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Indian "princess" who became friendly with the Jamestown colonists

Matoaka was born about 1595. She was one of many daughters of Wahunsunacock, the leader of an alliance of about 28 Powhatan tribes in the Tidewater region of Virginia who is more commonly known as Powhatan. Although she likely had several names (a common practice among many Native American tribes of the time), she was most commonly known as Pocahontas, which means "playful one."


Pocahontas encountered her first Englishmen when they established Jamestown in May of 1607, and she became a frequent visitor to the settlement after meeting Captain John Smith in December of that same year. Although the popular story about Pocahontas preventing her father from killing Smith is likely untrue, she did warn the settlement about pending attacks and convince her father to provide food for the colonists. After Smith was seriously injured in a gunpowder explosion and returned to England in October of 1609, the colonists told Pocahontas he was dead and she stopped visiting soon after. It is believed that she spent the next few years with her own people, and that she married a man named Kocoum about 1610.

In 1613, Captain Samuel Argall found out where Pocahontas was living and decided to kidnap and hold her until Powhatan agreed to release some English settlers he was holding and to return a cache of stolen weapons and tools. Powhatan released his prisoners but did not return all of the tools and weapons, so Argall kept Pocahontas at Henrico while he negotiated with Powhatan. The residents of Henrico treated Pocahontas well, and it was there that she began her conversion to Christianity. She also met and fell in love with John Rolfe, who had introduced tobacco as a cash crop into Virginia.

When negotiations between Argall and Powhatan broke down, Argall began attacking Native American villages in the area. During one raid he allowed Pocahontas to meet with some of her relatives, and during that visit she announced her intention to marry John Rolfe. Powhatan agreed to allow the mariage, and peace was restored between Powhatan and the Englishmen. Pocahontas was subsequently baptised (as Rebecca), and she and Rolfe were married on April 5, 1614.

Baptism of Pocahontas
Baptism of Pocahontas

Pocahontas and John had one son, Thomas, and lived on his estate at Henrico until the spring of 1616, when they and several other Powhatan accompanied Governor Sir Thomas Dale to London. Pocahontas and her son were treated like royalty in England, and were introduced to King James I and to the elite of London society. She also had a brief reunion with John Smith. The Rolfes had been in England for about a year when John decided it was time to return to Virginia. They were sailing down the Thames River when Pocahontas became seriously ill, forcing them to stop at Gravesend, where she died in March 1617. It is not known where she was buried, but a monument to her was erected at St. George's Church in Gravesend.

John Smith
King James I

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This page was last updated on 06/27/2018.