Taming Pocahontas

Taming Pocahontas

Andrea Severson

How a story of captivity, salvation and conversion became a tool to justify Britain’s conquest of the New World. 

The legend of Pocahontas and John Smith is perhaps the most enduring story of British colonisation in America. For Americans, their story was a sign of cooperation between Europeans and Native Americans, but the figure of Pocahontas represented something different to the British settlers. Her legend characterised their hopes of a peaceful union between themselves and the peoples they conquered.It is likely that John Smith fabricated most, if not all, of the story; but it is also possible that the story of Pocahontas’ supposed rescue of him was actually part of a tribal ceremony. Either way, Pocahontas represented everything the British wanted to accomplish for the Native Americans in the 17th century. Here was a pagan woman who left her ‘savagery’ behind and assimilated into the English way of life. The British justified the expansion of their empire through such stories, now described as ‘captivity narratives’.The basic story is familiar. Captain John Smith, who came to Virginia to help establish the colony of Jamestown, fell into the hands of a powerful tribe in the area. This tribe, led by Chief Powhatan, held him in captivity and, after providing a feast for him, stretched him out on two stones and prepared to beat him to death. Just when Smith believed that all was lost, the daughter of the chief stepped forward. She laid her own head over Smith’s and pleaded for his life. The debate continues as to whether this actually happened. If it did, many historians believe it was probably a tribal custom, known as an execution and salvation rite, in which a person was brought to the point of execution before a member of the tribe ceremonially stepped forward and ‘saved’ them. If this ceremony was the reason for John Smith’s capture, it is possible that Powhatan wanted to incorporate the British settlers into his alliance of tribes and, believing Smith to be a person of some power among the colonists, captured him to make that alliance. John Smith might not have understood that it was a ritual; his journals indicate he believed himself in real danger. But after this incident the Powhatans and British formed an alliance that helped sustain Jamestown through the winter.Man of the (New) WorldJohn Smith’s journey to the New World was not his first adventure. He longed for travel from an early age, but, aged 15, his father sent him in 1595 as an apprentice to Thomas Sendall of King’s Lynn so that he could learn about trade and commerce. The death of his father in 1596 freed Smith from parental control, allowing him to leave Sendall’s apprenticeship and follow his dreams of adventure overseas. Smith first left England at the age of 18 under Captain Joseph Duxbury. After a few years, he became involved in a war with the Turks and was captured and sold as a slave. He escaped from slavery and, eventually, obtained the rank of captain. Yet, despite the peril of these previous journeys, he is remembered for travelling with the Virginia Company to the New World.When Smith first met Pocahontas after he became a prisoner of her tribe in 1607, she was about 10 or 11 years old. He wrote that she seemed to be around the age of 13 and certainly no older than 14, suggesting that he saw her as a child and not a romantic interest. It is worth noting that, while Smith claimed romantic attention from many women in his journals, including during his time as a slave in 1602, he made no such claims about Pocahontas.In 1608, Smith became the president of Jamestown, but he had to rush back to England when a spark ignited his powder bag, badly injuring him. He saw Pocahontas once more when she visited England around 1616 or 1617 and was saddened to hear of her death soon after. He himself died years later, dictating his last will and testament on 21 June 1631.[[{“fid”:”42151″,”view_mode”:”float_right”,”fields”:{“format”:”float_right”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Pocahontas, engraving by Simon de Passe, 1616.”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Pocahontas, engraving by Simon de Passe, 1616.”,”external_url”:””},”link_text”:null,”type”:”media”,”field_deltas”:{“1”:{“format”:”float_right”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Pocahontas, engraving by Simon de Passe, 1616.”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Pocahontas, engraving by Simon de Passe, 1616.”,”external_url”:””}},”attributes”:{“alt”:”Pocahontas, engraving by Simon de Passe, 1616.”,”title”:”Pocahontas, engraving by Simon de Passe, 1616.”,”class”:”media-element file-float-right”,”data-delta”:”1″}}]]The woman we know as Pocahontas actually had many names. Pocahontas was a nickname meaning ‘playful, frolicsome girl’. Her real name was Matoaka, but this name was used mostly among those closest to her. True names were often kept private among the Powhatans and so it was by her nickname that she became known. She was born around 1595 to one of Powhatan’s many wives. After supposedly saving John Smith’s life, she served as a messenger between her father and the British colony, but, as relations between the colony and her tribe began to deteriorate, the British captured her and held her for ransom. It was during this time in captivity that she became close to John Rolfe, a British settler of Jamestown who helped introduce tobacco to the colony. The couple decided to marry, a resolution that helped to stabilise relations between the British and Powhatan’s tribe. Upon converting to Christianity, she took the name ‘Rebecca’ and it was with this name that she travelled to England. Unfortunately, soon after setting sail back to America, she became so ill that the ship had to dock at the Thames port of Gravesend. There, on 21 March 1617, she died at the age of 22 and was buried under the name Rebecca Rolfe.While the story of John Smith’s captivity at the hands of Native Americans and subsequent rescue by Pocahontas is thrilling, it is in no way original. Captivity for ransom was a common fear among Europeans in North Africa and this fear soon spilled over to the New World. In this case, however, they feared captivity in the wilderness at the hands of pagan natives rather than by the Muslims of North Africa, whom they believed at least had some form of civilisation, as the British understood it. Captivity narratives were very popular in London. In fact, they became so much a part of British culture that, by the mid-19th century, British prisoners in Afghanistan spent much of their time writing about their experiences. The competitive atmosphere for writers of captivity narratives led many prisoners to embellish their stories in the hope of having them published in London. This practice leads us to wonder whether