Pocahontas (1595 - March 1617), whose name, roughly translated, means “little wanton,” was the favorite daughter of Powhatan, who ruled the loose confederacy that bore his name. She is perhaps best known for her “rescue” of John Smith, an event that many scholars argue was misunderstood by Smith, or perhaps, never occurred. She was instrumental in providing food to the Jamestown colony in its earliest days. In 1613, the English abducted Pocahontas and held her hostage aboard ship in an effort to insure her father’s good behavior toward the English. During her captivity, she “converted” (there is some dispute as the sincerity of her conversion) to Christianity and was rechristened Rebecca. She subsequently married John Rolfe, a colonist who was instrumental in the economic salvation of Jamestown when he introduced a hardy, flavorful strain of tobacco.
Pocahontas bore a child by John Rolfe, one Thomas Rolfe. Pocahontas returned to England with Rolfe, where she was introduced to court. She took ill just as the Rolfes embarked to return to Virginia. She died before departure and is interred at Gravesend.
Disney eventually made a film about her, although it underwent extensive historical revisionism and promoted more left-wing values (notably, she was significantly aged up and had an illicit affair with John Smith, similar to Abigail Williams in The Crucible).
- Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown (University of Virginia Press, 2006).
- Camilla Townsend, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma (Hill & Wang, 2004).
- David A. Price, Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2003)