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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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Rolfe and Pocahontas married on April 5, 1614, and lived for two years on Rolfe's farm. On January 30, 1615, Pocahontas gave birth to Thomas Rolfe. According to Ralph Hamor, the marriage created a period of peace between the colonists and Powhatan.
Pocahontas became of symbol of Indian religious conversion,
one of the stated goals of the Virginia Company. The company decided to bring Pocahontas to England as a symbol of the tamed New World "savage.” The Rolfes traveled to England in 1616, arriving at the port of Plymouth on June 12 with a small group of indigenous Virginians.
Although Pocahontas was not a princess in the context of Powhatan culture, the Virginia Company nevertheless presented her as a princess to the English public. The inscription on a 1616 engraving of Pocahontas, made for the Virginian Company, read: "Matoaka, alias Rebecca, daughter of the most powerful prince of the Powhatan Empire of Virginia."
While some considered her a curiosity rather than a princess, Pocahontas was apparently treated well in London. On January 5, 1617, she was brought before the king in Whitehall Palace during a performance of Ben Jonson's The Vision of Delight. Shortly thereafter, John Smith met the Rolfes at a social gathering. The only accounts that exist of their interaction come from Smith, who wrote that when Pocahontas saw him, “without any words, she turned about, obscured her face, as not seeming well contented.” Smith's record of their later conversation is fragmentary and unclear. He wrote that Pocahontas reminded him of the "courtesies she had done,” saying, “you did promise Powhatan what was yours would be his, and he the like to you.”
In March of 1617, the Rolfes boarded a ship to return to Virginia. The ship had only gone as far as Gravesend when Pocahontas fell ill. She was taken ashore, where she died, possibly of pneumonia or tuberculosis. Her funeral took place on March 21, 1617, in the parish of St. George's. The site of her grave was probably beneath the chancel of St. George’s, which was destroyed in a fire in 1727.
Members of a number of prominent Virginia families trace their roots to Pocahontas and Chief Powhatan through her son, Thomas Rolfe.
Very few records of the life of Pocahontas remain. The only contemporary portrait is Simon van de Passe's engraving of 1616, which emphasizes her Indian features. Later portraits often portray her as more European in appearance.
The myths that arose around Pocahontas' story in the 19th century portrayed her as an emblem of the potential of Native Americans to be assimilated into European society. The imagined relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas romanticizes the theme of assimilation, and dramatizes the meeting of two cultures.
Many films about Pocahontas have been made, beginning with a silent film in 1924 and continuing into the 21st century. She is one of the best-known Native Americans in history, and one of only a few to appear regularly in historical textbooks.
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