
WILLIAM KELSO: They are backed by a company who has investors, and they want to make money, and they want to make it fast.
NARRATOR: England's Virginia Company, which financed the venture, expected settlers to be very busy with all of these profitable industries, so busy that they didn't want to waste too much time on agriculture.
Rather than grow their food, they planned to buy most of it from the Indians, using what they called "trinkets." Kelso's team finds piles of beads, bells and scraps of copper brought for trade.
The English had heard from survivors of Roanoke, the earlier, failed English colony 140 miles south, that Indians would give large amounts of food in exchange for these inexpensive items, especially copper.
DAVID SILVERMAN: The English knew that native people wanted to trade in copper, that they would trade not only in intact copper items, such as kettles and the like, but in scraps of copper, or pieces of copper rolled into beads. And so the English came prepared, ready to trade their copper for native corn.
NARRATOR: But four months after arriving, the Englishmen have made more enemies among their new neighbors than friends. Trade with the Indians has been sporadic, and the meager stores of food they brought with them are gone.
JOHN SMITH (In True Relation): William, up. He that shall not work shall not eat.
God (being angry with us) plagued us with such famine and sickness that, (By) the tenth of September, there was about 46 of our men dead.
DAVID SILVERMAN: John Smith was a man of action. He was confident enough to seize leadership when he saw moments of crisis.
NARRATOR: John Smith began to explore further inland, seeking out Indians willing to provide food to the colony. These explorations will lead him to Pocahontas.
He wrote about what happened next in three widely-read books. On the upper reaches of the Chickahominy River, Smith went ashore with an Indian guide.
JOHN SMITH: I was struck in a leg with an arrow but without harm.
I espied many Indians drawing their bows, which I prevented in discharging a French pistol. At last they took me prisoner.
JOHN SMITH (In A Map of Virginia): A month those barbarians kept me. Many strange triumphs and conjurations they made of me.
NARRATOR: John Smith later drew this map, showing where he was taken during more than three weeks in captivity.
He was prisoner of the Powhatan people, which included the Rappahannock, Mattaponi, Pamunkey, Nansemond, Appamatuck and almost 30 other districts, possibly 15,000 people in all, who had been united under a uniquely powerful chief. He was known as Powhatan.
John Smith was eventually taken to Powhatan's political capital, Werowocomoco.
JOHN SMITH (In General History): At last they brought me to Werowocomoco, where was Powhatan, their emperor. Before a fire, upon a seat like a bedstead, he sat covered with a great robe, made of raccoon skins. [Powhatan] had such a grave and majestical countenance, as drew me into admiration to see such state in a naked Savage.
CHIEF POWHATAN (Algonquin Chief, Father of Pocahontas/Dramatization): Cummeish yoowah. Sucqwahum. (Translates to: Give it to him. Water.)
JOHN SMITH (In General History): The queen of Appamatuck was appointed to bring me water to wash my hands, and another brought me a bunch of feathers, instead of a towel, to dry them.
CHIEF POWHATAN (Dramatization): Vmpsemen. (Translates to: Drink.)
NARRATOR: Today, Chief Powhatan is much less famous than one of his many daughters. Later Englishmen wrote that her birth name was "Amonute," but she had another name as well.
HELEN ROUNTREE (Old Dominion University): When she joined her father's household, she earned the nickname Pocahontas, which, in modern terms, means "little, cruel, bawdy, undisciplined brat." She probably teased her father half to death, and he dubbed her with the name, and it stuck.
NARRATOR: English settlers guessed her age as between ten and fourteen years old. Smith was just a few days shy of 28. Seventeen years later, in 1624, John Smith will write the words that launch the legend.
POWHATAN: Ninge shacquohocan.
JOHN SMITH (In General History): Having feasted me after their best barbarous manner they could, the great stone was brought before Powhatan.
Then as many as could laid hands on me, dragged me to it, and thereon laid my head.
And being ready with their clubs to beat out my brains, Pocahontas, the king's dearest daughter, got my head in her arms, and laid her own upon mine to save me from death.
