|Reproduction only for non-commercial use.||
© June 2005; revised 11 January 2007
|Powhatan’s Deerskin Mantle with Shell Map,
|<||“Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke.”
As described on p. 47 of the catalog, Museum Tradescantianum (London, 1656). Original artifact (four pieces of tanned buckskin, measuring 2.33 meters long by 1.5 meters wide) preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Lithograph (1888) by P. W. M. Trap publishers, after a black-and-white photograph of the Ashmolean artifact, by E. T. Shelton. Plate XX in Edward B. Tylor, “Notes on Powhatan’s Mantle, Preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.” Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie 1 (1888): 2157.
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|<||Drawing of Powhatan’s Mantle, outlining the decorative shell bead patterns of the original, some of which have “fallen away, leaving only thread holes to mark the original locations of two roundlets and the hind legs and tails of the two animals.” (Waselkov 307)
Printed as Fig. 8 (p. 307) of Gregory A. Waselkov’s essay, “Indian Maps of the Colonial Southeast,” pp. 292343 in Powhatan’s Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast, edited by Peter H. Wood, Gregory A. Waselkov, and M. Thomas Hatley.
|<||Alternate image of Powhatan’s Mantle.
Photograph by the author, reproduced as plate V in “Virginia from Early Records” by David I. Bushnell, Jr. American Anthropologist 9.1 (Jan.Mar. 1907): 3144.
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POWHATAN’S MANTLE IS A LARGE, ornamental deerskin cloak, with shell beadwork symbolically mapping the balance of power among southeastern Indians of the Chesapeake tidewater region, circa 1608. Along with several other Algonquian Indian artifacts from early colonial Virginia (including a purse or bag embroidered with shells, and three fine bows), the deerskin mantle is part of the famed Tradescant Collection assembled in the first half of the 17th century, which passed in 1659 to Elias Ashmole, who then presented it to Oxford as the nucleus of his Ashmolean Museum some 20 years later.
Edward Tylor, who first figured and described the mantle in 1888, wrote that it measures
David Bushnell, who next figured and described the cloak in 1907, gave slightly different measurements and construction information (e.g., made from four, not two, skins):
Gregory Waselkov, the most recent scholar to publish on Powhatan’s Mantle (in 1989), follows Bushnell’s measurements, sizing the garment at 233 cm x 150 cm, and describing it as
Exactly how Powhatan’s “habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke,” as cataloged in 1656, came to be part of the Tradescant Collection remains something of a mystery.
Edward Tylor first made the connection with Captain John Smith, suggesting that “this barbaric robe” was
Bushnell, writing in 1907, found Tylor’s argument that Powhatan’s Mantle passed to Tradescant by way of Smith persuasive. However, Gregory Waselkov has offered two alternative explanations which I find more persuasive than Tylor’s assumption concerning Smith’s more central role.
Waselkov first surmises that the Tradescants, elder and younger, both of whom visited Virginia, may well have acquired the cloak themselves, without Smith serving as intermediary.
John Tradescant, Sr. (ca. 15701638), was a member of the Virginia Company (he owned at least two shares of stock) and a partner in Samuel Argall’s project to transport twenty-four persons to Virginia in 1615, and in Argall’s Virginia plantation of February, 1617. Reputed to have been of Flemish origin, John Tradescant the Elder traveled extensively through Europe and in the East (including Russia), collecting natural curiosities as he went, before settling in England. He continued to travel, and his passion for “rarities” knew few bounds: in 1620, for example, the elder Tradescant went on the expedition of Mansell and Argall against the Algerine corsairs, in order to obtain a specimen of the Algier apricot.
Together with his son, John the Younger (16081662), also a botanist of international renown, the elder Tradescant introduced dozens of plant species into English cultivation, and established a “physic garden” wherein he cultivated herbs from abroad for their unique medicinal properties. The elder Tradescant’s collection of rare creatures, shells, and minerals from around the world inevitably developed into a celebrated botanical museum, located at his residence in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames. The Tradescant natural history museum, formally cataloged by John the Younger in 1656, was widely visited by scholars and tourists alike, and was known to contain the finest collection of American flora and fauna anywhere in England (most likely Europe, as well).
