Digital History>eXplorations>Pocahontas and Squanto


In a volume recounting the history of the English colony in Virginia, Smith describes a famous incident in which Powhatan's 12-year-old daughter, Pocahontas (1595?-1617), saved him from execution. Although some have questioned whether this incident took place (since Smith failed to mention it in his Historie's first edition), it may well have been a "staged event," an elaborate adoption ceremony by which Powhatan symbolically made Smith his vassal or servant. Through similar ceremonies, the Powhatan people incorporated outsiders into their society.

Pocahontas reappears in the colonial records in 1613, when she was lured aboard an English ship and held captive. Negotiations for her release failed, and in April 1614, she married John Rolfe, the colonist who introduced tobacco to Virginia. Whether this marriage represented an attempt to forge an alliance between the English and the Powhatan remains uncertain.Their marriage created a climate of peace between the colonists and Powhatan's tribes for several years.

For a few years after the marriage, the couple lived together at Rolfe's plantation and had a child, Thomas Rolfe, born on January 30, 1615. There are around 30,000 descendents today of this union.


In 1616, the Rolfe family traveled to England, arriving at the port of Plymouth on the 12th of June. They were accompanied by a group of around eleven other Powhatan natives including Tomocomo, a holy man. Pocahontas called the "Indian Princess" and receives an audience with King James I and Queen Charlotte.

In 1617, Rolfe and Pocahontas boarded a ship to return to Virginia, but she became ill and died. She was taken ashore at Gravesend on the River Thames. Rolfe wrote from Virginia “My wife’s death is much lamented: my child much desired. When it is of better strength to endure so hard a passage, whose life greatly extinguished the sorrow of her loss, saying all must die. But ‘tis enough that her child liveth.”

Her funeral took place on March 21, 1617 in the parish of Saint George's, Gravesend. Her memory is recorded in Gravesend with a life-size bronze statue.

Timeline of the life of Pocahontas:
1595 Birth of Matoaka, later nicknamed Pocahontas. She is the eldest daughter of the powerful Indian leader, Powhatan.
1607 According to Captain John Smith's account, Pocahontas saves him from execution, thus initiating a friendly relationship with him and other Jamestown settlers.
1612 Pocahontas captured by the English captain Samuel Argyll and used as a political pawn in his dealings with her father.
1613 While in captivity, Pocahontas learns about Christianity from an English minister, Alexander Whitaker, who also helps her improve her English. After she was baptized, her name was changed to Rebecca.
1614 She marries John Rolfe, and their son, Thomas, is born the next year.
1616 To great fanfare, Pocahontas travels to England as the "Indian Princess" and receives an audience with King James I and Queen Charlotte. Simon Van de Passe executes the only portrait done in her lifetime.
1617 Pocahontas becomes ill and dies as she is leaving England to return to Virginia. She is supposedly buried in St. George's Church, Gravesend, England.


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