Pocahontas Takes One for the Team

Published:June 9, 2009 by Brendan Wolfe


Speaking of perspective, imagine you’re a Jamestown settler confronting the Powhatan people for the first time. Who are these dudes? Why do they do what they do? Your writing about what you see is going to both benefit and suffer from this lack of perspective. On the one hand, your observations will be fresh and unencumbered by certain expectations that will come with more experience. On the other hand, you have no ability to just cut to the chase and identify even the simplest rituals for what they are.

The banal becomes instantly exotic and easily romanticized. (My year in South Korea is a case in point.)

In her 2007 New Yorker article on Jamestown, Jill Lepore riffs on this when she cites a pair of historians who imagine how John Smith might have written about baseball:

Being assembled about a great field of open grass, a score of their greatest men ran out upon the field, adorned each in brightly hued jackets and breeches, with letters cunningly woven upon their Chestes, and wearing caps . . . upon their heades, of a sort I know not what. One of their chiefs stood in the midst and would at his pleasure hurl a white ball at another chief, whose attire was of a different colour, and whether by chance or artifyce I know not the ball flew exceeding close to the man yet never injured him, but sometimes he would strike att it with a wooden club and so giving it a hard blow would throw down his club and run away.

All that’s missing is Pocahontas jumping in front of the baseball in order to heroically save the batter.

My guess, by the way, is that the above quotation is from After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection.

IMAGE: Washington, D.C., in 1913. “Baseball, professional. St. Louis players.” Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative, Library of Congress. (Via Shorpy)