America’s First Interracial Marriage

Over on History News Network, Penn author Jeffrey Glover has a blog post titled "The Lesson from America’s First Interracial Marriage." Glover is the author of Paper Sovereigns: Anglo-Native Treaties and the Law of Nations, 1604-1664, and he's talking, of course, about the marriage between Pocahontas and a certain Englishman named John, but not the John you're expecting.

First, the facts. Pocahontas never married John Smith, the colonist who invented the famous rescue story. The actual man at the altar was a commoner, John Rolfe, who confessed his love for her in a pleading letter to colonial authorities. Jamestown higher-ups blessed the nuptials, even though they viewed Indians with contempt. They saw a big advantage in having an Indian princess (and any male offspring) on their side.

Pocahontas's life after contact with Europeans was tragic, dying during a visit to England, but she remains a revered figure in Western history and myth. A certain generation of people, now in their mid-30s (*ahem*), most likely remember her best from the 1995 Disney animated musical bearing her name. That film, as Glover notes, reclaimed her memory in a somewhat more positive light than it had inhabited before, but didn't reveal her true self. As Glover says:

Neither the handmaiden of white civilization, nor the founding mother of multiculturalism, the real Pocahontas was something different: a diplomat.

Read the full post here: "The Lesson from America’s First Interracial Marriage."

Forthcoming Events