Pocahontas and John Rolfe

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Pocahontas portrait
English portrait of Pocahontas

Relations with the Algonquians continued to be rocky.

Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas became an important pawn in this conflict. She had married an Indian named Kocoum in 1610 and lived in Potomac territory. When a Captain Samuel Argall learned where she was, he saw an opportunity and decided to kidnap her and hold her for ransom. She was betrayed by two Indians for a copper kettle and lured onto Argall's ship on the Potomac River.

More Information

Pocahontas: The Life and the Legend
by Frances Mossiker


 the true story behind the legend

When it became apparent to her that she was a prisoner, she became very unhappy, but according to sources, she eventually became accustomed to her captivity. Of course history does not record her exact feelings in the matter.

Argall sent word to Powhatan that he would return his favorite daughter only when the chief had returned to him the English prisoners he held, some weapons that the Indians had stolen, and some corn. Eventually Powhatan sent part of the ransom and asked that they treat his daughter well.

Argall took Pocahontas back to Jamestown in April of 1613. She was a valuable hostage for the settlement. Later they moved her to a new English settlement, Henrico, under the leadership of Sir Thomas Dale. He had her instructed her in Christianity, and here she met a tobacco planter named John Rolfe. in July 1613 she was given some degree of freedom within the settlement. After almost a year of captivity, Dale finally returned her to her father. He brought 150 armed men into Powhatan’s territory to get the entire ransom from the chief. The Algonquians attacked the party, and in retaliation, the Englishmen destroyed villages, burning many houses, and killing several men. Pocahontas went ashore where she met with two of her brothers. She told them that she had been treated well and that she wanted to marry John Rolfe to ensure peace for her people. The bargain was made.

The prospective bridegroom was not enthusiastic. He would not consider marriage to Pocahontas until she converted to Christianity and even then had grave doubts. However, in some personal turmoil about his relationship with her, he agreed to the marriage. He wrote a long letter to Governor Dale asking for permission to marry her. "It is Pocahontas," he wrote, "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 (could not) unwind myself thereout." He married her "for the good of the plantation, the honor of our country, for the glory of God, for mine own salvation." Pocahontas accepted baptism, took the Christian name of Rebecca, and married Rolfe on April 5, 1614. The marriage helped to keep the peace between the Algonquians and the settlers.

In the spring of 1616, Sir Thomas Dale sailed back to London to secure more funding from the Virginia Company. He took a dozen Algonquin men. Pocahontas also made the voyage with her husband and their young son, Thomas. The arrival of Pocahontas in London was well publicized and she became a celebrity. She was presented to King James I, the royal family, and London society. Here she met again Captain John Smith, whom she had not seen for eight years.

According to Smith's rather melodramatic account of their final meeting, when they met she was at first too overcome with emotion to speak. After composing herself, they spoke about Jamestown and their experiences there. At one point she addressed him as "father," and when he objected, she said: "Were you not afraid to come into my father's Countrie, and caused feare in him and all of his people and feare you here I should call you father: I tell you I will, and you shall call mee childe, and so I will be for ever and ever your Countrieman." (John Smith, Captain John Smith's Generall Historie of Virginia)

Seven months later, Rolfe set sail for Virginia with his wife and child. Pocahontas became seriously ill (pneumonia or tuberculosis) after they sailed. They took her ashore, and as she lay dying, she consoled Rolfe, with "...all must die. 'Tis enough that the child liveth." She died at the age of 22, and was buried in Gravesend, England far from her home.

Pocahontas, HistoryMaker

Part of The Virginia English Colony at Jamestown exhibit

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