John Smith similarly embellished his journals, which were published initially without the story of Pocahontas’ rescue in 1612. His later writings continued to add elements to the story. The tale of Pocahontas’ rescue was included in a letter to Anne of Denmark, James I’s queen, in 1616 and another version appears in his The Generall Historie of Virginia, published in 1624, which calls into doubt his reliability as a historical source.Tall talesCaptivity narratives were writings devoted to the documentation of a subjugation experience by a British citizen in a foreign land. The roots of this genre can be found in the very beginning of European exploration. The story of St Patrick’s capture by Irish pirates, for example, follows a similar pattern. The stories increased in popularity with the discovery of the New World, becoming mostly associated with Native Americans holding an Anglo-American or British settler captive. These stories gained popularity because they showed the difference between the Europeans, who were ‘civilised’, and the other cultures that were ‘uncivilised’. Captivity narratives, especially those embellished to emphasise the cruelty of the native captors, played on these fears and validated British colonisation. As the British Empire expanded, these narratives became longer and more complex. Anthony Knivet, another British explorer, wrote about his capture by indigenous people in Brazil in 1625; Mercy Harbison similarly gave an account of the six days she spent in captivity after being taken by Native Americans in 1792; and John Williams wrote about being captured by the Mohawk in 1853, to name just a few. Such stories were not unique to Britain; they were found in other imperialist countries as well. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, for example, wrote about living among Native Americans in his book La Relación in 1542. In Britain, captivity narratives had a major influence on European ethnographic knowledge and captivity came to be seen as a legitimate way of examining other cultures in an intellectual way. Though the captivity experiences were genuine, narratives of the ordeals often served as ethnographies as well as a way for the former captive to gain fame.Smith’s tale of his dramatic rescue by Pocahontas was not the only captivity narrative he had written. In True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain John Smith (1630), he wrote about his capture and enslavement by the Turks in 1602. In it, he alluded to a possible relationship between himself and Charatza Tragabigzanda, the woman who owned him. Although there is no proof that such a relationship occurred – and Smith never says outright that it happened – the fact that he alluded to it at all makes it seem less likely that his relationship with Pocahontas was anything other than platonic. The Turkish captivity narrative goes on to explain how Smith went to work for Charatza Tragabigzanda’s brother, whom he calls ‘Tymor Bashaw’. Her brother was not kind to Smith, as Charatza Tragabigzanda had hoped. Instead, Tymor immediately stripped Smith, shaved his head and beard and put an iron collar around his neck. As a Christian, he was considered the lowest of slaves and was treated as such. This narrative, like the one in Jamestown, ended happily for Smith, as he eventually managed to escape after killing his master.The tale of Smith’s first capture represents a captivity narrative in that it tells the story of a British citizen taken prisoner during a war. Like that of Pocahontas, it involves a cruel man holding Smith against his will and a woman who finds Smith interesting in some way. The only real difference between the two is that the account of Smith’s capture by the Turks portrays him as a hero, who escaped thanks to his own abilities, while the narrative of his capture by Powhatan places Pocahontas as the hero who rescued Smith just in time.A civilised womanThe captivity narrative told by Smith, however, is only half the story of Pocahontas. The rest has to do with her assimilation into British culture and her conversion to Christianity. Religion was an important tool for British expansion, as religious conversion was often used as a justification for expanding the Empire. The need to convert the natives was born out of the British conviction that God commanded them to spread his true religion throughout the world. This largely came from a genuine desire to help Native Americans achieve civilisation, since God’s commandments were believed necessary to preserve a peaceful society, for which the Native Americans should be grateful. William Kempe wrote in his book The Education of Children in Learning in 1588: ‘They for want of learning can have no laws, no civil policy, no honest means to live by, no knowledge of God’s mercy and favor, and consequently no salvation and hope of comfort.’ The ‘savage’ state the Native Americans lived in was seen as comparable to the state of the British during the expansion of the Roman Empire. It was believed that, with help, the Native Americans could make the same ‘progress’.To the British, any opposition to Protestant Christianity was viewed as evil, especially when the beliefs were as strange to them as those held by the Native Americans. In his treatise, Daemonologie, James I proposed that ‘savage’ nations were more vulnerable to the devil because of their ignorance of the Lord. The British also believed the practice of worshipping idols among pagan people was a service to Satan, because it violated the divine orders of God. John Smith himself, despite his close friendship with Pocahontas, was convinced that the Native Americans were far closer to the devil than to the angels and did not believe that a mass conversion was possible for them. When he described Native American religion in 1624, Smith claimed: ‘Their chiefe God they worship is the Devill. Him they call Okee, and serve him more for feare than love. They say they have conference with him, and fashion themselves as neare to his shape as they can imagine.’Still, European explorers had seen ‘savage’ cultures adopt Christianity before and most settlers had no reason to think it would not take hold in America as well. Much of this belief stemmed from the notion that God planted his message in every living person and that all the Native Americans needed was for the British to help that seed take hold. Conversion of indigenous peoples helped the British Empire to make sense out of the discovery of the Americas. It provided a reason for why God revealed this new continent to them and gave them a sense that they were part of God’s plan in spreading the gospel and saving souls. As the historian David Silverman has written, many Christians also believed that neglecting to spread the faith would cause God to punish them, or, worse, that they might themselves