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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Pocahontas

EARLY LIFE

Pocahontas was born around 1596 the daughter of Powhatan, paramount chief of Tsenacommacah, an alliance of about thirty Algonquian-speaking groups and petty chiefdoms in Tidewater, Virginia.

A 19th-century depiction

Her mother was one of dozens of wives taken by Powhatan. The identity and exact group origin of Pocahontas's mom has never been known, but her status would have been lowly.

At the time Pocahontas was born, it was common for Powhatan Native Americans to be given several personal names. Her birth name was Matoaka, but later she was also known as Amonute. Matoaka means "Bright Stream Between the Hills"; Amonute cannot be translated.

The name Pocahontas was a childhood Native American nickname that probably referred to her frolicsome nature. It meant "the naughty one" or "frisky."

Pocahontas is famously linked to the English colonist Captain John Smith, who arrived in Virginia with a hundred other settlers in April 1607, at the behest of the London Company. In December 1607, while exploring on the Chickahominy River, Smith was captured by a hunting party and brought to Powhatan's capital at Werowocomoco. In a letter that Smith wrote to Queen Anne the wife of King James, in anticipation of Pocahontas's visit to England, he recalled how the then 11-year-old Native American Princess pleaded with her father for the life of John Smith. "... at the minute of my execution", he wrote, "she [Pocahontas] hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown."

In this 1870 chromolithograph Pocahontas saves the life of John Smith

Pocahontas befriended Smith and the Jamestown colony and often went to the settlement and played games with the boys there. On several occasions bought food to the close-to-starving Jamestown settlement.

She was captured by the English during the First Anglo-Powhatan War, a conflict between the Jamestown settlers and the Native Americans that began late in the summer of 1609. Pocahontas was held at Henricus, in modern-day Chesterfield County, during which according to colonist Ralph Hamor she received "extraordinary courteous usage".

During this time, the minister at Henricus, Alexander Whitaker, helped Pocahontas to improve her English. She converted to Christianity through the influence of Whitaker and was baptized. The princess took the Christian name of Rebecca.

John Gadsby Chapman, The Baptism of Pocahontas (1840). 

MARRIAGE

During her stay in Henricus, Pocahontas met John Rolfe, a pious settler who had successfully cultivated a new strain of tobacco in Virginia and spent much of his time tending to his crop.

Pocahontas married John Rolfe on April 5, 1614 in Jamestown, Virginia. The bride's two brothers and an uncle stood up for her. The wedding initiated a period of friendly relations between Indians and colonists.

Pocahontas and John Rolfe had one son named Thomas who was born on January 30, 1615 and educated in England, but settled in Virginia.

The Virginia Company of London decided to bring Pocahontas to England as a symbol of the tamed New World "savage" and the success of the Jamestown settlement. The Rolfes arrived at the port of Plymouth on June 12, 1616, accompanied by a group of about eleven other Powhatans, including a holy man named Tomocomo.

Portrait engraving by Simon de Passe, 1616

On January 5, 1617, Pocahontas and Tomocomo were brought before King James at the old Banqueting House in the Palace of Whitehall at a performance of Ben Jonson's masque The Vision of Delight.

In March 1617, Pocahontas and Rolfe prepared to sail back to Virginia. However, the day before they were to leave, Pocahontas died, probably of smallpox, and was buried at the parish church of St. George in Gravesend, England.

First Lady Edith Wilson, second wife of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, was a descendant of Pocahontas.

DISNEY MOVIE

A popular 1995 Disney animated film about Pocahontas presented a fictional love affair between the Native Indian princess and John Smith, in which Pocahontas teaches Smith respect for nature.


The movie perpetrated many distortions. Pocahontas is shown singing, for example. In actuality, she would have chanted or droned.

The cartoon shows Pocahontas running the hills alone with a man. Leisure for Native American women and girls (except among the noble classes) was almost non-existent until two centuries ago.

We see Pocahontas being given a pet raccoon. A raccoon would not have been a cuddly pet but would have been destined for the pot.

Pocahontas is the only Disney princess based on a real person.

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