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Pocahontas
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 settlers.

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 day.
 


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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