Thanks to Disney’s 1995 animated version of her story, many people have the misconception that Pocahontas was a rebellious nymph who conversed with trees, flew on the wind, and fell in love with a beardless Captain John Smith. However, none of these are true – and the most factual is that she flew on the wind. ;)
Born c. 1596, Pocahontas (a nickname, her real name was Matoaka) was raised as the favorite daughter of the great chief Powhatan. Although she was pampered by her father’s many wives, she was not idle; she learned how to forage for food and fire-wood, and she knew how to swim and canoe. She was trained to have the elegant speech and comportment which was fitting for a chief’s daughter.
Pocahontas was eleven or twelve years old when the Englishmen first arrived. She is not known to have had any dealings with the Englishmen prior to the day that John Smith was marched into her father’s village, and she certainly had not been conducting secret trysts with Smith.
Perhaps the most famous story of Pocahontas is her rescue of John Smith from being brained by her father’s angry warriors. However, scholars aren’t sure whether Pocahontas’ actions really saved Smith’s life. Many believe that the Powhatans were trying to test his courage. Others believe that he was undergoing the standard ceremony of adoption into an Indian tribe. But whatever else was going on, twelve year old Pocahontas was not in love with the twenty-seven year old John Smith.
However, a special bond did develop between them as a result of this incident. Pocahontas regarded John Smith as her father and he wrote that she was like a daughter to him. She would often go to visit him at Jamestown, spending time with him and bringing food for the settlement. In this way, Pocahontas not only helped to save the colony from starvation but also established herself as a reliable go-between for the English and Indians.
Five years later, after Smith had returned to England and hostilities had renewed between the settlers and Indians, Pocahontas was treacherously kidnapped and held for ransom by Samuel Argall, Captain of the Treasurer. After her father refused to pay what Captain Argall demanded of him, Pocahontas was moved to Henrico where she was taught about Christianity and English culture. It was there that she met John Rolfe, who was to become her husband. It was also there that she was baptized and given a new name – Rebecca.
Pocahontas and John Rolfe were wed in 1614. In 1615 Pocahontas gave birth to a son, Thomas, and in 1616 the Rolfes voyaged to England. There Pocahontas was honored by the Bishop of London and was even received by Queen Anne at Whitehall Palace. Their trip was going successfully until Pocahontas became ill. The crowded cities and smoky air was oppressive to Pocahontas, accustomed as she was to America’s clear forests. Her health steadily declined until her worried husband decided to sail back to America. They boarded the George in March of 1617, but Pocahontas was too ill to complete the journey. She died in Gravesend at the age of twenty-one.
Pocahontas was a very brave young woman who risked all manner of hardships to save the lives of her friends. She lived a brief but full life as an Indian princess and later as an English wife. She has been rightfully regarded as the first American heroine and innumerable statues and paintings stand to remind us of her courageous career.
Conclusion. A great introduction to Pocahontas, the great Indian Princess.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret