Pocahontas english original


1596 – 1617

America’s Princess




On an April day in 1613, Pocahontas walked the narrow plank leading onto the ship Treasurer, anchored in the Potomac River. She was accompanied by a Potowomeke chief, Jopassus, and his wife.

For more than three years, her father, King Powhatan, had forbidden her to have anything to do with the English settlers, and he'd sent her away from Jamestown to the far reaches of his domain. But she liked the English settlers and welcomed this chance to visit with Captain Samuel Argall and other Englishmen on board the ship, which had sailed up Potomac River from Jamestown.

After the group had dinner, Jopassus and his wife took Pocahontas to the gunners' room of the ship, told her to wait a few minutes, and left her. Instead of returning, they disembarked with the copper kettle they'd been paid for luring her onto the vessel.

Time passed, and Pocahontas realized her companions were not coming back. Then the ship began to move. She was a prisoner.


Argall sailed with his hostage back to Jamestown, where Pocahontas was welcomed by settlers who had known her earlier and who appreciated all she had done to save the colony of Virginia. The colony's governor, Sir Thomas Gates, sent word to Chief Powhatan that he held Pocahontas. She would be reunited with her father when the chieftain returned the Englishmen he'd captured, along with tools and other goods stolen from Jamestown. He must also make permanent peace with the English, cease warring against neighboring tribes, and furnish the settlers with corn if he wanted his daughter back.

Powhatan returned seven captured English settlers and sent the colony one canoe of corn, saying he'd send more after the fall harvest. He continued fighting against other tribes, however, and attacked the outlying areas of the Virginia settlement. He made no further efforts to ransom his daughter.

Pocahontas was sent to live near Henrico, Virginia. Reverend Alexander Whitaker and the women parishioners of his church took charge of her, teaching her the English language and English ways. Pocahontas would eventually bring about peace between the colonists and Indians, but in an unexpected war.

The famous Indian maiden was born at the chief settlement of the Powhatan tribe, Werowocomoco, in 1596 or 1597. She was named Matoaka, which meant "Little Snow Feather.' Pocahontas, her nickname, has been translated by the English as "Bright Stream between Two Hills" and by the Powhatans as "Little Wanton.'

Pocahontas's father had become chieftain in 1570 and had taken the tribe's name, Powhatan, as his own name. The Powhatans were part of the Algonquian nation. Ruthless and fierce, Powhatans conquered neighboring tribes, slaughtering the men and taking women and children captive. The tribe practiced torture and dismemberment of their enemies. Coming from this savage background, it is amazing that Pocahontas was able to become friends with the English and convert to their ways.

Chief Powhatan, an absolute dictator, had many wives, each of whom usually bore him only one child. Nothing is known of Pocahontas's mother. Powhatan may have given or sold her to another warrior, even to another tribe. She may have died in childbirth. Pocahontas, born when Powhatan was about fifty, was her father's favorite daughter.


Pocahontas was eleven or twelve when the first three shiploads of white settlers arrived at Jamestown, but this was not the first European incursion into Powhatan's territory. In 1560 the Spanish had captured a young Powhatan and taken him to Spain, where they'd educated and baptized him, calling him Don Luis. In 1570 they returned to the Chesapeake Bay area to set up a mission. Once back among the Powhatan, Don Luis reverted to his Native American ways and murdered the members of the expedition. The Spanish retaliated by hanging some innocent tribe members.

In 1585 the governor of Roanoke Island burned several villages in the southern part of Powhatan's domain. In 1604, just three years before Jamestown was established, a group of white men attempted to kidnap several Powhatan youths to sell as slaves in the Caribbean. When Powhatan warriors fought back, the whites shot and killed a number of them.

Thus, Powhatan and his people had good reason to mistrust the newly arrived English.

Pocahontas undoubtedly watched as the white-skinned people began building a fort, a storehouse, and a crude church. The settlers were shorter than Powhatan men, and by the native's standards, strangely dressed. While most Englishmen had beards, long hair, and often mustaches, the Powhatan men were clean-shaven and cut all but a single strip of hair across the top of their heads. They scraped their faces and scalps clean with sharpened shells. The Powhatans wore light moccasins or went barefoot; the English workmen ware heavy boots. The whites were called "coat wearers" because they ware several layers of long-sleeved clothing in all but the hottest weather. By contrast, the natives usually wore only small leather aprons or breechcloths that covered only a scant area of the body. Women and men alike went bare above the waist.

