The VCLA summary task asks you to summarize an informational or persuasive passage of 500 – 700 words into a passage of 150 – 200 words. Your summary should use your own words to convey the passage’s main idea and essential points clearly and concisely. The test administrators recommend that you devote about 45 minutes to this task.
One of the most familiar episodes in Virginia’s early history is the story of Pocahontas rescuing John Smith. As Smith related the tale, he was about to be executed by the Powhatans when the chief’s daughter halted the proceeding by laying her head across his. According to Smith, Pocahontas was motivated by compassion for him and saved his life at great risk to her own. For centuries, historians took the adventurer at his word, at times giving the story a romantic cast. More recently, however, scholars have reexamined Smith’s words and other evidence related to the event. Although the “rescue” doubtlessly took place, many believe that Smith’s life was never actually in danger.
Smith is one of the more colorful personalities in American history. That the Virginia Company’s Jamestown settlement survived its precarious early years owed much to his leadership. The globe-trotting son of a Lincolnshire yeoman, Smith was a larger-than-life figure who had fought in various European wars and had no hesitation about assuming command of the floundering settlement when he saw it headed for extinction. In addition to supervising the construction of houses and the planting of crops, he took charge of efforts to obtain needed food supplies from Native Americans. He also explored the surrounding rivers and forests to learn what he could about the region. On one such expedition in late 1607, he was captured by Algonkian deer hunters, who held him for several weeks before presenting him to their leader, Powhatan. An elaborate feast followed, after which Smith was made to lie across two flat stones as men with clubs circled his prostrate body. It was then that Pocahontas intervened on his behalf.
There is no reason to doubt that Smith thought the Powhatans intended to kill him. He knew little about their customs and could only explain his rescue in terms that made sense from an English cultural perspective. That his ordeal was part of a ritual probably never occurred to him. But historians who have begun to reexamine the past from the viewpoint of Native Americans now believe that is exactly what happened. They argue that Smith’s near execution represented a symbolic enactment of his death. He was then brought back from the grave by one of its members. Smith’s status as a leader and representative of the Jamestown colonists would have warranted such treatment. And two days after this ceremony took place, another was held in which Powhatan told Smith that he would always consider him a son. For many native groups, such ritual adoptions served as a prelude to the creation of intertribal alliances. This appears to be what the chief had in mind. Smith’s acceptance into the Powhatan family was to be the basis for establishing closer relations between Native Americans and the fledgling settlement at Jamestown.
There is much in Smith’s writing that raises questions about his veracity, and it is not surprising that he has been accused of fabricating ad romanticizing his experiences with the Powhatans. But the story he related most likely took place. What he did not record, and probably did not understand, was what it meant. It would be another three and a half centuries or so before historians started asking the questions that would supply that meaning. (545 words)
Many Virginians have heard the story of Pocahontas’ dramatic intervention to save John Smith’s life. While the episode probably occurred, scholars have recently given it a different interpretation, saying Smith’s life was not actually in jeopardy.
John Smith was a well-traveled adventurer whose leadership of the Jamestown settlement during its precarious early years probably saved the colony from extinction. One of the memorable episodes of Smith’s Virginia years was his rescue by Pocahontas, the daughter of a Powhatan chief, who laid her head across his as he was about to be executed by tribal warriors.
For many years, scholars accepted Smith’s account of the incident. Recently, however, historians reexamining the past from the perspective of Native Americans have proposed an alternative explanation that Smith may not have been aware of. They believe the Powhatans had no intention of killing Smith, and that his ordeal was part of a tribal adoption ritual. According to this interpretation, Smith’s near execution represented a symbolic enactment of his death, from which he was afterward “reborn” into the tribe. By making Smith a member of the Powhatan family, these historians contend, Native Americans hoped to establish closer relations with the English settlement at Jamestown. (199 words)
Notice that the summary follows the sequence of information of the original passage, conveying the main ideas of each paragraph, in order.
(This section is copied verbatim from the VCLA study guide.)
Your summary should effectively communicate the main idea and essential points of the passage. You are expected to identify the relevant information and communicate it clearly and concisely in your own words.
Your summary will be evaluated based on the following criteria:
The final version of your summary should conform to the conventions of Standard English, should be written legibly, and should be in your own words.
Sample essay and scoring features from the VCLA Study Guide, Section 6: https://www.va.nesinc.com/PageView.aspx?f=HTML_FRAG/VA091_092PrepMaterials.html
Additional information drawn email correspondence with Virginia's Pearson liaison and from the VCLA Online Course and Preparation Tests: https://www.longsdalepub.com/courses/vcla/start/index.html (login required)