NARRATOR: Many have imagined that Pocahontas acted on a romantic impulse, but how can we know if this event took place as Smith described?
HELEN ROUNTREE: He never saw fit to write about that rescue by Pocahontas until 17 years later. His account right close to the incident—and historians, anthropologists, journalists and cops usually trust accounts written closer to the incident—talks about being feasted, interviewed by Powhatan, and then sent to bed.
NARRATOR: Is it possible to know what really happened in that famous first meeting between Pocahontas, John Smith and Powhatan? Can any of this be true?
The precise location of Werowocomoco, home to Chief Powhatan and Pocahontas, was forgotten centuries ago. John Smith and others indicated that Powhatan's capital was situated on the York River. Scholars have spent years trying to find it.
RANDY TURNER (Virginia Department of Historic Resources): I first became interested in Werowocomoco when I was a graduate student in the early 1970s. Historical documents are very clear that Werowocomoco is located in the Purton Bay environs, but no one had ever found any definitive evidence for it archaeologically.
NARRATOR: It turns out someone was finding the evidence, only she didn't know what it meant.
C. LYNN RIPLEY (Virginia Landowner): We bought the farm in 1996, moved in in July, and have been finding artifacts almost since then. When I first started finding it, I thought, well, nobody else has ever looked for it or picked it up, so it will eventually stop. But I'm still finding artifacts today.
The first piece I found, I thought it was wet bark on the beach, because it was dark in color. But one day I saw one that had lines on it, and I knew that that had to be manmade, that bark doesn't look like that. So I picked it up. And I knew that it was an old pot, or a jar or something like that. How I knew that, I don't know. I just knew.
NARRATOR: Within a few years, Lynn had collected thousands of Indian artifacts.
RANDY TURNER: Lynn, I'll never forget the first time I came out here and you just pulled out tray after tray after tray. And as I looked at them, I realized that there was a scheme to how you were classifying them, but I got this very sick feeling in my stomach because, besides the excitement of knowing what I was looking at, I realized that you'd put hours and hours of work trying to sort these out, but you'd used a scheme that archaeologists would not have used. You'd classified by color, and unfortunately, when a vessel is fired you can get different types of color on the same vessel. So I was thinking to myself, "How in the world am I going to tell her that all this labor she's put into this collection really isn't going to help us as archaeologists?"
NARRATOR: When analyzing Native Virginian pottery, archaeologists look at two primary characteristics. The first is surface treatment. In Pocahontas' day, pots were often treated with a process called "simple stamping," using a paddle wrapped in leather.
MILDRED MOORE (Pamunkey Tribe Potter): I'm using this paddle to put designs on it, on the pottery. This stick is old; it's been handed down for years, here at the reservation.
NARRATOR: The second characteristic an archaeologist looks at is "temper." The material that must be mixed with clay before it can be fired and used for cooking. Because the temper contains no water, it resists shrinking and cracking.
MILDRED MOORE: This is a temper. And sand too, is a temper. Pieces of old pottery, they used as temper. And this one has shell in it, and this one would hold probably temperatures up to 1,200, 1,500 degrees; where this would probably crack at about 3- or 400.
NARRATOR: After decades of study, archaeologists have learned how to match different tempers with specific tribes and time periods. Using this information, Randy Turner can tell that these pieces were made by Powhatan Indians in about the time of Pocahontas.
Another tool for determining when Indians lived here is the size of the arrowheads.
RANDY TURNER: One giveaway that this really was Werowocomoco are these very nice small points right here, these five. They were a great indicator for the 16th, early 17th century.
NARRATOR: Native American craftsmanship evolved over thousands of years, with a shift from spears to bows and arrows. When John Smith arrived, skilled toolmakers were making these tiny—and deadly—arrowheads.
DAN FIREHAWK ABBOTT (Nanticoke Tribe): We're talking about an edge that, in the case of certain kinds of churts and obsidian and the higher-grade flints, you can carry an edge up to 200 times sharper than an unused stainless steel surgeon's scalpel. We didn't start trading with the Europeans for steel and iron tools because they were sharper, they weren't necessarily sharper, they were more durable.
