16 January 2018

The true story of Pocahontas - in Virginia and in England

English King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Co. to form a North America settlement in 1606. The Virginia Co. was to search for local riches and a sea trade route to the Pac­ific Ocean. 100 colonists left England on three ships and landed on a narrow peninsula in the James River. Cap­tain John Smith chose the inland location to hide them from Spanish ships and to pro­vide protection from any Native American enemies.

John Smith and the English colonists stayed near the Powhatan on nearby Jamestown Island, but later began to explore out-lying areas.

In the meantime Smith terrorised Native people when he put guns to heads of village chiefs, demanding food and supplies. In fact the early 1600s were a horrible time for all local tribes. Young children were targets of rape, so the Native women offered themselves to men, to keep their children safe. The Powhatan people were in an unwinnable situation since the English government offered them no protection.

The true story of  Matoaka (later Pocahontas c1596-1616) has been gathered from years of extensive research of the written records and oral histories from her descendants and tribal peoples of Virginia. Read Vincent Schilling  who tells a tale of tragedy and heart­break about a young Native girl Matoaka who was kidnapped, raped and perhaps murdered by those who were supposed to keep her safe.

Matoaka’s mother was Pocahontas (who died giving birth) and her father was Wahunsenaca, the tribal chief. Little Matoaka was raised by the Mat­tap­oni women, along with her many sib­lings.

Matoaka was c10 when John Smith and English col­on­ists arrived. Since Pocahontas was liv­ing with her father Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, she seemed to be protected. In wint­er 1607, the colonists and Smith met with Powhatan warriors and Smith was captured by the chief’s younger broth­er. Later Wahunsenaca grew to like Smith, offering him the position of werowance/colonists’ leader, plus land with great access to game and seafood.

"English" Pocahontas' portrait, 1616
She was in rich red and gold, with white lace cuffs and high collar, pearl earring, and an ostrich feather fan.

Years later, Smith alleged that Pocahontas saved his life in the four-day process of becoming a werowance. But children were not allowed to attend any sort of religious rituals, so she could not have thrown herself in front of John Smith to beg for his life. [In 1624 Smith pub­lish­ed his book General Historie of Virginia where he claimed Pocahontas had twice saved his life, but Vincent Schilling said it wasn’t true].

In 1608-09, Smith’s role as the colonists’ wero­w­ance had failed. The colonists made inadeq­uate attempts to plant crops to harvest, and Smith violently demanded supplies from surrounding vil­lages. Pocahontas’ father was disgusted.

When Matoaka turned 14, she choose a new name after her moth­er, Pocahontas. During a ceremony she danced a courtship dance with Kocoum, younger brother of Potowomac Chief Japazaw. She married the young warrior and soon became preg­nant. It was at this time rumours surfaced that colonists planned to kidnap Pocahontas.

An English colonist Captain Samuel Argall was particularly keen to find her, thinking that a captured daughter of the chief would prevent Native attacks. Argall came to the village and demanded Chief Japazaw, Pocahontas’ brother-in-law, to give up Pocahontas or suffer violence against his village. So he relented in the ridiculous hope that she would only be gone temporar­ily. Before Argall left the village, he gave Chief Japazaw a copper pot as a “trade” for her.

Pocahontas had to give her baby, Kocoum, to the women of the village. She was trapped onboard an Eng­lish ship and her husband was killed by the colonists. The tribal chiefs of the Powhatan never retaliated for the kidnapping of Pocahontas, fearing they would suffer!

Pocah­on­tas’ anxiety was so severe that her English captors allowed sister Mattachanna and brother-in-law Utta­mattamakin to help. In The True Story of Pocahontas, The Other Side of History, Linwood Custalow wrote that when Mattachanna and Utta­mattamakin arrived at Jamestown, Pocahontas confided she had been brutally raped.

By the time John Rolfe arrived in Virginia in May 1610, 600 colon­ists had been reduced to 70 by famine, disease and clashes. Mat­taponi history is clear that Pocahontas and Rolfe had a son out of wedlock, Thomas. Event­ually Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca.

During her captivity, the English colony of Jamestown was fail­ing. John Rolfe was under a 1616 deadline to become profitable or lose financial support from home. Rolfe sought to learn tobacco-curing techniques from the Powhatan, but curing tobacco was a sacred Native practice. Realising the value of aligning himself with the tribe, he eventually married Pocahontas.

Only then did the Powhatan spiritual leaders and family share the curing practice with Rolfe. And soon Rolfe’s tobacco was a sensation; he saved the colony of Jamestown!