Tradescant’s growing international reputation led Charles I to designate John the Elder royal gardener in 1630, placing him in charge of the gardens and silkworks at Oatlands Palace. Housed in a building designed by Inigo Jones, the royal silkworks dated from 1616, when the Hugeunot, John Bonoeil, was appointed silk master to James I. The strong connection of silk and silk-making with colonial Virginia dates from this Stuart’s reign, although there were hints made by Hariot about the benefits of developing such “natural goods of the land” as “grasse Silke” and “Worme Silke” into social goods or “marchantable commodities” as early as 1588:
After establishing the first permanent English colony in America at Jamestown in 1607, policy makers continued to promote sericulture as a promising new industry for Virginia planters. Not only Tradescant the Elder, but also the Virginia Company’s Virginia Ferrar, public policy analysts such as Samuel Hartlib, and English scientists such as Robert Hooke, would publicize and pursue its “improvement” throughout the century.
Trained by, and working closely with, his father, John Tradescant the Younger visited Virginia in 1637 to collect varieties of flowers, plants, shells, minerals, and Indian artifacts of ethnological interest. He had just returned from this collecting trip when his father died in 1638, at which point he succeeded John the Elder as royal gardener to Charles I. When civil war broke out, John the Younger left England in 1642, returning yet again to Virginia, for a brief sojourn which overlapped with Sir William Berkeley’s (another enthusiast of Virginian sericulture) first years as Governor (16411652). It was John the Younger who in 1656 published the list of Virginian bear-, deer-, and raccoon-skin robes in the family collection, including “Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke.”
Given the close and continuing connection of both Tradescants with the Virginia enterprise, and their hands-on activities as collectors of natural and artificial rarities from Virginia, it is entirely possible that one of them procured Powhatan’s cloak either during or subsequent to their travels in that country.
Waselkov’s second, “perhaps more plausible” explanation of how the deerskin mantle first came into England points to Captain Christopher Newport to whom, as Smith reported, Powhatan “gave his old shoes and his mantle” in October 1608, all part of a farcical ceremonial exchange between “royals” stage-managed by the Virginia Company. (As directed, Newport gave to Powhatan a copper crown and scarlet robe, symbolizing the putative status that came with subjection to James I as overlord, and Powhatan reciprocated in kind.)
Whether Newport brought Powhatan’s cloak with him when he returned to England in December of that year is not known. Newport arrived in England mid-January 1609, and about 6 weeks later,
In this same letter, Zuñiga refers to the important exchange of “sons” which preceded the imperial pageantry enacted in October 1608. Thomas Savage, “an English boy” whom the Indians were told was a son of James I, was left by Newport with Powhatan in exchange for Powhatan’s son, Namontack. Namontack sailed from Virginia with Captain Newport on 10 April 1608, arriving in England on 21 May. In June of 1608, Zuñiga reported on Namontack’s presence to Philip III, writing that
Zuñiga couldn’t have been more wrong.
Namontack returned to Virginia with Newport in July, arriving there towards the end of September, 1608, shortly before the coronation ceremony staged by Newport for Powhatan, for which Namontack’s brief sojourn in England surely paved the way.
In his Report on Virginia made to the Spanish council of state in July 1610, the Irishman Francis Maguel confirms Zuñiga’s account of the strategic esteem with which Namontack met while in England, and tells of the copper crown and silk robes that figured so prominently in the mock coronation:
By the time of the mock crowning of Powhatan in October 1608, the grounds of reciprocal ceremonial exchange between putative heads of state were well-established. I think it very likely that Powhatan gave his mantle to Newport as part of what he took to be an expected gesture within the strange ritual of kingship being enacted around him.