become as ‘savage’ as the indigenous peoples were if they did not impose some civility on them.Toast of LondonThe British expected Christianity to eliminate savagery and Pocahontas seemed to be a perfect example of their success. John Smith wrote a letter to Anne of Denmark before Pocahontas’ arrival in England, commending her as the first of her nation to become Christian, the first to speak English and the first to have a child through marriage with an Englishman. The circumstances that made Pocahontas an exception to the rule – that she had become close to the British colony from the beginning and found her place in their society as a messenger between Jamestown and Powhatan – also made her a perfect tool for spreading the Gospel. Perhaps because of this, Pocahontas is one of only a few real successes of the Jamestown colonists’ attempts at conversion.In 1616, when Pocahontas, John Rolfe and their young son Thomas made the journey to England, they were the toast of London, as living proof that the British could civilise the ‘savages’ of the New World. When they arrived in England, a crowd of people eager to see the Indian princess greeted them everywhere they went. The Bishop of London entertained Pocahontas with a festival and, thanks to John Smith’s letter, Lady De La Warr, the wife of Thomas West, Baron De La Warr, the governor of Virginia, presented her to the royal court as Mistress Rolfe.Pocahontas’ success in London was due, in part, to the fact that she had adopted British cultural norms as well as religious ones. She represented a conformity to British gender roles through her marriage with John Rolfe and her change of identity from the pagan Matoaka to the Christian Mistress Rebecca Rolfe. Women in Native American societies often had some influence over tribal decisions because they played such a large part in planting and harvesting the food, whereas the men were often more involved in hunting and fishing, which the British considered leisure activities. The settlers, therefore, did not believe that native men contributed much to their society but rather that they exploited the labour of their wives and daughters. This misunderstanding only strengthened the British desire to hold on to their traditional gender roles.Few marriages took place between British colonists and Native Americans because the cultural and religious gap often seemed too wide. When Rolfe, who had instructed Pocahontas in English and Christianity during her captivity, wrote a letter to his superiors explaining his reason for marrying her, he insisted that his desire for marriage had nothing to do with lust and everything to do with the salvation of her soul and the benefit of the colony. For Oscar Handlin, however, who has written about John Smith’s connection to Virginia in his 1975 book American Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia, ‘his letter shows the torment of a lusty lonely middle-aged Englishman who had fallen in love with a maiden whom he desperately desired but who failed to meet the standards of his society’. In his letter, Rolfe wrote:For besides the many passions and sufferings which I have daily, hourely, yea and in my sleepe indured, even awaking mee to astonishment, taxing mee with remisnesse, and carlesnesse, refusing and neglecting to performe the duetie of a good Christian, pulling me by the eare, and crying: why dost not thou indevour to make her a Christian? In this way, Rolfe justified his feelings for Pocahontas, which he described as all-consuming, within a Christian context.A strange wifeRolfe, as a religious man, also feared he would incite God’s anger if he were to marry a ‘strange wife’, as he called her. According to the historian Sylvia Hoffert: ‘The colonists believed that all women were to some degree tainted with Eve’s lustfulness, deceitfulness, untrustworthiness, pride, greed and propensity for insubordination.’ The British believed it was for this reason that God had placed women under the mastership of men – first their fathers’, then their husbands’ – and that it was the duty of men to keep their women under control. In addition, they saw indigenous women as dirty, promiscuous and difficult to control; to marry one was to surrender to the lust and sexual vice of these women. British society also expected men to offer women intellectual and spiritual guidance, as well as support them economically. Thus Rolfe was able to justify marrying Pocahontas ‘for the good of her soul’; he believed that she would not be able to continue her life as a Christian properly without male guidance.Interracial marriages, almost without exception, involved a European man and an indigenous woman. This is probably because a woman’s place in society was almost entirely determined by her husband or male family members. Thus, if a woman were to marry a Native American man, she would no longer have any status in British society. Pocahontas, on the other hand, gained a position in the British social order through her marriage. Marriage to a white man was also a way of ensuring an indigenous woman’s survival and that of her family. Whether or not Pocahontas married John Rolfe for either of these reasons is unknown. Nevertheless, their union did have an effect on both the colony and Powhatan’s tribe, leading to better relations between the Native Americans and the British and helping to facilitate peace between them for the remainder of Pocahontas’ life. Although Powhatan did not attend his daughter’s wedding ceremony personally, as relations had soured between his tribe and the British colonists, he did give his blessing and sent her uncle to give her away in his place.The ‘taming’ of Pocahontas is a microcosm of the British desire to ‘tame’ Native Americans in general. The legend of Pocahontas, which began through her association with John Smith and continued with her marriage to John Rolfe, was important to colonial British society because it represented the hope that they could ‘civilise’ the cultures they conquered. They justified bringing their notions of civilisation to native peoples all across the empire through literary genres such as the captivity narrative, as well as the through the obligation they felt to spread Christianity and proper gender roles. Pocahontas fits into all these categories as the hero of a captivity narrative, a convert to Christianity and a woman who subscribed to the British expectations of gender. Ultimately, this is what the British wished to achieve among all their non-British subjects and, though they were not altogether successful in the end, Pocahontas gave them confidence that they could achieve their goal and that they could ‘tame’ the ‘savage’ nations of the world as they had ‘tamed’ her.Andrea Severson is a PhD student at the University of Texas at El Paso, studying gender and material culture.

