Pocahontas Biography

Pocahontas was a Native American famous for her association with English colonists during their first years in Virginia. This biography of Pocahontas provides detailed information about her childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Born: 1595

Nationality: American

Famous: Quotes By Pocahontas Native Americans

Died At Age: 22

Also Known As: Matoaka, Matoika, Amonute, Rebecca Rolfe

Born in: Werowocomoco

Famous as: Native American

Spouse/Ex-: John Rolfe

father: Chief Powhatan

children: Thomas Rolfe

Died on: March 1617

place of death: Gravesend

Cause of Death: Tuberculosis

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Pocahontas was a Native American famous for her association with English colonists during their first years in Virginia. She assisted the colonists in establishing the settlement and also played a major role in mediating peaceful relations between the English settlers and her own tribesmen, the Powhatan Native Americans. A very famous anecdote has it that Pocahontas, as a little girl, had saved the life of the Englishman John Smith who was captured and about to be executed by her father, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribal nations in the Tsenacommacah. Some historians, however, have suggested that this story, as told by Smith, is untrue. Nonetheless, Smith and Pocahontas became good friends and she provided the Englishmen with food and other necessities when they were near starvation. However the relationship between the Native Americans and the Englishmen soured after Smith left for England. Some Englishmen captured Pocahontas and demanded hefty ransoms from her father in return for her liberation. During the period of her captivity, she met an Englishman, the tobacco planter John Rolfe who proposed marriage to her. She agreed to marry him and bore him one child. This marriage helped to pacify the hostile relations between the natives and the colonists for a while.

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Pocahontas
Childhood & Early Life
  • The details regarding Pocahontas’ early life are obscure; even the year of her birth is not certain though some historians estimate it to have been around 1596. She was the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of the Pamunkeys, a tribe that inhabited the area around the Chesapeake Bay. The identity of her mother is not known as her father had multiple wives as was the custom in their tribe.
  • She was named Matoaka at birth. In her community—the Powhatan Native Americans—people were often given multiple names. In addition to Matoaka, she was also given the names of Amonute and Pocahontas, the name by which she became famous.
  • It is believed that she had a childhood that was typical for the girls of her tribe. She probably received training in whatever was considered to be women’s work, including foraging for food and firewood, and farming.
  • She was one of the favorite children of her father who completely doted on her. The colonist Captain Ralph Hamor noted that she was her father’s "delight and darling”, though by no means in line to inherit his position as a chief.
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Association with the English Colonists
  • In April 1607, English colonist Captain John Smith arrived in Virginia with around a hundred other settlers. Over the following months the English had several encounters with the Natives and during one such encounter in December the same year, Smith was captured by a hunting party led by Powhatan's younger brother (or close relative) Opechancanough and brought to Powhatan's capital at Werowocomoco.
  • According to Smith’s account of his experiences during his captivity, he was ordered to be executed by the chief. But just moments before his execution, the young girl, Pocahontas, interfered and saved his life. Smith’s claims regarding this incident are heavily doubted by the historians.
  • Nonetheless, Smith escaped alive from his captivity and formed a friendship with Pocahontas who helped the English settlers by bringing them food and other supplies. In 1609, Smith suffered grievous injuries from a gunpowder explosion and returned to England for medical care. Pocahontas was then informed by the English that Smith was dead.
  • The First Anglo-Powhatan War, a conflict between the English settlers at Jamestown and the Native Americans began late in the summer of 1609, and intensified over the next few years. In 1613, Captain Samuel Argall treacherously invited Pocahontas to visit his ship Treasurer, and captured her.
  • Pocahontas was taken a captive to Jamestown. The English settlers demanded a hefty ransom from her father—corn, the return of English prisoners captured by the natives, and a peace treaty. Her concerned father sent a part of the ransom and requested that his daughter be treated well.
  • She was kept in captivity for a year. Some accounts state that Pocahontas was treated very respectfully by her captors while some others suggest that she was mistreated and raped.
  • Englishman Thomas Dale, accompanied by 150 armed men, took Pocahontas to her father demanding the remainder of the ransom. She was allowed to talk to her father during this meeting, and according to some English sources, Pocahontas told her family that she preferred to marry an Englishman and remain with the English rather than returning home.
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Major Work
  • Pocahontas is said to have played a major role in saving English colonist John Smith from execution at the hands of her father according to Smith’s own accounts. However, there are several inaccuracies in Smith’s writings and historians have long debated upon his claims. Nonetheless, the anecdote of her having risked her own life to save Smith made her famous among the English.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • Pocahontas married a Pamunkey man named Kocoum, and they settled in the Potomac region in 1610. This marriage was probably dissolved when she was abducted by the English.
  • She spent a year with the English following her abduction in 1613. During this time, a minister named Alexander Whitaker instructed Pocahontas in Christianity, and helped her to improve her English through reading the Bible. She was also baptized with a new, Christian name: Rebecca.
  • During her captivity, Pocahontas became acquainted with John Rolfe, a tobacco farmer who proposed marriage to her. She agreed and the couple was married on 5 April 1614. Their marriage created a climate of peace between the English colonists and Powhatan's tribes for several years. The couple had a son called Thomas.
  • Pocahontas and her husband travelled to England after the birth of their son. There she met King James I and the royal family, and also her old friend John Smith who she believed to be dead. After spending several months in England, the couple boarded a ship in March 1617 to return to Virginia. Abroad the ship, Pocahontas fell seriously ill and was taken ashore where she died.
  • Her memory is honored with a life-size bronze statue at St. George's Church by William Ordway Partridge. Numerous places and landmarks were named after Pocahontas, and several films about her were also made.
  • She has many descendants through her son Thomas, including members of the First Families of Virginia.
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How To Cite

Article Title
- Pocahontas Biography
Author
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
Website
- TheFamousPeople.com
URL
https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/pocahontas-6665.php
Last Updated
- July 26, 2017

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