Pocahontas was an important figure in the early history of America.
Originally Matoaka. 1595?–1617.
after a 1616 engraving by Simon van de Passe
Pocahontas (ca. 1595-1617) was the daughter of a Native American chief in Virginia at the time of its colonization by the British. Her marriage to an English settler brought 8 years of peace between the Indians and the British.
The real name of Pocahontas was Matoaka. As a child, she was called Pocahontas, meaning "playful one, " and the name stuck. Her father was Powhatan, chief of a confederation of Algonquian tribes that bore his name.
In 1607 English colonists sent by the Virginia Company founded Jamestown. Pocahontas often played at the fort. In 1608, according to a story of debated authenticity, she saved the life of Capt. John Smith, who had been captured by Powhatan's warriors and was to be clubbed to death. The salvation of John Smith was the salvation of Jamestown colony.
Relations between the Native Americans and the colonists were not smooth in Virginia, however. In 1613, while Pocahontas was visiting the village of the Potomac Indians, Capt. Samuel Argall of the vessel Treasurer took her prisoner as security for Englishmen in Indian hands and for tools and supplies which the Indians had stolen. She was taken to Jamestown as a hostage. There she was treated with courtesy by the governor, Sir Thomas Dale, who was touched by her gentility and intelligence. After instruction in the Christian religion, she was baptized and took the name Rebecca.
John Rolfe, a gentleman at Jamestown, fell in love with her and asked Dale for permission to marry her. Dale readily agreed in order to win the friendship of the Indians, although Pocahontas may have been married earlier to a chief named Kocoum. Powhatan also consented, and the marriage took place in Jamestown in June 1614 in the Anglican church. Both Native Americans and Englishmen apparently considered this a bond between them, and it brought 8 years of peaceful relations in Virginia.
In 1616 the Virginia Company wished Pocahontas to visit England, thinking that it would aid the company in securing investments from British financiers. Rolfe, Pocahontas, her brother-in-law Tomocomo, and several Indian girls sailed to England. Pocahontas was received as a princess, entertained by the bishop of London, and presented to King James I and Queen Anne. Early in 1617 Pocahontas and her party prepared to return to Virginia, but at Gravesend she developed a case of smallpox and died. She was buried in the chancel of Gravesend Church. Her only child, Thomas Rolfe, was educated in England, and he returned to Virginia to leave many descendants bearing the name Rolfe.
Further Reading on Pocahontas
The best biography of Pocahontas is by Grace Steele Woodward, Pocahontas (1969). Other interesting works are John G. Fletcher, John Smith—Also Pocahontas (1928) and W. M. Murray, Pocahontas and Pushmataha (1931). Philip L. Barbour's Pocahontas and Her World (1970) is essentially a history of the early years of Virginia and written from the Indian point of view. □