Pocahontas was interested in the tools and gadgets the Europeans brought. The Powhatans hunted with bows and arrows and spears, and clubbed their enemies with tomahawks. The killing portion of all these weapons was made of stones painstakingly chipped to sharpness. The natives shaped canoes by setting fire to logs and burning out the center portion. The English, on the other hand, had knives, axes, and saws to build with. They had brought glassblowers to Jamestown and soon were fashioning serviceable containers. Masons built kilns and burned bricks to build houses, replacing the first wooden ones.


Above all, the English had guns. Powhatan and his warriors had seen the effect of these weapons and wanted to steal same for themselves. Pocahontas looked on all the activity and strangeness with the awe of a child.

Among the colonists was twenty-six-year-old Captain John Smith. Already a veteran of the Turkish wars, he had been captured and made a slave, but he'd managed to escape while awaiting ransom. Despite the mistrust and jealousy of some of the colonists, Smith was one of the eight men chosen by the English king to govern the colony. Although he arrived in Jamestown in chains because of a disagreement onboard the ship, he was soon freed when the charter box was opened and the king's wishes were made known.

Perhaps because of his military experience in foreign lands, Smith recognized the need to communicate with the Native Americans. When he saw the girl watching, he welcomed her, and by means of signs and objects began to learn a few Powhatan words and to teach her some English words. He also gave her some of the gifts the London Company, sponsor of the expedition, had sent along: glass beads and a bell.

Although Powhatan was impressed with the English guns, they were ill-suited for fighting in Virginia. Too long and unwieldy for moving through the woods, they were also heavy and inconvenient to load and fire. While an Englishman was pouring in powder and shot and tamping it down, many arrows could speed toward their target. In addition, the English suits of armor were too hot and uncomfortable to work in, so the colonists rarely wore them, making themselves vulnerable to arrows and tomahawks. Several settlers were killed, and those remaining were afraid to go far outside the fort to hunt or fish.

In late June two of the three ships that had come to Jamestown returned to England, leaving the colonists with scant supplies. Disease and brackish water took their toll. By the end of the summer, half the colonists were dead.

Pocahontas noticed the Englishmen's distress and persuaded some friendly Powhatans to bring the settlers corn (maize). Her half brother Pochins brought corn and fish. Smith later told Queen Anne that Pocahontas saved the colony from death and starvation.

Smith realized the colony needed more food than Pocahontas could provide, knowing that at any time she could be prevented from bringing anything at all. He set out with three companions in early December 1607 to explore the Chicahominy River area and to find other natives who might supply food.


At a point near present-day Providence Forge, Smith went ashore with several native guides, leaving the other three men in the canoe. Within a few minutes he was set upon by Powhatan warriors. Using one of his guides as a shield, he backed away, but tumbled into an icy stream and was captured. Two of his fellow colonists were killed; the third was captured, dismembered, and his body was burned at the stake.

Smith was taken as a captive from one of Powhatans brothers to the other. Each ruled a portion of the Powhatan empire. He was marched to the Rappahannock chief who was to determine if Smith had been the one who kidnapped tribe members in 1604. If the chief had so identified him, Smith would have been killed. Finally he was taken before the high chieftain Powhatan himself bound and helpless, realizing he was about to become the next torture - murder victim. Two great stones were brought forth, and Smith was stretched out with his head lying on one of them. Warriors gathered with clubs to beat him to death.


Suddenly Pocahontas came out of the crowd, put her arms around her friend's head, and laid her head down on his. Powhatan honored a tradition and spared Smith's life. Smith was adopted into the tribe in a ceremony two days later, and then escorted back to Jamestown by twelve Powhatan warriors. Smith had promised Chief Powhatan several cannons at the fort, knowing the heavy weapons could not be lifted. He had also told the chieftain that the settlers were in Jamestown temporarily, taking refuge from the Spaniards.

Because she had saved him, Pocahontas was now, according to tradition, the guardian of Smith; his life was hers to do with as she wished.

Some historians have suggested that Pocahontas might have been disappointed that Smith did not marry her, but she was still a child by English standards. Others have said that Smith invented the story of his rescue. He was, however, the only survivor of the ill-fated exploration, and Pocahontas did spend a great deal of time in Jamestown during the next two years. Had there not been a special bond, Powhatan would undoubtedly have forbidden his daughter's relationship with Smith.

