Pocahontas was most likely born in Werawocomoco (what is now Wicomico, Gloucester County, Virginia) on the north side of the Pamaunkee (York) River, around the year 1595. Her true name was Matoaka, but that name was only used within her tribe. Native Americans believed harm would come to a person if outsiders learned of their tribal name. Pocahontas was one of many daughters of a powerful chief named Powhatan, who ruled more than 25 tribes.
Pocahontas first became acquainted with the English colonists who settled in the Chesapeake Bay area in 1607. Along with her tribe, Pocahontas watched the colonists build a fort and search for food. The next year, Powhatan's brother Opechancanough captured colonist John Smith. Smith was brought to Powhatan, who decided he must die. According to an account written later by Smith, Pocahontas saved Smith's life by throwing herself down and cradling his head before he was clubbed to death.
After promising to supply Powhatan with several guns, Smith was allowed to return to Jamestown. He did not deliver the guns, but sent many other presents instead. Over the next year, Pocahontas and other tribal women visited the fort and brought food to the settlers. However, in 1609, Smith was forced to return to England after being badly burned in a gun powder accident. After his departure, relations deteriorated between the natives and settlers.
Several years later, Pocahontas was taken hostage by the colonists. She was treated kindly during her captivity and lived in the home of a minister. During this time, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and was baptized with the name Rebecca. While being held in Jamestown, Pocahontas met a distinguished colonist named John Rolfe. The two fell in love and planned to marry. The marriage was blessed by Virginia governor Sir Thomas Dale, as well as Chief Powhatan. Although the chief did not attend the wedding, he sent others in his place and a pearl necklace for his daughter.
In 1615, Rolfe and Pocahontas had their first and only child, Thomas. The following year, the family was invited to England, where Pocahontas became the center of attention of English society. Banquets and dances were given in her honor, and her portrait was painted by famous artists. Pocahontas was received with royal honor by the king and queen. While in England, Pocahontas was also reunited with her friend John Smith, whom she had believed dead.
Before returning to Virginia, Pocahontas contracted small pox. She died in England in March, 1617, at the age of 21. Pocahontas was buried in the chapel of the parish church in Gravesend, England. Rolfe returned to Virginia, where he developed a popular sweet variety of high-grade tobacco. Its export provided a way for the colonists to support themselves. Their son, Thomas, remained in England, where he was educated. He returned to the colonies at the age of 20 and became an important member of the community.
Although her life was short, is remembered for contributing to the maintenance of peace between the colonists and the natives. She remains an important part of American folk history to this day.
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