Cover image for The pilgrims and Pocahontas : rival myths of American origin
The pilgrims and Pocahontas : rival myths of American origin
Abrams, Ann Uhry.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxii, 378 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1630 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
F68 .A16 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Following the American Revolution, citizens of the United States began to write a history of their new nation starting with the first English settlements, Jamestown and Plymouth. Virginians embellished the saga of Jamestown and Pocahontas, the Indian woman who, by popular accounts, saved the colony. Similarly, New Englanders sanctified the Pilgrims and their mythical first step on Plymouth Rock.By comparing these two origin myths, investigating them in art, literature, and popular memory, Ann Uhry Abrams uncovers surprising similarities in traditions of remembrance as well as striking differences in the character of the myths and the messages they convey. During these heated debates of antebellum America, the escalating rivalry between North and South prompted an array of artists, authors, and politicians to refashion the legends to their needs, with Massachusetts turning the settlers of Plymouth into pious and industrious saints, Virginians portraying Pocahontas as the savior of English civilization in North America. As these images were codified, tales of Jamestown and Plymouth bolstered debates over immigration, women's rights, abolition, Indian removal, and a host of other issues of national import. And when sectional rifts exploded into the Civil War, the stories fueled the flames that pitted North against South.

Author Notes

Ann Uhry Abrams taught art history at Pelman College, Georgia State University, Agnes Scott College and Emory University and is the author of The Valiant Hero: Benjamin West and Grand-Style History Painting .

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

For a century and a half following the American Revolution, most historians portrayed American culture as the legacy of two poles: a Puritan-dominated Massachusetts and an Anglican-dominated Virginia. Beginning in the 1950s, historians acknowledged the far more complex legacy, which included contributions from non-British Europeans as well as Native Americans and African Americans. Abrams, an art historian, is concerned here with the origins and reinforcement of that bipolar myth. In examining literature, painting, and even political oratory from New England and the antebellum South, Abrams reveals stark differences and surprising similarities in the manner that elites from both regions viewed themselves and their connection to the larger American culture. Of course, stereotypes take a well-deserved beating; the settlers of Plymouth were not uniformly pious or humorless, and Pocahontas did not "save" the Jamestown settlement. However, perception shapes reality, and this readable, cogent, and provocative study eloquently illustrates how these perceptions were shaped and then manipulated to help forge new realities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. --Jay Freeman

Table of Contents

Preface Finding the Mythsp. xiii
Part 1 Exploring the Mythsp. 1
1 Invented Traditionsp. 3
2 Myths and Historyp. 15
3 Ancestors and Commemorationp. 35
Part 2 Articulating the Mythsp. 49
4 Lady Rebecca or the Forest Siren?p. 51
5 The Landing of the Forefathersp. 73
6 Vanishing Indians and Noble Womenp. 109
7 Copact with Destinyp. 139
Part 3 Combating the Mythsp. 163
8 Saints and Sinnersp. 165
9 Prelude to Battlep. 193
10 The Pilgrims Versus Pocahontasp. 221
Part 4 Transforming the Mythsp. 243
11 The Pilgrims Triumphantp. 245
12 The Myths Triumphantp. 261
Notesp. 283
Selected Bibliographyp. 347
Indexp. 363