Pocahontas: The Powhatan Princess Who Changed History


Pocahontas: The Powhatan Princess Who Changed History

Pocahontas was a Native American woman who played a vital role in the early interactions between the English colonists and the Powhatan people in Virginia. She was the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribes that controlled much of the Tidewater region. She is best known for her friendship with John Smith, one of the leaders of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. She also married John Rolfe, a tobacco planter, and became the first Native American woman to visit England.

Early Life and Encounter with John Smith

Pocahontas was born around 1596 near present-day Jamestown. Her birth name was Amonute, but she had several other names, such as Matoaka and Pocahontas. The latter name meant “little wanton” or “mischievous one” and was used by her father as a nickname.

Pocahontas first met John Smith in the spring of 1608, when she was about 12 years old. Smith had been captured by her father’s men and brought to his village. According to Smith’s account, Pocahontas saved his life by throwing herself over him as he was about to be executed by Powhatan. She then persuaded her father to spare Smith and release him to return to Jamestown.

Some historians have doubted the accuracy of Smith’s story, arguing that it may have been a ritual or a fabrication. However, others have accepted it as a plausible event that reflected Pocahontas’s curiosity and courage.

After this incident, Pocahontas became a frequent visitor to Jamestown and a friend of Smith. She often brought gifts of food from her father to help the starving colonists. She also acted as a translator and a mediator between the English and the Powhatan. In January 1609, she warned Smith of an ambush by her father’s warriors and saved his life again.

Captivity and Conversion


Early Life and Encounter with John Smith

In late 1609, Smith was injured by a gunpowder explosion and returned to England for treatment. The colonists told Pocahontas that he had died. Relations between the English and the Powhatan deteriorated after Smith’s departure.

In 1613, Pocahontas was kidnapped by Samuel Argall, an English captain who wanted to use her as a bargaining chip with Powhatan. She was held captive at Jamestown and then at Henricus, another English settlement. During her captivity, she was taught English and Christianity by Reverend Alexander Whitaker. She converted to Christianity and was baptized under the name Rebecca.

Marriage and Trip to England


Captivity and Conversion

In April 1614, Pocahontas married John Rolfe, a widowed tobacco planter who had admired her for some time. Rolfe had obtained permission from Powhatan and Governor Thomas Dale to marry her. The marriage was seen as a sign of peace between the two cultures.

Pocahontas gave birth to a son named Thomas in January 1615. In 1616, she and her family travelled to England with a group of other Native Americans as part of a promotional campaign for the Virginia Company, which sponsored the Jamestown colony. Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of a “civilized savage” who had embraced Christianity and English culture.

She also met John Smith again in London, after learning that he was still alive. She reportedly rebuked him for lying to her about his death and for abandoning her people. She also called him “father”, a term of respect among the Powhatan.

Death and Legacy


Marriage and Trip to England

In March 1617, Pocahontas and her family were preparing to return to Virginia when she fell ill at Gravesend, Kent. The cause of her death is unknown, but it may have been due to pneumonia, tuberculosis, or smallpox. She was buried at St George’s