A Brief History
On April 5, 1614, a milestone in European and Native American relations was reached when John Rolfe, English colonist, married Pocahontas, Native American princess!
The English colony of Jamestown, Virginia was the location of one of American history’s most famous marriages.
Pocahontas was the daughter of Chief Powhatan, a sort of chief of chiefs in the eastern Virginia area. In 1607, English prisoner of the local Native Americans, John Smith, was to be executed by having his head smashed with a club by Powhatan himself.
Pocahontas famously (allegedly) laid her head on Smith’s head to prevent the execution and Powhatan spared Smith’s life.
This legend has led to some misunderstanding about Pocahontas and Captain Smith, as they were not lovers and were not later married. Even the song, “Fever” (made popular by Peggy Lee and later by Elvis Presley, and also The McCoys) mistakenly says that “Captain Smith and Pocahontas, had a very mad affair!”
Pocahontas was captured by the English settlers, as apparently a lot of capturing went on in those days, and even when she had the chance to be returned stayed with her new English friends. Pocahontas became a Christian and took the English name, Rebecca, and in 1614 married John Rolfe, a tobacco farmer. ( Tobacco was the cash crop in Virginia, so much so that not enough farmers planted food crops and hunger was rampant!)
After bearing John Rolfe a son in 1615, the former Indian princess went to England with her husband and was the toast of the town. John Smith had advised the Queen that Pocahontas should be well treated as an honored guest because of her conversion to Christianity and the good impression it would leave on other Native Americans.
After a year in England the Rolfes were going to sail back to Virginia, but after only sailing partway down the Thames River Pocahontas/Rebecca became extremely ill.
Stopping at Gravesend (how appropriate!) the deathly ill Pocahontas died of an unknown illness at age 22!
Several states remember Pocahontas with cities or counties named after her, and 4 US Navy ships have borne her name. Schools, parks, privately owned properties and other places and things bear her name. Speaking of name, Pocahontas is just one of a few ways her name has been described, along with others such as Matoika, Matoaka, and Amonute.
Cracked fact: Pocahontas may have been married at the time of her capture, to a fellow Native American who was killed in the fighting going on at that time. Cracked fact #2: Although usually referred to as a princess, the Native Americans did not actually consider her a princess even though she was the daughter of the chief or king. The English called her princess to get the most positive publicity out of her conversion to Christianity! Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have any places or things named after Pocahontas near you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Boyer, Dawn D. Descendants of Pocahontas & John Rolfe: Of Virginia and North Carolina. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.
Robertson, Wyndham. Pocahontas, Alias Matoaka, and Her Descendants Through Her Marriage at Jamestown, Virginia, in April, 1614, With John Rolfe, Gentleman (Classic Reprint). Forgotten Books, 2012.