Whatever the “ultimate origin” of the deerskin cloak in the Tradescant collection, its authenticity is not in question, argues Waselkov. The robe “is undoubtedly a southern Algonquian artifact of the type described by John Smith” (Waselkov 308) early in the century, and by Jesuit missionaries in 1639:
In 1907, David Bushnell wrote that “the signification” of the robe’s shells embroidered in circular rows “is not known” (39). Since then, scholars have determined that the mantle’s ornamentation is a symbolic map portraying social and political relationships within the Powhatan chiefdom a graphic depiction of Indians’ organization of their social environment and how they perceived their world at a particular moment in time (Waselkov 301).
Waselkov reads in the decoration a topological representation of the expanding Powhatan confederacy, and the paramount chief’s domination over the Indians of the Virginia coastal plain.
An ms. written by Thomas Martin (an “Adventurer for Virginia”), dated 15 December 1622, gives similar numbers (“32 Kingdomes under him”) for the Powhatan confederacy:
Bushnell speculates that
Portrait of John Tradescant
By the great Czech artist-engraver, Wenceslaus Hollar (16071677)
Frontispiece portrait to Musæum Tradescantianum: or, A collection of rarities. Preserved at South-Lambeth neer London by John Tradescant (London, 1656).
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Portrait of John Tradescant
Engraved by Wenceslaus
after his own design.
The engraving is inscribed “W. Hollar ad vivum delin. et sculp:” to make it clear that this is a portrait made from life.
Second frontispiece portrait to Musæum Tradescantianum: or, A collection of rarities. Preserved at South-Lambeth neer London by John Tradescant (London, 1656).
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Engraved title page for the printed catalog listing the contents of the Tradescant Collection in 1656.
There are 14 categories for the natural and artificial curiosities in the family museum, and a separate 106-page listing of the famed Hortus Tradescantianus, subtitled “An enumeration of his Plants, Shrubs, and Trees both in English and Latine.”
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Pages 46 and 47 of
the printed catalog,
Page 47 lists four Amerindian “match-coats” (2 from Virginia, 1 from Canada, 1 from Greenland), plus Powhatan’s Mantle.
Page 46 lists the knife with which the explorer of North America, Captain Henry Hudson, was killed.
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* * * * *
open a second window with the complete text of Zuñiga’s 1609 letter
In addition to the reference about Powhatan’s gift to James I, Zuñiga’s letter includes intelligence for the Spanish king about English plans to kill Powhatan “and the savages, so as to obtain possession of everything,” and describes a chart privately held by the Members of the Council of Virginia on which “the numbers are marked ... in such a way that they go up to 39,” almost to the border of what would expand into the 2nd English colony of North Virginia (extending from 40º to 45º N. Lat.; the 1st colony of South Virginia ran from 34º to 40º N. Lat.). Zuñiga describes how has he marked up an enclosed copy of the chart to better show the Indian geography of the region: “I mark where the English are, and all the rest till below, are dwellings of the Savages.”
With this cartographic voice-over, Zuñiga must have mapped some of the same socio-political terrain symbolically mapped by the shell beadwork of Powhatan’s mantle.
* * * * *
As glossed by Paul Hulton,
America, 1585 (1984):
Pomeiock “was discovered, according to the Tiger journal, on 17 July 1585, and is shown on White’s map of Raleigh’s Virginia, just south west of the lake named named ‘Paquippe’ (Mattamuskeet Lake). It is enclosed with a palisade of light poles with two entrances, one at the bottom, left, the other at the top, left. Evidence suggests that White has deliberately exaggerated the space between the poles, which are about the right height, to allow a clearer view of some houses. There are eighteen houses of pole and mat construction, some with open ends and sides, several of them showing interior platforms, along the sides or across the ends, which were used primarily for sleeping. The largest house is identified by Harriot in the engraving (De Bry, pl. XIX) as that of the ‘King’, the building with the cupola as the temple .... The houses, again according to Harriot, were built for ‘The kinge and his nobles’ and were constructed of small poles bent and fastened together at the top.... Sometimes they were covered with rush mats, more usually with bark. The buildings can be classified as longhouses, that is they are markedly longer than they are broad, though a few, particularly in the engraving, approach the domed, oval or round mat-covered houses known in New England and the Great Lakes region, and are close to those described for the Powhatan.