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Today in History for 19th June 2018

Historical Events

1269 – King Louis IX of France decrees all Jews must wear a badge of shame
1807 – Admiral Dmitry Senyavin destroys the Ottoman fleet in the Battle of Athos
1846 – First offically recognised baseball game (played by Cartwright Rules) – NY Nines 23 defeat Knickerbockers 1 at Hoboken, New Jersey
1932 – Hailstones kill 200 in Hunan Province, China
1955 – Mickey Mantle hits career HR # 100
1963 – Greek government of Pipinolis forms

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Famous Birthdays

1606 – James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, Scottish statesman (d. 1649)
1914 – Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church (d. 2003)
1925 – Alfred Nzo, South African General Secretary of the ANC (1969-91), born in Benoni, Transvaal, South Africa (d. 2000)
1970 – Claire Mitchell-Taverner, Australian field hockey midfielder (Olympics 1996)
1975 – Brandon Mitchell, defensive end (New England Patriots)
1980 – Lauren Lee Smith, Canadian actress

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Famous Deaths

1608 – Alberico Gentili, Italian jurist (b. 1551)
1949 – Syed Zafarul Hasan, Indian-Pakistani Prominent Muslim philosopher, dies at 64
1977 – Ali Shariati, Iranian sociologist (b. 1933)
2010 – Manute Bol, Sudanese basketball player (b. 1962)
2012 – Richard Lynch, American actor, dies at 76 (body found on this date)
2016 – Anton Yelchin, Russian-born American actor (Star Trek), dies in an accident at 27

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Princes, Profits and the Prophet

Princes, Profits and the Prophet

M.C. Ricklefs

The 18th century was a turbulent period in Javanese history, when local kingdoms, Dutch traders and a mysterious Turk became embroiled in a series of bloody conflicts.

