Pocahontas: First American Celebrity

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English: Artist depiction of Pocahontas saving...

English: Artist depiction of Pocahontas saving the life of Capt. John Smith. MEDIUM: 1 print : chromolithograph, color. B size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1995, Disney’s Pocahontas was released. Across the country, a new generation of girls fell in love with the Native American Princess. Not only was she able to communicate with animals, but she was brave and made her own decisions by following her heart. Ever since Pocahontas journeyed to England in 1616, the world has been fascinated by her. Though her life has been fantasized, beginning with John Smith, Pocahontas is an important part of America’s history. Pocahontas helped Jamestown survive at a time when several settlements were killed by natives or diseases.

Pocahontas was born around 1595 to Chief Powhatan and one of his wives. Her birth name was Matoaka, though it was common to the tribe to have several names. Though she had numerous siblings, she was her father’s favorite. In December 1607, Englishman John Smith was taken captive and taken to the Werowocomoco Village. By his account, he was first welcomed by the chief and offered a feast, but then he was forced to stretch out on two large stones while the natives stood over him with clubs, ready to kill him. Suddenly, a young girl rushed to him, protecting him from the clubs. She helped Smith stand up and then Powhatan adopted him as his son. Though the execution may have been a tradition of welcoming a stranger into the tribe, Pocahontas was known for saving Smith’s life forever.

In the early 1600’s, England was trying to create settlements in America but it was having trouble due to disease, Indian attacks, and weather. Smith and Pocahontas’ relationship ensured Jamestown would survive because Pocahontas brought food and supplies to the Englishmen once a week. In October 1609, Smith was injured by a gunpowder explosion and was forced to return to England. When Pocahontas came to visit Jamestown, she was told he was dead. The next year she married Kocoum, but she was kidnapped by Captain Samuel Argall in exchange for English prisoners and items the Indians had stolen. Pocahontas was sent to a different settlement called Henrico where she was educated; she also met tobacco planter John Rolfe. After a year of captivity, Dale brought 150 armed men and Pocahontas into Powhatan territory to obtain the ransom. After a fight between the two groups, Pocahontas was sent ashore where she was reunited with her family. The fight between the two ended and would last until 1622. Pocahontas also told her father that she wished to marry Rolfe, who gave her his consent.

Pocahontas was baptized as a Christian, given the name Rebecca, and on April 5, 1614, she married Rolfe. The two had a baby and lived happily on Rolfe’s farm until 1616 when the family traveled to England. The Virginia Company was hoping to attract settlers to Virginia by convincing the Englishmen that the Indians could convert to Christianity. In England, Pocahontas became a celebrity, even meeting King James I. She also reunited with Smith, who was actually alive. After several months, Rolfe decided to return to Virginia in 1617. Sadly, Pocahontas became ill on the boat and was taken ashore in Gravesend, England. While dying, she told her husband that “all must die.” She died on March 21, 1617. Her husband and father returned to Virginia.

England knew about the New World, since the early 1500’s, but was having trouble creating a permanent profitable settlement due to the strange environment, disease, and frequent attacks from the Native Americans. Due to the friendship of Pocahontas and John Smith, the English were able establish its first permanent settlement in America. The marriage between Pocahontas and John Rolfe is the first interracial marriage in America. Pocahontas’ descendants, through her son Thomas, include politicians, generals, scientists, and first ladies. Though Pocahontas’ life is a mystery, John Smith paints her as a smart, brave woman who followed her heart.

Sources:

Pocahontas

Pocahontas. biography

Pocahontas

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