The Powhatan tribal lands were now highly sought after for the tobacco trade and the tribe suffered badly of greedy tobacco farmers. Rumours of the colonists’ desire to take Pocahontas made its way to the Powhatan, who feared for her well-being. They thought of rescuing her, but once again Wahunsenaca did nothing because he feared his daughter might “be harmed”.

Rebecca Pocahontas Rolfe travelled to England in 1616 with John Rolfe, son Thomas Rolfe, John Argall and some Native tribal members. The bringing of Pocahontas to Eng­land was to show friendship with Native nations; it was a key to continued financial support for the struggling colonists.

According to Mattachanna’s record, Pocahontas realised that she was being used and desperately desired to return home. According to Jane Dismore, Pocahontas carried herself with great dignity. The Bishop wrote he ‘accustomed her selfe to civilitie’ and ‘still car­r­ied her selfe as the Daughter of a King, and was accordingly respected [by] persons of Honor, in their hopefull zeale by her to advance Christianitie’. Clearly she was very popular in King James’ court, and did not want to go home.

Plans were made to return to Virginia in 1617 when Pocahontas was in good health. Yet at only 20 she died (of TB?) in March 1617 and was buried in St George’s Church Gravesend.

13 January 2018

Acre/Akko - an architectural historian's dream city .............. Guest Blog

Some history
Acre/Akko was conquered by Pharaoh Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), then by the Greeks, the Persians and the Syrian Sel­eucids. Herod the Great and Roman Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) used Akko and Caesarea for their campaign. The town pros­pered in Byzantine times and Om­mayad times, when it was the port for their capital in Damascus.

The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and Akko in 1104. They renamed it St Jean d'Acre and made it the head quarters of the Knights of St John. The Italian port cities est­ablished trading posts in Acre, and made it a flourishing port. After Jerusalem fell in 1187, Acre became the large capital of the Crusader kingdom. In 1219 St Fran­cis of Assisi visited the town and estab­lish­ed a nun­nery. In 1228 Emperor Freder­ick II landed here during his Crus­ade, as did Louis IX of France in 1250. Soon afterwards there was a bitter civ­il war, between the two Christian orders, The Knights Hospital­l­ers of St John and The Templars. In 1290, the Crusaders slaught­ered large num­bers of Muslims. When the Mameluke Sultan arrived in 1291, the Crusader kingdom ended.

Fortified walls around the Old City 

Crusader knights' hall - the refectorium

Akko was not rebuilt until the Druze emirs took over in 1750. It was enlar­g­ed by the Bosnian Pasha  Ahmed el-Jazzar who ruled 1775-1805. In 1799 he withstood a siege of the town by Nap­oleon, with Brit­ish help. From 1833-40 Akko was held by Ib­ra­him Pasha who defeated the Turks with Egyptian forces but was compelled by the European powers to withdraw. In the lat­er C19th, Akko lost its importance as a port to Beirut and then Haifa. Brit­ish forces captured the town from the Turks in 1918 and used the citadel as a prison. Finally the town was saved by Israeli troops in May 1948. 

Visit the City
With its carav­an­serais, fortific­at­ions and Crusader buildings packed in the narrow alleyways, history-lovers will be very happy. Akko's incredible surviving walls around the Old City are the town's most distinctive fortifications. They were built in their present form by Ahmed el-Jazzar in the C18th. Climb up onto the ramparts and walk along the walls. The northeast corner is domin­ated by the massive tower that stands on the foundations of Richard the Lionheart’s tower. Further south is the Treasures in the Wall Museum, which has a coll­ect­ion of artefacts from C19th Jewish set­tlers in the area. Along the sea-side wall, inspect the Otto­man Tower of the Vine, built to defend against sea attacks.

Akko harbour was an important port from the class­ic­al age until the medieval period. During the Crusader era, it could be occup­ied by up to 80 ships. That port has now silted up, and all that is left is a small tranquil fishing harbour. From here the tour­ist boats sail out to give excellent views of Akko Old City. 

Fishing and tourist boats in the Marina

See the late C12th Hospitallers and Templars Fortress where vis­itors can wander through the strong stone rooms with vaulted ceilings. See the spectacular dining hall, dormitories and an­cient latrines. In the large courtyard, note the stab­l­es, the well and the etched crusaders’ tombs.

In the underground Crusader Tunnel, the sea above is audible. The 350m passage or­ig­inally con­n­ected the harbour with a Templar pal­ace, prov­id­ing a secret esc­ape route to the sea during attacks. 

Khan al-Umdan
Built in 1784-5 by el-Jazzar Pasha

Khan al-Umdan/of the Columns was named because of the granite and porphyry columns which Ahmed el-Jazzar brought from Caesarea. Built on the site of the Crus­ader's Dominican monast­ery, the khan provided travelling merch­ants with housing while trading in the city. Set around a large rectangular court­yard, the ground floor rooms were used for stor­age and stables, with the sleeping quarters upstairs. Over the north entrance is the clock tower commemor­at­ing a 1906 Sultan.