The Dutch side of the storyThe Dutch East India Company, the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), was entangled in a bloody Javanese civil war in the 1750s. The kingdom of Mataram, with its series of capital cities in south-central Java, had been embroiled in major wars since the late 17th century. The VOC blundered into this volatile situation in the hope of winning trade concessions. It made an initial and cautious military intervention at the end of 1676 at Surabaya, on Java’s north-east coast, hoping to mediate some sort of settlement. Not everyone in the Company’s hierarchy thought this a sensible move. Some expressed the view that the VOC could only subdue Java at the cost of ruining the island and to the detriment of the Company’s finances. The logic of intervention would, nevertheless, lead the VOC deep into the interior, with consequences even worse than sceptics had feared.In early 1677 the Company renewed a treaty, signed 30 years before with the Mataram dynasty. The Company promised to assist the dynasty in return for the king repaying all VOC costs and granting economic concessions, such as freedom from tolls. The warfare in Java thereby gained another layer. It became not only a civil war among indigenous forces, but one in which the Javanese court was supported by non-Muslim infidels. The fighting became in part a dynastic struggle as well as a religio-cultural one and enmities grew more entrenched. In 1677 the court fell to the rebels and Amangkurat I died while fleeing his burning palace. His son – with no court, treasury or army – sought the Company’s assistance in return for still more concessions. He thus became Susuhunan Amangkurat II. Some in the Company saw this as a golden opportunity and were anxious to march into Java’s interior to put down the rebellion and place its client king on the throne. But it did not work out that way.[[{“fid”:”42091″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:false,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:false,”external_url”:””},”link_text”:null,”type”:”media”,”field_deltas”:{“2”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:false,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:false,”external_url”:””}},”attributes”:{“style”:”margin-top: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”,”data-delta”:”2″}}]]The Company came to realise that agreements to repay its costs were unlikely ever to be met and that once one conflict was resolved, or a battle won, another one would need to be fought. The costs in materiel and manpower were to lead to the Company’s decline – and eventual bankruptcy – during the 18th century. Conflicts which historians know as the First and Second Javanese Wars of Succession (1704-8, 1719-23), the Surabaya War (1717-19) and the Chinese War (1740-3) sucked the Company into bitter, costly fighting.There was no prospect of the Company winning control over the entire Javanese kingdom. The dominance won by the Netherlands colonial government lay in the future, in the 19th century. The Company faced Javanese enemies who were as well armed and trained as its own troops, more familiar with the terrain and far greater in number. In 1761, after the last of the series of wars ended in 1757, one of the main Dutch participants, Nicolaas Hartingh, recalled events and wrote: ‘Ach, if only the Company had remained a merchant! … what has the Company [gained] for all the treasure it has expended?’The Javanese side of the storyFor the Javanese who fought, died and suffered in these civil wars, the period from the 1670s to 1750s was one of almost uninterrupted violence and bloodshed. In 1746 the last of the wars broke out when a senior prince of the Mataram dynasty, Mangkubumi (c.1717-92), rebelled against the court of Surakarta. His nephew Raden Mas Said, also known as Mangkunagara (b.1726), had preceded him in rebellion. These two men became the dominant figures of Java’s dramatic 18th century.Mangkunagara was just 14 when he joined the anti-court and anti-VOC rebels in 1740. In the early years of this ‘Chinese War’, the charismatic prince found much support, but there were many other princes in rebellion and little or no coordination among them. His enemies at this time included his uncle Mangkubumi, whose actions were often obscure – was he supporting the rebels, was he supporting the court? All became clear when Mangkubumi rebelled against Surakarta in 1746 in what became known as the ‘Third Javanese War of Succession’ (1746-57). Mangkubumi and Mangkunagara now joined forces: Mangkubumi was the senior leader, Mangkunagara his commanding general. Mangkubumi gave his eldest daughter to Mangkunagara in marriage, sealing their alliance.Several other princely rebels acknowledged Mangkubumi’s leadership and his combined forces grew. By late 1746, his main army was estimated by the Dutch to number around 13,000, including 2,500 cavalry. In 1750 the cavalry force led by Mangkunagara was estimated at 13,000 by itself. These figures may be compared with the VOC position in Central and East Java as of late January 1753. The VOC governor of the north-east coast, Joan Andries Baron van Hohendorff, reported that his total force consisted of 5,791 men, a loss of nearly 700 since his last report. Most had died from disease, others had fallen in combat.The Company had fought many bitter battles over the previous seven decades, losing men and a great deal of treasure in Java and ruining its prospects of trade profits as it did so, yet it still faced a formidable enemy. What, as Hartingh asked, had the Company gained for all its efforts in Java?Nor was all well on the rebel side. Some of the princes refused to acknowledge Mangkubumi’s leadership. Building and keeping a rebel alliance together was a tricky enterprise. Most ominously, in 1752, the alliance between Mangkubumi and his son-in-law Mangkunagara began to crumble. There were several reasons for this, including a conflict over women. Mangkunagara had become besotted with a young dancer taken as war booty, so much so that he neglected his wife, Mangkubumi’s daughter, just as she was bearing him a child. Mangkubumi was furious at this neglect of his daughter and, to complicate matters, he too fell for the young dancer. There was also a profound difference in military tactics. Mangkubumi favoured frontal assaults, even on fortified VOC positions, whereas Mangkunagara preferred to protect his regiments and to force or entice the enemy out of fortifications for battle on open ground. Mangkubumi suspected Mangkunagara of cowardice and the latter regarded Mangkubumi as irresponsible. In other matters, too, Mangkubumi appeared to behave with an arbitrariness that concerned many of his supporters. It is also possible that Mangkunagara was beginning to think that he should be the senior figure, the man who should be king. In 1749 Mangkubumi had been declared king by his fellow rebels, so a whiff of lèse-majesté on Mangkunagara’s part added to the poisoning of the central alliance of the rebellion.Van Hohendorff, the VOC’s senior officer on Java’s north coast from 1748 to 1754, opened tentative negotiations with Mangkunagara in late 1752 to see if he could be separated from Mangkubumi and brought to collaborate with the Company. There seems to have been little or no genuine good will on either side. Letters were exchanged, but attempts to coordinate military actions against Mangkubumi came to nothing. Nevertheless, the estrangement between the two leading rebels clearly opened opportunities just when the Dutch and the Javanese court it supported most needed them. Hartingh, who succeeded van Hohendorff, later described the growing estrangement between the two as the intervention of ‘Divine Providence’, just ‘when the enemy seemed at his most powerful’. In March 1753 Mangkunagara and his closest followers resolved to break openly with Mangkubumi. Internecine warfare soon followed.Enter the TurkIn January 1753 a Turk, Ibrahim, arrived unannounced in Batavia (now Jakarta), the VOC’s capital, as reported by both Dutch