Saturday, October 10, 2009


Pocahontas, personal name MATOAKA, Christian name REBECCA (b. c. 1595, vicinity of Jamestown, Va.—d. March 1617, Grave- send, Kent), Powhatan Indian woman who helped maintain peace between English colonists and native Americans by befriending the settlers at Jamestown, Va., and eventually marrying one of them; dramatic accounts of her unusual role have immortalized her name in American folk history.

Daughter of the powerful intertribal leader Powhatan, Pocahontas was a young girl when she first became acquainted with the colonists who settled in the Chesapeake Bay area in 1607, The following year, according to a later account written by Capt. John Smith, founder and leader of the colony, she saved Smith’s life after he had been captured by the tribe. Just as he laid his head on the sacrificial stone to await death, Pocahontas supposedly flung herself down and, embracing the captain’s head, successfully implored her father to spare him.

After Smith returned to England in 1609, relations between the Virginians and Powhatans deteriorated.

Capt. Samuel Argali therefore seized the opportunity to kidnap Pocahontas, hoping to use her to negotiate permanent peace. Treated with great respect and courtesy during her captivity, Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and was baptized Lady Rebecca. She was ransomed by her father, but before she could return to her people she fell in love with John Rolfe, a distinguished settler; both the Virginia governor, Sir Thomas Dale, and Chief Powhatan agreed to a marriage. This unusual interracial union did indeed prove beneficial, and peace prevailed as long as Pocahontas lived.

In 1616 Governor Dale, seeing in the adaptable and charming Indian princess a pleasing advertisement for the London Company of Virginia, took Pocahontas and her husband to England, where she was received at court and lionized by English society. About to embark for home, she contracted smallpox and died, Her only son, Thomas Rolfe, was educated in England and later migrated to Virginia, where he became a leading citizen. Daina Hersh


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