Pocahontas and the English Boys

Caught between Cultures in Early Virginia

240 pages

21; 18 Halftones, 3 Maps

March, 2019

ISBN: 9781479825820



Add to Cart Available: 2/8/2019

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Karen Ordahl Kupperman is Silver Professor of History Emerita at New York University. Her books include The Atlantic in World History (Oxford University Press), The Jamestown Project (Belknap Press), and Indians and English (Cornell University Press), Winner of the AHA Prize in Atlantic History.

All books by Karen Ordahl Kupperman

The captivating story of four young people—English and Powhatan—who lived their lives between cultures  
In Pocahontas and the English Boys, the esteemed historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman shifts the lens on the well-known narrative of Virginia’s founding to reveal the previously untold and utterly compelling story of the youths who, often unwillingly, entered into cross-cultural relationships—and became essential for the colony’s survival. Their story gives us unprecedented access to both sides of early Virginia.  
Here for the first time outside scholarly texts is an accurate portrayal of Pocahontas, who, from the age of ten, acted as emissary for her father, who ruled over the local tribes, alongside the never-before-told intertwined stories of Thomas Savage, Henry Spelman, and Robert Poole, young English boys who were forced to live with powerful Indian leaders to act as intermediaries.  
Pocahontas and the English Boys is a riveting seventeenth-century story of intrigue and danger, knowledge and power, and four youths who lived out their lives between cultures. As Pocahontas, Thomas, Henry, and Robert collaborated and conspired in carrying messages and trying to smooth out difficulties, they never knew when they might be caught in the firing line of developing hostilities.  While their knowledge and role in controlling communication gave them status and a degree of power, their relationships with both sides meant that no one trusted them completely.  
Written by an expert in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Atlantic history, Pocahontas and the English Boys unearths gems from the archives—Henry Spelman’s memoir, travel accounts, letters, and official reports and records of meetings of the governor and council in Virginia—and draws on recent archaeology to share the stories of the young people who were key influencers of their day and who are now set to transform our understanding of early Virginia.


  • "This enlightening study highlights a form of slavery that has been often overlooked in histories of colonial Virginia."

    Library Journal

  • "Karen Kupperman’s well-researched and accessible book shows us the familiar Chesapeake story from surprising—and youthful—new vantage points. This ingenious work by a noted scholar highlights dilemmas of cultural exchange across the Atlantic world."

    —Peter H. Wood, Professor Emeritus of History, Duke University

  • "Like all her work, Karen Kupperman’s new book is as compelling as a great novel. It offers a richly detailed history of three English boys adopted into indigenous communities in early Virginia: a fascinating story of bilingual knowledge, divided loyalties, and the meaning of adolescence across cultures that reframes prior studies of Jamestown, Pocahontas, and early Virginia in significant ways."

    —Anna Brickhouse, University of Virginia

  • "An inventive and lively new account of the Powhatan peoples' encounter with the Virginia colonists. While Pocahontas has been the subject of a fair amount of scholarship, the story of the English youths who learned Algonquian languages has never been so explicitly (and fittingly) paired with hers."

    —Andrew Lipman, author of The Saltwater Frontier

  • "While the story of Jamestown itself has been told, the author manages to find a new and fascinating lens. After reading the piece, I am convinced that Thomas Savage, Henry Spelman, and Pocahontas were important cultural brokers whose lives shaped and were profoundly shaped by the English settlement of Virginia."

    —Jared Hardesty, author of Unfreedom

  • "A compelling narrative of cultural entanglement that challenges traditional perceptions of early Virginia. A refreshing and readable new take on an old story that should be considered an essential read for anyone striving to understand the human stories of friendship and betrayal that lie at the heart of early modern colonial encounters."

    —Audrey Horning, William and Mary

  • "Kupperman offers new insights through her focus on young people who moved between Algonquian and English communities and worlds. Hers is a sobering account of the costs of colonialism for Indigenous people and settlers alike, and brings to life a place a time that still has many lessons to teach us."

    —Coll Thrush, author of Indigenous London

  • "Only Karen Ordahl Kupperman could have written this book. She draws on a lifetime of research to craft a human-scale story of young people caught up in events beyond their control. Pocahontas and the English Boys provides general readers with a moving introduction to the tragic history of the Jamestown colony."

    —Daniel K. Richter, University of Pennsylvania

  • "From the opening scene of young Pocahontas teaching an English boy how to live in her father’s capital city, this stunningly original book puts us in the shoes and moccasins of bilingual and bicultural adolescents and shows us a whole new world. Even if you think you know everything about colonial Virginia, you need to read this book."

    —Kathleen DuVal, Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina