Most kids today think Pocahantas was a cartoon character created by Disney who talked to trees, worshipped nature, and had a romance with a young man named John Smith.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Pochanatas was real. She was an Indian Princess, er Native American daughter of one of the most powerful Native American Chiefs ever to live. Pochanatas was a nickname, meaning ‘the naughty one’, her real name was Matoaka.
She was a daughter of Wahunsunacawh, known throughout Virginia as Chief or even Emperor Powhatan. He was the leading or paramount chief of all the Algonquin tribes in the English Colony. He was very powerful.
When John Smith and his band of opportunists came to America, Pocahantas was between 11 and 14 years of age. Legend has it that she saved Smith’s life when Powhatan was about to have him clubbed to death. Smith, who wrote about the incident later in life, seemed to forget about it in his early diaries. Many historians discount it, Smith was a prodigious prevaricator of epic proportions, but many claim it is true.
As to the love affair, Disney got it wrong. Smith was an old man, at least 15 years older than Pohantas, and a liason between an Englishman and the daugher of the most powerful Chief in the area would be next to impossible. Most likely, she was with the women of the tribe working in the fields, taking care of the village, and tending animals. She was hardly a pampered princess as the boys in Hollywood would have us believe.
Powhatan hated John Smith, called him a liar, and trusted him not at all.
He paganism is fact, so is the worship of nature, the belief in the Native American tales of creation and such would be true. Disney’s portrayal of Native American values’ superiority over Western European values is propaganda, and leaves the topic open for debate.
But, most importantly, Pocahantas was the first Native American on the North American continent who was coverted to Christianity.
Surprisingly enough, she converted in captivity. Pochantas was kidnapped by the Engish, and kept prisoner for over a year. The princess was taught about Christianty and learned English from the Anglican Divine, Alexander Whitaker. When she converted, she changed her name to Rebecca.
The English refused to release her when Powhatan’s ransom didn’t meet the mettle. She rebuked her own people and her father for “valuing her less than old swords and axes.” She preferred to stay with the English.
After her release, some say during her captivity, she met John Rolfe, the savior of the Virginia Colony. Rolfe developed a strain of tobacco that made Virginia rich, saved the colony from starvation, and started the economy of the American colonies. Rolfe fell in love, but was terrified that marrying a heathen would be wrong. In his petition to the colonial governor, he said he was,
“motivated not by the unbridled desire of carnal affection, but for the good of this plantation, for the honor of our country, for the Glory of God, for my own salvation… namely Pocahontas, to whom my hearty and best thoughts are, and have been a long time so entangled, and enthralled in so intricate a labyrinth that I was even a-wearied to unwind myself thereout.”
He was smitten.
They married on April 5, 1614, 397 years ago today. Some will say the marriage was forced as part of her “release” agreement.
UPon her marriage, she became Lady Rebecca in honor of the Rebecca of Genesis who was the mother of two nations, had one child, Thomas, and travelled to England with her husband. She was wined and dined and taken to theaters. Reportedly, on one occasion, she encountered John Smith in London. She was said to be so furious with him that she turned her back to him, hid her face, and went off by herself for several hours. Later, in a second encounter, she called him a liar and showed him the door.
UPon leaving for Virginia, she died in Gravesend, England of an “unknown” ailment. Some say murder by poison, others insist smallpox. Smallpox makes sense since her immune system would have been wide open for the diseases of the English court.
Rolfe returned to Virginia.
His son, Thomas, married and his descendants include First Ladies, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson and Nancy Davis Reagan.
She was real, and she is legendary.