Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin

Article excerpt

The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin. By Ann Uhry Abrams. (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, c. 1999. Pp. xxii, 378. $28.00, ISBN 0-8133-3497-7.)

Art historian Ann Abrams has written a very thorough reconstruction of the invention, maintenance, and subtle transformation between the early-nineteenth- and the early-twentieth centuries of Massachusetts's and Virginia's origins myths. Abrams abundantly illustrates--using poems, fiction, histories, and monuments, as well as paintings--the variety of ways the "`invented traditions' of Virginia and Massachusetts filled the cultural and historical void created by separation from the English motherland" (p. 5). In addition to her recovery of so many representations of the founding of the first two English colonies in North America, Abrams makes a substantial scholarly contribution by carefully contextualizing, within the public history of their times, subtle differences among the representations. The book is most suggestive where--as she does in "Lady Rebecca or Forest Siren" (chapter 4) and in "The Landing of the Forefathers" (chapter 5)--Abrams describes intraregional contests over the meaning and development of the images of Pocahontas and the Pilgrims. When describing changes in literary treatments of Pocahontas before and after the Trail of Tears, for example, she argues that "the emphasis shifted from converting and Anglicizing the natives to considerations of the differences between good Indians and bad ones.... usually boil[ing] down to gender" (p. 127). An 1855 print of "The Marriage of Pocahontas [to John Rolfe]" symbolized for the Virginia elite "the essential link between the Jamestown settlers and Cavalier aristocrats" but was also "in part a subterfuge to divert attention from slavery . …

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