Pocahontas marries John Rolfe

Pocahontas marries John Rolfe

Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indian confederacy, marries English tobacco planter John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. The marriage ensured peace between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan tribe for several years.

In May 1607, about 100 English colonists settled along the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. The settlers fared badly because of famine, disease and Native American attacks, but were aided by 27-year-old English adventurer John Smith, who directed survival efforts and mapped the area. While exploring the Chickahominy River in December 1607, Smith and two colonists were captured by Powhatan warriors. At the time, the Powhatan confederacy consisted of around 30 Tidewater-area tribes led by Chief Wahunsonacock, known as Chief Powhatan to the English. Smith’s companions were killed, but he was spared and released, (according to a 1624 account by Smith) because of the dramatic intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan’s 13-year-old daughter. Her real name was Matoaka, and Pocahontas was a pet name that has been translated variously as “playful one” and “my favorite daughter.”

READ MORE: 5 Myths About Pocahontas

In 1608, Smith became president of the Jamestown colony, but the settlement continued to suffer. An accidental fire destroyed much of the town, and hunger, disease, and Indian attacks continued. During this time, Pocahontas often came to Jamestown as an emissary of her father, sometimes bearing gifts of food to help the hard-pressed settlers. She befriended the settlers and became acquainted with English ways. In 1609, Smith was injured from a fire in his gunpowder bag and was forced to return to England.

After Smith’s departure, relations with the Powhatan deteriorated and many settlers died from famine and disease in the winter of 1609-10. Jamestown was about to be abandoned by its inhabitants when Baron De La Warr (also known as Delaware) arrived in June 1610 with new supplies and rebuilt the settlement–the Delaware River and the colony of Delaware were later named after him. John Rolfe also arrived in Jamestown in 1610 and two years later cultivated the first tobacco there, introducing a successful source of livelihood that would have far-reaching importance for Virginia.

READ MORE: What Was Life Like in Jamestown?

In the spring of 1613, English Captain Samuel Argall took Pocahontas hostage, hoping to use her to negotiate a permanent peace with her father. Brought to Jamestown, she was put under the custody of Sir Thomas Gates, the marshal of Virginia. Gates treated her as a guest rather than a prisoner and encouraged her to learn English customs. She converted to Christianity and was baptized Lady Rebecca. Powhatan eventually agreed to the terms for her release, but by then she had fallen in love with John Rolfe, who was about 10 years her senior. On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas and John Rolfe married with the blessing of Chief Powhatan and the governor of Virginia.

Their marriage brought a peace between the English colonists and the Powhatans, and in 1615 Pocahontas gave birth to their first child, Thomas. In 1616, the couple sailed to England. The so-called Indian Princess proved popular with the English gentry, and she was presented at the court of King James I.

In March 1617, Pocahontas and Rolfe prepared to sail back to Virginia. However, the day before they were to leave, Pocahontas died, probably of smallpox, and was buried at the parish church of St. George in Gravesend, England. John Rolfe returned to Virginia and was killed in a Native American massacre in 1622. After an education in England, their son Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia and became a prominent citizen.

John Smith returned to the Americas in 1614 to explore the New England coast. On another voyage of exploration in 1614, he was captured by pirates but escaped after three months of captivity. He then returned to England, where he died in 1631.


Pocahontas marries John Rolfe - HISTORY

Pocahontas has been enshrined in history as the wife of John Rolfe, but more importantly she almost singlehandedly kept the Jamestown settlement alive. First, when Captain John Smith was captured by her Powhattan tribe, who intended to execute him, Pocahontas interceded on his behalf: if not for her, the settlers and Indians might well have gone to war. During the harsh northeastern winter, Pocahontas brought food to the settlers to keep them from starving. She became more and more interested in the settlers, until she decided to settle in and become one of them.

On this day, April 5, in 1614, Pocahontas married John Rolfe, one of the settlers. Christened as Lady Rebecca Rolfe, she gave birth to a son, Thomas, soon after, bringing in the “Peace of Pocahontas,” six years of peace between the Jamestown colonists and Powhatan’s tribes.

Theirs might have been just a local story, if not for Pocahontas and Rolfe deciding to make a tour of England. Two years after her marriage, she met with British royalty King James and Queen Anne, and had an official portrait of her made.


Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend

Detail of the map showing the various towns in the Powhatan Chiefdom. Jamestown and Werowocomoco (Powhatan's capital) are underlined in red.

Not much is known about this memorable woman. What we do know was written by others, as none of her thoughts or feelings were ever recorded. Specifically, her story has been told through written historical accounts and, most recently, through the sacred oral history of the Mattaponi. Most notably, Pocahontas has left an indelible impression that has endured for more than 400 years. And yet, many people who know her name do not know much about her.

Pocahontas was born about 1596 and named "Amonute," though she also had a more private name of Matoaka. She was called "Pocahontas" as a nickname, which meant "playful one," because of her frolicsome and curious nature. She was the daughter of Wahunsenaca (Chief Powhatan), the mamanatowick (paramount chief) of the Powhatan Chiefdom. At its height, the Powhatan Chiefdom had a population of about 25,000 and included more than 30 Algonquian speaking tribes - each with its own werowance (chief). The Powhatan Indians called their homeland "Tsenacomoco."

As the daughter of the paramount chief Powhatan, custom dictated that Pocahontas would have accompanied her mother, who would have gone to live in another village, after her birth (Powhatan still cared for them). However, nothing is written by the English about Pocahontas' mother. Some historians have theorized that she died during childbirth, so it is possible that Pocahontas did not leave like most of her half-siblings. Either way, Pocahontas would have eventually returned to live with her father Powhatan and her half-siblings once she was weaned. Her mother, if still living, would then have been free to remarry.

How a young Pocahontas might have looked.

As a young girl, Pocahontas would have worn little to no clothing and had her hair shaven except for a small section in the back that was grown out long and usually braided. The shaven parts were probably bristly most of the time as the Powhatan Indians used mussel shells for shaving. In winter, she could have worn a deerskin mantle (not everyone could afford one). As she grew, she would have been taught women's work even though the favorite daughter of the paramount chief Powhatan afforded her a more privileged lifestyle and more protection, she still needed to know how to be an adult woman.

Women's work was separate from men's work, but both were equally taxing and equally important as both benefited all Powhatan society. As Pocahontas would learn, besides bearing and rearing children, women were responsible for building the houses (called yehakins by the Powhatan), which they may have owned. Women did all the farming, (planting and harvesting), the cooking (preparing and serving), collected water needed to cook and drink, gathered firewood for the fires (which women kept going all the time), made mats for houses (inside and out), made baskets, pots, cordage, wooden spoons, platters and mortars. Women were also barbers for the men and would process any meat the men brought home as well as tanning hides to make clothing.

Another important thing Pocahontas had to learn to be an adult woman was how to collect edible plants. As a result, she would need to identify the various kinds of useful plants and have the ability to recognize them in all seasons. All of the skills it took to be an adult woman Pocahontas would have learned by the time she was about thirteen, which was the average age Powhatan women reached puberty.

Captain John Smith.

When the English arrived and settled Jamestown in May 1607, Pocahontas was about eleven years old. Pocahontas and her father would not meet any Englishmen until the winter of 1607, when Captain John Smith (who is perhaps as famous as Pocahontas) was captured by Powhatan's brother Opechancanough. Once captured, Smith was displayed at several Powhatan Indian towns before being brought to the capital of the Powhatan Chiefdom, Werowocomoco, to Chief Powhatan.

What happened next is what has kept the names of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith inextricably linked: the famous rescue of John Smith by Pocahontas. As Smith tells it, he was brought in front of Chief Powhatan, two large stones were placed on the ground, Smith's head was forced upon them, and a warrior raised a club to smash in his brains. Before this could happen, Pocahontas rushed in and placed her head upon his, which stopped the execution. Whether this event actually happened or not has been debated for centuries. One theory posits that what took place was an elaborate adoption ceremony its adherents believe that Smith's life was never in danger (though, he most likely would not have known that). Afterwards, Powhatan told Smith he was part of the tribe. In return for "two great guns and a grindstone," Powhatan would give Smith Capahowasick (on the York River), and "forever esteem him as his son Nantaquoud." Smith was then allowed to leave Werowocomoco.

Once Smith returned to Jamestown, Chief Powhatan sent gifts of food to the starving English. These envoys were usually accompanied by Pocahontas, as she was a sign of peace to the English. On her visits to the fort, Pocahontas was seen cart-wheeling with the young English boys, living up to her nickname of "playful one."

