“You Called Him Father”
Fictive Kinship and Tributary Alliances in
In 1617 London was abuzz with news about a royal visit. The visiting delegation centered around a young woman, a foreign princess, whose family had been allied with England for about a decade. Lady Rebecca traveled with her husband, shockingly an English commoner, and emissaries of her father, whom the English public understood to be a powerful king. Lady Rebecca was, of course, the name given, upon conversion to Christianity, to the Powhatan woman known as Pocahontas, and it was as Lady Rebecca that she married Englishman John Rolfe in Virginia, the land she and her family knew as Tsenacommacah. While in England, Lady Rebecca took in many sights and had an audience with Queen Anne. She became something of an exhibition herself as curious English folk flocked to see the so-called savage princess. Indeed, many people traveled to pay their respects to her. Yet the one Englishman she knew almost as well as her husband and whom she also considered to be kin nearly stayed away.
Captain John Smith had gained tremendous fame as a result of his service for the Virginia Company and in large part as a result of his descriptions of having outwitted Pocahontas's father. In the end, Captain Smith wrote that he was able to pay his respects to Lady Rebecca only very briefly because she arrived in England just as he was on the verge of sailing to New England. When he finally saw Pocahontas, the short conversation he later reported was packed with references to the nature of the Powhatan-English alliance in North America and the ways in which each group was endeavoring to insert the other into its own map of the world as allied but subordinate peoples.