Pocahontas (born Matoaka, known as Amonute) was born around 1595 in Virginia. She was an Native American Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribal nations in the Tsenacommacah, encompassing the Tidewater region of Virginia. Her mother, whose name and specific group of origin are unknown, was one of dozens of wives taken by Powhatan. Each wife gave him a single child and then was sent back to her village to be supported by the paramount chief until she found another husband.
Pocahontas is probably most well known for her relationship with Englishman John Smith. Some accounts in 1607 have her saving his life by placing her head upon his own when her father raised his war club to execute him. Many historians have suggested that this story, as told by Smith, is untrue. What we do know is she befriended Smith and the Jamestown colony. She often went to the settlement and played games with the boys there. 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.” As the colonists expanded their settlement further, the Powhatan felt their lands were threatened, and conflicts arose again. In late 1609, an injury from a gunpowder explosion forced Smith to return to England for medical care.
The English told the Powhatans that Smith was dead. Pocahontas believed that account and stopped visiting Jamestown. Much later, she learned that he was living in England when she traveled there as the wife of John Rolfe. Its purely fictional that Pocahontas and Smith were ever romantically involved.
Pocahontas was captured by the English during Anglo-Indian hostilities around March 1613. Captain Samuel Argall learned that she was visiting the Patawomeck village of Passapatanzy and living under the protection of the weroance, or secondary chief, Iopassus (also known as Japazaws). Henry Spelman, an English translator, helped Argall to pressure Iopassus to assist in Pocahontas’s capture by promising an alliance with the English against the Powhatans. They tricked Pocahontas into boarding Argall’s ship and held her for ransom, demanding the release of English prisoners held by her father, along with various stolen weapons and tools. Powhatan returned the prisoners, but not the weapons and tools. A long standoff ensued, during which the English kept Pocahontas captive. During the year-long wait, she was held at Henricus, in modern-day Chesterfield County, Virginia. The minister at Henricus, Alexander Whitaker, taught Pocahontas about Christianity and helped her to improve her English while she was held captive. Upon her baptism, Pocahontas took the Christian name “Rebecca”. In March 1614, the standoff built up to a violent confrontation between hundreds of English and Powhatan men on the Pamunkey River. The English permitted Pocahontas to talk to her countrymen. Pocahontas reportedly rebuked her father for valuing her “less than old swords, pieces, or axes”, and told the Powhatan she preferred to live with the English. She would meet John Rolfe, a tobacco planter while residing in Henricus. They would eventually marry in April 1614 and in January 1615, she would give birth to their son, Thomas Rolfe.
In 1616, the Rolfes traveled to London. Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of the “civilized savage” in hopes of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She became something of a celebrity, was elegantly fêted, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace. In 1617, the Rolfes set sail for Virginia, but Pocahontas died at Gravesend of unknown causes. She was buried in a church in Gravesend in the United Kingdom, but the exact location of her grave is unknown.