Matoaka, nicknamed Pocahontas (“mischievous one”), the daughter of Powhatan, was born about 1597. She served as an emissary for her father and came to Jamestown often in 1608. In 1613, Samuel Argall kidnapped Pocahontas while she visited the Patawomecks on the Potomac River. Argall hoped to exchange her for English prisoners and brought her to Jamestown. During lengthy negotiations, Pocahontas married John Rolfe in 1614, credited with developing Virginia’s first marketable tobacco crop. Pocahontas took the baptismal name Rebecca. In 1616, she traveled with Rolfe and their son, Thomas, to England where King James I and Queen Anne received her. She died at Gravesend, England, in March 1617.
Pocahontas was born sometime between 1595 and 1597 to the chief of the Powhatan tribe, which was a division of the Algonquian natives. She was known publicly as Amonute and privately as Matoaka, and she gained the nickname “Pocahontas” which roughly translates to “little mischievous one”. Despite false historical narratives, Pocahontas was never romantically involved with Captain John Smith nor does any proven historical documentation exist that cite Pocahontas as being a savior to John Smith. If anything, she could have been performing a ritual of the tribe when it seemed as if she was saving his life. In 1610, Pocahontas was married to a native warrior named Kocoum. As far as the historical record shows, the couple never had any children together.
Over the next few years, tensions began to rise between the natives and the colonists all throughout the newly settled areas. In 1613, Englishman Captain Samuel Argall devised a plan to kidnap Pocahontas and hold her for ransom in exchange for English weapons her father Chief Powhatan possessed. Argall frequently traded with the tribe of the Patawomecks, and as soon as he received word that Pocahontas would be visiting a neighboring tribe nearby, he persuaded the sub-Chief Iopassus to join him in an alliance against the Powhatan tribe. With the help of Iopassus and his wife, Argall successfully kidnapped Pocahontas and took her back to Jamestown where she would remain for months while waiting for her father to submit to the ransom demands.
During her captivity, she was treated well and remained unharmed. Her captors saw to it that she learned the ways of the Anglican Church and in sometime in 1614 she was baptized and given the name Rebecca. While in Jamestown, the historical record shows that she met and married John Rolfe, with whom she would later travel to England and bear him one child. (The record does not indicate which side of the Atlantic Thomas Rolfe was born on). Pocahontas died while she was in England in 1617, roughly around the age of 21. She was taken to St. George’s Church in Gravesend, where she is buried.
Pocahontas’s account is the first recorded act of interracial marriage, although many white men viewed native women as exotic creatures and exotic princesses.
Barbour, Philip L. Pocahontas and Her World: A Chronicle of America’s First Settlement in Which is Related the Story of the Indians and the Englishmen- Particularly Captain John Smith, Captain Samuel Argall and Master John Rolfe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970.
Grizzard, Jr. Frank E. and D. Boyd Smith. Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2007.
Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. The Jamestown Project. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.
Mossiker, Frances. Pocahontas: The Life and the Legend. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1976.
Rountree, Helen. Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.
Rountree, Helen C. Young Pocahontas in the Indian World. Yorktown: J&R Graphic Services, Inc., 1995. http://encyclopediavirginia.org/Pocahontas_d_1617 (accessed March 13, 2012).
Historical Marker “Pocahontas V-45,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.
“Portrait of Pocahontas,” APVA Preservation Virginia: Historic Jamestowne, www.apva.org (accessed May 1, 2012).
“Smith Rescued by Pocahontas,” Library of Congress, www.loc.gov (accessed May 1, 2012).
“Depiction of Pocahontas being Kidnapped in 1612,” Williamsburg Private Tours, www.williamsburgprivatetours.com (accessed May 1, 2012).
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