The English knew Pocahontas was the favorite daughter of the great Powhatan, and was consequently seen as a very important person. On one occasion, she was sent to negotiate for the release of Powhatan prisoners. According to John Smith, it was for and to Pocahontas alone that he finally released them. As time passed, however, relations between the Powhatan Indians and the English began to deteriorate, but Pocahontas's relationship with the newcomers was not over.

The English trading with the Powhatan Indians for food.

By the winter of 1608-1609, the English visited various Powhatan tribes to trade beads and other trinkets for more corn, only to find a severe drought had drastically reduced the tribes' harvests. In addition, Powhatan's official policy for his chiefdom was to cease trading with the English. The settlers were demanding more food than his people had to spare, so the English were threatening the tribes and burning towns to get it. Chief Powhatan sent a message to John Smith, telling him if he brought to Werowocomoco swords, guns, hens, copper, beads, and a grindstone, he would have Smith's ship loaded with corn. Smith and his men visited Powhatan to make the exchange, and ended up stranding their barge. Negotiations did not go well. Powhatan excused himself, then he and his family, including Pocahontas, departed into the woods, unbeknownst to Smith and his men. According to Smith, that night Pocahontas returned to warn him that her father intended to kill him. Smith had already suspected something was wrong, but was still grateful that Pocahontas was willing to risk her life to save his yet again. Afterwards, she disappeared into the woods, never to see Smith in Virginia again.

As relations between the two peoples deteriorated, Chief Powhatan, wearied of the constant English demand for food, moved his capital from Werowocomoco (on the York River) in 1609 to Orapaks (on the Chickahominy River), further inland. Pocahontas was not allowed to visit Jamestown anymore. In the fall of 1609 Smith left Virginia because of a severe gunpowder wound. Pocahontas and Powhatan were told that Smith died on the way back to England.

Pocahontas stopped visiting the English, but that was not the end of her involvement with them. John Smith recorded that she saved the life of Henry Spelman, one of several English boys who had been sent to live with the Powhatan Indians to learn their language and lifeways (Powhatan Indian boys had been sent to live with the English to learn about English ways and language as well). By 1610, Spelman did not feel as welcome among the Powhatan Indians and ran away with two other boys, Thomas Savage and Samuel (a Dutchman last name unknown). Savage changed his mind, returned to Powhatan, and told him about the runaways. According to Spelman, Powhatan was angry about losing his translators and sent men to retrieve the boys. Samuel was killed during the pursuit, but Spelman escaped to live among the Patawomeck tribe (an outlying member of the Powhatan Chiefdom). His account says he made his way alone to the Patawomeck, but Smith, who spoke with Pocahontas years later, said she had helped Spelman get to safety.

How an adult Pocahontas may have looked.

The years 1609-1610 would be important ones for Pocahontas. Pocahontas, who was about fourteen, had reached adulthood and marriageable age. She began to dress like a Powhatan woman, wearing a deerskin apron and a leather mantle in winter, since she was of high status. She might also wear one-shouldered fringed deerskin dresses when encountering visitors. Pocahontas started decorating her skin with tattoos. When she traveled in the woods, she would have worn leggings and a breechclout to protect against scratches, as they could become easily infected. She would have also grown her hair out and worn it in a variety of ways: loose, braided into one plait with bangs, or, once married, cut short the same length all around.

In 1610, Pocahontas married Kocoum, whom Englishman William Strachey described as a "private captain." Kocoum was not a chief or a councilor, though mention of his being a "private captain" implies he had command over some men. The fact that he was not a chief, and thus not high in status, suggests that Pocahontas may have married for love. Kocoum may have been a member of the Patawomeck tribe. He also might have been a member of her father Powhatan's bodyguards. Pocahontas remained close to her father and continued to be his favorite daughter after her marriage, as the English accounts imply. Although Pocahontas was the favorite daughter of the paramount chief, she still had the freedom to choose whom she married, as did other women in Powhatan society.

For the next several years, Pocahontas was not mentioned in the English accounts. In 1613, that changed when Captain Samuel Argall discovered she was living with the Patawomeck. Argall knew relations between the English and the Powhatan Indians were still poor. Capturing Pocahontas could give him the leverage he needed to change that. Argall met with Iopassus, chief of the town of Passapatanzy and brother to the Patawomeck tribe's chief, to help him kidnap Pocahontas. At first, the chief declined, knowing Powhatan would punish the Patawomeck people. Ultimately, the Patawomeck decided to cooperate with Argall they could tell Powhatan they acted under coercion. The trap was set.

Pocahontas accompanied Iopassus and his wife to see Captain Argall's English ship. Iopassus' wife then pretended to want to go aboard, a request her husband would grant only if Pocahontas would accompany her. Pocahontas refused at first, sensing something was not right, but finally agreed when Iopassus' wife resorted to tears. After eating, Pocahontas was taken to the gunner's room to spend the night. In the morning, when the three visitors were ready to disembark, Argall refused to allow Pocahontas to leave the ship. Iopassus and his wife seemed surprised Argall declared Pocahontas was being held as ransom for the return of stolen weapons and English prisoners held by her father. Iopassus and his wife left, with a small copper kettle and some other trinkets as a reward for their part in making Pocahontas an English prisoner.

After her capture, Pocahontas was brought to Jamestown. Eventually, she was probably taken to Henrico, a small English settlement near present-day Richmond. Powhatan, informed of his daughter's capture and ransom cost, agreed to many of the English demands immediately, to open negotiations. In the meantime, Pocahontas was put under the charge of Reverend Alexander Whitaker, who lived at Henrico. She learned the English language, religion and customs. While not all was strange to Pocahontas, it was vastly different than the Powhatan world.

During her religious instruction, Pocahontas met widower John Rolfe, who would become famous for introducing the cash crop tobacco to the settlers in Virginia. By all English accounts, the two fell in love and wanted to marry. (Perhaps, once Pocahontas was kidnapped, Kocoum, her first husband, realized divorce was inevitable (there was a form of divorce in Powhatan society). Once Powhatan was sent word that Pocahontas and Rolfe wanted to marry, his people would have considered Pocahontas and Kocoum divorced.) Powhatan consented to the proposed marriage and sent an uncle of Pocahontas' to represent him and her people at the wedding.

In 1614, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and was baptized "Rebecca." In April 1614, she and John Rolfe married. The marriage led to the "Peace of Pocahontas" a lull in the inevitable conflicts between the English and Powhatan Indians. The Rolfes soon had a son named Thomas. The Virginia Company of London, who had funded the settling of Jamestown, decided to make use of the favorite daughter of the great Powhatan to their advantage. They thought, as a Christian convert married to an Englishman, Pocahontas could encourage interest in Virginia and the company.

Only image of Pocahontas done from life.

The Rolfe family traveled to England in 1616, their expenses paid by the Virginia Company of London. Pocahontas, known as "Lady Rebecca Rolfe," was also accompanied by about a dozen Powhatan men and women. Once in England, the party toured the country. Pocahontas attended a masque where she sat near King James I and Queen Anne. Eventually, the Rolfe family moved to rural Brentford, where Pocahontas would again encounter Captain John Smith.

Smith had not forgotten about Pocahontas and had even written a letter to Queen Anne describing all she had done to help the English in Jamestown's early years. Pocahontas had been in England for months, though, before Smith visited her. He wrote that she was so overcome with emotion that she could not speak and turned away from him. Upon gaining her composure, Pocahontas reprimanded Smith for the manner in which he had treated her father and her people. She reminded him how Powhatan had welcomed him as a son, how Smith had called him "father." Pocahontas, a stranger in England, felt she should call Smith "father." When Smith refused to allow her to do so, she became angrier and reminded him how he had not been afraid to threaten every one of her people - except her. She said the settlers had reported Smith had died after his accident, but that Powhatan had suspected otherwise as "your countrymen will lie much."

In March 1617, the Rolfe family was ready to return to Virginia. After traveling down the Thames River, Pocahontas, seriously ill, had to be taken ashore. In the town of Gravesend, Pocahontas died of an unspecified illness. Many historians believe she suffered from an upper respiratory ailment, such as pneumonia, while others think she could have died from some form of dysentery. Pocahontas, about twenty-one, was buried at St. George's Church on March 21, 1617. John Rolfe returned to Virginia, but left the young ailing Thomas with relatives in England. Within a year, Powhatan died. The "Peace of Pocahontas" began to slowly unravel. Life for her people would never be the same.

A young Pocahontas.

Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star"

The recently published (2007) The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star," based on the sacred oral history of the Mattaponi tribe, offers some further, and sometimes very different, insights into the real Pocahontas.

Pocahontas was the last child of Wahunsenaca (Chief Powhatan) and his first wife Pocahontas, his wife of choice and of love. Pocahontas' mother died during childbirth. Their daughter was given the name Matoaka which meant "flower between two streams." The name probably came from the fact that the Mattaponi village was located between the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers and that her mother was Mattaponi and her father Pamunkey.

Wahunsenaca was devastated by the loss of his wife, but found joy in his daughter. He often called her Pocahontas, which meant "laughing and joyous one," since she reminded him of his beloved wife. There was no question that she was his favorite and that the two had a special bond. Even so, Wahunsenaca thought it best to send her to be raised in the Mattaponi village rather than at his capital of Werowocomoco. She was raised by her aunts and cousins, who took care of her as if she were their own.

Once Pocahontas was weaned, she returned to live with her father at Werowocomoco. Wahunsenaca had other children with Pocahontas' mother as well as with his alliance wives, but Pocahontas held a special place in her father's heart. Pocahontas held a special love and respect for her father as well. All of the actions of Pocahontas or her father were motivated by their deep love for each other, their deep and strong bond. The love and bond between them never wavered. Most of her older siblings were grown, as Wahunsenaca fathered Pocahontas later in his life. Many of her brothers and sisters held prominent positions within Powhatan society. Her family was very protective of her and saw to it that she was well looked after.

As a child, Pocahontas' life was very different than as an adult. The distinction between childhood and adulthood was visible through physical appearance as well as through behavior. Pocahontas would not have cut her hair or worn clothing until she came of age (in winter she wore a covering to protect against the cold). There were also certain ceremonies she was not allowed to participate in or even witness. Even as a child, the cultural standards of Powhatan society applied to her, and in fact, as the daughter of the paramount chief, more responsibility and discipline were expected of her. Pocahontas also received more supervision and training as Wahunsenaca's favorite daughter she probably had even more security, as well.

When the English arrived, the Powhatan people welcomed them. They desired to become friends and trade with the settlers. Each tribe within the Powhatan Chiefdom had quiakros (priests), who were spiritual leaders, political advisors, medical doctors, historians and enforcers of Powhatan behavioral norms. The quiakros advised containing the English and making them allies to the Powhatan people. Wahunsenaca agreed with the quiakros. During the winter of 1607 the friendship was solidified.

Captain John Smith statue at Historic Jamestowne.

The most famous event of Pocahontas' life, her rescue of Captain John Smith, did not happen the way he wrote it. Smith was exploring when he encountered a Powhatan hunting party. A fight ensued, and Smith was captured by Opechancanough. Opechancanough, a younger brother of Wahunsenaca, took Smith from village to village to demonstrate to the Powhatan people that Smith, in particular, and the English, in general, were as human as they were. The "rescue" was a ceremony, initiating Smith as another chief. It was a way to welcome Smith, and, by extension, all the English, into the Powhatan nation. It was an important ceremony, so the quiakros would have played an integral role.

Wahunsenaca truly liked Smith. He even offered a healthier location for the English, Capahowasick (east of Werowocomoco). Smith's life was never in danger. As for Pocahontas, she would not have been present, as children were not allowed at religious rituals. Afterwards, Pocahontas would have considered Smith a leader and defender of the Powhatan people, as an allied chief of the English tribe. She would have expected Smith to be loyal to her people, since he had pledged friendship to Wahunsenaca. In Powhatan society, one's word was one's bond. That bond was sacred.

The English had been welcomed by the Powhatan people. To cement this new alliance, Wahunsenaca sent food to Jamestown during the winter of 1607-08. Doing so was the Powhatan way, as leaders acted for the good of the whole tribe. It was during these visits to the fort with food that Pocahontas became known to the English, as a symbol of peace. Since she was still a child, she would not have been allowed to travel alone or without adequate protection and permission from her father. The tight security that surrounded Pocahontas at Jamestown, though often disguised, may have been how the English realized she was Wahunsenaca's favorite.

John Smith trying to get more food for the settlers.

Over time, relations between the Powhatan Indians and the English began to deteriorate. The settlers were aggressively demanding food that, due to summer droughts, could not be provided. In January 1609, Captain John Smith paid an uninvited visit to Werowocomoco. Wahunsenaca reprimanded Smith for English conduct, in general, and for Smith's own, in particular. He also expressed his desire for peace with the English. Wahunsenaca followed the Powhatan philosophy of gaining more through peaceful and respectful means than through war and force. According to Smith, during this visit Pocahontas again saved his life by running through the woods that night to warn him her father intended to kill him. However, as in 1607, Smith's life was not in danger. Pocahontas was still a child, and a very well protected and supervised one it is unlikely she would have been able to provide such a warning. It would have gone against Powhatan cultural standards for children. If Wahunsenaca truly intended to kill Smith, Pocahontas could not have gotten past Smith's guards, let alone prevented his death.

As relations continued to worsen between the two peoples, Pocahontas stopped visiting, but the English did not forget her. Pocahontas had her coming of age ceremony, which symbolized that she was eligible for courtship and marriage. This ceremony took place annually and boys and girls aged twelve to fourteen took part. Pocahontas' coming of age ceremony (called a huskanasquaw for girls) took place once she began to show signs of womanhood. Since her mother was dead, her older sister Mattachanna oversaw the huskanasquaw, during which Wahunsenaca's daughter officially changed her name to Pocahontas. The ceremony itself was performed discreetly and more secretly than usual because the quiakros had heard rumors the English planned to kidnap Pocahontas.

After the ceremony a powwow was held in celebration and thanksgiving. During the powwow, a courtship dance allowed single male warriors to search for a mate. It was most likely during this dance that Pocahontas met Kocoum. After a courtship period, the two married. Wahunsenaca was happy with Pocahontas' choice, as Kocoum was not only the brother of a close friend of his, Chief Japazaw (also called Iopassus) of the Potowomac (Patawomeck) tribe, but was also one of his finest warriors. He knew Pocahontas would be well protected.

Pocahontas

Rumors of the English wanting to kidnap Pocahontas resurfaced, so she and Kocoum moved to his home village. While there, Pocahontas gave birth to a son. Then, in 1613, the long suspected English plan to kidnap Pocahontas was carried out. Captain Samuel Argall demanded the help of Chief Japazaw. A council was held with the quiakros, while word was sent to Wahunsenaca. Japazaw did not want to give Pocahontas to Argall she was his sister-in-law. However, not agreeing would have meant certain attack by a relentless Argall, an attack for which Japazaw's people could offer no real defense. Japazaw finally chose the lesser of two evils and agreed to Argall's plan, for the good of the tribe. To gain the Captain's sympathy and possible aid, Japazaw said he feared retaliation from Wahunsenaca. Argall promised his protection and assured the chief that no harm would come to Pocahontas. Before agreeing, Japazaw made a further bargain with Argall: the captain was to release Pocahontas soon after she was brought aboard ship. Argall agreed. Japazaw's wife was sent to get Pocahontas. Once Pocahontas was aboard, Argall broke his word and would not release her. Argall handed a copper kettle to Japazaw and his wife for their "help" and as a way to implicate them in the betrayal.

Before Captain Argall sailed off with his captive, he had her husband Kocoum killed - luckily their son was with another woman from the tribe. Argall then transported Pocahontas to Jamestown her father immediately returned the English prisoners and weapons to Jamestown to pay her ransom. Pocahontas was not released and instead was put under the care of Sir Thomas Gates, who supervised the ransom and negotiations. It had been four years since Pocahontas had seen the English she was now about fifteen or sixteen years old.

A devastating blow had been dealt to Wahunsenaca and he fell into a deep depression. The quiakros advised retaliation. But, Wahunsenaca refused. Ingrained cultural guidelines stressed peaceful solutions besides he did not wish to risk Pocahontas being harmed. He felt compelled to choose the path that best ensured his daughter's safety.

While in captivity, Pocahontas too became deeply depressed, but submitted to the will of her captors. Being taken into captivity was not foreign, as it took place between tribes, as well. Pocahontas would have known how to handle such a situation, to be cooperative. So she was cooperative, for the good of her people, and as a means of survival. She was taught English ways, especially the settlers' religious beliefs, by Reverend Alexander Whitaker at Henrico. Her captors insisted her father did not love her and told her so continuously. Overwhelmed, Pocahontas suffered a nervous breakdown, and the English asked that a sister of hers be sent to care for her. Her sister Mattachanna, who was accompanied by her husband, was sent. Pocahontas confided to Mattachanna that she had been raped and that she thought she was pregnant. Hiding her pregnancy was the main reason Pocahontas was moved to Henrico after only about three months at Jamestown. Pocahontas eventually gave birth to a son named Thomas. His birthdate is not recorded, but the oral history states that she gave birth before she married John Rolfe.

