This Week In History: April 5-9

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1614, Native American Princess Pocahontas (1595 – 1617) wearing traditional attire, at the time of her marriage to colonialist John Rolfe. Original Artwork: Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

Though members of the same species, human beings around the world celebrate a vast array of vibrant and colorful cultures. While borders try to define the groups of people who follow such cultures, they rarely get it right, with various cultures and practices constantly coming in contact with one another. While some cultures coexist and thrive, others feud until one is left standing. So let’s dive in! 

On April 5, 1614, 154 years ago, Pocahontas married John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. 

While I love Disney’s 1995 film, “Pocahontas,” just as much as the next 2000s kid, it should be noted that Disney didn’t get it right when they tried to tell the story of the famed Native American princess. 

For starters, her real name was Matoaka, while Pocahontas was a pet name her father gave her, probably translating to “playful one” or “favorite child.” She was the daughter of Chief Wahunsonacock (called Chief Powhatan by the English), who led a confederation of approximately 30 Algonquian tribes in the Tidewater region of the Chesapeake. 

Just seven years prior, about 100 English colonists led by John Smith settled along the James River and established Jamestown, Virginia, in the heart of the Powhatan Confederacy. Despite what the English believed, they had not found an untouched wilderness, but rather a complex civilization numbering approximately 20,000. 

While people remember the epic love story of Pocahontas and John Smith, this was highly unlikely considering Pocahontas was only 10 when she met the 30-year-old Smith, and several historians disagree with Smith’s story that she stopped his execution in 1607, as nobody would have listened to a 10-year-old, nor would she have even been brought to watch an execution. 

While her name is legend today, Pocahontas lived a brief and troubled life. She and Rolfe would have one son, Thomas, and eventually travel to England. One day before she was set to return to her home in North America, she died of smallpox at the age of 20. 

Pocahontas was, however, well known in the Jamestown community, as she was sent by her father to teach the English how to farm and, ultimately, how to survive. When Smith returned to England, tensions between the English and Powhatan chilled. The English captured Pocahontas and used her as a pawn to take food and land from the Chief Powhatan. During this time, Pocahontas fell in love with the English tobacco planter, John Rolfe (who was much more age appropriate). She converted to Christianity and was baptized as Lady Rebecca, marrying Rolfe in a union approved by her people and those of her husband. The marriage resulted in a decade-long peacetime between the English and the Powhatan peoples, only to be ruined by English expansion into Powhatan territory that resulted in further destruction and bloodshed. 

While her name is legend today, Pocahontas lived a brief and troubled life. She and Rolfe would have one son, Thomas, and eventually travel to England. One day before she was set to return to her home in North America, she died of smallpox at the age of 20. 

On April 9, 1865, 56 years ago, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the American Civil War. 

The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in American history, with more casualties than any other war the United States was involved in. Historians estimate between 620,000 and 750,000 Americans died on the various battlefields across the country. 

By the winter of 1865, the South was sinking to its knees, and Union forces had captured the Confederate capital city of Richmond, Virginia., leaving Lee and his 28,000 troops cut off from reinforcements in North Carolina. With several Confederate troops deserting on a daily basis, Lee had no choice but to surrender to Grant at the home of Wilmer McLean. All Confederate troops were to be pardoned and allowed to keep their property. Fun fact: there was a specific provision in the agreement that allowed Confederate troops to keep their horses because the animals would be desperately needed to begin planting for the spring season. 

On the day of the surrender, when Union bands played in celebration, Grant shushed the troops and said, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.” While this was a nice sentiment, history would later reveal that the North/South divisions of the United States would last much longer than 1865. 

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