“A man is seen chopping timber with an axe, just left of and above the fire in the centre, which is too indistinct to allow us to say whether it is an Indian stone axe or an English trade axe. The dog shown nearer the top is interesting as an example of the type of Indian domesticated dog before inbreeding began with European dogs.”
|The Indian “Towne of Pomeiock.” Watercolor drawing by John White, 1585.
White’s legend reads: “The towne of Pomeiock and true forme of their howses, couered and enclosed some wth matts, and some wth barcks of trees. All compassed abowt wth smale poles stock thick together m stedd of a wall.”
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White’s “The towne of Pomeiock” is one of 63 American subjects (two of which may not be White’s work) in a collection of 77 watercolor drawings all that has survived of White’s original documentary record of “Ralegh’s Virginia” in 15856. According to Paul Hulton, who has reproduced the entire set of watercolor originals (along with facsimiles of 73 copies, by several different early 17th-century hands, of White drawings contained in the “Sloane Volume”), “the surviving drawings relate to only a very small part of the primary collection of which ... an unknown but perhaps large proportion was lost at sea as the colonists were leaving Roanoke Island.” (Hulton 20)
Several of White’s magnificent drawings of Algonquian Indians and of the “Virginia” territory (now North Carolina) they inhabited including the depiction of Pomeiock and two maps documenting the English claim to the region were engraved and printed by Theodore de Bry in his multilingual reissue (Frankfurt, 1590) of Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (Hariot’s small report was originally published in London, 1588, without any illustrations). In de Bry’s printed version, White’s drawing of Pomeiock appeared as plate XIX, with a single-paragraph legend which had been written by (the scientist) Hariot, Englished for de Bry by (the preacher) Hakluyt, and somewhat mangled in its diction and spelling by the German printers.
|Open a second window with an HTML transcription of de Bry’s printed gloss.|
|“The Towne of Pomeiooc.” Engraved by Theodor de Bry (“T. B.”). Plate XIX (page 1 of 2) from the illustrated English edition of Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia; of the commodities and of the nature and manners of the naturall inhabitants. Discouered by the English colony there seated by Sir Richard Greinuile Knight In the yeere 1585.... published by Theodor de Bry in 1590 (“At Franckfort, Inprinted by Ihon Wechel, at Theodore de Bry, owne coast and chardges. MDXC.”).
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As glossed by Paul Hulton,
America, 1585 (1984):
“In general,” de Bry’s engraving “conforms closely to” White’s original watercolor drawing “apart from a number of minor differences, but the rear entrance to the palisade is not shown, its poles are taller, thicker, more regular, and the house with the cupola on the right now has a hexagonal ground-plan. A landscape background has been added of trees, part of a field of corn on the left, sunflowers and a small pond on the right from which three Indians are taking water. There is a ridge in the foreground with stylized plants growing on it.”
|“The Towne of Pomeiooc.” Plate XIX (page 2 of 2) from the illustrated English edition of Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia ... published by Theodore de Bry in 1590.
Copper-plate engraving by De Bry (signed T. D.) after White’s original watercolor drawing, 1585.
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|The drawings so
were slightly altered in de Bry’s engravings, which were secretly trademarked to prevent the making of counterfeits (then, as now, copyright protection was a growing problem for publishers):
The circular, palisaded town of Pomeiock, first visited by the Roanoke colonists (White among them) in July 1585, was located in present-day North Carolina, in the region surrounding Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds on the Carolina coast. It shows on the printed Hariot-White-de Bry Map of Virginia (see inland from Wokohon, and up from Croatoan) as an oval, the symbol used to represent all the Indian villages depicted on the map.
