Today I am very pleased to welcome Anna Belfrage, author of A Newfound Land, here today.
Let me start by expressing just how pleased I am to be
visiting Just One More Chapter today. Many thanks to Margaret for giving me the
opportunity to post on her excellent blog!
Hands up those that go sort of weepy when they watch John
Smith romance Pocahontas in the Disney movie named after the Indian princess.
No one? Ha, not quite sure I believe you… Anyway, apart from being a beautiful
movie with some great music, Pocahontas as per Disney is also a historical
Did Pocahontas exist? Yes. Did John Smith exist? Absolutely.
Was John Smith a brave and intrepid adventurer who more or less singlehandedly
established the colony of Jamestown? Umm… well, John would probably say “yes”. John
was an early believer in self-promotion, and wrote a lot of books about his
adventures. To be fair, John Smith was instrumental in keeping the fledging
colony alive during the first few years.
Did Pocahontas and John Smith meet? Yup. According to John,
the adolescent Pocahontas threw herself over him to save him from certain
death. Very brave, don’t you think? Whatever the case, John did interact with
Pocahontas’ tribe, and as she was the daughter of the chief, chances are they
would have met. Maybe she was curious about this man, so different from her own
people. Maybe his eyes lingered a bit longer on Pocahontas than on other Indian
girls, but from there to the full-blown love story described in Disney’s movie,
it’s a looong stretch.
John Smith left Virginia in 1609, when Pocahontas was about
fourteen, and never returned. She, on the other hand, was captured by the
English in 1613 (hostilities between her people and the colonists flared up as
regularly as clockwork) and was held prisoner for two years. After her
captivity, she converted to Christianity and married John Rolfe, a prominent
member of the Virginia colony. John Rolfe, by the way, was the man who brought
the tobacco to Virginia, thereby converting the struggling colony to one of the
richest places in the world.
There is no record of Pocahontas and John Rolfe running hand
in hand through the woods while singing about the colours of the wind – even if
I hope they did, accompanied by a raccoon or two. Rather, their marriage seems
to have been an attempt to establish some sort of treaty between her people and
the colonists, and for a short period it worked. Pocahontas gave John a son and
then she embarked with him to England, where she sickened and died of a
This sad and premature death is something Pocahontas shared
with many, many of her Indian brethren and sisters. Upon the white man’s
arrival to the North American shore, there were approximately 7 – 10 million
Native Americans. A century later, the numbers had been reduced by 40-80%
depending on the region, and most of this decimation was caused by the diseases
the Europeans brought with them, notably measles and smallpox.
Pocahontas was a Powhatan, a confederation of tribes that had
their powerbase in present day Virginia. Over time, these tribes would be more
or less wiped out due to a combination of epidemics and hostilities with the
white settlers. Many more Indian tribes would succumb to the same deadly
combination, and in my book A Newfound
land, the Indians in question are Susquehannock, northern neighbours of the
The Susquehannock were to suffer a similar fate to that of
the Powhatan. Disease and warfare – both with their fierce cousins the Iroquois
and the white settlers – would leave a once flourishing nation near on extinct.
In fact, today we have no idea what these Indians may have called themselves,
because there is no one around who speaks their language anymore. Once a
language dies, the culture that flourished with it dies as well, and so we have
no idea as to what beliefs, what myths the Susquehannock held dear. It’s almost
as they never existed – well, apart from the odd artefacts that are presently
displayed in one or other museum.
But the Susquehannock did exist, a power to be reckoned with,
masters over a large swathe of land that stretched from Delaware, through parts
of Pennsylvania and into Maryland. They were one of the people visited by John
Smith as he went exploring along the Chesapeake Bay, but from this encounter
there are no anecdotes of pretty girls protecting John with their own bodies.
Maybe there was no need for such drastic measures, as the Susquehannock were
friendly towards the white men. For the
first few decades of their co-existence, both the Susquehannock and the colonists
prospered – a win-win situation for both.
1670’s, the constant skirmishes between the Powhatan and the Virginia colonists
escalated into open warfare, and through a series of unfortunate events, the
Susquehannock were dragged into the conflict. A decade later, the once so
mighty Susquehannock had ceased to exist. Their wooden forts had been razed to
the ground, their men had been slain, their women enslaved, and what few
remnants remained had fled due north-west, seeking the protection of the Iroquois.
Susquehannock made it over to Pennsylvania and founded a community there,
Conestoga Town. There they eeked out a living far removed from their former
life, hiring themselves as labourers to adjoining farms. But in 1763, the last
three dozen or so of true-blooded Susquehannock were massacred by the Paxton
Boys, a militant group of white bad boys that killed whatever Indians they
could get their hands on in retaliation for the recent French-Indian war. Less
than two centuries after their first contact with the European settlers, the
Susquehannock had ceased to exist.
in A Newfound Land is a
Susquehannock. He shares his name with one of the victims of the 1763 massacre
(one of the few lists we have of Susquehannock names), and sometimes I worry
that the little boy so brutally murdered in the 18th century is a
great-great-grandson of my Qaachow. But my Qaachow is not a defenceless boy, he
is a leader of men, a chief, a man who views the white settlers on lands that
were once his with more curiosity than ill-will – at least initially.
of friendship springs up between Matthew and Qaachow, two men with similar
perceptions of right and wrong, two men intent on protecting their families.
But as the Susquehannock lose everything to the white man, Qaachow’s
relationship with Matthew changes, developing from an uncomplicated, if
cautious, friendship to something far more bitter – as will be depicted in the
coming books of The Graham Saga. Ultimately, Matthew and Alex will pay a very high
price for Qaachow’s continued goodwill, but they have no choice, dependent as
they are on the silent Indian’s protection.
is my homage to a people that no longer is, to a people that extended their
hands in generous welcome to the palefaces that landed on their shores – a
gesture they were to bitterly regret. As Qaachow says to Alex, “We should have listened to
our wary brethren of the north and pushed you back into the sea.” In
retrospect, of course they should. But then, most of us don’t know today what
tomorrow’s consequences of our actions will be. That’s probably a good thing, I
think. Just as it is a good thing if people do extend a helping hand to those
that need it. Sadly, I’m not sure the
restless shades of the Susquehannock agree. The price they paid was way too