NARRATOR: Lynn Ripley and her husband came to realize that their home was on historic ground, in the middle of what was once one of the most important Indian settlements on the East Coast. So they opened their property to archaeologists.
A number of American Indians have joined in the excavations.
JEFF BROWN (Pamunkey Tribal Council): When you get down to the dirt, you can hear the artifacts, maybe the little pieces of flakes, stones, brick, so you know that you have something to pick up.
NARRATOR: Martin Gallivan, of the College of William and Mary, directs the excavations at Werowocomoco. His team is carefully screening dirt, looking for artifacts and even plant material, such as fragments of beans, corn kernels and squash seeds. They are the remains of meals eaten by Powhatan Indians long ago.
Archaeologists collaborate with experts in Indian traditions and oral history. Together they reconstruct how life was lived at Werowocomoco.
CRYSTAL WYNN (Chickahominy Tribe): Succotash is basically corn and lima beans. Sometimes they had put a little fish in.
Of course, the women were in charge of taking care of the food, the gathering of berries and nuts, and the men were, of course, the hunters. But the young girls, they could cook just as well as the older women. Maybe not carry as much stuff, but they were taught at a very early age how to survive.
HELEN ROUNTREE: It took a lot of years of training while you were a little girl, and Pocahontas had to learn all that. She was not a princess in the European sense. If she was, then all the other daughters of Powhatan would have been. And Powhatan society was not that specialized, and was not that prosperous that they could afford to have people who simply passed their lives in leisure.
NARRATOR: These actors, who are helping NOVA reconstruct life at Werowocomoco, are Native American. The 13-year-old actress playing Pocahontas is the granddaughter of the chief of the Rappahannock tribe, which was once part of Powhatan's domain.
Most tribal leaders in Virginia were men, but there is also a history of occasional female chiefs.
CHIEF ANNE RICHARDSON (Chief of the Rappahannock Tribe): When I think about Pocahontas, I think about myself, and I think about, you know, the generations before me, being a fourth generation chief.
She was the chosen child to perhaps take this position and, therefore, she was with her father all the time, because accounts told us that she was. So was I.
It wasn't customary to have a child at meetings, but I was allowed to go to meetings. She would have learned about trade, she would have learned about diplomacy, all the things that a chief would know about.
NARRATOR: According to John Smith and other colonists Pocahontas was a remarkable child.
JOHN SMITH (In True Relation): Powhatan's Daughter, not only for feature, countenance, and proportion, much exceedeth any of the rest of his people: but for wit and spirit, [she has no equal] in this Country.
NARRATOR: But even if Pocahontas were no ordinary girl, that doesn't explain why she would want to stop John Smith's execution.
An important goal here at Werowocomoco is to find Powhatan's longhouse, the building where Pocahontas' father summoned the captive John Smith. The work of the archaeologists is complicated by almost four centuries of farming on this land after the time of Pocahontas.
Plows have churned up the top foot of soil hundreds of times. Archaeologists must carefully scrape away this top layer of dirt, called the "plow zone," before they can see into the prehistoric past.
Lining the riverfront, the archaeologists have found a residential area: Indian longhouses, work areas, trash pits. That's fairly typical for a Virginia Indian settlement, but 1,000 feet away from the riverfront, something highly unusual was found beneath the plow zone: two lines of dark soil.
The dark soil is rich with organic matter. When scooped out, two parallel ditches are revealed.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: When we first come down on these ditch features, this is all we see, that dark band of soil. After excavation, we get a better feel for its size and shape in three dimensions.
If you look over my right shoulder, you can see the cut grass indicates where the ditches extend, actually, south for about 400 feet from where we are standing.
NARRATOR: Almost 700 feet of ditches have been found already. Such large earthworks are unheard of in a Chesapeake region Indian settlement.
And archaeologists have made another discovery. Fifteen hundred feet back from the water, underneath the plow zone, they came down on some circles of dark earth. These were identified as "postholes" dating to the time of Powhatan. Poles had been placed in these holes, probably to support a traditional Indian longhouse.
But why would a home be built so far from the river, which the Powhatan Indians relied on for transportation and food?
RANDY TURNER: The hypothesis that we're working under right now is that the site has intentionally been divided into two areas. One is a secular area, down by the waterfront, typical of a normal village. And then to the east of these ditches, is an area of more restricted access or perhaps even of a sacred nature.
NARRATOR: English documents indicate that one Indian did live far away from the river: Powhatan.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: John Smith describes Powhatan's house as being 30 score from the riverfront. Now, a score is 20, we're guessing that he was referring to paces. So 30 score would be 600 paces from the riverfront. Now, we don't know exactly where he was starting from, and we are not even actually sure where the riverfront was in 1607, but it was probably fairly close to the current shoreline. We've lost a bit of the shoreline to erosion but not too terribly much. So this should be an interesting experiment.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13... Right now we're at 470. We actually have identified an entrance in the earthworks right where I'm standing right now. So this may have been where people entered the sacred area of the site, the ceremonial area of the site, where certain important events happened in the early 17th century.
NARRATOR: John Smith never mentioned any ditches in his writings. But he may have drawn a picture of them.
This is the map showing where John Smith was taken while in captivity. The location of Werowocomoco is marked with a symbol that has puzzled many historians. It looks like two Ds, one inside the other.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: We are working on the hypothesis that John Smith depicted the ditches that he saw on the ground while he visited Werowocomoco as best he could.
NARRATOR: Archaeologists have found the ditches making a sharp turn away from the river. Future excavations will determine if they continue, in the shape of a giant D.
Martin's experiment takes him to a spot within this hypothetical D-shaped sacred area, right to where the line of post molds was discovered.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: ...581. Not 600, but darn close. All the indications from this little experiment are that we're probably digging in the right place to find Powhatan's house.
NARRATOR: So far, all they have is one line of postholes, which they found last summer and then re-buried for preservation. Throughout the entire 2006 summer digging season, members of Gallivan's team carefully dig and scrape, looking for a second line of holes, the other wall of a longhouse. They're trying to tease meaning from many slight discolorations in the subsoil. Is this the site of one of the most famous meetings in American history? Or are these merely the marks left by tractor tires, burrowing rodents or gnarled roots?
There are now only two days left in the summer field school.
DAVE BROWN: ...and then excavated the top and then each of the molds that he found at the base.
NARRATOR: They found plenty of dark circles, but no complete longhouse. If they don't find it, it will be another year before they can try again.
MALE STUDENT: Hey, Martin.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: What you got?
MALE STUDENT: I found what may be the western wall to the longhouse, to the posts that Brian found last year. We just found these posts in this unit, but they seem to extend towards the south and towards the north where Lauren's digging.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: How many posts do you have?
MALE STUDENT: It's about 15 so far.
NARRATOR: A typical Powhatan longhouse was about 15 to 30 feet long.
DAVE BROWN: We've got about 70 feet, going north-south from where the back dirt pile is there, all the way back down to here. So that's about 60 feet.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: Wow, okay. We're getting close to having one of the largest longhouse structures ever identified in the Chesapeake region. Fifteen feet wide, 60 to 70 feet long, early 17th century...so this is fantastic. It is a remarkable structure, dates to the colonial period, and it's big.
CHIEF POWHATAN (Dramatization): Mecher. (Translates to: Eat.)
NARRATOR: Another crucial piece of evidence links this part of Werowocomoco to John Smith and to his famous meeting with Powhatan: copper.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: We also identified a piece of copper, which I've got in my hand here. It seems to have been half of a rolled bead. We've found a great deal of copper in this part of the site of Werowocomoco, behind the earthworks.
RANDY TURNER: The Indians in Tidewater Virginia viewed copper very much as today we view gold. And if you possess copper, you possess power.
NARRATOR: The copper found in the ground has turned black with age, but when it was new it would have been shiny.