In the spring of 1614, the English continued to prove to Pocahontas that her father did not love her. They staged an exchange of Pocahontas for her ransom payment (actually the second such payment). During the exchange, a fight broke out and negotiations were terminated by both sides. Pocahontas was told this "refusal" to pay her ransom proved her father loved English weapons more than he loved her.

Shortly after the staged ransom exchange, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and was renamed Rebecca. In April 1614, Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married at Jamestown. Whether she truly converted is open to question, but she had little choice. She was a captive who wanted to represent her people in the best light and to protect them. She probably married John Rolfe willingly, since she already had a half-white child who could help create a bond between the two peoples. Her father consented to the marriage, but only because she was being held captive and he feared what might happen if he said no. John Rolfe married Pocahontas to gain the help of the quiakros with his tobacco crops, as they were in charge of tobacco. With the marriage, important kinship ties formed and the quiakros agreed to help Rolfe.

In 1616, the Rolfes and several Powhatan representatives, including Mattachanna and her husband Uttamattamakin, were sent to England. Several of these representatives were actually quiakros in disguise. By March 1617, the family was ready to return to Virginia after a successful tour arranged to gain English interest in Jamestown. While on the ship Pocahontas and her husband dined with Captain Argall. Shortly after, Pocahontas became very ill and began convulsing. Mattachanna ran to get Rolfe for help. When they returned, Pocahontas was dead. She was taken to Gravesend and buried in its church. Young Thomas was left behind to be raised by relatives in England, while the rest of the party sailed back to Virginia.

Wahunsenaca was told by Mattachanna, Uttamattamakin and the disguised quiakros that his daughter had been murdered. Poison was suspected as she had been in good health up until her dinner on the ship. Wahunsenaca sank into despair at the loss of his beloved daughter, the daughter he had sworn to his wife he would protect. Eventually, he was relieved as paramount chief and, by April 1618, he was dead. The peace began to unravel and life in Tsenacomoco would never be the same for the Powhatan people.

Pocahontas statue at Historic Jamestowne.

What little we know about Pocahontas covers only about half of her short life and yet has inspired a myriad of books, poems, paintings, plays, sculptures, and films. It has captured the imagination of people of all ages and backgrounds, scholars and non-scholars alike. The truth of Pocahontas' life is shrouded in interpretation of both the oral and written accounts, which can contradict one another. One thing can be stated with certainty: her story has fascinated people for more than four centuries and it still inspires people today. It will undoubtedly continue to do so. She also still lives on through her own people, who are still here today, and through the descendents of her two sons.

Author's note: There are various spellings for the names of people, places and tribes. In this paper I have endeavored to use one spelling throughout, unless otherwise noted.

Custalow, Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star." The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History. Golden: Fulcrum Publishing, 2007.

Haile, Edward Wright (editor) Jamestown Narratives: Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony: The First Decade: 1607-1617. Chaplain: Roundhouse, 1998.

Mossiker, Frances. Pocahontas: The Life and The Legend. New York: Da Capo Press, 1976.

Rountree, Helen C. and E. Randolph Turner III. Before and After Jamestown: Virginia's Powhatans and Their Predecessors. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1989.

Rountree, Helen C. Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.

Rountree, Helen C. The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.

Towsned, Camilla. Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma: The American Portrait Series. New York: Hill And Wang, 2004.

Sarah J Stebbins NPS Seasonal, August 2010


The True Story of Pocahontas

Pocahontas might be a household name, but the true story of her short but powerful life has been buried in myths that have persisted since the 17th century.

From This Story

Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma: The American Portraits Series

To start with, Pocahontas wasn’t even her actual name. Born about 1596, her real name was Amonute, and she also had the more private name Matoaka. Pocahontas was her nickname, which depending on who you ask means “playful one" or “ill-behaved child.”

Pocahontas was the favorite daughter of Powhatan, the formidable ruler of the more than 30 Algonquian-speaking tribes in and around the area that the early English settlers would claim as Jamestown, Virginia. Years later—after no one was able to dispute the facts—John Smith wrote about how she, the beautiful daughter of a powerful native leader, rescued him, an English adventurer, from being executed by her father.

This narrative of Pocahontas turning her back on her own people and allying with the English, thereby finding common ground between the two cultures, has endured for centuries. But in actuality, Pocahontas’ life was much different than how Smith or mainstream culture tells it. It’s even disputed whether or not Pocahontas, age 11 or 12, even rescued the mercantile soldier and explorer at all, as Smith might have misinterpreted what was actually a ritual ceremony or even just lifted the tale from a popular Scottish ballad.

Now, 400 years after her death, the story of the real Pocahontas is finally being accurately explored. In Smithsonian Channel’s new documentary Pocahontas: Beyond the Myth, premiering on March 27, authors, historians, curators and representatives from the Pamunkey tribe of Virginia, the descendants of Pocahontas, offer expert testimony to paint a picture of a spunky, cartwheeling Pocahontas who grew up to be a clever and brave young woman, serving as a translator, ambassador and leader in her own right in the face of European power.

Camilla Townsend, author of the authoritative Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma and a history professor at Rutgers University, who is featured in Beyond the Myth, talks to Smithsonian.com about why the story of Pocahontas has been so distorted for so long and why her true legacy is vital to understand today.

How did you become a scholar of Pocahontas?

I was a professor of Native American history for many years. I was working on a project comparing early relations between colonizers and Indians in Spanish America and English America when they arrived. I thought that I would be able to turn to other people’s work on Pocahontas and John Smith and John Rolfe. There are truly hundreds of books over the many years that have been written about her. But when I tried to look into it, I found that most of them were full of hogwash. Many of them had been written by people who weren't historians. Others were historians, [but] they were people who specialized in other matters and were taking it for granted that if something had been repeated several times in other people’s works, it must be true. When I went back and looked at the actual surviving documents from that period, I learned that much of what had been repeated about her wasn't true at all.

As you point out in the documentary, it’s not just Disney who gets her story wrong. This goes back to John Smith who marketed their relationship as a love story. What class and cultural factors have allowed that myth to persist?

That story that Pocahontas was head over heels in love with John Smith has lasted for many generations. He mentioned it himself in the Colonial period as you say. Then it died, but was born again after the revolution in the early 1800s when we were really looking for nationalist stories. Ever since then it's lived in one form or another, right up to the Disney movie and even today.

I think the reason it's been so popular—not among Native Americans, but among people of the dominant culture—is that it's very flattering to us. The idea is that this is a ‘good Indian.’ She admires the white man, admires Christianity, admires the culture, wants to have peace with these people, is willing to live with these people rather than her own people, marry him rather than one of her own. That whole idea makes people in white American culture feel good about our history. That we were not doing anything wrong to the Indians but really were helping them and the ‘good’ ones appreciated it.

In 1616, Pocahontas, baptized as "Rebecca," and married to John Rolfe, left for England. Before she could return to Virginia, she fell ill. She died in England, possibly of pneumonia or tuberculosis, and was buried at St. George's Church on March 21, 1617. (Smithsonian Channel)

In real life, Pocahontas was a member of the Pamunkey tribe in Virginia. How do the Pamunkey and other native people tell her story today?

It's interesting. In general, until recently, Pocahontas has not been a popular figure among Native Americans. When I was working on the book and I called the Virginia Council on Indians, for example, I got reactions of groans because they were just so tired. Native Americans for so many years have been so tired of enthusiastic white people loving to love Pocahontas, and patting themselves on the back because they love Pocahontas, when in fact what they were really loving was the story of an Indian who virtually worshipped white culture. They were tired of it, and they didn't believe it. It seemed unrealistic to them.

I would say that there's been a change recently. Partly, I think the Disney movie ironically helped. Even though it conveyed more myths, the Native American character is the star—she's the main character, and she's interesting, strong and beautiful and so young Native Americans love to watch that movie. It's a real change for them.

The other thing that's different is that the scholarship is so much better now. We know so much more about her real life now that Native Americans are also coming to realize we should talk about her, learn more about her and read more about her, because, in fact, she wasn't selling her soul and she didn't love white culture more than her own people’s culture. She was a spunky girl who did everything she could to help her people. Once they begin to realize that they understandably become a lot more interested in her story.

