Pocahontas: America’s First Marlboro Man

Pocahontas lives on in the imagination of most Americans even though the overwhelming majority of us have absolutely no real understanding of her historical standing other than what we’ve learned from the Disney musical animated film or other fictionalized representations of her legend. Pocahontas has become like Johnny Appleseed to most; more fictional than real.

One of the most fascinating historical episodes in the life of Pocahontas was what happened after she met John Smith and achieved fame. In a way, Pocahontas was the first Marlboro Man. Or Joe Camel.

The settlement of Virginia was pretty much based on a foundation of tobacco. And the settlers wanted more than anything to introduce tobacco back home in Europe. As part of an advertising blitz not totally dissimilar from some of the events that Duffman has been involved with on various episodes of the Simpsons, Pocahontas and some other native Indians were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to sell the cancerous and toxic substance still inexplicably legal today to unsuspecting Brits. It’s a true wonder why England hasn’t sued America for the right to Virginia. Not a totally bad idea, really, considering the politicians they’ve elected recently.

Anyway, Pocahontas and her husband John Rolfe and the others were welcomed as celebrities and even invited to the royal court. Well, Rolfe was not invited since he was a mere commoner. The plan was not only to sell the idea of tobacco, but to introduced something that would knock the king right out of his socks to the point where he would reduce the tax burden he’d been levying on Virginia. Pocahontas turned out to be a tremendous hit. She was especially embraced by Queen Anne. While the other Indians accompanying her wore traditional tribal garb, Pocahontas herself cut quite a figure attired in a high-necked dress with the same kind of frilly collar made famous by Queen Elizabeth. The fact that spoke English perfectly did not hurt either.

King James was another matter entirely. He was not a big fan of the Indian tribes and used to greet news of their devastation in huge numbers with absolute glee. Far less impressed with Pocahontas’ ability to prove that the savages could be civilized than his wife and the rest of the court, King James did not exactly appear to be a likely candidate to change his mind about taxes and tobacco. And, in fact, it took the creation of the world’s first tobacco lobby in the form of public demand for greater access to Virginia’s death crop before he relaxed the rules and allowed greater import. Over the next few years the sale of Virginia’s cancerous leaves in England exploded from 20,000 pounds to 40,000 pounds.