HELEN ROUNTREE: We tend to take for granted nowadays—especially in the plastic age, where everything is shiny—we take it for granted that things are going to gleam. Very little gleamed in the Powhatan world. Copper really is pretty when it's polished. And anybody who could accumulate a lot of it, and then deck himself out, flaunt it, my dear, on ceremonial occasions, was automatically proving himself the richest man in town, and there you have your leader.
NARRATOR: Like most precious commodities, copper's value for the Powhatans was a function of its scarcity.
HELEN ROUNTREE: The only halfway plentiful source of native copper in eastern North America is in the Great Lakes region. None of the stuff occurred in Powhatan's home territory. It all had to come in by trade.
NARRATOR: This copper is one key to a different understanding of that famous first meeting.
JOHN SMITH (Dramatization): We have more copper, matassin.
JOHN SMITH (In True Relation): Powhatan promised to give me corn, venison or what I wanted to feed us: hatchets and copper we should make him and none should disturb us.
NARRATOR: The English had brought copper across the ocean, to trade to the Indians for food. The archaeologists needed to confirm that the copper found at Werowocomoco was not Native American copper, but English copper brought by the colonists.
A small sample was brought to a chemist for testing.
LEANNA GIANCARLO (University of Mary Washington): What we're going to try to do is figure out the chemical composition. Different trace metals will be indicative of what ores were used, where the ores came from, how things were manufactured. All of that will go into the chemical composition and the end result of what the artifact is.
NARRATOR: First, a tiny shaving of a copper bead found at Werowocomoco is dissolved in acid. The solution is then sprayed into a device called an "inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometer."
LEANNA GIANCARLO: The plasma is about 10,000 degrees Kelvin, so it's a wakeup for the sample.
NARRATOR: The sample is burned, releasing energy in the form of light.
LEANNA GIANCARLO: As the spectrometer collects this information about the light that's coming out, what will be generated on the screen is the peak that goes along with there being copper in our sample and giving off light at approximately 327.4 nanometers.
NARRATOR: Many wavelengths are revealed, indicating that there are also other metals in the sample.
LEANNA GIANCARLO: We're able to report back and say, "All right, the sample was 85 percent copper and five percent silver, and two percent zinc, and so on.
NARRATOR: They had seen the same chemical composition before in a test performed on copper found 15 miles away, at Jamestown. The Werowocomoco copper is English copper.
CARTER C. HUDGINS (Staff Archaeologist, Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities): This is a sample of the more than 10,000 pieces of copper that have been excavated at the site thus far, and as you can see, there's a range of different shapes.
And it's my thought that the bulk of this material was simply scooped off a workshop floor, a workshop associated with making kettles, pots, pans, and carried over to Virginia in waste form.
NARRATOR: The English believed that their industrial waste could be used to hire the Indians as a support staff, to provide food for the colonists.
But Chief Powhatan had his own plans to exploit the English.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: He seems to have believed that he could control the Jamestown settlers, and actually benefit from this subservient group, a subservient tribe within his expanding chiefdom.
When Smith was brought to Werowocomoco, in the winter of 1607, Powhatan seems to have decided that the best course of action would be essentially to adopt him as a Powhatan.
DAVID SILVERMAN: Generally when native people adopted an outsider, they threatened the outsider's life through torture or execution, and then offered a reprieve at the last moment.
MARTIN GALLIVAN: Indian adoption rituals placed an awful lot of decision-making authority in the hands of women. And one way of reading these early events at Werowocomoco is to read them as essentially political theater in which Pocahontas was playing her appointed role as the decision maker as to whether or not John Smith would be killed or adopted.
And if we're to believe John Smith's later account of these events, the decision by Pocahontas was to adopt John Smith essentially as Pocahontas' brother.
DAVID SILVERMAN: And indeed Powhatan called John Smith "son" after freeing him from captivity at Werowocomoco.
NARRATOR: After his month in captivity, John Smith returned to find Jamestown on the verge of collapse. Of the original 104 Englishmen, there were now only 38 sick and hungry men. Luckily for them, John Smith's newly adopted family came to the rescue.
PERCY (Reenactment): Give it to me.