So the lesson passed down by mainstream culture is that by leaving her people and adopting Christianity, Pocahontas became a model of how to bridge cultures. What do you think are the real lessons to be learned from Pocahontas’ actual life?

Largely, the lesson is one of extraordinary strength even against very daunting odds. Pocahontas' people could not possibly have defeated or even held off the power of Renaissance Europe, which is what John Smith and the colonizers who came later represented. They had stronger technology, more powerful technology in terms of not only weapons, but shipping and book printing and compass making. All the things that made it possible for Europe to come to the New World and conquer, and the lack of which made it impossible for Native Americans to move toward the Old World and conquer. So Indians were facing extraordinarily daunting circumstances. Yet in the face of that, Pocahontas and so many others that we read about and study now showed extreme courage and cleverness, sometimes even brilliance in the strategizing that they used. So I think what will be the most important lesson is that she was braver, stronger and more interesting than the fictional Pocahontas.

During your extensive research what were some details that helped you get to know Pocahontas better?

The documents that really jumped out at me were the notes that survived from John Smith. He was kidnapped by the Native Americans a few months after he got here. Eventually after questioning him, they released him. But while he was a prisoner among the Native Americans, we know he spent some time with Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas and that they were teaching each other some basic aspects of their languages. And we know this because in his surviving notes are written sentences like "Tell Pocahontas to bring me three baskets." Or "Pocahontas has many white beads." So all of a sudden, I could just see this man and this little girl trying to teach each other. In one case English, in another case an Algonquian language. Literally in the fall of 1607, sitting along some river somewhere, they said these actual sentences. She would repeat them in Algonquian, and he would write that down. That detail brought them both to life for me.

Pocahontas often served as a translator and ambassador for the Powhatan Empire. (Smithsonian Channel)

Four hundred years after her death, her story is being told more accurately. What's changed?

Studies of TV and other pop culture show that in that decade between the early '80s and the early '90s is when the real sea change occurred in terms of American expectations that we should really look at things from other people’s point of view, not just dominant culture's. So that had to happen first. So let's say by the mid to late '90s that had happened. Then more years had to go by. My Pocahontas book, for example, came out in 2004. Another historian wrote a serious segment about her that said much the same as I did just with less detail in 2001. So the ideas of multiculturalism had gained dominance in our world in the mid 󈨞s, but another five to ten years had to go by before people had digested this and put it out in papers, articles and books.

Since the shift in mainstream scholarship is so recent, do you think going forward there's more to learn from her story?

I think there's more to learn about her in the sense that it would help modern politics if more people understood what native peoples really went through both at the time of conquest and in the years after. There's so strong a sense in our country, at least in some places among some people, that somehow Native Americans and other disempowered people had it good, they're the lucky ones with special scholarships and special status. That is very, very far from a reflection of their real historical experience. Once you know the actual history of what these tribes have been through, it's sobering, and one has to reckon with the pain and the loss that some people have experienced far more than others over the last five generations or so. I think it would help everybody, both native and mainstream culture, if more people understood what native experience was really like both at the time of conquest and since.

About Jackie Mansky

Jacqueline Mansky is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She was previously the assistant web editor, humanities, for Smithsonian magazine.


The True Story of Pocahontas: Historical Myths Versus Sad Reality

Despite what many people believe due to longstanding and inaccurate accounts in history books and movies such as Disney’s Pocahontas, the true story of Pocahontas is not one of a young Native Powhatan woman with a raccoon friend who dove off of mountain-like cliffs off the coasts of Virginia. (Note: there are no cliffs on the coast of Virginia.)

The true story of Pocahontas is a tale of tragedy and heartbreak.

Disney&aposs Pocahontas -Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

It is time to bust up the misconceptions perpetuated over 400 years regarding the young daughter of Powhatan chief Wahunsenaca. The truth—gathered from years of extensive research of the historical record, books, and oral histories from self-identified descendants of Pocahontas and tribal peoples of Virginia —is not for the faint of heart.

A Warning To Our Readers: Mature Subject Matter Not Suitable for Children

The story of Pocahontas is a tragic tale of a young Native girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and allegedly murdered by those who were supposed to keep her safe.

Pocahontas’ Mother, Also Named Pocahontas, Died While Giving Birth to Her

This is in many historical accounts, though not always. It is important to note that Pocahontas was born to her mother, named Pocahontas and her father Wahunsenaca, (sometimes spelled Wahunsenakah), who later became the paramount chief.

Her name at birth was Matoaka, which means 𠇏lower between two streams,” and according to Mattaponi history was likely given to her because she was born between the two rivers of Mattaponi and Pamunkey (York).

An image of a young Pocahontas.

Due to his wife’s death, Wahunsenaca was devastated and little Matoaka became his favorite because she looked like her mother. She was raised by her aunts and other women of the Mattaponi tribe at Werowocomoco.

As was the custom at the time, as the Paramount Chief of the Powhatan Chiefdom, Wahunsenaca had other wives from the other villages and little Matoaka had many loving brothers and sisters.

Because of his lingering grief and due to the reminder she gave to him of her mother, Wahunsenaca often called his daughter the endearing name of Pocahontas.

John Smith Came to the Powhatan When Pocahontas Was about 9 or 10

According to Mattaponi oral history, little Matoaka was possibly about 10 years old when John Smith and English colonists arrived in Tsenacomoca in the spring of 1607. John Smith was about 27 years old. They were never married nor involved.

Pocahontas Never Saved the Life of John Smith

The children of the Powhatan were very closely watched and cared for by all members of the tribe. Since Pocahontas was living with her father, Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, at Werowocomoco, and because she was the daughter of a chief, she was likely held to even stricter standards and provided with more structure and cultural training.

When she was a child, John Smith and English colonists stayed near the Powhatan on the nearby Jamestown Island, but later began to explore outlying areas. Smith was feared by many Native people because he was known to enter villages and put guns to heads of chiefs demanding food and supplies.

In the winter of 1607, the colonists and Smith met with Powhatan warriors and Smith was captured by the chief’s younger brother.

Because the English and Powhatan feared the actions of the Spanish, they formed an alliance. Eventually and according to oral history and contemporary written accounts by the Mattaponi, Wahunsenaca grew to like Smith, eventually offering him the position of ‘werowance’ or leader of the colonists as recognized by the Powhatan as well as a much more livable area for his people with great access to game and seafood.

A portrait of Pocahontas saving the life of John Smith with Father Wahunsenaca. Oral history from the descendants of Pocahontas dictates such a thing could never have happened.

Years later, Smith alleged that Pocahontas saved his life in the four-day process of becoming a werowance. But according to Mattaponi oral and contemporary written accounts, there would be no reason to kill a man designated to receive an honor by the chief.

Additionally, children were not allowed to attend any sort of religious ritual similar to the werowance ceremony.

She could not have thrown herself in front of John Smith to beg for his life for two reasons: Smith was being honored, and she would not have been allowed to be there.

Pocahontas Never Defied Her Father to Bring Food to John Smith or Jamestown

Some historical accounts claim Pocahontas defied her father to bring food to the colonists of Jamestown. According to the history of the Mattaponi tribe as well as simple facts, these claims could not be true.

Jamestown was 12 miles from Werowocomoco and the likelihood that a 10-year-old daughter would travel alone are inconsistent with Powhatan culture. Sheਊs well as other tribal members did travel to Jamestown, but as a gesture of peace.

Additionally, travel to Jamestown required crossing large bodies of water and the use of 400-pound dugout canoes. It took a team of strong people to lift them into the water.

It is likely Pocahontas served as a symbol of peace by simply being present as a child among her people to show no ill intentions when her people met with the Jamestown settlers.

Pocahontas Did Not Sneak Into Jamestown to Warn John Smith About a Death Plot

In 1608 and 1609, John Smith’s role as the werowance (chief) of the colonists had taken an ugly turn. The colonists made inadequate attempts to plant crops to harvest, and Smith violently demanded supplies from surrounding villages after once again holding a gun to the heads of village leaders.

Accounts from Mattaponi histories tell of one tribal woman proclaiming to Smith, “You call yourself a Christian, yet you leave us with no food for the winter.”

Pocahontas’ father, who had befriended Smith, once said to him, “I have not treated any of my werowances as well as you, yet you are the worst werowance I have!”

Smith claimed Wahunsenaca wanted to kill him, and asserted he knew of the plot because Pocahontas had come to warn him.