As glossed by Cumming, Skelton
& Quinn, The Discovery of North
This stylized engraving “was the basis for most European maps of the area for over eighty years. De Bry made the engraving from a manuscript map by John White (misspelled ‘With’ in the small cartouche to the left), to accompany Thomas Harriot’s Briefe and true report, Frankfurt, 1590. In the sixteenth century Wimble Shoals was apparently a more prominent cape than Hatteras. Many of the islands in the sounds here shown have since disappeared. The colonists had made a brief trip to Chesapeake Bay but did not yet know its size or shape.”
|“Americæ pars, Nunc Virginia dicta primum ab Anglis inventa sumtibus Dn Walteri Raleigh, Equestris ordinis viri anno Dm MDLXXXV regni vero Sereniss nostræ Reginæ Elisabethæ XXVII Hujus vero Historia peculiari Libro discripta est, additis etiam Indigenarum Iconibus.” Also known as the “Hariot-White-de Bry map of Virginia” (now North Carolina), showing Algonquian Indian settlements in the region around Ralegh’s Roanoke Colony of 1585.
Copper-plate engraving by De Bry after a modified drawing by White of his ms. map, ca. 1585, “La Virginea Pars.” From the map’s cartouche (left side, slightly above middle): “Autore Ioanne With / Sculptore Theodore / de Bry, Qui et excud.”.
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|De Bry’s engraved map of Virginia was made from a detail (later modified by White for engraving) of White’s manuscript map of the southeastern Atlantic coast, “La Virgenia Pars.” This map, which records the survey work of Hariot and White in the region between Chesapeake Bay and Cape Lookout during 15856,
De Bry’s engraving of White’s ms. map includes some interesting embellishments.
While the circular palisade symbol appears to have been introduced by de Bry (although these could have been among the edits made by White to the copy of the ms. map of Virginia he gave de Bry for engraving), White’s original manuscript map did use (sepia-colored) circles to symbolize Indian towns, including Pomeiock (here located to the east of lake Paquippe, with the alternate spelling “Pomejooc”).
from Peter Wood, “The Changing Population of the Colonial South” (1989):
“In contrast to Virginia, with its enormous bay and accessible rivers, North Carolina was protected from overseas colonization by the treacherous Outer Banks and the lack of suitable harbors. Separate contacts during the sixteenth century by the French (Verrazzano), the Spanish (de Soto and Pardo), and the English (Barlowe and White) had introduced foreign goods and diseases into the region, but lasting colonization did not occur until the second half of the seventeenth century, as land-hungry English settlers pushed south from the Chesapeake tidewater into the region of Albemarle Sound. The dynamics experienced by Powhatan’s Virginia in the seventeenth century of a foreign influx, a strong and protracted resistance from the dominant Indians near the coast, and an eventual decline and dispersal of the native population would recur farther south [i.e., in North Carolina] in the early eighteenth century.” (43)
|“La Virgenia Pars,” detail showing the region between Chesapeake Bay and Cape Lookout, as explored and surveyed by White and Hariot for Sir Walter Ralegh in 15856. Drawn by John White, ca. 1585. From the original watercolor held by the British Museum.
Reproduced as plate 213 (p. 185) in The Discovery of North America, by William P. Cumming, R. A. Skelton, and D. B. Quinn.
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|The European use of ovals or circles, in tandem with place names, to map Indian territory may well have been influenced by indigenous traditions of mapmaking. Whether their maps were painted on skins, sketched with charcoal on bark, scratched into the sand or ashes of a fire, or sketched with chalk or ink on European-supplied paper, American Indians preferred the metaphor of the social circle for depicting human community.
And as Europeans assimilated Amerindian cartography in their maps of North America, so too did the Native Americans integrate European concepts and coordinates in their maps of a changing landscape. A Catawba painted deerskin map, “describing the Scituation of the Several Nations of Indians to the N.W. of South Carolina” ca. 1721, intermixed traditional circles with rectangles to figure the evolving North American community of self and European other:
Antedating the Catawba deerskin map by more than a century, Powhatan’s deerskin mantle describes an Indian world prior to the symbolic squaring of Virginia. Powhatan’s Virginia ca. 1608 is still loosely bounded by 34 dynamic circles of tributary chiefdom.
To most accurately portray social and political relationships across large expanses of territory within the confines of an animal skin, such metaphoric maps required a shift in perspective that replaced “absolute measures of Euclidean distance with a flexible, topological view of space.” (Waselkov 300) The indigenous circle-mapping style, as expertly crafted on Powhatan’s deerskin mantle, had been honed over centuries to communicate complicated information about the Indian polity with an admirable economy of images.