Pocahontas also often came to Jamestown to play with other native children, turning cartwheels, running races, and scampering about the settlement playing hide-and-seek.

Although still a child, Pocahontas was a princess who acted as a go-between for her father and the colonists. She reported to her father when a shipload of a hundred additional colonists arrived in January 1608, which contradicted Smith's claim that the settlers were only in Virginia temporarily. Powhatan sent for Smith and Captain Christopher Newport. When they went to see him, they took along a boy, Thomas Savage, who was to live with the Powhatans and learn their language; in return, a Powhatan warrior, Namontack, was to live at Jamestown.

Captain Newport traded far more liberally than Smith had, offering twenty swords for twenty turkeys. After Newport left, tribe members arrived with another twenty turkeys, but Smith refused to give them more swords. Smith took seven of them captive after they tried to steal the swords. Pocahontas was again the peacemaker, negotiating successfully for the return of the Powhatan warriors.

In the autumn of 1608, Smith was elected president of the council governing Jamestown. Food was plentiful, the church and storehouse were repaired, and things were going well.

When Captain Newport next visited Powhatan, he brought him a scarlet cloak and a European bed and other furniture. He also crowned Powhatan king of the Indians, despite Smith's objections. Smith thought all the generosity and elevation would make Powhatan more difficult to deal with, especially when the ship arrived with more hungry settlers late in the year. More food would be needed, and the growing season was past.

Smith was right. Powhatan now seemed more interested in fighting than trading, and when Smith tried to barter corn from the Nansemond tribe, he found that Powhatan had told them not to trade with the English. The chieftain seemed determined to get rid of the colonists. Before 1608 ended, Powhatan forbade Pocahontas to have anything to do with the English, or risk death. But she was twice more to aid the colony, putting her own life in jeopardy.

The situation at Jamestown grew desperate. The people were starving. Smith set off for Werowocomoco and talked with Powhatan, who was seated on his English bed surrounded by his wives and children, including Pocahontas. The two men argued about trade, weapons, and food. Refusing to disarm, Smith left before they could reach an agreement. Eventually Powhatan sent food to the barges and invited Smith back, but before Smith could leave the barge, Pocahontas arrived to warn him that her father planned to kill him at supper.

Meanwhile, despite Smith's instructions to the settlers to stay close to the fort, a group had gone hunting to Hog Island, their boat had capsized, and they had drowned. Richard Wiffen went to Werowocomoco to tell Smith of the tragedy. Powhatan warriors spotted Wiffen and were closing in to take him captive when Pocahontas grabbed him and hid him, sending the warriors searching in the opposite direction.

Smith strengthened the colony, but in July 1609, Captain Argall returned with news that the council had been abolished, a governor-for-life would soon arrive, and two of Smith's earlier enemies were returning to Virginia. Smith left Jamestown and began building a home farther upstream. He was on a boat carrying bags of gunpowder when it exploded, burning him badly.

Smith left Virginia for England in October 1609, and Pocahontas was told that he had died. Bereft of her best friend in Jamestown, she did not protest when her father sent her away to the northern reaches of his domain to live with his kin, the Patawomeke tribe.

The colony was thus without Smith and Pocahontas, two who had been responsible for the earlier peace and success. In an ambush later that year, Powhatan warriors killed sixty colonists. The remainder had little food, and that period in Virginia's colonial history is known as "The StarvingTime.” By spring 1610 only sixty remained of the 490 who had been in Jamestown the previous autumn. The survivors abandoned the settlement, boarded ships, and were sailing downriver on their way to England when the new governor, Sir Thomas Dale, arrived with food and determination.

Three years passed. The colony thrived and expanded, but the danger of attack always worried them. They thought if they could kidnap Pocahontas, they might force Powhatan to make peace. Captain Samuel Argall was sent in the Treasurer up the Chesapeake Bay to the Patawomekes. He bribed Jopassus and his wife to bring Pocahontas aboard the ship. The scheme worked, and the Indian princess was brought back to Jamestown.

Under the direction of the Reverend Alexander Whitaker and others, Pocahontas was taught Christianity. Although she could not read or write, she spoke English. She memorized portions of The Book of Common Prayer; expressed her faith, and was baptized in the spring of 1614 with the Christian name of Rebecca.