Due to the icy conditions at the time and because of the many watchful eyes attending to the daughter of a chief, as well as gestures of peace by the Powhatan to include additional provisions, Native historians rebuff the historical claims of Smith as completely fabricated.

To further prove Smith’s tale was a fabrication, a letter by Smith written in 1608 was published without Smith’s knowledge. The letter makes no claim of Pocahontas trying to save his life on two separate occasions. It wasn’t until Smith published his book General Historie of Virginia in 1624 that he claimed Pocahontas had twice saved his life. Any of the people who could have refuted Smith’s claims by that time were no longer alive.

As Colonists Terrorized Native People, Pocahontas Married and Became Pregnant

The early 1600s were a horrible time for tribes near Werowocomoco. Native tribes once comfortable wearing clothing suitable for summer — including exposed breasts for Native women and little or nothing for children — found themselves being sexually targeted by English colonists.

Young children were targets of rape and Native women in the tribe would resort to offering themselves to men to keep their children safe. The Powhatan people were shocked by the behavior and were horrified that the English government offered them no protections.

In the midst of the horrible and atrocious acts committed by the colonists, Matoaka was coming of age. During a ceremony, Matoaka was to choose a new name, and she selected Pocahontas, after her mother. During a courtship dance, it is likely she danced with Kocoum, the younger brother of Potowomac Chief Japazaw.

She married the young warrior at about 14 and soon became pregnant.

It was at this time rumors began to surface that colonists planned to kidnap the beloved chief’s daughter Pocahontas.

Pocahontas Was Kidnapped, Her Husband Was Murdered and She Was Forced to Give Up Her First Child

When Pocahontas was about 15 or 16, the rumors of a possible kidnapping had become more of a threat and she was living with her husband Kocoum at his Potowomac village.

An English colonist by the name of Captain Samuel Argall sought to find her, thinking that a captured daughter of the chief would thwart attacks by Natives.

Hearing of her whereabouts, Argall came to the village and demanded Chief Japazaw, brother of Pocahontas’ husband, to give up Pocahontas or suffer violence against his village. Overcome with grief at a horrible choice, he relented with a hopeful promise that she would only be gone temporarily. That was a promise Argall quickly broke.

Before Argall left the village, he gave Chief Japazaw a copper pot. He later claimed to have traded it for her. This “trade” is still taught by historians. This is akin to the way that Smith ‘traded’ for corn by holding a gun to the heads of chiefs.

Before leaving the village, Pocahontas had to give her baby (referred to as little Kocoum) to the women of the village. Trapped on board an English ship, she was not aware that when her husband returned to their village, he was killed by the colonists.

The tribal chiefs of the Powhatan never retaliated for the kidnapping of Pocahontas, fearing they would be captured and that the beloved daughter of the chief and the “Peace Symbol of the Powhatan” might be harmed.

Pocahontas Was Raped While in Captivity and Became Pregnant With Her Second Child

According to Dr. Linwood Custalow, a historian of the Mattaponi Tribe and the custodian of the sacred oral history of Pocahontas, soon after being kidnapped, she was suffering from depression and was growing more fearful and withdrawn. Her extreme anxiety was so severe her English captors allowed Pocahontas’ eldest sister Mattachanna and her husband Uttamattamakin to come to her aid.

Dr. Custalow writes in his book, The True Story of Pocahontas, The Other Side of History, that when Mattachanna and her husband Uttamattamakin, a spiritual advisor to Chief Wahunsenaca, Pocahontas confided in her sister.

When Mattachanna and Uttamattamakin arrived at Jamestown, Pocahontas confided in that she had been raped. Mattaponi sacred oral history is very clear on this: Pocahontas was raped. It is possible that it had been done to her by more than one person and repeatedly. My grandfather and other teachers of Mattaponi oral history said that Pocahontas was raped.

The possibility of being taken captive was a danger to be aware of in Powhatan Society, but rape was not tolerated. Rape in Powhatan Society was virtually unheard of because the punishment for such actions was so severe. Powhatan society did not have prisons. Punishment for wrongful actions often consisted of banishment from the tribe.

Historians differ on where Pocahontas was held, but tribal historians believe she was likely held in Jamestown, but was relocated to Henrico when she was pregnant.

Pocahontas had a son, Thomas.

John Rolfe Married Pocahontas to Create a Native Alliance in Tobacco Production

Mattaponi history is clear that Pocahontas had a son out of wedlock, Thomas, prior to her marriage to John Rolfe. Prior to that marriage, the colonists pressed Pocahontas to become 𠇌ivilized” and often told her that her father did not love her because he had not come to rescue her.

Pocahontas often tore off her English clothes, because they were uncomfortable. Eventually, Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca.

Pocahontas as Rebecca Rolfe.

In the midst of her captivity, the English colony of Jamestown was failing. John Rolfe was under a 1616 deadline to become profitable or lose the support of England. Rolfe sought to learn tobacco curing techniques from the Powhatan, but curing tobacco was a sacred practice not to be shared with outsiders. Realizing the political strength of aligning himself with the tribe, he eventually married Pocahontas.

Though some historians claim Pocahontas and Rolfe married for love, it is not a certainty, as Pocahontas was never allowed to see her family, child or father after being kidnapped.

The Pocahontas wedding with John Rolfe.

After the two were married, the Powhatan spiritual leaders and family to Pocahontas shared the curing practice with Rolfe. Soon afterward, Rolfe’s tobacco was a sensation in England, which saved the colony of Jamestown, as they finally found a profitable venture.

The Powhatan tribal lands were now highly sought after for the tobacco trade and the tribe suffered great losses of life and land at the hands of greedy tobacco farmers.

It is worth noting that though it was custom for a Powhatan father to give away his daughter at a marriage, Wahunsenaca did not attend the wedding of his daughter to Rolfe for fear of being captured or killed. He did send a strand of pearls as a gift.

Pocahontas Portrait by Thomas Sully. c. 1852

As Dr. Custalow wrote in The True Story of Pocahontas, The Other Side of History:

Although Wahunsenaca did not attend the wedding, we know through sacred Mattaponi oral history that he gave Pocahontas a pearl necklace as a wedding gift. The pearls were obtained from the Chesapeake Bay oyster beds. The necklace was notable for the large size and fine quality of the pearls. Pearls of the size were rare, making them a suitable gift for a paramount chief&aposs daughter. No mention of this necklace has been found in the English writings, but a portrait of Pocahontas wearing a pearl necklace used to hang in the Gov.&aposs mansion in Richmond.

Pocahontas Was Brought to England To Raise Money and Was Then Likely Murdered

Rumors of the colonist&aposs desire to bring Pocahontas made its way to the Powhatan, who feared for her well-being and considered an attempt to rescue her. But Wahunsenaca feared his daughter might be harmed.

Rebecca “Pocahontas” Rolfe traveled to England with John Rolfe, her son Thomas Rolfe, Captain John Argall (who had kidnapped her) and several Native tribal members, including her sister Mattachanna.

Though many settlers were committing atrocities against the Powhatan, many elites in England did not approve of the mistreatment of natives. The bringing of Pocahontas to England to show friendship with Native nations was a key to continued financial support for the colonists.

Pocahontas at Court of King James.

According to the accounts of Mattachanna, she realized that she was being used and desperately desired to return home to her father and little Kocoum. During her travels in England, Pocahontas did meet John Smith and expressed outrage due to the mistreatment of his position as leader of the colonists and the betrayal to the Powhatan people.

After the journey and showing off of Pocahontas to the English elites, plans were made to return to Virginia in the spring of 1617. According to a recounting by Mattachanna, she was in good health while in England and on the ship preparing to go home.

Shortly after dinner with Rolfe and Argall, she vomited and died. Those tribal members who were accompanying her, including her sister Mattachanna, said she was in previously good health and assessed she must have been poisoned due to her sudden death.

According to Mattaponi oral history, many of the Native people accompanying Pocahontas were sold as servants or carnival attractions or sent to Bermuda if they became pregnant after being raped and sold into slavery.

Pocahontas grave, St. Georges Church Kent UK.

Pocahontas was just under 21 at the time of her death. Instead of being taken home and laid to rest with her father, Rolfe and Argall took her to Gravesend, England, where she was buried at Saint George’s Church, March 21, 1617. Though Virginia tribes have requested that her remains returned for repatriation, officials in England say the exact whereabouts of her remains are not known.

Wahunsenaca learned from Mattachanna that his beloved daughter had died but had never betrayed her people, as some historians claim. Heartbroken that he had not ever rescued his daughter, he died from grief less than a year after the death of Pocahontas.

The Descendants of Pocahontas

Oral histories of both the Mattaponi and Patawomeckਊnd historical references say she mothered two children, Thomas Rolfe, who was left in England after the death of his mother, and ‘little Kocoum.’

According to Deyo, Little Kocoum was the name that Dr. Linwood Custalow usedਏor the purpose of his book to reference a small child whose name was not yet known. In the sacred oral history of the Mattaponi, the child was raised by the Patawomeck Tribe. The name of that child was passed down in the Patawomeck oral history was discovered to be Ka-Okee, a daughter.


Powhatan Clan and Jamestown

Despite the act of kindness from Powhatan and his people, the settlers of Jamestown continued to take members of the Powhatan tribe as prisoners. Pocahontas was a part of this prisoner war as well. On at least one occasion, Pocahontas traveled to Jamestown in order to negotiate terms of release for her people. After several years, Pocahontas turned 14 years old, which meant she was of marriageable age. According to the Jamestown records, Pocahontas married a man named Kocoum, who was described as a private captain, which leads modern historical experts to believe that he may have had control over a small group of men. Historical experts also believe that Pocahontas may have married for love, not political gain, because her husband was not of high rank like she was.

English portrait of Pocahontas 1616 Source: Wikimedia Commons

For several years after her marriage, Pocahontas was not mentioned in Jamestown records. However, that all changed in 1613 when Captain Samuel Argall learned that she was living among her husband’s tribe instead of her own, where she could be protected by one or two of her father’s bodyguards. Argall knew that things between Jamestown and the Powhatan Indians were still very strained, so he came up with a plan.


Pocahontas marries John Rolfe

Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indian confederacy, marries English tobacco planter John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. The marriage ensured peace between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan Indians for several years.

In May 1607, about 100 English colonists settled along the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. The settlers fared badly because of famine, disease, and Indian attacks, but were aided by 27-year-old English adventurer John Smith, who directed survival efforts and mapped the area. While exploring the Chickahominy River in December 1607, Smith and two colonists were captured by Powhatan warriors. At the time, the Powhatan confederacy consisted of around 30 Tidewater-area tribes led by Chief Wahunsonacock, known as Chief Powhatan to the English. Smith’s companions were killed, but he was spared and released, (according to a 1624 account by Smith) because of the dramatic intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan’s 13-year-old daughter. Her real name was Matoaka, and Pocahontas was a pet name that has been translated variously as “playful one” and “my favorite daughter.”

In 1608, Smith became president of the Jamestown colony, but the settlement continued to suffer. An accidental fire destroyed much of the town, and hunger, disease, and Indian attacks continued. During this time, Pocahontas often came to Jamestown as an emissary of her father, sometimes bearing gifts of food to help the hard-pressed settlers. She befriended the settlers and became acquainted with English ways. In 1609, Smith was injured from a fire in his gunpowder bag and was forced to return to England.

After Smith’s departure, relations with the Powhatan deteriorated and many settlers died from famine and disease in the winter of 1609-10. Jamestown was about to be abandoned by its inhabitants when Baron De La Warr (also known as Delaware) arrived in June 1610 with new supplies and rebuilt the settlement–the Delaware River and the colony of Delaware were later named after him. John Rolfe also arrived in Jamestown in 1610 and two years later cultivated the first tobacco there, introducing a successful source of livelihood that would have far-reaching importance for Virginia.

In the spring of 1613, English Captain Samuel Argall took Pocahontas hostage, hoping to use her to negotiate a permanent peace with her father. Brought to Jamestown, she was put under the custody of Sir Thomas Gates, the marshal of Virginia. Gates treated her as a guest rather than a prisoner and encouraged her to learn English customs. She converted to Christianity and was baptized Lady Rebecca. Powhatan eventually agreed to the terms for her release, but by then she had fallen in love with John Rolfe, who was about 10 years her senior. On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas and John Rolfe married with the blessing of Chief Powhatan and the governor of Virginia.

Their marriage brought a peace between the English colonists and the Powhatans, and in 1615 Pocahontas gave birth to their first child, Thomas. In 1616, the couple sailed to England. The so-called Indian Princess proved popular with the English gentry, and she was presented at the court of King James I. In March 1617, Pocahontas and Rolfe prepared to sail back to Virginia. However, the day before they were to leave, Pocahontas died, probably of smallpox, and was buried at the parish church of St. George in Gravesend, England.

John Rolfe returned to Virginia and was killed in an Indian massacre in 1622. After an education in England, their son Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia and became a prominent citizen. John Smith returned to the New World in 1614 to explore the New England coast. On another voyage of exploration in 1614, he was captured by pirates but escaped after three months of captivity. He then returned to England, where he died in 1631.


Rolfe brought with him his first wife, Sarah Hacker. The Sea-Venture was wrecked in a storm on the Bermudas, but all the passengers survived and Rolfe and his wife stayed on Bermuda for eight months. There they had a daughter, who they named Bermuda, and—importantly for his future career—Rolfe may have obtained samples of West Indies tobacco.

Rolfe lost both his first wife and daughter in Bermuda. Rolfe and the surviving shipwrecked passengers left Bermuda in 1610. When they arrived in May 1610, the Virginia colony had just suffered through the "starving time," a grim period in early American history. Over the winter of 1609–1610, the colonists were beset by plague and yellow fever, and sieges by the local inhabitants. An estimated three-quarters of the English colonists of Virginia died of starvation or starvation-related diseases that winter.


Why did Pocahontas marry Rolfe?

Additionally, did Pocahontas marry John Smith? Pocahontas marries John Rolfe. Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indian confederacy, marries English tobacco planter John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. The marriage ensured peace between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan Indians for several years.

Herein, why did Pocahontas save John Smith?

Pocahontas Saves John Smith Again By 1609, drought, starvation and disease had ravaged the colonists and they became increasingly dependent on the Powhatan to survive. Desperate and dying, they threatened to burn Powhatan towns for food, so Chief Powhatan suggested a barter with Captain Smith.

What actually happened to Pocahontas?

In March of 1617, the Rolfes boarded a ship to return to Virginia. The ship had only gone as far as Gravesend when Pocahontas fell ill. She was taken ashore, where she died, possibly of pneumonia or tuberculosis. Her funeral took place on March 21, 1617, in the parish of St.


After being Baptized as a Christian and giving birth to her son, Pocahontas was married to John Rolfe. Pocahontas&rsquo son was given the name Thomas Rolfe, and they told the public that it was his baby. However, Rolfe was just one of many captors who mistreated her on the boat, and there was no way to prove who the biological father actually was.

The details of their relationship are very unclear. No one knows if she actually fell in love with this man, and married him willingly. Some people think that she only married him, because she already had a child out of wedlock, and they wanted her to be fully integrated into society.

In Powhatan tradition, a girl&rsquos father gave her away at her wedding. However, she was never allowed to see her family, and they did not let anyone from her tribe come to visit. After she was married, her father sent her a necklace that was made of large pearls.


Pocahontas' First Marriage: The Powhatan Side of the Story

Virginia institutions are preparing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pocahontas–Rolfe marriage this year. In 1614, Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indians, was baptized in Christianity and married planter John Rolfe, giving birth to her son Thomas.

Henry Brueckner, The Marriage of Pocahontas, 1855, oil on canvas, 50" x 70". Brueckner, whose dates are unknown, is remarkably obscure for a 19th century artist whose main work, above, was vigorously marketed. A pamphlet to sell this print depicts the marriage in romantic, flowery terms. The presiding minister is described as Alexander Whitaker, and behind him to the left sits the acting governor Sir Thomas Dale. The original was owned by former New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller and donated by him to the state. Courtesy Of The New York State Office Of General Services, New York State Executive Mansion, Albany, N.Y.

Henry Brueckner, The Marriage of Pocahontas, 1855, oil on canvas, 50" x 70". Brueckner, whose dates are unknown, is remarkably obscure for a 19th century artist whose main work, above, was vigorously marketed. A pamphlet to sell this print depicts the marriage in romantic, flowery terms. The presiding minister is described as Alexander Whitaker, and behind him to the left sits the acting governor Sir Thomas Dale. The original was owned by former New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller and donated by him to the state. Courtesy Of The New York State Office Of General Services, New York State Executive Mansion, Albany, N.Y.

