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King Powhatan Presents Deer-Skin Mantle to Captain Christopher Newport, Photograph, date unknown

Context

This image shows a deer skin mantle that was believed to have been presented by Chief Powhatan to Captain Christopher Newport of the Virginia Company of London during a disastrous coronation ceremony in 1608. The mantle, which is embroidered with shells and depicts a man and two deer, would have been worn like a cloak or hung on a wall. The amount of detail that went into this artifact’s creation shows that its owner would have been considered a person of stature and wealth.

Newport hoped that the coronation ceremony would improve the relationship between the Indians and the colonists, which was strained at best during this point in time. It would also have served as a way of recognizing Powhatan’s status among the Indian tribes while also showing that he was sub-ordinate to King James I. Smith warned Newport that Powhatan would not recognize James’s authority over him, as he already saw himself as a king in his own right. This inevitability was foreshadowed when Powhatan refused to travel to Jamestown for the ceremony and instead made Newport and the others travel to Werowocomoco, Powhatan’s village.

During the ceremony Powhatan was presented with several fine gifts that included a bed, bedstead, and clothing. In return Powhatan presented Newport with the aforementioned mantle and a pair of his old moccasins. When it came time to present Powhatan with his crown the ruler refused to bend his head, forcing Newport and Smith to lean on Powhatan’s shoulders so the coronation could occur.

Afterwards Smith wrote in his diary that his fears had come to pass as the coronation and the expensive gifts only “made him so much overvalue himselfe, that he respected vs as much as nothing at all”. Prior to this the colonies had experienced much hardship and had survived by accepting help from Powhatan and his tribes, which had made the chieftain see the colonies as a sub-tribe under his rule.
 

Citation: Virginia New York World's Fair Commission. Deer-skin mantle presented to Captain Christopher Newport by King Powhatan. 1939 World's Fair Photograph Collection, Library of Virginia.

John Smith (ca. 1580–1631). The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles(London: I. D. and I. H., 1632), 66–73.

Standards

History: VS.1, VS.3, USI.1, USI.4, USI.5, VUS.1, VUS.2, VUS.3
Art: 4.1, 5.1, 4.4, 5.3

Suggested Questions

Analyze: Do you think that there was anything that Newport or Smith could have done differently to achieve Newport’s desired results?

Analyze: Several of the beads are missing from this mantle. Why do you think this happened?

Current Connections: Craft a new design for this cloak using items found and produced in Virginia, which reflects the current culture. How would this design differ from the original design? Would it still be a cloak or would it be a different article of clothing?

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