Review By: Robert Shultis, The Virginia Gazette - February 28, 2007
The Plot against Pocahontas
New book from Mattaponi Indians asserts she was poisoned
by Robert Shultis
Wow! That was the first word I uttered after reading "The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History" by Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow and Angela L. Daniel, also known as "Silver Star."
All of us, as school children and then later in life, have heard or seen the story of Pocahontas, portrayed by Disney and others. Many of us have also read her story many times over.
Most of these tell a largely English version of her life and that of the Jamestown colony. They draw on the letters, documents and writings of the original participants as their primary sources.
Now we have a unique opportunity to read about Pocahontas and her contemporaries from the perspective of the Native Americans. It paints a vastly different picture of the Indian princess, one who was vistimized politically and sexually by the English and, perhaps, murdered.
Of course, the Indians had no written records that a historian could consult. For centuries, their history was passed verbally from generation to generation.
Custalow, the primary author, has drawn on his thorough knowledge, acquired over a lifetime as oral historian of the Mattaponi tribe. The story, as he relates it, is from the "sacred oral history" of the Powhatan tribes, handed down carefully from generation to generation by the "quikros," the Powhatan priests. It has been, as he writes, "a long-term tribal effort: the history is not from the insight or opinion of one person."
The book is a welcome and needed addition to our Jamestown and Pocahontas libraries. It is different and should be read by anyone interested in the full story of Pocahontas, John Smith, John Rolfe and Jamestown.
What results from reading this fine book is a totally different understanding of Pocahontas' life. The authors have eminent qualifications to present, in print, "the other side of the story."
Custalow has spent much of his life learning the oral history of the Mattaponi people. For the first time, we can read their version of Pocahontas and the Jamestown story. Co-author Daniel is studying for her doctorate in the Department of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary.
Their book deserves to be studied carefully and to hold a place in your bookshelf alongside the others by Rountree, Mossiker and Townsend. "The True Story of Pocahontas" is a must-read for anyone interested in the full story of the epic of Jamestown and its participants.
It is different. It is beautifully written. Acquire it, read it, then read it again. You will be well rewarded.
It raises and discusses many critical issues that needed to be put in print for all of us to understand fully the life of Pocahontas. Congratulations to both authors.
Review By: Bobbie Whitehead, Indian Country Today - March 2, 2007
'The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History'
RICHMOND, Va. - Stories about the early Powhatan Indians who met the colonists at Jamestown have for centuries portrayed the Indians as barbaric and uncivilized, accepting trinkets and beads in exchange for food - while fickly turning against the English on a whim.
But a newly published book, ''The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History,'' reveals a savagery that includes murder, kidnapping and rape perpetrated against American Indians in the earliest contact days during the 17th century.
Written by Linwood Custalow, the Mattaponi Tribe's oral historian, ''The True Story of Pocahontas'' tells the Powhatan Nation's side of the first meeting between the Indians and the English who settled at Jamestown.
Co-authored with Angela L. Daniel ''Silver Star,'' a College of William and Mary doctoral student and an adopted member of the Mattaponi, the book reveals what the Powhatan Indians have known for centuries but could not tell.
Custalow and Daniel detail events based on the oral history of the Mattaponi passed down by the spiritual leaders, the quiakros, of the Powhatan Nation.
In telling the story, Custalow and Daniel also provided research to support the dates of the events in the oral history.
''We tried to make the book as accurate as possible,'' Custalow, a retired medical doctor who was the first Virginia Indian to graduate from college and medical school, said. ''The book is not to blame or put one down - the book is to try to show what was done and try to correct it.''
In the Powhatan Nation, Custalow said the quiakros were priests who protected the Indians' history as well as medical, religious and political knowledge. The quiakros served as advisers to the paramount chief, who led all of the tribes within the Powhatan empire.
Initially, when the English arrived in 1607, the quiakros wanted to make the English allies, and Chief Powhatan made Capt. John Smith a ''werowance,'' a title meaning chief or leader, of the English colonists at Jamestown. When the English sought to kill the Powhatan leaders, the quiakros hid among the Mattaponi.
The book explains aspects of the Powhatan culture and indicates that the American Indians were not unaware of early European explorers, as written histories teach.
The book also contradicts popular stories written by the English that the Indians accepted gifts in exchange for food. Instead, Smith and other English held chiefs at gunpoint in order to obtain food, Custalow asserts.
In the book, Custalow wrote that the Mattaponi do not believe the English royal family or the English government knew about or would have condoned the actions by the explorers and colonists.
''Only from truthful history can true history be learned,'' Custalow wrote. ''Only by true history can we learn from our mistakes. Only by learning from our mistakes can we create a better life for all mankind.''
The Mattaponi oral history refutes claims that Pocahontas saved Smith's life or warned the English about any attacks the Powhatan Indians allegedly planned to make.
More striking in the book is the history of Pocahontas' kidnapping, conversion to Christianity and marriage to John Rolfe, an Englishman. Custalow wrote that the English kidnapped Pocahontas in 1612. Prior to this, she had married Kocoum of the Potomac Tribe and had given birth to a son, Little Kocoum.
A year after Pocahontas' capture, the English sought help from the Powhatan Indians because Pocahontas had become ill. Pocahontas' older sister, Mattachanna, was sent in to assist her and Pocahontas told her that she had been raped, Custalow wrote. The Mattaponi oral history also reveals that Pocahontas was pregnant before she married Rolfe.