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, The Abduction of Pocahontas, c. 1910. Oil on canvas, 24" x 35". Ferris (1863–1930) produced an epic series of melodramatic and not very accurate paintings of American historical scenes. In his imagining of the delivery of Pocahontas to the Jamestown Governor Sir Thomas Gates, right, he depicts Captain Samuel Argall, left, as a villainous “freebooter” who actually twirls his moustache. Pocahontas, in the center, appears to be accusing her kidnapper of treachery. Virginia Historical Society, Lora Robbins Collection Of Virginia Art

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, The Abduction of Pocahontas, c. 1910. Oil on canvas, 24" x 35". Ferris (1863–1930) produced an epic series of melodramatic and not very accurate paintings of American historical scenes. In his imagining of the delivery of Pocahontas to the Jamestown Governor Sir Thomas Gates, right, he depicts Captain Samuel Argall, left, as a villainous “freebooter” who actually twirls his moustache. Pocahontas, in the center, appears to be accusing her kidnapper of treachery. Virginia Historical Society, Lora Robbins Collection Of Virginia Art

Johann Theodore de Bry, after Georg Keller, The Abduction of Pocahontas. In de Bry’s America, Part 10 (1618) (translation of Hamor’s A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia. [1615]). Keller invented the scenes, drawing on the written narrative. In foreground left, Iopassus and his wife trick Pocahontas (center) into visiting Captain Samuel Argall’s ship, center right. The Indian village in the background was burned in 1614 during the negotiations for Pocahontas’ return. Image Courtesy Of Virginia Historical Society

Johann Theodore de Bry, after Georg Keller, The Abduction of Pocahontas. In de Bry’s America, Part 10 (1618) (translation of Hamor’s A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia. [1615]). Keller invented the scenes, drawing on the written narrative. In foreground left, Iopassus and his wife trick Pocahontas (center) into visiting Captain Samuel Argall’s ship, center right. The Indian village in the background was burned in 1614 during the negotiations for Pocahontas’ return. Image Courtesy Of Virginia Historical Society

The anniversary will be marked by Historic Jamestowne, Preservation Virginia, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Pamunkey Indian Museum and Culture Center and the Patawomeck Heritage Foundation, among others.

But other Native voices, recording tribal oral tradition, remind us that Pocahontas’s first marriage was to an Indian warrior named Kocoum and that this first marriage produced her first son, whose ancestors survive today.

“I do think the Native tribal groups should be consulted,” says the Rev. Nick Miles (Pamunkey), the current coordinator of the Native American/Aboriginal Ministries for the Reformed Church in America and son of a former Pamunkey chief.

These traditions are preserved in the 2007 book, The True Story of Pocahontas, The Other Side of History, co-authored by Dr. Linwood Custalow and Angela L. Daniel. Dr. Linwood “Little Bear” Custalow grew up on the Mattaponi Reservation in Virginia where, early in life, he was given the responsibility of learning the oral history of the Mattaponi tribe and the Powhatan nation as passed down through the generations. He is also a co-founder of the Association of American Indian Physicians. Angela L. Daniel “Silver Star” is the president of the Foundation for American Heritage Voices and the designated anthropologist for the Mattaponi tribe.

Their book provides oral and written historical documentation that Pocahontas, at the age of 15 or 16, was considered a young adult by Native customs of that time and was already a wife and mother when she was kidnapped, converted to Christianity and married John Rolfe.

Contemporary evidence of a first marriage also comes from a history by William Strachey (1575–1621), who was secretary of the colony during a brief stay. In his History of Travaile into Virginia Britannia, written after his return to England, he listed among the favorites of Powhatan, “younge Pocohunta, a daughter of his, using sometyme to our fort in tymes past, nowe married to a private Captaine, called Kocoum, some two years since.” Although Strachey probably did not meet Pocahontas in Virginia, his informants were two Powhatan Indians authorized by the Chief to deal with the English, a man named Kemps who spent a lot of time among the colonists and Machumps who traveled to England.

Although largely ignored in the Pocahontas myth-making, Strachey’s statement greatly bothered the 19 th century essayist Charles Dudley Warner (1829–1900). “This passage is a great puzzle,” Warner wrote. “Does Strachey intend to say that Pocahontas was married to an Indian named Kocoum? She might have been during the time after Smith’s departure in 1609, and her kidnapping in 1613, when she was of marriageable age.

“Either Strachey was uninformed, or Pocahontas was married to an Indian – a not violent presumption considering her age and the fact that war between Powhatan and the whites for some time had cut off intercourse between them – or Strachey referred to her marriage with Rolfe, whom he calls by mistake Kocoum.”

Prior to her celebrated marriage with Rolfe, Pocahontas and her husband Kocoum, the younger brother of Chief Japazaw of the Potowomac (Potomac) tribe, initially lived in the Werowocomoco Village. They later moved to Kocoum’s home village, the Potowomac, along the Potomac river. Pocahontas gave birth to her first son there.

Captain Samuel Argall, an adventurer recently arrived at the Jamestown colony, heard that Pocahontas was in this area and sailed there determined to kidnap her as a royal hostage for the colony to hold in negotiations with Powhatan. He coerced Japazaw and his wife into tricking Pocahontas to come aboard his ship. According to oral history described by Custalow, Kocoum was murdered before the ship with Pocahontas on it set sail for Jamestown. But even if he had survived colonial attack, his marriage to Pocahontas was considered “pagan” and not bound by Christian bigamy laws.

According to Mattaponi oral history Pocahontas’s mother was Mattaponi. This claim is based on the fact that Pocahontas’s oldest full sister, having the same mother, was named Mattachanna. Names with “Matta” incorporated in them indicate association with the Mattaponi tribe. Pocahontas’s father, familiar to history as Chief Powhatan, was Pamunkey. (The Powhatan name came from his position as head of the Powhatan grouping of tribes, which he had assembled his personal name was Wahunseneca.) Some Powhatan oral traditions state that Pocahontas’s first son survived and was raised by Mattaponi women. Some Mattaponi Powhatan families, notably the Newtons, claim descent from him. Wayne Newton, the famous Las Vegas entertainer, is part of this family.

Custalow and his tribal ancestors challenge the English myths describing Pocahontas’s voluntary Christian conversion and romantic love for Rolfe. As Custalow argues in his book, kidnapped people held hostage for long periods often identify with their kidnappers for survival, a phenomenon now labeled the Stockholm Syndrome. Any wife and mother who is kidnapped and held in captivity for over a year would experience psychological trauma.

According to Custalow and Daniel’s account, Pocahontas became so depressed and withdrawn during her captivity that her captors feared for her life. The possibility that she did not want to live meant that ransom demands on Powhatan would not be successful. Word of the situation was sent to the paramount Chief Powhatan Wahunseneca, who then dispatched Pocahontas’s older sister Mattachanna and her husband Uttamattamakin to help care for Pocahontas.

Upon their arrival, writes Custalow, “Pocahontas confided in Mattachanna that she had been raped.” Custalow emphasizes that “Mattaponi sacred oral history is very clear on this.” Custalow continues that Pocahontas also told Mattachanna “that she believed she was pregnant.” Mattaponi oral traditions hold that Pocahontas’s mixed-blood son Thomas was born out of wedlock, prior to the marriage ceremony between Pocahontas and Rolfe. There is speculation that the real biological father and namesake was Sir Thomas Dale.

According to the authors, it is significant that John Rolfe, the colony secretary and recorder of births, did not record the birth of Thomas, allegedly his son. They cite respected scholar Helen Rountree, author of Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries, “The actual date of Thomas Rolfe’s birth was not recorded.” If the Christian marriage of the Rolfes was recorded, why was the birth not also recorded, as Christian custom dictated? That is a perplexing question that may possibly be answered by Custalow’s theory of an out-of-wedlock birth due to rape in captivity.

In The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History, authors Custalow and Daniel offer a revised his/herstory of the life of Pocahontas and her family, the Powhatan Nation, and contemporary persons of Mattaponi and Pamunkey descent. Their book is a reminder that oral history should be as respected as much as the written word. After all, written words originate from oral history that somebody eventually put to paper.

Keeping an open mind on oral history, new theories, new historical evidence and recent archaeological findings helps all of us, Native and non-Native, have a clearer understanding of Native history and contemporary culture. It makes us question previous assumptions and re-visit established scholarship. Whether general readers or scholars agree with all, some or none of the arguments presented in this book is not the main point. Its importance now in 2014 is that it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the upcoming 400th year anniversary celebration of the marriage between Pocahontas and John Rolfe and the relevance of that celebration for contemporary Powhatans, other Natives with similar histories, the Rolfe descendants, Virginia residents and the population in general.


Watch the video: Pocahontas u0026 John Rolfe The New World