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Powhatan Asks "Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food?"

Powhatan (c. 1547-1618) was the head of a confederacy that spanned hundreds of miles and thirty-two tribes. (He is well known today because of his favorite daughter, Pocahontas, who rescued the English captain John Smith from execution in 1608.) In 1607 Powhatan's confederacy allowed the English to establish their first colony at Jamestown. In 1609, when the same Captain Smith, dissatisfied with trade negotiations, resorted to bluster and threats, Powhatan made the following reply.

I am now grown old, and must soon die; and the succession must descend, in order, to my brothers, Opitchapan, Opekankanough, and Catataugh, and then to my two sisters, and their two daughters. I wish their experience was equal to mine, and that your love to us might not be less than ours to you. Why should you take by force that which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions, and fly into the woods; and then you must consequently famish by wronging your friends. What is the cause of your jealousy? You see us unarmed, and willing to supply your wants, if you will come in a friendly manner, and not with swords and guns, as to invade an enemy. I am not so simple, as not to know it is better to eat good meat, lie well, and sleep quietly with my women and children; to laugh and be merry with the English; and, being their friend, to have copper, hatchets, and whatever else I want, than to fly from all, to lie cold in the woods, feed upon acorn, roots, and such trash, and to be so hunted, that I cannot rest, eat, or sleep. In such circumstances, my men must watch, and if a twig should break, all would cry out, "Here comes Capt. Smith;" and so, in this miserable manner, to end my miserable life; and, Capt. Smith, this might be soon your fate too, through your rashness and unadvisedness. I, therefore, exhort you to peaceable councils; and, above all, I insist that the guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy and uneasiness, be removed and sent away.

Source | Bob Blaisdell, ed., Great Speeches by Native Americans (Mineola, NY: Dover Thrift Editions, 2000), 4.
Creator | Wahunsonacock Powhatan
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Wahunsonacock Powhatan, “Powhatan Asks "Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food?",” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 21, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/697.

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