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Pocahontas (c. 1596–1617)

Pocahontas and her life is surrounded by a lot of mystery, inaccuracy and debate. For example, her given name was not Pocahontas! Pocahontas is actually a nickname which can be translated as "playful one" or similar. Her secret name (known by fellow members of her tribe) was Matoaka which meant "bright stream between the hills." She also had another tribal name, Amonute.

Rescuer of John Smith?

Captain John Smith was an English explorer who was captured by American Indians, in 1607. He was taken before Chief Powhatan, who happened to be the father of Pocahontas. According to Smith, it was likely the locals were going to execute him, until Pocahontas (who was about 11 or 12 at the time) bravely flung herself across his body, pleading for mercy. Smith was released and continued his journey to Jamestown, Virginia. Whether this event actually happened or not is open to scrutiny. But, whereas the Disney film portrayed John Smith as her love interest, she actually married a different Englishman...

Dan the Info-man
This statue of Pocahontas is in James City County, Virginia. Unveiled in 1922, it was created by William Ordway Partridge.

Capture and marriage to John Rolfe

The English colonists at Jamestown had come into conflict with Powhatan (that was his English name, his real name was Wahunsenacawh). In 1613, the settlers took Pocahontas prisoner, and during her time in captivity she was taught English and converted to Christianity, taking on the name Rebecca. She was married to John Rolfe in 1614, an act which precipitated peace between the settlers and her father. Regardless of whether she saved John Smith or not, her marriage to Rolfe saved the lives of many...

A voyage across the ocean

John and Rebecca Rolfe traveled to England in 1616, along with their son, Thomas (born in 1615). She met King James I of England and was proclaimed a "princess" by the Virginia Company. She spent a considerable amount of time living in England with her husband and son, but in 1617 the Rolfes decided to return to Virginia. However, it was an ill-fated trip...

Dan the Info-man
This painting by John Gadsby Chapman shows Pocahontas being baptized and becoming Rebecca.

Premature death and burial

Pocahontas died when the return journey to Virginia had barely begun. It is not known what she died from, but she was barely 21 years old at the time. She was buried in Gravesend (Kent, England). John Rolfe returned to Virginia and married again (for the third time; his first wife had died in 1610). He died shortly after, in 1622.

Dan the Info-man
This statue in Gravesend is an exact replica of the one found in Virginia. It was presented as a gift in 1958 from the Governor of Virginia.

Pocahontas - Wikipedia

After her death, increasingly fanciful and romanticized representations of Pocahontas were produced, in which Pocahontas and Smith were romantically involved. Contemporary sources substantiate claims of their friendship, not a romance. The first claim of their romantic involvement was in John Davis' Travels in the United States of America (1803).

Legacy

Both Edith Wilson (wife of President Woodrow Wilson) and Nancy Reagan (wife of President Ronald Reagan) were descended from Pocahontas and her father, Chief Powhatan!

Dan the Info-man
Pocahontas was the first American Indian to feature on a US stamp. This stamp was introduced in 1907.

Pocahontas (1995) Trailer

Disney's 33rd full-length animated film. Take a glimpse at how Disney artistically portrayed the full and turbulent life of Matoaka.

Dan the Info-man
Many films have been made about Pocahontas. The New World (2005) by Terrence Malick featured Q'orianka Kilcher as the famous chief's daughter.
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