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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Powhatan People and the English at Jamestown

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Powhatan People and the English at Jamestown, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Compare and contrast the excerpt from A True Relation by Captain John Smith and the excerpt from John Smith’s second account of being captured and released by Powhatan. Why do you think the accounts differ? How do the other sources in this set help explain the differences?
  2. What can you tell about life for Native communities on the east coast of North America by analyzing the illustration of the town of Pomeiock and the engraving of Secoton? How did people live together? What did they eat? What occupied their time?
  3. Analyze the excerpts from a pamphlet in favor of English settlement in Virginia for what it tells us about the things that were important to the English as they looked at Powhatan’s territory.
  4. What do the “New Map of Virginia” and the engraving of the first Englishmen arriving in Virginia suggest about what the English wanted from Virginia? If you were a member of the Powhatan people, how would you react to newcomers in your midst with these ideas?
  5. Consider the illustration of John Smith and the illustration of Pocahontas. What are some similarities and differences between the ways that English artists depicted John Smith and Pocahontas? Why does the language used on each illustration differ and why? What markers of status does each person carry in the picture?

Classroom activities

Ask students to use sources in this set to explain why things did not go well for the English when they first arrived in Powahatan territory. Divide the group into two teams, with one team approaching this question from the perspective of the Powhatan people and the other from the perspective of the English. After students have spent time thinking, bring the teams back together to talk about who bears responsibility for the situation in Jamestown.

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