The tale of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith is well known all over the world. The story of the native American woman, who saves the life of an English settler in Jamestown, Viriginia, still intrigues people after over 400 years.
Pocahontas was born in around 1595 as a daughter of Wahunseneca, the Chief of the Powhatans. The Powhatan had a population of about 25,000 and included over thirty tribes at that time. Women and men had seperate tasks in the Powhatan society, but both were equally important. Women were responsible for building houses, collecting water, farming, cooking and manufacturing everyting needed in and round the house. Also, they collected edible plants. Men were mainly responsible for hunting.
The English landed in Virginia in May, 1607 and called their settlement Jamestown. The new settlers and the native Powhatan didn't encounter before the winter of that year. But when Captain John Smith went on an exploration, he was captured by a hunting party of Powhatans. We don't know for sure what happened there - in Smith's first account of the event, written in 1608, he does not meet Pocahontas there, but in a letter he writes to Queen Anne in 1616, he writes that Pocathontas dramatically and selflessly saved him from being executed in a large feast. Historians suggest that the Powhatan never really wanted to execute Smith, and that he may have misunderstood what was happening to him. It is possible Smith later exaggerated the story towards Queen Anne to impress her.
Pocahontas then often visited Jamestown and provided them with food. She possibly befriended Smith, but there is no indication they had a romantic relationship. Instead, Pocahontas married a warrior named Kocoum deliberately, for women in her tribe were free to choose whom they marry. In the same year as her marriage, 1610, a war between the Powhatan and the English settlers initiated. In 1613, the war was still ongoing, Pocahontas was tricked onto an English ship, and was then captured as a ransom for the return of stolen weapons and English prisoners held by her father. Although her father immediately agreed to the English demands, they would not release his daughter. She was held captive for a year and put under the charge of Reverend Whitaker, who taught her English language, religion and customs. It was during this time that Pocahontas met widow John Rolfe and they agreed to marry in 1614. Whether she had been in love with Rolfe is unclear, since there are no written accounts by Pocahontas herself. It is possible that Powhatan consented the marriage - and thus the divorce between his daughter and Kocoum - to better his relationship with the English. Indeed, their marriage led to a "Peace of Pocahontas" and the end of the first Anglo-Powhatan War.
Pocahontas - who had christianized her name to Rebecca - and John soon got a son named Thomas. The family travelled to England in 1616, accompanied by a couple of Powhatan people. They were welcomed with open and curious arms. Pocahontas even enjoyed an event where she sat near King James I and Queen Anne. It is believed that John Smith changed the historical events of his capture and rescue to impress the Queen shortly before she would meet his "heroic saviour". The two met again in England.
In March 1617, the Rolfes returned to Virginia, but Pocahontas would never see her home country again. She fell ill shortly after departure and eventually died. Rolfe returned to Virginia, but the "Peace of Pocathontas" had already begun to unravel.