Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures

Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures

Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures

Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures

Synopsis

Drawing on the latest anthropological studies of colonial encounters, Frederic Gleach offers a more balanced and complete accounting of the early years of the Jamestown colony than has been seen before. When English colonists established their first permanent settlement at Jamestown in 1607, they confronted a powerful and growing native chiefdom consisting of over thirty tribes under one paramount chief, Powhatan. For the next half-century, a portion of the Middle Atlantic coastal plain became a charged and often violent meeting ground between two very different worlds.

Gleach argues that the history of Jamestown is essentially the story of how two cultures with conflicting world-views attempted to civilize and incorporate each other. He examines historical events from both native and colonial perspectives, resulting in original and fuller interpretations of seventeenth-century Virginia history.

Excerpt

The reader might well wonder, after decades of research and numerous recent publications on the Powhatans and colonial Virginia, what more could be said on the subject. I have repeatedly asked that question myself in the course of researching, writing, and revising this book, but the answer was always there. After years of archaeological and ethnohistorical research in Virginia and elsewhere, followed by extensive studies of the histories of Algonquian and other Native American peoples, and discussions with individual Native people, scholars, and others, much of what I thought I knew about the Powhatans no longer seemed correct. Through these experiences I have learned a great deal. I have tried here to use categories of meaning that would have been relevant to the contemporary Powhatans and colonists, rather than to import categories of meaning arbitrarily from the present. My emphasis is on the role of world-view in the construction of history, not primarily on facts or points of history but on ideas and understandings. These are necessarily fuzzier and harder to document, even within one's own cultural context, and doubly so when attempting to understand another culture, as both the native and the colonial cultures must be considered. Chapters discussing the colonial history are thus preceded by and interwoven with discussions of cultural understandings and institutions for both the Powhatans and the colonists.

One goal of this work is to better explicate some of the meanings of certain events in seventeenth-century Virginia (and, as I shall develop, I don't believe one can speak of the meaning of anything, but only of selected meanings), but this goal is embedded in a larger project of understanding the colonial and postcolonial experiences of eastern North America. My frameworks for interpreting the English are thus drawn from a background that encompasses more than those Englishmen who came to Virginia, and my Powhatan frameworks are based on more general understandings of Algonquian peoples. Just as we must use our knowledge of the history and . . .

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