The Powhatan Algonquians were, however, proficient at more than one mapping style. M. Thomas Hatley, introducing Waselkov’s excellent essay, points to what he calls the “double mapping styles of the colonial-period tribespeople”:
And Waselkov opens his essay with the explanation that
One such map that assimilated “the relations of the Indians” in its depiction of the North American landscape was the “Velasco Map” of 1610/11. This European map integrated information from “realistic” Indian maps which delineated
However, as with Europeans, the Indians’ ability to accurately map North American territories beyond the individual cartographer’s knowledge of “the Countries they’re acquainted with” also existed. For example, a Chickasaw Deerskin Map from the period around 1723, drawn by a headman, covered a huge area
Indian maps drawn by headmen often provided “an extraordinarily comprehensive view” of great expanses. Waselkov speculates that, like the best European cartographers, such headmen
This claim is borne out by what we know of Powhatan’s intelligence-gathering network, which spanned the North American continent from Mexico to Canada. In 1610, the Irishman, Francis Maguel, who had spent eight months as a spy in Virginia, reported to the Spanish court that
This would mean that the cumulative geographic knowledge of the Powhatan Algonquians extended well beyond the region mapped in metaphoric terms on Powhatan’s deerskin mantle. And like all knowledge compiled from multiple sources, it was subject to reinterpretation while being culturally assimilated. Maguel reports that Powhatan’s informants brought back disturbing news of the European presence elsewhere on the continent, and that this intelligence was manipulated to advantage by the English, who were then still exploring the possibilities of a political alliance with Powhatan:
As the Native experience elsewhere on the continent foretold, the squaring of North America had begun in earnest.
• a 3-part companion GALLERY exhibit questioning the origins of the 19th-century color image of Powhatan’s cloak featured here (Gallery Cat. No. 63) is it really a color photograph, printed in 1888? or something else?
• more on Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Captain John Smith’s three-week “captivity” in the GALLERY exhibit, The “Zuñiga Chart” of Virginia, 1608
• discussion of Powhatan’s introduction of “the croune which ye Kinge of England sent him” in a traditional planting ritual in the GALLERY exhibit on maize, “Indian Wheat, with an Indian Jay (1651, 1652)”
• a multi-part GALLERY exhibit on the Velasco Map of 1610/11, its surprisingly accurate depiction of North America’s Atlantic coast, and its legend, “All the blue is dune by the relations of the Indians.”
• a digital transcription of Sir William Berkeley’s A Discourse and View of Virginia (1663), in which Berkeley proposed that the English develop Virginia through economic diversification (rather than relying on a single cash crop, tobacco, that was chronically overproduced), in the LIBRARY
• a digital transcription of “the report which the Irishman made touching Virginia” (Francis Maguel’s report of 1610, reproduced as item CXXXI in Brown), in the LIBRARY
• an IN BRIEF biography of the Czech artist-engraver, Wenceslaus Hollar, who did several engravings from the life, besides that of John Tradescant the Younger, including an etching of “A Twenty-Three-Year-Old Virginian Algonquian” in 1645
• an IN BRIEF biography of Captain John Smith
• an IN BRIEF biography of Thomas Hariot (aka Harriot), author of A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, and the brilliant virtuoso whom historians have described as “the peer of Galileo and one of the greatest English scientists before Newton”
• an IN BRIEF biography of England’s King James I, “a constant friend” to English commerce, and a monarch who took an “especial and personal interest in the success of” his American colonies
• an IN BRIEF topic on the Museo Kircheriano, a Jesuit “gallery of curiosities” on a par with that of the Tradescants, although the two early-modern collections had slightly different emphases: Kircher’s Musæum in Rome showcased achievements in mechanical engineering, while the Museum Tradescantianum in London was first and foremost a museum of natural history and botanical garden
• external link to American Rhetoric’s rendition of Powhatan’s address to Captain John Smith, delivered by Vine Deloria (audio MP3 reading, also available as HTML text file)