The Challenge of the Young Woman Pocahontas
The woman who laced Pocahontas into English clothing in 1613 told visitors to Historic Jamestowne that the Powhatan woman couldn't stand the clothing at first.
"She said, 'Remove it! It's not natural to bind a body!' And I said, 'Of course it's not natural. If we were to be natural then we would appear as we did in the Garden of Eden!" said Martha Sizemore.
Sizemore was housekeeper to the Rev. Alexander Whitaker at Henricus in the year after the English Captain Samuel Argall lured Pocahontas onto his boat and brought her to the English. Whitaker took an interest in Pocahontas's spirituality and instructed her in the practices of the Church of England.
About 100 people saw Kerry McClure portray Sizemore Jan. 18 as part of the "The World of Pocahontas" yearlong commemoration of the meeting of English and Powhatan cultures. It was one of many "Eyewitness" events that feature actor interpreters, presentations by Indian specialists, and demonstrations of historic trades to allow visitors to explore the politics, culture, and material world of the region's indigenous peoples and English newcomers.
Sizemore taught Pocahontas some English customs -- and proudly reported that when the weather turned colder at Jamestown, Pocahontas asked her to again dress her in the layers of clothing an English woman would wear in the 17th century.
"Now I dress her every day in a right proper manner," Sizemore said, beaming.
She also described the Powhatan practice of tattooing, which she called "embroidery."
"It never removes!" Sizemore marveled. "They think they look right pretty with it, but I like it not. Mercifully, Lady Pocahontas has none upon her face."
But she was also dismayed that Pocahontas had been kept for nine months since Argall captured her. Sizemore said, "Lately I've been wondering: Is it a good thing -- is it a Christian thing -- to make someone into something they are not?"
Sizemore said she has noticed an English gentleman taking interest in Pocahontas's English education. She overheard conversations between Whitaker and English tobacco grower John Rolfe.
"He called her a 'savage' and a 'barbarian.' That's a bit harsh, if you ask me. I think her manners are now quite proper," Sizemore said. "He asked the reverend if he should marry her 'for the good of the colony.' The good of the colony!! That's not what's running through his mind when he looks at her!"
One visitor asked what Pocahontas did around the Whitaker household between her lessons in Christianity.
"She is interested in everything!" Sizemore said. "I will say she is the most curious person of any of those I have met. She does want to help me, but she is treated as a guest. She spends most of her time with Reverend Whitaker."
Then McClure stepped out of character to explain why her eyewitness program was so important to the Pocahontas story.
"We are trying to present a different perspective than that of the men, many of whom were prolific writers," she said. "Some of the lines I used today were taken from their writings, but we are using [Sizemore] as a vehicle to speak of the more personal matters."
Pocahontas was the daughter of Wahunsonacock, who inherited six Indian territories sometime near 1570 and enlarged the dominion of the Powhatan chiefdom to encompass much of what is now eastern Virginia. After the English built James Fort within that territory in 1607, Pocahontas became a frequent visitor to the fort. She facilitated cultural exchange by participating in trading missions that carried supplies and materials between her father's people and the English.
In 2010, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists uncovered the location of the 1608 church in James Fort where Pocahontas married Rolfe in 1614. On April 3-6, 2014, there will be a series of events including three special interpretations to commemorate the wedding of Pocahontas at the original church site.
The "World of Pocahontas" Initiative is generously supported by James City County (VA) and is a partnership between The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Preservation Virginia, in collaboration with the Patawomeck Heritage Foundation and the Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center.