On the Crusader cathedral site, Ahmed el-Jazzar Mos­que was built in 1781. The mosque has its tall slender minaret, a fine example of Turkish rococo archit­ec­ture with a mam­moth interior decorated in ornate blue, brown and white. A small plain domed building to the right of the prayer hall en­t­rance which had the mausoleum of Ahmed el-Jazzar (d1804) and of his successor Sulieman Pasha. The arcaded courtyard has a small rococo-style kiosk and accommodat­ion spaces for pil­g­rims and Isl­amic schol­ars. On the east side of the gall­ery, a cistern dating from the Crus­ad­er era ran a water supply for the populat­ion, whenever the town was under siege. 

Akko's finest church, St John's Church, was built in 1737 and occupies the site of a C12th Crusader chur­ch ded­icated to St Andrew. Note the juxtaposition of its white walls and red bell tower surrounded by the crumbling stone walls.

An C18th hammam/Turkish Bath now houses the Hammam al-Pasha Mus­eum with exhibits on the history and culture of Turkish baths. This preserved hammam has colourful til­es walls encl­os­ing the space where important men bathed and women held parties in a separate enclosure.

Underneath Ahmed el-Jazzar's citadel is a series of gothic vault­ed halls, which were once head-quarters for the Crus­ader armies. See their Knights Hall and the Dining Hall, a series of nar­row subterranean tun­nels and a crypt. The grand bulk of Ahmed el-Jazzar's C18th cit­adel sits just inside the Old City walls.

Ahmed el-Jazzar Mos­que 

Tunisian Synagogue
covered with mosaics, inside and out

Akko’s Old Town Souk/market place is in the centre of the Old City and is a vibrant bazaar full of fruit, spic­es, tex­t­iles and souvenirs. Eat the Arab pastries in the bakeries! 

During the British Mandate, the Citadel was used as a pris­on; today it houses the Museum of Underground Prisoners. This museum commemorates the Jewish fighters who were imprisoned or executed here by the British authorities.

Lohamei Hageta'ot Kibbutz was founded in 1949 by Polish and Lith­uanian Jews. Now is home to a moving mus­eum dedicated to the Jew­ish resistance against the Nazis and the Holocaust. On the ground floor are disp­l­ays illustrating the history of Jewish Vilnius un­t­il 1940. There is material on the early days of Jewish nat­ional­ism at the end of the C19th, the everyday life of Polish Jews and an exhibit of art works by concent­rat­ion camp prisoners.

Just north of Akko, the lovely gardens of Bahje Baha'i Centre contain the shrine of Bahu Ullah, founder of Baha'i faith. He was exiled to Akko in 1868 and spent the later life in the red-roofed house in the gardens. Just like the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa. 

The World Heritage Committee inscribed The Old City of Acre on the World Heritage List in 2001. You will love this city, NaftaliTours

09 January 2018

Muriel Matters: Australian-British women's rights heroine

The women’s suffrage movement in Britain had been fractured in 1903. This was when Emmeline Pankhurst led a break­away group from the Nat­ional Union of Women’s Suffrage Societ­ies, arguing that it had become too content waiting for male approval, rather than actively demanding women’s rights. The militant Women’s Social and Political Union, run by the Pankhursts, had begun disrupting political meetings attended by prominent MPs. The suffragettes’ tact­ics reawakened public interest in the issue, but the Pankhursts were often seen as overly autocratic.

Robert Wainwright* wrote of a young actress named Muriel ­Matters (1877-1969) who grew up in South Australia. The art of elocution back then required its exp­on­ents to weave a tale onstage, often set to music or poetry. Muriel trained with Lionel Logue, a family friend who later helped the stuttering King George VI.

From an Australian state where women got the vote in 1894, Mur­iel arr­ived in London with little money, some let­ters of intro­d­uct­ion and dreams to become a West End star. At 28 Mur­iel was an intell­ect­ual, reinforced by other intellectuals who im­bued her with soc­ial­ist ideals. Two people were important in encour­aging Muriel’s radical thinking – a] British jour­nalist WT Stead and b] Peter Prince Kropotkin, exiled Rus­s­ian revol­ut­ionary, who persuaded her to use her orat­ory skills “for the greater good”.

Muriel’s new direction emerged when she joined the Women's Free­dom League/WFL. She led a campaign to protect young female act­resses and stagehands from exploitation at the hands of low-paying, pred­atory agents and production com­panies. Her enthus­iasm, eloquence and magical voice had to be used for the cause. Muriel’s magnetism, the WFL committee agreed, would be wasted if she was just speaking in town halls to the converted.