JOHN SMITH Such was the weakness of this poor commonwealth as had the savages not fed us, we directly had starved. And this relief was commonly brought to us by this lady, Pocahontas.
HELEN ROUNTREE: There was a brief golden age of everybody hoping that they had put one over on the other side and become allies.
NARRATOR: Recent excavations at Jamestown provide a surprising look at this time of peace.
WILLIAM KELSO: I think that there were Indians in that fort, a lot more visible than anyone's ever known before, and what we're finding archaeologically is this tremendous amount of Virginia Indian material, ranging from far and wide in Virginia: lots of arrow points and knife blades made of stone, Indian-made beads, pottery.
NARRATOR: Excavations indicate that Indians did more than simply deliver food. Some stayed for a while.
HELEN ROUNTREE: They have found evidence of women's activities—Indian women's activities—in the English fort at Jamestown Island.
DAVID SILVERMAN: Native people who allied with a foreign group would have expected intermarriage.
I believe that sexual relationships were taking place between Englishmen at Jamestown and native women.
NARRATOR: The English never wrote about it, but Spaniards who collected foreign intelligence about Jamestown did.
DAVID SILVERMAN: The Spanish said upwards of 50 marriages had taken place between the groups.
We do know that there was a relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas. Was it romantic? Unlikely, but we can't be sure. Some colonists suspected that it might be romantic.
JOHN SMITH (In General History): Some prophetical spirit calculated I would have made myself a king by marrying Pocahontas, Powhatan's daughter.
NARRATOR: The days of feasting and good relations with the Indians lasted about seven months at most: from January, 1608, into the summer. With the approach of autumn, the Indians stopped providing food.
HELEN ROUNTREE: English people went around trying to buy corn from the Indian people, but the Indians didn't want to sell.
NARRATOR: More months of starvation and misery followed for the struggling colony.
Many historians have wondered why the Indians stopped providing food for the English, why, too, the English couldn't have found their own food. Today, Virginia teems with edible plants and wildlife.
DAVID STAHLE (University of Arkansas): You can definitely fall flat on your face here in the swamp, if you're not careful.
NARRATOR: Archaeologists at Jamestown asked Dr. David Stahle to find out if Virginia was as lush and fertile in 1608 as it is today.
DAVID STAHLE: Well, we're at Blackwater River, Virginia. This is an impounded bottomland hardwood bald cypress swamp. Maybe only a thousandth of one percent of the original forested bottomland hardwood region remains today, and so that's how precious it is. It's extremely precious.
NARRATOR: David Stahle is a world renowned expert in tree ring dating.
DAVID STAHLE: You know the trees preserve, in their annual growth rings—which can be dated to the calendar year in which they were formed—they preserve a natural archive of environmental history, if you will. They tell us about wet years and dry years.
...got the Swedish increment borer, it's a forestry tool, been around for over a hundred years for testing the growth rate of trees. And here I'm coring through the center of the tree, in order to extract out the ring sequence, gorgeous, gorgeous.
I can say that, roughly, these are about 100 year time blocks, you know, so like 1900, 1800, 1700, 1600, so this would be the late 1500s, the late 16th century if you will, and Jamestown will probably be in that general area.
NARRATOR: Stahle and his colleagues examined core samples under microscopes, carefully counting rings and measuring their widths.
DAVID STAHLE: In drought years, these trees would put on a narrow ring, and the stronger the drought, the more narrow the ring.
NARRATOR: The findings solved the mystery: growth rings from 1606 to 1612 were narrower than the surrounding rings.
DAVID STAHLE: A seven-year episode that was drier than any other seven-year episode that we know of in this region of the Carolinas and Virginia in the last 800 years.
NARRATOR: This seven-year drought would have affected everyone in Virginia.
DAVID SILVERMAN: The Indians simply didn't have enough of a surplus of corn, beans and squash to trade to the English and feed themselves at the same time.
Smith's primary response is simply to take what he and the English wanted. The English then begin burning down Indian villages and shooting up Indian populations. What we have, in essence, are the beginning stages of a war.
