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Pocahontas, later known as Rebecca Rolfe, was a Native American who assisted English colonists during their first years in Virginia.
Pocahontas - Mini Biography (2:14)
Pocahontas was a Native American Princess, ambassador, and peacemaker to the first American settlers. She eventually was taken hostage by the British. She married John Rolfe and was renamed Rebecca.
Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, married English colonist John Rolfe. At the time of their marriage, it was considered outrageously scandalous.
When Pocahontas arrived in England with her husband and infant son, John Smith called her The Lady Rebecca and arranged for her to visit with Queen Anne.
Pocahontas' people, the Powhatan tribe, were led by her father, Wahunsunacock. In the 1590's the Powhatan people were in an advanced level of their civilization.
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Historians have long expressed doubts that the story of Pocahontas saving Smith occurred as told in these later accounts. Smith may have exaggerated or invented the account to enhance Pocahontas's standing. Another theory suggests that Smith may have misunderstood what had happened to him in Powhatan's longhouse.
Rather than the near victim of an execution,
he may have been subject to a tribal ritual intended to symbolize his death and rebirth as a member of the tribe. It is possible that Powhatan had political motivations for bringing Smith into his chiefdom.
Early histories establish that Pocahontas befriended Smith and assisted the Jamestown colony. Pocahontas often visited the settlement. When the colonists were starving, "every once in four or five days, Pocahontas with her attendants brought him [Smith] so much provision that saved many of their lives that else for all this had starved with hunger." Despite this connection, there is little in the historical record to suggest a romantic link between John Smith and Pocahontas.
In late 1609, John Smith returned to England for medical care. The English told the Indians that Smith was dead. According to the colonist William Strachey, Pocahontas married a warrior called Kocoum at some point before 1612. Nothing more is known about this marriage, which may have dissolved when Pocahontas was captured by the English the following year.
Pocahontas' capture occurred in during the First Anglo-Powhatan War. Captain Samuel Argall pursued an alliance with the Patawomencks, a northern group of dubious loyalty to Powhatan. Argall and his indigenous allies tricked Pocahontas into boarding Argall's ship and held her for ransom, demanding the release of English prisoners and supplies held by Powhatan. When Powhatan failed to satisfy the colonists’ demands, Pocahontas remained in captivity.
Little is known about Pocahontas' year with the English. It is clear that a minister named Alexander Whitaker instructed Pocahontas in Christianity, and helped her to improve her English through reading the Bible. Whitaker baptized Pocahontas with a new, Christian name: Rebecca. The selection of this name may have been a symbolic gesture to the Rebecca of the Book of Genesis who, as the mother of Jacob and Esau, was the mother of two nations.
In March 1614, violence broke out between hundreds of English and Powhatan men. The English permitted Pocahontas to talk to her father and other relatives as a diplomatic maneuver. According to English sources, Pocahontas told her family that she preferred to remain with the English rather than returning home.
Pocahontas met John Rolfe during her year in captivity. Rolfe, a pious farmer, had lost his wife and child on the journey over to Virginia. In a long letter to the governor requesting permission to wed Pocahontas, he expressed both his love for her and his belief he would be saving her soul through the institution of Christian marriage. Pocahontas' feelings about Rolfe and the marriage are unknown.
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