- Pocahontas Doesn’t Live Here AnymoreWomen and Gender in the Native South before Removal
In 1616 a young American Indian woman traveled to England with her English husband and young son. The daughter (or perhaps simply female kinswoman) of the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah (which the English called Virginia), she was hailed as a "princess" and became something of a celebrity. She was received at Whitehall Palace and at other society gatherings and sat for a portrait, before sadly succumbing to a mysterious illness before she could return to her homeland.1 Since that time the legend of Pocahontas has grown among European Americans and her story has been retold over and over through a variety of media. Few other Native women have received the level of attention—both positive and negative—that Pocahontas has over the centuries, but their presence could not be ignored by European migrants to the so-called New World and early writers noted their actions in travel accounts and other records. Explorers and theorists observed not just women’s behavior but Native gender roles in general, particularly in relation to those aspects of Native culture that differed from what they were used to in their own societies. They noted the gendered division of labor, and commented on sexual and marriage practices as well as patterns of leadership and social organization that were distinctly gendered. In this way women and the larger question of gender have been part of the story that European Americans have told about Native peoples in the Southeast since the beginning.
The past two decades, however, have witnessed the emergence of a new school of scholarship on Southeastern Indian peoples that has taken the study of women and gender issues as its primary focus. Far from using differences in gender roles as a way of setting the "civilized" apart [End Page 1] from the "savage," as so many early writers had done, these authors have used the insights developed in women’s studies since the 1960s, and more recently the broader field of gender studies, to take a fresh look at Southeastern Indian societies. These studies have moved beyond simply delineating gender roles or focusing on famous Indian women to investigate changes in collective women’s experience over time, particularly as a result of contact with European and European American societies. They have also begun to investigate masculinity as culturally constructed and to show how men’s roles and definitions of manhood changed over time as a result of the same pressures. This article will focus on the literature on Southeastern women’s and gender history over the past twenty years. As a geographical region the Southeast is being defined primarily as the region south of Virginia and east of the Mississippi River, although some works from outside of this region are pertinent and will be included. The article will focus on the period stretching from the beginning of European, but primarily English and French, settlement in the region until Removal. Clearly the history of Native peoples in the lower South extended for thousands of years before Europeans arrived and continues to this day, and so to some extent these dates are arbitrary and misleading. They were selected to draw upon my own area of specialization, and reflect the limitations thereof.
Travel writers, government officials, and Indian traders encountered Native peoples in a variety of ways during the colonial period. Although many of the histories produced in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century do not reflect it, these earlier writers wrote quite a lot about Native women and about gender roles in Native society. Much of what scholars presently know about Native peoples during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries come from the sources that these men produced. The writers were largely concerned with comparing Indian societies with their own, sometimes offering praise but far more often finding fault. The categories they used in constructing their narratives still shape the ways that scholars approach questions of gender among Native peoples. White observers noted many things that are now common knowledge among scholars working on European-Indian relations. Most Southeastern nations employed a gendered division of labor...