Pocahontas (born Matoaka, known as Amonute, and later known as Rebecca Rolfe, c. 1595 – March 1617) was a Virginia Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribal nations in the Tsenacommacah, encompassing the Tidewater region of Virginia. In a well-known historical anecdote, she is said to have saved the life of an Indian captive, Englishman John Smith, in 1607 by placing her head upon his own when her father raised his war club to execute him.
Pocahontas was captured by the English during Anglo-Indian hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca. When the opportunity arose for her to return to her people, she chose to remain with the English. In April 1614, she married tobacco planter John Rolfe, and in January 1615, bore him a son, Thomas Rolfe. Pocahontas's marriage to Rolfe was the first recorded interracial marriage in North American history.
In 1616, the Rolfes traveled to London. Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of the civilized "savage" in hopes of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She became something of a celebrity, was elegantly fêted, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace. In 1617, the Rolfes set sail for Virginia, but Pocahontas died at Gravesend of unknown causes. She was buried in a church in Gravesend, but the exact location of her grave is unknown.
Numerous places, landmarks, and products in the United States have been named after Pocahontas. Her story has been romanticized over the years, and she is a subject of art, literature, and film. Her descendants through her son Thomas include members of the First Families of Virginia, First Ladies Edith Wilson and Nancy Reagan, and astronomer Percival Lowell.
American History USA Articles
- Why Was the Jamestown Colony Such a Mess?
While it lives on in American history and folklore, the actual operation of the colony was a fiasco. Were the colonists merely incompetent, or is there more to the story?
- Pocahontas Documentary
- Pure History Specials - Pocahontas and Captain John Smith: Love and Survival in the New World