Pocahontas is one of the most famous women in Native American history. Even though all American children learn about Pocahontas in school, there are still parts of her life that are misunderstood. We know for sure that she was the daughter of Chief Powhatan. Some sources say she was his favorite daughter. She apparently met John Smith, the leader of the Jamestown colony in 1607.
There is a famous story about Pocahontas saving John Smith’s life. According to the story, Smith was captured by Powhatan’s warriors, and was about to be killed. Pocahontas intervened and rescued Smith. Some people believe that this event was a type of “adoption” ceremony performed by Indians. Over the years, the story grew to the point that Pocahontas and John Smith were married. This, however, is not true. It might make a nice story, but Pocahontas married someone else!
Pocahontas was about eleven when she met John Smith. This would have been in 1607, the year the colonists landed in Jamestown. She visited the colony often, usually bringing food. Many sources report that Pocahontas’s visits and gifts of food kept the colonists alive during their first year or so in Jamestown. At one point, John Smith was injured in a gunpowder explosion. He returned to England for treatment. The colonists told Pocahontas and the other Native Americans that he was dead. After hearing of Smith’s “death,” Pocahontas stopped visiting the colony for several years.
The man Pocahontas actually DID marry was John Rolfe. Rolfe was a leading colonist in Jamestown. He was important to the history of the colony because he showed the colonists how to grow tobacco. Tobacco allowed the colonists to finally make a profit.
At some point in adulthood, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and took the name “Rebecca.” After her marriage to John Rolfe, the couple and their son, Thomas, were invited to England by the Virginia Company, which funded the Jamestown expedition. The Virginia Company believed that Pocahontas would help attract new settlers to Jamestown. In England, Pocahontas was a celebrity! She met many of the most important people of the day. She had her portrait painted wearing stylish English clothes. She even met King James and Queen Anne!
Believe it or not, John Smith was in London at the same time as Pocahontas. They met, and Pocahontas was too overcome with emotion to speak! (Remember, as far as she knew, Smith was dead.) After she calmed herself, Pocahontas enjoyed talking about old times with John Smith.
The Rolfes were in England for several months, but eventually decided to return to Jamestown. Unfortunately, Pocahontas became very sick, and died before leaving England. She was only twenty-two, and had already earned a spot in history!
Facts About Pocahontas:
- Her real name was Matoaka. Pocahontas was a nickname that meant something like “playful little girl”
- After John Rolfe and Pocahontas married, the colonists and the Powhatan’s people enjoyed a period of good relations known as the “Peace of Pocahontas”
- By saving the life of John Smith, Pocahontas also saved the Jamestown colony