Native American princess. Born around 1595 near Jamestown, Virginia. Pocahontas was the daughter of chief Powhatan. She is famous for helping English settlers in the Jamestown Colony (now part of Virginia) and for her marriage to Englishman John Rolfe, which is considered to be the first mixed marriage in the United States.
Pocahontas first met the colonists in 1607. She was known for her pleasant, warm personality—her name means “playful one.” There are many stories about how she saved the life of John Smith, even one told by Smith himself. It has been said after Smith was captured by her father that Pocahontas asked him to spare Smith’s life. Still historians question whether that really happened with some of them wondering if there was some type of cultural misunderstanding. No matter what the case, Smith was released.
Pocahontas and Smith developed a friendship. This may have motivated her to give food to the colonists and to warn them of an upcoming attack. When Smith left Jamestown in 1609, Pocahontas ended her support of the colonists.
Sometime after, Pocahontas was taken prisoner by Sir Samuel Argall. Argall hoped to use Pocahontas as a bargaining chip with her father Powhatan in effort to get English prisoners returned. During her captivity, she decided to become a Christian, taking the name “Rebecca” when she was baptized in 1612. A year later, she married John Rolfe. The couple had a son named Thomas in 1614.
John Rolfe brought Pocahontas, their son Thomas, and several other Native Americans to England in 1616. Pocahontas received a warm welcome and attended several social functions. It was thought that her visit to England was done in part to encourage new investment and settlers for the colony of Virginia. In England, she was seen as an example of how the Native Americans could learn to adopt English ways.
Returning to Virginia in 1617, Pocahontas became ill soon after the ship left port. The ship stopped in Gravesend, England, and she died not long after. She was buried on March 21. Over the years the story of Pocahontas has become the focus of numerous books and films. One of the most recent portrayals of her life was the 2005 film The New World.