and Javanese sources. Their accounts of his background rest on what he told people about himself. He was evidently a wealthy trader who bore the titles of Sheikh and Sharif, indicating noble ancestry leading back to the Prophet Muhammad himself. He also had two documents of some sort, which, in the Javanese understanding, amounted to authority from the Ottoman sultan to mediate in the warfare going on in Java.These documents are lost and the Dutch sources do not refer to them. Their signatories as named in the Javanese chronicle Babad Giyanti are not identifiable with Ottoman dignitaries or the sultan of the time. It is possible, however, that one of these – called Mustafa Rumi (Mustafa of Rum, i.e. Istanbul) – did refer to the contemporary grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire, Çorlulu Köse Bahir Mustafa Pasha (1752-5). Perhaps the Javanese confused the term pasha, which was used for dignitaries such as the grand vizier or the governor of an Ottoman territory, with the term padshah employed by the Ottoman sultans themselves. If Ibrahim presented himself as having the authority of a pasha behind him, his Javanese interlocutors might have misunderstood this pasha to be the padshah, the sultan himself. It was important that Ibrahim was thought to be an emissary of the Ottoman sultan – known as Sultan Rum in Javanese – for Sultan Rum was a major figure in Javanese myths about the ancient past of the island. With claimed descent from the Prophet himself and authorisation from the Ottoman sultan, Ibrahim quickly achieved standing and authority in Javanese circles.Ibrahim addressed himself in the first place to the VOC’s governor-general in Batavia, Jacob Mossel (1750-61), and offered to mediate between the Company and Mangkubumi. He never showed any interest in, nor made any contact with, Mangkunagara. Whatever the prospects of reconciliation and alliance between Mangkunagara and the Company – and we may suspect that they were always slight – they now came to a definitive end.Mossel and his colleagues on the Council of the Indies were uncertain what to make of Ibrahim, not least since he asked no remuneration for his services. Babad Giyanti also describes him declining payment: ‘If I can bring a halt to the people’s conflicts, my reward will already be great in the eyes of God.’ The Dutch had a generally favourable view of Turks, believing them less hostile than the Javanese towards Europeans. It was decided to send Ibrahim to Semarang to meet the Company’s governor of the north-east coast, van Hohendorff, who was ordered to receive Ibrahim and see what might be achieved. In April 1753 van Hohendorff responded, expressing doubt that the ‘Turkish priest recently sent here by your Excellencies’ would be able to contribute anything through his ‘spiritual authority’, but saying that he would follow Batavia’s orders.Only a few months later, in August 1753, Mangkubumi suffered a crushing defeat at Mangkunagara’s hands at Kasatriyan, near Ponorogo in eastern Java. Mangkubumi force-marched his army for three days and nights, while Mangkunagara rested his men and horses and waited to receive his father-in-law – now his principal enemy – in battle. Mangkunagara’s autobiographical chronicle of the war years, Serat Babad Pakunegaran, tells us that he consulted his senior officers and asked his soldiers whether they loved him and, if so, he asked God that they should stand together, whether in life or in death. Then came a gentle rain and the stream at Kasatriyan flooded so that it would be difficult for enemies to cross. Mangkunagara awaited Mangkubumi in this secure position.When Mangkubumi’s troops appeared across the river, Mangkunagara shouted to his men – according to his babad – ‘Let us all submit to God and die together!’ His well-rested soldiers then launched into fierce hand-to-hand combat, putting Mangkubumi’s exhausted regiments to flight at the cost of many dead. Furious at this turn of events, Mangkubumi himself entered the fray, but his soldiers were tired from the march. Their shots missed and many were killed. Mangkubumi watched on, speechless.As Mangkubumi’s soldiers fell, the lip of his own horse was grazed by a musket shot. He decided to flee the field, followed by his surviving cavalry. As his men tried to cross the flooding river, many died in its waters. Babad Giyanti observes that Mangkubumi’s soldiers ‘reached the river bank exhausted. Having just marched night and day for three nights, without food, then they plunged into the river … exhausted men who died when only lightly wounded. More and more were easily killed’.In the end, Mangkubumi lost 600 dead, with more surrendering to Mangkunagara, according to the latter’s account. Mangkunagara did not, however, pursue the fleeing Mangkubumi, wishing no more battle with his father-in-law. What, after all, would he do with Mangkubumi if he were to be captured? Mangkubumi was allowed to escape across the flooding river, which was nearly choked with the bodies of the dead. With him went surviving senior figures, a mere 200 cavalry and 100 infantry.In the wake of this devastating defeat, Mangkubumi wrote to Governor-General Mossel, saying that he had confidence in Ibrahim as a negotiator. He criticised van Hohendorff for preventing a personal meeting between himself and Ibrahim. Mangkubumi’s hatred of van Hohendorff, which rested on a decade of animosity and war, was obvious in several letters. It was clear that van Hohendorff was himself a barrier to the negotiated peace that Batavia sought. He would not allow Ibrahim to return to Batavia until early 1754, when the Turk took with him a beautiful gilded dagger (kris) and four horses as gifts to Mossel from Mangkubumi. The latter’s letter to the governor-general, however, was a problem. Unsurprisingly, it was written in Javanese, but within the chaotic and barely competent bureaucracy of Company headquarters, no officer could be found who could read the language. Therefore, Ibrahim conveyed Mangkubumi’s message orally; only in March were translations received in Batavia.In early 1754 van Hohendorff asked to be relieved of his position as governor of Java’s north-east coast: ‘To conserve my reputation’, he said. His replacement was Hartingh, who was born in Amsterdam and had been sent to Java as a youth to learn Javanese. He was thus one of the few VOC officers who could communicate in that language. Moreover, claimed his Company colleagues, he was ‘not only knowledgeable in the land and the language’, but had the ‘talent to get on well with the native’. That rather contrasted with Babad Giyanti’s description of Hartingh as ‘big and tall but not good looking, with a face roundly bulbous and squinting eyes, his belly bulging out everywhere, folded over itself, big and dishevelled’. According to the Babad, those who saw him said: ‘This is a pig that’s been replaced by a demon’, comparing him with the giant ogre Buta Terong from the wayang (shadow-puppet) theatre. However negative the Javanese view of Hartingh’s appearance, he carried no prior baggage of bad relations with Mangkubumi. This enhanced the prospects of success in the peace negotiations under Ibrahim’s mediation.All these events realigned Central Javanese politics. In Batavia, the Council of the Indies debated at length what steps to take next. It decided in March 1754 to explore Mangkubumi’s demands, with Ibrahim as intermediary. Mangkubumi quickly recovered his position as the most powerful military force in Central and East Java. As the negotiations proceeded, two main losers emerged: Pakubuwana III of Surakarta, who was about to lose half his kingdom without anyone suggesting that he might hold a veto over the outcome; and Prince Mangkunagara, who was sidelined by Ibrahim’s insistence that only Mangkubumi was an appropriate negotiating partner for the VOC.Peace negotiations succeedIndirect negotiations between Hartingh and Mangkubumi began in April 1754. In June, the Company sent Ibrahim to meet Mangkubumi in person. He returned to Semarang accompanied by Mangkubumi’s brother