NARRATOR: The word Werowocomoco means "place of chiefs" in the Powhatan language. It had been a religious and political center for more than three centuries before the English came, but not a large population center. Chief Powhatan now decides to leave for a safer part of his territory, farther away from the rampaging newcomers.
RANDY TURNER: The English accounts are very clear that the site of Werowocomoco is abandoned in 1609. And indeed, it disappears after that; there are no other mentions of Werowocomoco.
NARRATOR: In the early fall of 1609, about six months after Powhatan moved his people away from the English, John Smith is badly burned in a gunpowder explosion. He is put on a ship to England.
DAVID SILVERMAN: Pocahontas is not told that John Smith is injured; she's told that Smith is dead.
NARRATOR: Perhaps the settlers expected Smith to die of his wounds.
Pocahontas stops her visits to the fort. But Smith does not die. He recuperates in England. In 1614 he is back exploring, mapping the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts, and naming that area New England.
He never returns to Virginia. The years after Smith's departure are the hardest for the Jamestown settlers. None of their early dreams of easy wealth pan out, but with re-supply ships, reinforcements, and the end of the drought, their fortunes soon turn for the better. The colony grows.
Throughout this period there are continuing skirmishes with the Powhatans. In 1613, the English kidnap Pocahontas in an attempt to gain leverage over her father.
After a year in captivity, Pocahontas converts to Christianity, taking the name Rebecca. She marries a settler, John Rolfe. This marriage between members of the two warring parties marks the beginning of a temporary truce.
In 1616, she is brought across the Atlantic Ocean with her husband and their year-old son. In London, she sits for a formal portrait, the only image we have of the real woman.
HELEN ROUNTREE: She was an advertisement for what the Virginia Company was trying to do, which was to get more people to go to Virginia and settle.
JAMES HORN: She was a living example of how the Indians could be redeemed and could become English.
NARRATOR: While in England, Pocahontas is surprised to learn that John Smith is still alive. After eight years apart, they are finally reunited.
JOHN SMITH (In a Letter to Queen Ann): After a modest salutation, without any word, she turned about, obscured her face, as not seeming well contented.
DAVID SILVERMAN: It crushed her not only that the English had been lying to her all along but that John Smith, a man with whom she'd had a personal relationship of some sort or another, had done absolutely nothing to contact her, to contact her father, who called Smith his son.
JOHN SMITH (In a Letter to Queen Ann): But not long after, she began to talk and remembered me well what courtesies she had done.
DAVID SILVERMAN: Immediately she reminds him that, "we were supposed to be like family. We were responsible to one another." The implication is, "Do you know what has been happening back in Virginia, to my people by your people since you left?" The implication is, to John Smith, that he could have made a difference and did not.
NARRATOR: Just a few months later, Pocahontas will grow ill and die in England.
DAVID SILVERMAN: I think the larger lesson of Pocahontas' life and her experience with the English, is that there was a potential, in early relationships between Indians and colonists, to set up something mutual.
To set up, as the Indians would have it, a family relationship, in which the two people help to meet one another's needs and live as a single people. Those expectations were sorely dashed.
NARRATOR: As a girl, and as a young woman, Pocahontas became a link between two very different cultures on the brink of war. Ultimately, her actions failed to soften the impact of colonialism on her people.
But 400 years later, she still offers hope of bringing cultures together, as we explore this important place in our shared past.
ANNE RICHARDSON: We knew that this place existed, we just didn't know geographically where it was. The place was a place of powerful worship for the Powhatan people. And now archaeology is proving that. We know in our spirit that it's a part of who we are, as we live our daily lives. To be able to come here and get confirmation and validation of that is really an amazing thing.
On NOVA's Pocahontas Revealed Web site, see how this legendary figure has been portrayed through time and take a closer look at the science behind her story. Find it on PBS.org.
To order this show or any other NOVA program, for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, call WGBH Boston video at 1-800-255-9424.
NOVA is a production of WGBH Boston.
Major funding for NOVA is provided by David H. Koch and by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, serving society through biomedical research and science education: HHMI.
Major funding for NOVA is also provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by PBS viewers like you. Thank you.
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