Pocahontas

Pocahontas

(c. 1595-1617)

Pocahontas was born on the western side of Chesapeake Bay in modern-day Virginia around 1595. Her father was Powhatan, chief of the Renape tribe of Algonquin Indians. Her life, and that of thousands of her people, was changed dramatically by the appearance of a group of English colonists in 1607.

Initially, the settlers occupied only a small peninsul land they called Jamestown, but as they began to expand to the north and west, they encroached on Powhatan’s territory.The first record in English documents regarding Pocahontas came from English Captain John Smith (see no. 16) who claimed that the Indian princess saved him from death at the hands of Powhatan’s men.

According to Smith, he was thrown to the ground and was about to be beheaded when Pocahontas threw herself berween Smith and his captors, and begged her father to save the Englishman’s life.The story has been debated by historians ever since. Some assert that John Smith was a glory seeker who would do and say anything to enhance his reputation; other historians see no reason the story should be rejected.

What is certain is that Smith returned to Jamestown from his captivity and that Pocahontas began to serve as a go-between between the English and Native Americans. Her contact with John Smith was broken late in 1609 when he returned to England because of an injury caused by a gunpowder explosion.

In December 1612, the English captain Samuel Argall kidnaped Pocahontas and held her as a hostage at Jamestown. While she was being held, Pocahontas was converted to Christianity by Reverend Alexander Whitaker. She took the Christian name Rebecca. John Rolfe (see no. 20), an English adventurer, met and fell in love with Rebecca.

Rolfe asked the colony’s Governor, Thomas Dale, for approval of their marriage. Dale agreed, believing that the marriage would help relations between the Indians and the English colonists. The wedding took place in April, 1614. A fragile peace ensued between the Indians and English, during which the English colony continued to grow

In 1616, John Rolfe, Rebecca, and their infant son Thomas went to England. In London, the “Lady Rebecca” was brought before King James I and his queen; the monarchs and London society were greatly impressed by her manner and appearance. The Rolfes intended to return to Virginia in 1617, but Pocahontas fell ill and died before they left.

Her husband and son returned to Virginia, and eventually Thomas Rolfe became a member of the Tidewater aristocracy. Through him, Pocahontas’s blood descended to numerous generations of Americans. The 28th president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, was one of her descendants.