A new docudrama produced by the Christian Broadcasting Network demystifies the life of Native American princess Pocahontas, and might upend long-held beliefs about her Christian faith.
Although none of Pochantas’ life and thoughts were documented by her or her own people, CBN consulted Native American historians, referred to accounts passed down through generations of Native American culture, and examined English documentation to take Pocahontas from two-dimensional portrayals often found in history books to a 17th century Native American woman with her own insights and faith in the drama that will be broadcast on CBN Thursday night.
Gordon Robertson, president of CBN and executive producer of “Pocahontas: Dove of Peace,” says the Thanksgiving Day drama, “is one of those landmark events in our nation’s history that has been told and retold for centuries, becoming a favorite tale for children and historians alike, but often the Christian component of the story and its influence is either forgotten or even ignored.”
“CBN is proud to present a new film on Pocahontas that remains historically accurate while honoring its Christian heritage,” he added.
One of the most debated stories about Pocahontas in history books involves John Smith, an Englishman who claimed to have been held captive by an Indian tribe and rescued by Pocahontas. In Smith’s account he said his head was placed on a rock where a large stone was raised to smash his skull. According to the legend, Pocahontas threw herself over his body and saved his life.
Some experts are skeptical of Smith’s account. Neil Rennie, author of Pocahontas, Little Wanton: Myth, Life and Afterlife, who’s a contributor to the CBN series, says, “John Smith is probably the person who is most involved in creating the Pocahontas sub-legend, and it’s hard to tell religion from the truth in his writings.”
The docudrama does indicate, however, that relations between Jamestown English settlers at one point break down, resulting in skirmishes and deaths on both sides. Many Englishmen are held hostage and their metal tools and arms are confiscated.
A sea captain named Samuel Argall devises a plan to free the hostages by kidnapping Pocahontas. With help from the neighboring Patawomeck tribe, who betray Pocahontas, Argall convinces her to board his ship where she is held ransom for the release of the Englishmen.
Pocahantas’ father, Chief Powhatan, a leader ruling over more than 32 tribes spanning hundreds of miles, releases the English captives but keeps their metal tools and weapons, claiming that they were broken or lost. Virginia colony Governor Sir. Thomas Dale doesn’t believe him and keeps Pocahontas as a prisoner.
It is during this time that Pocahontas’ faith is transformed.
The princess meets Anglican Pastor Alexander Whitaker who travels from England to the New World and teaches Pocahontas about the Bible. Whitaker converts her to Christianity and Pocahontas vows to share the Good News with her people.
Around the same time, Pocahontas meets Englishman John Rolfe and the two spend time together tilling the land. Pocahontas shows Rolfe how the Natives plant their tobacco.
Contrary to popular belief, Pocahontas falls in love with John Wolfe, not John Smith, though Smith indicates the opposite in his written accounts.
Rolfe is smitten with Pocahontas and writes Dale asking permission to marry her.
Chief G. Anne Richardson, a fourth-generation chief of the Rappahannock tribe who is a contributor to the CBN docudrama, likens this moment to the biblical story of Ruth, who, when given the opportunity to return home to her people after most of her in-laws die, sticks with her mother-in-law, Naomi, saying that Naomi’s people will be her people. Noami’s God will be her God.
Pocahontas follows the English to the Henricus, Virginia, settlement where she is baptized by Whitaker. She is renamed Rebecca, a biblical name which means mother of two nations.
“It wouldn’t be a name that would be given without thought, and without Christian thought,” Rennie explains. “So there’s a sense in which she is possibly being the person who will join the nations: the Indian nation, the Powhatan nation and the English nation.”
Pocahontas’ father and Dale approve of the marriage, and Wolfe and Pocahontas marry in 1614. The two travel to England where Pocahontas is accepted and treated well in society. Unfortunately, however, after a short time there, she becomes gravely ill and dies.
Richardson believes that Pocahontas played a key role in what would later become America. “She ended up being an emissary between two nations and being a part of the birthing of this nation because she really laid the foundation for that relationship and for that colony to survive.”
She adds, “I think her relationship with God was a very profound relationship, a very intimate relationship, and that she received instruction from Him and she knew exactly who she was working for.”
Howard Snyder, who’s also a contributor to the CBN series, says, “At the end of the day, I think we can see clearly that God was working in Pocahonta’ life, in Alexander Whitaker’s life, and John Rolfe’s life.”
Richardson says that Anglican Priest the Rev. Robert Hunt, the first chaplain at Jamestown, planted the seeds for Christianity there and dedicated the land to God, promising that it would be used for His glory and that settlers would spread the Gospel.
“God is all about covenant — He is a covenant keeper,” says Richardson. “And because she [Pocahontas] was an instrument in His hand to create a covenant, a blood covenant between these two nations, was really powerful. It was consummated in their [Rolfe and Pocahontas’] marriage because that was the consummation of the blood covenant between the two nations. And I think that the United States has benefitted from and been blessed because of that covenant.”
The three-part docudrama will air in its entirety on CBN Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24.