Pocahontas: Randolph Churchill’s Jibe at the Race Question

Pocahontas: Randolph Churchill’s Jibe at the Race Question

Pretend Indians

We all know how a cer­tain Amer­i­can politi­cian was nick­named “Poc­a­hon­tas,” years after claim­ing to be, with­out foun­da­tion, a native Amer­i­can. This has often been tried. Some­times, how­ev­er, it back­fires. “A friend got his son into a bet­ter pub­lic school by declar­ing he was trib­al,” a col­league writes. “Unfor­tu­nate­ly, they didn’t tell the boy, who was then invit­ed to an after-school meet­ing for those inter­est­ed in Indi­ans. My friend attempt­ed to cor­rect him­self, but he found that in that city, you can change your racial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion only once.” (Who writes these rules?)

Dur­ing a recent encounter with the med­ical world I received a ques­tion­naire with the inevitable ques­tion, “Race.” I checked, “Oth­er” and then wrote in “Human,” hop­ing for a repercussion—but alas no one noticed.

Pocahontas redux

I was inspired by Ran­dolph Churchill, son of Sir Win­ston, who used a par­al­lel but dif­fer­ent tac­tic when con­fronting the Race Ques­tion on a South African land­ing card in the days of Apartheid:

Ran­dolph was out­raged by the ques­tion. “Damned cheek!,” he shout­ed, and began writ­ing furiously:

Race: human. But if, as I imag­ine is the case, the object of this enquiry is to deter­mine whether I have coloured blood in my veins, I am most hap­py to be able to inform you that I do, indeed, so have. This is derived from one of my most revered ances­tors, the Indi­an Princess Poc­a­hon­tas, of whom you may not have heard, but who was mar­ried to a Jamestown set­tler named John Rolfe

The sto­ry goes that the author­i­ties did not take this at all well. Upon land­ing, Ran­dolph was denied admis­sion to the Repub­lic of South Africa and put on the next plane out. Or so leg­end has it.

“Perhaps we are related!”

A lead­ing Churchill myth is that WSC was descend­ed in part from an Iro­quois Indi­an. Even the myth does not claim Poc­a­hon­tas, who has been linked as an ances­tor to two Amer­i­can First Ladies, Edith Wil­son and Nan­cy Rea­gan, but not to the Churchills. I sus­pect Ran­dolph knew there was no Poc­a­hon­tas in his back­ground, but with his usu­al zeal embroi­dered the sto­ry to express his outrage.

The fable of Churchill’s Indi­an fore­bears is explod­ed in detail in my book, Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty(Please do not buy the hard­back copy present­ly being offered on Ama­zon for only $3327.62. The paper­back is only $29.95.)

Most of the Churchill fam­i­ly always believed the leg­end. Con­front­ed with evi­dence prov­ing it untrue, WSC’s daugh­ter Mary admit­ted there was no basis in fact. Her nephew Win­ston, the late Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, was hard­er to convince.

Once after one of his book tours my wife and I took him down to Plimoth Plan­ta­tion, the liv­ing his­to­ry muse­um of the Pil­grims in Mass­a­chu­setts. As we drove up, we encoun­tered a young man dressed as an Indi­an. I’m sure he was as Indi­an as I am. Enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly, Win­ston alight­ed from the car and held out his hand. “I’m Win­ston Churchill, grand­son of the prime min­is­ter,” he said. “Per­haps we are related!”

As he climbed back in the car, we burst out laugh­ing. “Win­ston,” I said between guf­faws, “You are as native Amer­i­can as my Siamese cat.”

“Nev­er mind,” he fired back. “It’s my sto­ry and I’m stick­ing to it.”

More serious reading

The Art of the Pos­si­ble: Churchill, South Africa, Apartheid, Part 1,”

The Art of the Pos­si­ble, Part 2,” The Age of Mandela

Joy­ful Hum­bug: Indi­an Fore­bears

One thought on “Pocahontas: Randolph Churchill’s Jibe at the Race Question

  1. Appar­ent­ly some believed in the sto­ry, and even went one up on it. See Andrew Roberts’ Walk­ing with Des­tiny p.175: “Lord Craw­ford, who was in 1912 the Con­ser­v­a­tive Chief Whip, nat­u­ral­ly put the worst pos­si­ble con­struc­tion on Churchill’s involve­ment [in a sup­posed ‘pogrom’ against Ulster]. ‘There was clear evi­dence of an elab­o­rate con­spir­a­cy,’ he wrote, ‘hatched I doubt not by Churchill, and prob­a­bly not com­mu­ni­cat­ed to Asquith and the respectable mem­bers of the Cab­i­net.’ Craw­ford put it down to ances­try and ‘the Indo-Mex­i­can* strains in Churchill’s blood which explains the unac­count­able fits of madness’.”
    * The Jeromes were (wrong­ly) reput­ed to have Native Amer­i­can blood; where the Mex­i­can idea came from is not known.

    Wish I’d known that on the dri­ve back from Plimouth Plan­ta­tion. There’s a Mex­i­can restau­rant with a spe­cial hid­den menu for Mex­i­cans offer­ing far supe­ri­or enchi­ladas. Win­ston could have talked them into serv­ing us if he’d known. RML

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