1595 - 1617
Pocahontas was most likely born in Werawocomoco (what is now
Wicomico, Gloucester County, Virginia) on the north side of the
Pamaunkee (York) River, around the year 1595. Her true name was
Matoaka, but that name was only used within her tribe. Native
Americans believed harm would come to a person if outsiders
learned of their tribal name. Pocahontas was one of many
daughters of a powerful chief named Powhatan, who ruled more
than 25 tribes.
Pocahontas first became acquainted with the English colonists
who settled in the Chesapeake Bay area in 1607. Along with her
tribe, Pocahontas watched the colonists build a fort and search
for food. The next year, Powhatan's brother Opechancanough
captured colonist John Smith. Smith was brought to Powhatan, who
decided he must die. According to an account written later by
Smith, Pocahontas saved Smith's life by throwing herself down
and cradling his head before he was clubbed to death.
After promising to supply Powhatan with several guns, Smith was
allowed to return to Jamestown. He did not deliver the guns, but
sent many other presents instead. Over the next year, Pocahontas
and other tribal women visited the fort and brought food to the
settlers. However, in 1609, Smith was forced to return to
England after being badly burned in a gun powder accident. After
his departure, relations deteriorated between the natives and
Several years later, Pocahontas was taken hostage by the
colonists. She was treated kindly during her captivity and lived
in the home of a minister. During this time, Pocahontas
converted to Christianity and was baptized with the name
Rebecca. While being held in Jamestown, Pocahontas met a
distinguished colonist named John Rolfe. The two fell in love
and planned to marry. The marriage was blessed by Virginia
governor Sir Thomas Dale, as well as Chief Powhatan. Although
the chief did not attend the wedding, he sent others in his
place and a pearl necklace for his daughter.
In 1615, Rolfe and Pocahontas had their first and only child,
Thomas. The following year, the family was invited to England,
where Pocahontas became the centre of attention of English
society. Banquets and dances were given in her honour, and her
portrait was painted by famous artists. Pocahontas was received
with royal honour by the king and queen. While in England,
Pocahontas was also reunited with her friend John Smith, whom
she had believed dead.
Before returning to Virginia, Pocahontas contracted small pox.
She died in England in March, 1617, at the age of 21. Pocahontas
was buried in the chapel of the parish church in Gravesend,
England. Rolfe returned to Virginia, where he developed a
popular sweet variety of high-grade tobacco. Its export provided
a way for the colonists to support themselves. Their son,
Thomas, remained in England, where he was educated. He returned
to the colonies at the age of 20 and became an important member
of the community.
Although her life was short, is remembered for contributing to
the maintenance of peace between the colonists and the natives.
She remains an important part of American folk history to this
Pocahontas (ca. 1595-1617) was the daughter of a Native American
chief in Virginia at the time of its colonization by the
British. Her marriage to an English settler brought 8 years of
peace between the Indians and the British.
The real name of Pocahontas was Matoaka. As a child, she was
called Pocahontas, meaning "playful one, " and the name stuck.
Her father was Powhatan, chief of a confederation of Algonquian
tribes that bore his name.
In 1607 English colonists sent by the Virginia Company founded
Jamestown. Pocahontas often played at the fort. In 1608,
according to a story of debated authenticity, she saved the life
of Capt. John Smith, who had been captured by Powhatan's
warriors and was to be clubbed to death. The salvation of John
Smith was the salvation of Jamestown colony.
Relations between the Native Americans and the colonists were
not smooth in Virginia, however. In 1613, while Pocahontas was
visiting the village of the Potomac Indians, Capt. Samuel Argall
of the vessel Treasurer took her prisoner as security for
Englishmen in Indian hands and for tools and supplies which the
Indians had stolen. She was taken to Jamestown as a hostage.
There she was treated with courtesy by the governor, Sir Thomas
Dale, who was touched by her gentility and intelligence. After
instruction in the Christian religion, she was baptized and took
the name Rebecca.
John Rolfe, a gentleman at Jamestown, fell in love with her and
asked Dale for permission to marry her. Dale readily agreed in
order to win the friendship of the Indians, although Pocahontas
may have been married earlier to a chief named Kocoum. Powhatan
also consented, and the marriage took place in Jamestown in June
1614 in the Anglican church. Both Native Americans and
Englishmen apparently considered this a bond between them, and
it brought 8 years of peaceful relations in Virginia.
In 1616 the Virginia Company wished Pocahontas to visit England,
thinking that it would aid the company in securing investments
from British financiers. Rolfe, Pocahontas, her brother-in-law
Tomocomo, and several Indian girls sailed to England. Pocahontas
was received as a princess, entertained by the bishop of London,
and presented to King James I and Queen Anne. Early in 1617
Pocahontas and her party prepared to return to Virginia, but at
Gravesend she developed a case of smallpox and died. She was
buried in the chancel of Gravesend Church. Her only child,
Thomas Rolfe, was educated in England, and he returned to
Virginia to leave many descendants bearing the name Rolfe.
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This web page was last updated on:
15 December, 2008