Robert Wainwright's 2017 book
Miss Muriel Matters: .... One of Lond­on’s Most Famous Suffragists 
Note the "Votes for Women" airship in the background

Instead she needed to do mobile recruitment, talking in regional areas. In 1908, Muriel travelled on a horse-drawn caravan from town to town, speak­ing in halls and fields, standing on town mem­orials to speak to hundreds of listeners. Unfortunately she had to be flanked by police, given the attendant male violence.

Womens’ Sunday was the first monster meeting to be organised by the Women's Social and Political Union. Specially chartered trains transported suffragettes from across Britain to march in proces­s­ions through central London, rallying in Hyde Park. Platforms were erected for 80 speakers to address the crowds; 300,000-500,000 saw the delegates dressed in the suffragette tricolour and carrying embroidered banners.

How appropriate that another Australian, artist Dora Meeson, was an active member of the Brit­ish Artists' Suffrage League. Dora designed and painted the banner used in the 1908 parade. It depicted a young woman personify­ing Australia, implor­ing a mature woman repres­enting Britain.

Parliament became the focus of suffragist protest and the WFL were looking for a high-profile statement. They created a series of pro­tests out­side Parliament, to divert att­ention from the pro­­t­est­ers in­side; Muriel would be their non-violent champion and leader.

In Oct 1908 Muriel brought a chain into the House of Commons under her dress. Just as the MPs start­ed deb­ating a fin­ance bill, Muriel locked her­self to the iron grille in the lad­ies' gallery, used to obs­cure the wom­en’s view of parliamentary de­bates. After her speech about women's rights and still att­ached to the grille, Muriel was charged with disorderly conduct and gaoled in Holl­oway.

In Feb 1909 Muriel Matters was hoisted into a wicker basket beneath an air­ship. The basket was loaded up with WFL leaflets, to be dropped over King Edward VII as his golden carriage moved down The Mall. But the wind conditions and the primitive balloon-motor ensured she never made it to West­minster. Never­theless her exploit created headlines in newspapers everywhere, as she recalled in a wonderful speech.

 Muriel travelled on the WFL's horse-drawn caravan 
Hundreds of people gathered in each town to listen

In 1910 Muriel returned to Australia and lectured about feminism and socialism. With another Austral­ian, Vida Goldstein, Muriel secured a res­olution from the Australian Senate to the British prime minister, celebrating the enfranch­isement of Australian women.

She returned to Britain and broadened her invol­ve­ment from suf­frage .. to impoverished families. For the next two years she lived in the grim slums of London’s Lambeth as a jour­n­alist, writing for a ­Christian newspaper. She contin­ued making speeches and became involved in ­Ireland and Scotland’s indus­t­rial tur­moil. She criticised sweat shops and advocated women's unions, equal divorce laws, equal pay and support for unmarried mothers.

So why was the remarkable Muriel Matters not hugely famous? Part of her problem in Australia was that white women in Aust­ralia already had the vote and had moved on. Plus we have to assume that the Australian press was largely conser­vative during Matt­ers’ life here. Editors might have been offended by coverage of an unknown Australian woman’s attack on Mother Britain. We all know about the colonial cringe ☹

Even in Britain, Muriel Matters faced a few problems. Firstly she was from the colonies, not a real Brit. Secondly she was not one of the Pankhurst People. Third­ly she was against WW1, much to the horror of many suffragettes. Finally she married a div­orc­ed man who possibly left his wife for her. Scandal!

With WW1 in 1914, Muriel Matters became a pro­m­inent pacifist. This slim and vivacious woman with a mass of golden hair turned down mar­riage proposals from divor­c­ed Bostonian dentist Dr Wil­l­iam Porter, then finally mar­r­ied him in London. Marriage did not divert her att­ention tot­al­ly; she still organised a nat­ional conference of women in London to discuss peace and disarmament.

Muriel had to spend energy on early child­hood educ­ation. In 1916 she attended a training course by It­al­ian educ­at­ionalist Dr Maria Montessori in Barcelona, and soon this new child free disciple opened an early British Montessori school.

At the behest of the prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, Ms Matt­ers unsuccessfully stood as a Labour candidate for Hastings in 1924. Nonetheless full suffrage for British women was finally granted in 1928. After retirement Muriel moved to ­Hastings, until her death in 1969, at 92.

*This excellent book is Miss Muriel Matters: The Australian Actress Who Became One of Lond­on’s Most Famous Suffragists by Robert Wainwright (ABC Books, 2017). Or see an ABC 2015 docudrama called Muriel Matters!