In 1617, after a visit to England, Pocahontas died not far from the English shore. Mattachanna and Uttamattamakin, a Powhatan priestly adviser who had gone to England with Pocahontas, returned to Virginia and told Chief Powhatan that Pocahontas had been poisoned. Grief-stricken by news of his daughter's death, Chief Powhatan blamed himself for Pocahontas' death and died a year later, Custalow wrote.
In a letter published in the book, Mattaponi Chief Carl Custalow wrote that the telling of the tribe's story is most important today.
''People have not looked through our cultural lens,'' Custalow wrote. ''It's time to look at the other side of history, the sacred history of the Mattaponi.''
''The True Story of Pocahontas'' stands out as one of the greatest true stories of family love, dedication and tragedy. The paperback, published by Fulcrum Publishing Co., is available at most bookstores. For more information, visit www.fulcrum-books.com.
Review By: NANNETTE
Croce, Roses & Thorns - July 14, 2007
The True Story of Pocahontas by Dr. Linwood Custalow and Angela L. Daniel
Fulcrum Publishing, 2007
Reviewed by NANNETTE CROCE
The True Story of Pocahontas, or as it is subtitled, The Other Side of History, represents the first ever written version of the Mattaponi oral history. Co-author Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow is the current oral historian of the Mattaponi tribe, one of the few surviving tribes that comprised the Powhatan Confederacy at the the time of the Jamestown settlement. Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star" is an anthropologist who recorded the story and connected it to the written histories of the time.
The 400th anniversary of Jamestown has brought no end of books, articles, and television documentaries, not to mention the non-blockbuster movie, The New World, along with revelations, apparently based on archaeological finds, that our grade school version of a bunch of lazy English gentlemen digging for gold while the local Indians fed them is all wrong.
The True Story of Pocahontas sticks more with the old version regarding the English while telling a completely new version of the Pocahontas tale. First off, Pocahontas was only about seven or eight when the English landed, making the love story between her and John Smith ludicrous––at least on Pocahontas' part, who knows about Smith. Also, Custalow tells us, Smith's life was never threatened (except by his own people). Pocahontas' father, head of the Powhatan Confederacy, wanted to make the English a tribe of the confederacy and Smith was to undergo a ceremony to become the werowance, or a tribal leader. A child of Pocahontas' age would never have been allowed into the ceremony let alone to thwart her father's wishes had he actually ordered Smith's execution.
There is much, much more but suffice it to say, you'll find no love story here. You will find abduction, rape, and murder. My knowledge of American/Native American history focuses more on the 19th century and after, so I can't really comment on the reliability of this history. With a few exceptions it sounds fairly credible. Of course, all histories, whether written or oral, are subject to a certain bias and often owe as much to present views as they do to the past. But with the vast majority of histories still being written by the conquerors, that makes it all the more important to entertain another point of view.
I was a little disappointed that The True Story of Pocahontas lacked the rich language and storytelling cadences of other Native American histories I've read. It is often redundant and sometimes feels aimed at a younger audience. Still, at just a hundred pages plus notes, and with most of the news coming out of Jamestown focusing on the English, I highly recommend spending the little time it will take to learn about "the other side of history."
Nannette Croce is Co-Managing Editor at The Rose & Thorn. Her work has appeared in the zine as well as other online and print publications. For samples of her writing and to check out her Writing & Books Blog, visit her website
Review By: Debra Utacia Krol, Native Peoples - September 1, 2007
The True Story of Pocahontas
In the 400 years since the tumultuous life and mysterious death of Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan principal chief Wahunsenaca, not one account has been written from the viewpoint of the federated tribees of Virginia. This new book sets out to break that long silence. Author Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow enlightens readers with the Mattaponi oral historical account of one of Native American's best-known, yet least-understood figures.
The myth of the supposed friendship between Pocahontas and John Smith is quickly smashed; in one stunning example, Custalow avers that, since Pocahontas was not yet considered an adult, she could not have been present during Smith's induction ceremony into the tribe. Another equally suprising assertion: the Mattaponi believe that Pocahontas was murdered during her voyage back home to Virginia. The accounts of her sudden illness and death point not to tuberculoosis or pneumonia, but to poisoning, says Custalow, a physician. And Pocahontas had already borne one child to her first husband, the doomed warrior Kocoum.
Custalow, brother of the current Mattaponi chief and caretaker of the Mattaponi oral history, regales ther eader with the real story of Pocahontas' encounters with English colonists in a storyteller's voice. Indeed, Angela David's editing is minimal, alloing Custalow's voice free rein and creating an amvience as real as if he were speaking in council.
This recollection of Pocahontas' real-life experiences should be required reading for all students of American history.
Review By: Kim Murphy, Historical Novels Review - February 1, 2008
THE TRUE STORY OF POCAHONTAS: The Other Side of History
Pocahontas's life has reached mythical proportions. How could any book possibly offer new information? The True Story of Pocahontas was written by the Mattaponi, her tribe. After having read many accounts about the legendary woman's life, I tried to interlock the jigsaw puzzle with the pieces never quite fitting. Not only did this book answer my questions, it filled in the gaping holes.
John Smith write the stories about Pocahontas saving his life several years after her death. Other texts admit as much, yet most gloss over why this may have been. Few also question why a woman abducted by what must have seemed like an alien culture would immediately dress like her captors, convert to Christianity, and marry within a year of her captivity. All of those facts, plus another side to Pocahontas's death, are revealed with shocking clarity. The True Story of Pocahontas should be required reading for every American history class.