Pocahontas was born in 1595 in Virginia. Her father was the Powhatan leader. Her formal names were Matoaka and Amonute. The name Pocahontas was given to her as a nickname meaning playful frolicsome girl.
In May 1607, English colonists arrived and started to build their settlements in Virginia. Their leader was John Smith. Smith was later captured by the Powhatan people. He was sent to one of their chief villages to be executed. Smith was lain on top of a large stone to be beaten with clubs, but Pocahontas laid on top of him; a statement of “If you are going to kill him, you will have to kill me as well.” This act granted Pocahontas much respect in the English community.
A friendly relationship was established between the Powhatans and the Jamestown Colony. Pocahontas frequently visited the colony to bring food. The colonists expanded their territory, which threatened the Powhatans. The tribe devised a plan to kill the colonists while they ate. Pocahontas warned John Smith, and the colonists kept their weapons at their sides while eating. No attack came from the Powhatans.
In 1609, John Smith was forced to return to England due to an injury from a gunpowder explosion. The English told the Powhatans that he had been captured by French pirates and killed.
Pocahontas moved to live with the Patawomecks, a tribe that traded with the Powhatans. When English colonists who traded with the Patawomecks learned that Pocahontas was with them, they tricked her into captivity. The colonists held her for the ransom of English prisoners held by Chief Powhatan and various weapons he had stolen. Few weapons were returned, and the colonists continued to hold Pocahontas in captivity.
During the year that Pocahontas lived in captivity, an English minister named Alexander Whitaker taught her about Christianity. This also helped to improve her English. Pocahontas was later baptized, and she took the name Rebecca.
By March 1614, the standoff between the colonists and the Powhatans became violent, hundreds of English and Powhatan men fought on the Pamunkey River. The English then permitted Pocahontas to speak to her countrymen in the Powhatan town of Matchcot. However, Pocahontas stated that she would rather live with the English, because her father valued her “less than old swords, pieces, or axes.” Later on, Pocahontas met John Rolfe, an English-born plantation owner. Rolfe then wrote a letter to the Governor requesting permission to marry her. They were married on April 5, 1614, and Pocahontas was then christened Lady Rebecca. The couple lived together on Rolfe’s plantation and had a son named Thomas Rolfe. In June 1616, the Rolfes traveled to England and lived there until March 1617. At this time Rolfe and Pocahontas boarded a ship to return to Virginia. On the ship, Pocahontas became fatally ill. The true nature of her illness is unknown. She was taken ashore, and died. Her funeral was held on March 12, 1617. The location of her grave is unknown, but a life-sized bronze statue was placed at St. George’s Church to record her memory.
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