as emissary, living token of good faith – and, frankly, as hostage. Mangkubumi demanded that the VOC should recognise him as ruler over half of the Javanese kingdom, bearing the title Sultan, and should commit itself to killing Mangkunagara. The latter was still marauding at will in the countryside, with forces which Babad Giyanti puts at 10,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry.With the VOC-Mangkubumi negotiations well under way, Ibrahim travelled to Batavia in June 1754. From there, he informed Mangkubumi that he was going on pilgrimage to Mecca and would return within seven months. He may never have returned to Java.Meanwhile, Hartingh met Mangkubumi in September 1754 at the village Pedagangan, where the main issues were settled to mutual satisfaction. It was agreed that the kingdom would be divided between equal monarchs, Pakubuwana III in Surakarta, bearing the title Susuhunan, and Mangkubumi to be known as Sultan. The latter insisted that his domain must be in the centre of the kingdom and Hartingh had no option but to concede. Mangkubumi relinquished his claim to some of the coastal areas under VOC control, but insisted on half of the annual rent the Company paid for that area. Hartingh and Mangkubumi swore oaths of friendship and loyalty between the VOC and Mangkubumi and they promised to join in destroying Mangkunagara. At the end of the meeting, a Captain Donkel and 20 dragoons stayed with Mangkubumi as a token of the new alliance and as a practical step towards military cooperation. Batavia began to use the formal title and name by which Mangkubumi and his successors have been known down to the present: Sultan Hamengkubuwana.Mangkunagara learned of these negotiations. With a force of around 2,000 cavalry, he marched towards Pedagangan, presumably intending to disrupt the meeting. By the time he arrived, however, it was over and Hartingh had departed. Mangkubumi and Donkel fled to an area of inaccessible caves, safe from Mangkunagara’s attack.The war changed character as the Mangkubumi-VOC alliance solidified. This was principally because of Ibrahim’s intervention, but the Turk was no longer present to see the fruits of his efforts. In October 1754, Mangkunagara – whose army the VOC still estimated to be 16,000 strong – suffered a devastating defeat in a decisive clash of arms. His forces broke and fled, leaving several hundred dead. In the remaining months of 1754, Mangkunagara lost almost every engagement with his enemies, albeit not without cost to them.In January 1755 Hartingh travelled from Semarang to a village called Giyanti, the temporary capital of Mangkubumi’s new sultanate. On the way, he paused at Surakarta, where Pakubuwana III confirmed his acceptance of the partition of his kingdom, with half of it going to Mangkubumi. On 9 February, Hartingh and Mangkubumi met privately with only a translator and Mangkubumi’s chief administrator (Patih) present. They discussed the treaty drafted by the Company, which was altered when Mangkubumi objected to a provision that would have restricted his power over subordinates.On 13 February, Mangkubumi (using the title Sultan Hamengkubuwana) and Hartingh agreed to the terms of this Giyanti treaty. They and other dignitaries signed and sealed the document. Two days later the sultan, Hartingh and their entourages went to the village of Jatisari, mid-way between Giyanti and Surakarta. There, uncle and nephew met in person: Sultan Mangkubumi – the most powerful leader in Java by far, now 38 years old – and Pakubuwana III, who was just turning 23, had no experience of military leadership and was yet of little consequence. In theory they were equal sovereigns; in practice there was little equality. There was no Javanese protocol to cover such an odd occasion. The two monarchs sat staring at each other in silence, so Hartingh took their hands and led them to greet one another. They promised to stand together against Mangkunagara and, to seal the solemn occasion, a glass of beer was drunk. Pakubuwana III and Sultan Mangkubumi never again met in person.Mangkunagara fought on alone until being reconciled with Pakubuwana III in early 1757. Finally, the war was finished. Java enjoyed the longest period of peace since the 15th century, down to the outbreak of the Java War in 1825.Ibrahim’s further adventuresIn late 1755 or early 1756, Ibrahim called upon the French ambassador in Istanbul. He claimed to have lived in Java and Sumatra for 25 years and to have been employed as an agent on behalf of the VOC to negotiate with local princes. Now he claimed to have been sent as emissary on behalf of the sultan (meaning either Pakubuwana III or Mangkubumi) and other princes from Java, Sumatra, Malaya and Malabar to seek French support to free them from the Dutch presence. Ibrahim sought assistance to travel to Paris to pursue the princes’ cause with Louis XV – again, asking for no money. The ambassador doubted this tale and said that travel to Paris would be dangerous in the midst of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). In Paris, no one was inclined to take Ibrahim’s information seriously. In March 1757, the French rejected his proposition. By this time, Ibrahim had left Istanbul for a trading trip to the Black Sea.In 1771 we get our last sighting of this extraordinary man. Ibrahim pops up in Istanbul, this time to contact the Dutch Chargé d’affaires. He claimed that he had lived for more than 16 years in Java and to have acted as the VOC’s agent in negotiating trade matters. He was now in Istanbul seeking further orders. Though he said he had a letter of recommendation from Batavia, he refused to show it. He spoke at length about how the princes of Java, Malaya and Sumatra distrusted the government in Batavia. They were unwilling to make any more agreements with Batavia without a guarantee from the Company’s headquarters in the Netherlands. When this material was sent on to the Dutch government (the States-General), it sought the advice of the VOC. The latter replied that it knew nothing of such a person, reflecting the chaotic state of Company archives, where Ibrahim’s role in 1753-4 was buried in many metres of files. Ibrahim’s demarche ended in nothing. That is the last that is known of him.Ibrahim thus seems to have been a wealthy and pious Turkish merchant, a descendant of the Prophet, whose background brought him superior standing in the Muslim societies of South-east Asia, particularly in Java at a crucial time in its history. It is possible that in 1753-4 he bore documents upon which his authority to mediate in the Third Javanese War of Succession rested, one of which might have been in the name of the contemporary Ottoman Grand Vizier Mustafa Pasha. We do not, however, have sufficient evidence to pursue that possibility.Yet Ibrahim’s contribution to the Mangkubumi-VOC reconciliation was decisive. It put an end to Mangkunagara’s negotiations with the VOC and contributed to the suspension of hostilities between Mangkubumi and the VOC and thus to the peace settlement of 1755. Hartingh later claimed the success for himself and dismissed Ibrahim’s role, but Batavia held Ibrahim in higher regard. His later proposals presented in Istanbul in 1755-7 and 1771, however, came to nothing.Thus it was that this extraordinary Turk, with his high standing in Islamic circles and possible authority of high Ottoman potentates behind him, arrived in propitious circumstances for a peace initiative in Java. He intervened in the turbulent, bloody war then under way and evidently sought only to bring peace, expecting no payment beyond ‘reward … in the eyes of God’. Ibrahim’s intervention in the Javanese civil wars should also alert historians to the ever-present possibility that, while we cheerfully work to make the past seem logical, a deus ex machina can appear at any time to surprise us, as Ibrahim surprised his contemporaries in Java and later Istanbul.M.C. Ricklefs is Professor Emeritus of the Australian National University. His biography of Mangkunagara I, Soul Catcher, will appear in July 2018.