While at Henrico, eighteen-year-old Pocahontas met a widowed farmer named John Rolfe, ten years her senior. Rolfe and his wife had been shipwrecked in Bermuda on the way to Jamestown in 1610. Both their newborn child and Mrs. Rolfe died before reaching Virginia.

Rolfe was interested in growing tobacco, and Pocahontas showed him how the natives cultivated the crop. He saw the attractive maiden not only at work, but at church as weIl. Rolfe fell in love with Pocahontas, despite their differences.

In 1614 Rolfe wrote Governor Dale, asking permission to marry Pocahontas. He detailed all the reasons against the marriage: her lack of education; her barbaric background, the long-standing taboo against a mixed marriage, even the Biblical admonition against marrying "strange wives.” Still, he wrote, he was besotted with her. He assured the governor that the marriage would not be for carnal reasons only, but for the good of the colony and for the good of his soul.

Dale quickly agreed to the marriage. Perhaps this would be just the thing to heal relations between the two races. He accompanied Rolfe and Pocahontas on a visit to Powhatan, who sent two of his sons to meet them. Pocahontas told her brothers she was grieved that her father had been unwilling to give up his weapons to ransom her and that she liked the English so much that she planned to marry and star with them.

To Dale's surprise, Powhatan gave permission for the marriage, but he did not attend the ceremony, held in Jamestown on April 5, 1614. He gave his daughter a necklace of freshwater pearls; her uncle gave her away.


The newlyweds lived on a plantation on the James River between Henrico and Jamestown. The land was a gift from Powhatan. They called their plantation Varina for a variety of Spanish tobacco Rolfe grew.

After his daughter's marriage, Powhatan made peace with the English that lasted the remainder of his lifetime.

In 1615 Pocahontas and John Rolfe had a son they named Thomas. In appreciation of all the good Pocahontas had clone for the colony, the Virginia Company - a group of investors who financed colonization in Virginia - voted to give her and her son an annual stipend. The only person not pleased with this was King James, who declared that Rolfe had committed treason by marrying the daughter of a pagan king.

The following year the Virginia Company invited the Rolfes to visit England as a war to attract attention - and thus more settlers to Virginia.

On June 12, 1616, the Rolfes arrived in England, accompanied by a group of Pocahontas's relatives. Her sister's husband, Tomocomo, had been instructed by Powhatan to cut a notch in a stick for every Englishman he saw. The poor man soon gave up, seeing the multitudes in England. John Smith wrote Queen Anne, persuading her to receive Pocahontas in gratitude for all the princess had clone for Virginia. Pocahontas was also entertained by the Bishop of London, and twice had her portrait painted. The more familiar portrait shows her wearing an elaborate red and black Elizabethan costume and hat. Her coat is trimmed in gold, and lace surrounds her very fair face and hand. In the second she wears a simple skirt and embroidered blouse, her skin is tawny, and her features are more like those of a Native American. She is sitting with her arm around her son Thomas.


Everywhere the Rolfes went, Pocahontas was welcomed, feted, and praised. When Pocahontas began to suffer respiratory problems, the Rolfes left London for Brentford Inn. Here John Smith came for a very emotional visit. The two had not met for eight years, and Pocahontas had thought her captain dead. She scolded him for not sending her some word. She was now a stranger in his land as he had once been in hers, but the bonds forged years before had made them countrymen and kinsmen.

The Rolfes next visited John's family home, Heacham, so his family could meet Rolfe's wife and son. After a few weeks the Rolfes returned to the tiring London social scene and prepared to sail for Virginia. Pocahontas wanted to stay in England, despite the damp climate that kept her coughing, but Rolfe longed to be back in Virginia.

At Gravesend, while waiting for their departure to Virginia, in March 1617, Pocahontas became gravely ill and died. The cause may have been tuberculosis or smallpox. She was buried on the day of her death in the churchyard of St. George's Parish, far from her native land. She was only twenty or twenty-one years old.

The Jamestown colony might have failed without the aid of Pocahontas. Her marriage to an Englishman brought seven years of peace with the Powhatan tribe. She played a role in the future of Virginia as well, for through her son Thomas she became the ancestor of numerous descendants, including a First Lady of the United States.


Pocahontas Statue in Jamestown.... near to John Smith Statue....


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