Digital History>eXplorations>Pocahontas and Squanto>Who were Pocahontas & Squanto?

The Baptism of Pocahontas by John Gadsby Chapman
Oil on canvas, 12' x 18'
Commissioned 1837; placed 1840
Rotunda of the United States Capito

What does this painting show?

"Pocahontas is depicted in white as she is baptized Rebecca by Anglican minister Alexander Whiteaker in Jamestown, Virginia; this event is believed to have taken place in 1613 or 1614. She kneels surrounded by family members, including her father, Chief Powhatan, and colonists. Her brother Nantequaus turns away from the ceremony. The baptism occurred before her marriage to Englishman John Rolfe, who stands behind her.

Their union is said to be the first recorded marriage between a European and a Native American. The scene symbolizes the belief of Americans at the time that Native Americans should accept Christianity and other European ways."

Text from the Office of the Curator, March 2001, U.S. Capitol

Why was Pocahontas baptized?

"Among the young men of rank and education at Jamestown was John Rolfe, of an excellent English family, who became enamored of Pocahontas, and to him

"She was a landscape of mild earth Where all was harmony and calm quiet, Luxuriant, budding." ...Byron

Pocahontas reciprocated Rolfe's passion, and they agreed to be wedded. But one thing troubled the soul of the young Englishman. He was a Christian; she was a Pagan. "Is it not my duty," he said to himself, "to lead the blind into light?" Then came to his mind the Bible story of the visitation of the sons of Levi by God in his anger, because they sanctified strange women. But love conquered. He resolved to labor for her enlightenment and conversion. The young princess was an apt scholar, and very soon, in the little chapel at Jamestown, whose columns were rough pine trees from the forests, and its rude pews were of sweet-smelling cedar, and its rough communion-table and pulpit of black walnut, that dusky convert stood before a font "hewn hollow between like a canoe," and there received the rite of Christian baptism with the name of Rebecca, at the hands of Mr. Whittaker. She was the first Christian Indian in Virginia."

Volume I of Our Country, published in the late 1800's

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