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Today in History for 18th June 2018

Historical Events

1316 – Peace of Fexhe: prince-bishop Adolf II of Mark and Luikse towns
1643 – Skirmish at Chalgrove Field: Prince Rupert parliamentary armies
1928 – American aviator Amelia Earhart becomes the 1st woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean landing at Burry Port, Wales
1948 – Phillies pitching great Robin Roberts debut, loses 2-0 to Pirates
1975 – Fred Lynn gets 10 RBIs in a Red Sox 15-1 victory over Tigers
2015 – 18 vigilantes are killed and 53 are injured after an accidental detonation of an explosive device in Monguno, Nigeria

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Famous Birthdays

1897 – Henry Wadsworth, American actor (The Thin Man, Applause, Fast and Loose), born in Maysville, Kentucky (d. 1974)
1910 – E G Marshall [Everett Eugene Grunz], American actor (12 Angry Men, The Defenders), born in Owatonna Minnesota (d. 1998)
1949 – William Randolph Hearst III, publisher/editor
1949 – Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Polish lawyer and politician (head of Law and Justice party), born in Warsaw, Poland
1952 – Isabella Rossellini, actress (Big Night, Blue Velvet), born in Rome, Italy
1961 – [Genevieve] Alison Moyet, Essex England, rock vocalist (Yaz, Alf)

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Famous Deaths

1291 – Alfonso III, King of Aragon (1285-91), dies
1794 – James Murray, British military officer and administrator (b. 1721)
1980 – Terence Fisher, English film director (b. 1904)
1996 – Pierre Chany, writer/cycling journalist, dies at 73
2008 – Miyuki Kanbe, Japanese actor (b. 1984)
2008 – Jean Delannoy, French actor and director (b. 1908)

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Today in History for 17th June 2018

Historical Events

1930 – Chuck Klein sets Phillies hitting streak at 26 straight games
1940 – General De Gaulle departs Bordeaux for London
1944 – -19] French troops under Lattre de Tssigny conquer Elba
1972 – Five men arrested after trying to bug Democratic National Committee office in Watergate Complex, Washington
1992 – Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker and WFAN DJ Don Imus change places for 1 day
1992 – Philadelphia 76ers trade Charles Barkley to Phoenix Suns

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Famous Birthdays

1910 – Red Foley, country singer (Mr Smith Goes to Washington), born in Blue Lick, Kentucky (d.1968)
1926 – Alan Walters, political economist
1927 – Martin Böttcher, German conductor
1954 – Mark Linn-Baker, American actor (Perfect Strangers), born in St. Louis, Missouri
1977 – Bernardo Federico Tomas, Prince of Netherlands
1982 – Marek Svatoš, Slovakian ice hockey player

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Famous Deaths

1734 – Duke of Berwick, French general strategist, dies in battle
1813 – Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham, English sailor and politician (b. 1726)
1974 – Pamela Britton, actress (Blondie, My Favorite Martian), dies at 50
1990 – Dick Elffers, graphic artist, dies
1996 – Thomas Kuhn, American philosopher of science (b. 1922)
2006 – Cláudio Besserman Vianna, aka “Bussunda”, Brazilian comedian (b. 1962)

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Today in History for 16th June 2018

Historical Events

1861 – Battle of Vienna, Virginia and Secessionville, South Carolina (James Island)
1943 – Race riot in Beaumont Texas (2 die)
1944 – Iceland adopts constitution
1953 – Despite Johnny Mize 2,000th hit, Yanks lose ending 18 game win streak and also ending St Louis Brown 14 game losing streak
2002 – 102nd US Golf Open: Tiger Woods shoots a 277 at Bethpage State Park NY
2010 – Cam Neely is named President of his former team, the Boston Bruins

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Famous Birthdays

1752 – Meingosus Gaelle, composer
1792 – Sir Thomas Mitchell, Australian explorer (d. 1855)
1949 – Peppy Castro, [Emil Thielhelm], American rock vocalist (Balance), born in NYC, New York
1950 – James Smith, American singer (Stylistics), born in NYC, New York
1976 – Frank van Twillert, soccer player (Go Ahead Eagles)
1981 – Miguel Villalta, Peruvian footballer

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Famous Deaths

956 – Hugo the Great, duke of the Franks, count of Paris, (b. about 1598)
1804 – Johann Adam Hiller, composer, dies at 75
1929 – Bramwell Booth, 2nd General of The Salvation Army, dies at 73
1981 – Humphrey Keervelt, director (Suriname Planning Bureau), murdered
1996 – David Mourao-Ferreira, poet/politician, dies at 69
2006 – Igor Śmiałowski, Polish actor (Lalka, Znachor, Niedaleko Warszawy), dies at 88

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Today in History for 15th June 2018

Historical Events

1567 – Battle at Carberry, Scotland: Protestant troops beat Earl Bothwell’s army
1871 – Phoebe Couzins is 1st woman graduate of a US collegiate law school
1919 – 1st nonstop Atlantic flight (Alcock and Brown) lands in Ireland
1957 – 89th Belmont: Bill Shoemaker aboard Gallant Man wins in 2:26.6
1985 – En route to Halley’s Comet, USSR’s Vega 2 drops lander on Venus
1995 – Mark Ilott takes 9-19 incl all lbw hat-trick, Essex v Northants

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Famous Birthdays

1888 – Ramon Lopez Velarde, Mexican poet (La Sangre Devota)
1950 – Lakshmi Mittal, Indian industrialist
1955 – Sally E Silverstone, Walthamstow England, Co-Captain (Biosphere 2)
1961 – Dave McAuley, Northern Irish boxer
1972 – DeWayne Patterson, CFL defensive tackle (Calgary Stampeders)
1980 – Cara Zavaleta, American model

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Famous Deaths

1828 – Brizio Petrucci, composer, dies at 91
1905 – Hermann Wissmann, German African explorer and governor of East-Africa,, dies at 51
1971 – Wendell Meredith Stanley, American chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1904)
1989 – Ray McAnally, Irish actor (The Mission, My Left Foot, Empire State, Sicilian), dies of a heart attack at 63
1994 – Nadia Gray [Nadia Kujnir-Herescu], Romanian actress (Naked Runner, Maniac, Candide), dies at 70
2017 – John Robert Jones [John Dalmas], American sci-fi author (White Regiment, Lizard War), dies at 90

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