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America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Two
The Inuit Indians
Contrary to the thinking of many in this country, the United States wasn’t the only place being explored by the Europeans. Baffin Island was home to the Inuit Indians. They are usually thought of as Eskimos. In the Summer of 1576 English sailor Martin Frobisher led an expedition in search of a northern route to the Orient. When he reached what is now called Frobisher Straits he was greeted by several Inuit who offered them fish, seal skin clothing and friendship.
Frobisher thought the straits would lead to the Pacific Ocean. One Inuit offered to guide them though the straits. Five men were sent out to row to the Inuit’s kayak but to not row out of sight of Frobisher’s ship. The sailors disobeyed orders and Frobisher wrongly concluded that they had been taken captive. Frobisher promptly kidnapped an Inuit and headed back to England. Unfortunately, the Indian died on the way.
Frobisher returned the following July of 1577. On July 31st one of his ships landed 150 miles from where his men had disappeared a year before. They found an Inuit summer camp containing European-made clothing. Concluding that they were the clothing of the missing sailors Frobisher sent out forty soldiers, who surprised eighteen Inuit men, women and children. Frobisher’s men began shooting them. Some escaped but a man, woman and child were captured. Again, Frobisher headed back to England with them, but they all died of disease.
Frobisher returned in the spring of 1578 but the Inuit wisely refused all contact with him. The English never found out what happened to the missing men, but for years the Inuit would tell of the five men he abandoned. It was said that they lived peacefully among them until one spring when they left with a boat and a map, never to be seen again.
The Powhatan Confederacy
In 1600 the East Coast of the United States was home to over a hundred Indian nations. Among them was a union of thirty small nations, united to form the powerful Powhatan Confederacy (Algonquin Indians), led by a man named Wahunsunacawh.
In 1607 a soldier of fortune by the name of John Smith arrived in Jamestown. He hoped to set up the first successful English colony in North America. Wahunsunacawh could have destroyed the settlement but he was aware of the power of European weapons. He thought it might be beneficial to have some of those weapons and tools for the Confederacy.
The death toll was high among the colonists that winter and they began raiding Powhatan towns and taking food. Wahunsunacawh captured John Smith and they met in a room along with Wahunsunacawh’s daughter Pocahontas. Wahunsunacawh may have formed an alliance with Smith by proclaiming him the leader of the Powhatan’s newest settlement, Jamestown. Smith, in turn, tried to make Wahunsunacawh king of the Powhatans. In British eyes this would have made him subject to the king of England. Wahunsunacawh, however, didn’t recognize this fact.
It is safe to say that the stories of Pocahontas saving John Smith’s life have been greatly exaggerated. Smith’s own journals, written immediately after the incident, say nothing about his life being threatened. It wasn’t until seventeen years later, when he wrote his memoirs that he mentioned that story. He also claimed to have been saved by women on three separate occasions.
Because the English were forced to pay extremely high prices in copper and trade goods in order to obtain food, in January of 1609 Smith and the military kidnapped Wahunsunacawh’s brother, Opechancanough. The soldiers plundered the stores and then demanded more.
The English took what they wanted, including land. The inevitable result was war, lasting from 1609 to 1613. In April of 1613 Pocahontas was kidnapped for the ransom of all English prisoners of war. The Indians complied and released the prisoners. However, the English refused to release Pocahontas. She was indoctrinated with English customs and in Christianity. She declared that she had fallen in love with John Rolfe. Wahunsunacawh agreed to a truce. Pocahontas was baptized Lady Rebecca and she married John Rolfe. A couple of years later they, along with their baby son, sailed to England. There she was billed as the “Right Thinking Savage.” While preparing to sail to Jamestown to visit her father, Pocahontas became sick and died in March of 1617, at the age of 22.
Heartbroken at the loss of his daughter and at the continuing loss of land to the English, Wahunsunacawh gave up his power and died the following year. He was succeeded by his brother Opechancanough.
It was about this time that the smoking of tobacco was taking hold in England and tobacco from Virginia was in high demand. This necessitated that more land become available for the tobacco fields. Again, greed took over, this time in the form of a land grab! Opechancanough spent the next quarter of a century leading the Indians in a war for their land. By 1645 the battle had been lost. Opechancanough, who was now 90 years old, was captured and shot in the back by an English guard. It wasn’t possible to eliminate the Powhatans completely, and descendants of these two leaders still live today.