The Real Pocahontas

Pocahontas (c. 1596-1617)

The Historical Facts

pocahontas-fact

  • This legendary character was born near Jamestown, Virginia.
  • She was first called Matoaka – later known as Amonute – nicknamed Pocahontas because it meant spoiled child – and took the name Rebecca after converting to Christianity.
  • Pocahontas was the daughter of Chief Powhatan.
  • Of his 27 children, she was said to have been his favorite.
  • She often advised her father, and became a successful peacemaker between the First Nation tribes and the First Colonists.
  • In 1613 she as captured by the English and held for a ransom her father refused to pay.
  • She became the wife of a tobacco planter called John Rolfe.
  • They married in 1614.
  • In January 1615 they had a son named Thomas.
  • The following year the Rolfes travelled to London, presenting Pocahontas as a “civilized savage” to promote investment in the Jamestown settlement.
  • She died on the journey back to Virginia – still in her early 20s – possibly from smallpox, pneumonia, tuberculosis, or even poison.
  • Her body was taken from the ship and buried in Kent, England.

The Disney Myth

pocahontas-fiction

  • Pocahontas probably did not save John Smith’s life by throwing herself on his body to prevent his execution.
  • As she was only 10 years old when she met Smith, it is highly unlikely they had the type of romance depicted in the Disney movie.
  • People who knew Smith describe him as an abrasive, mercenary, ambitious, self-promoting soldier, who was not very pleasant.
  • Pocahontas always denied Smith’s version of events, refused to meet with him, and publically called him a liar.

Whatever the facts behind the Pocahontas myth, she was – and continues to be – a great ambassador for First Nation people.  The Disney movie might be forgiven for factual inaccuracies because their version of her story has helped promote tolerance and understanding between different American cultures!

Sources:

Biography.com, “Pocahontas” at http://www.biography.com/people/pocahontas-9443116

Disney, Walt. Pocohontas  (1995 film)

Powhatan.org, “The Pocahontas Myth” at http://www.powhatan.org/pocc.html

Wikipedia, “Pocahontas” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocahontas

 

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