Pocahontas: Daughter of an Indian Chief

Portrait of Pocahontas, possibly based on Pocahontas sitting for a portrait during her stay in London.
Pocahontas and John Smith meeting each other together with their respective peoples.
John Smith.
James River, located in the area where Pocahontas and John Smith lived.
Pocahontas saving John Smith’s life by covering him with her body. The mountains and the teepees are unrealistic of the area where the event is said to have taken place.
Pocahontas and John Rolfe, the Englishman whom Pocahontas married.

Pocahontas was a real person, not only a character in a Disney movie. She was the daughter of an Indian chief and lived around Jamestown on the American east coast at the time England set up a colony there. Although young, Pocahontas was a trusted advisor to her father, the chief, and judging from the great amount of time she was allowed to spend with her father, it is possible that he groomed her for a future role as leader of his Powhatan tribe.

Advising her father

The Powhatan Indians and the newly-arrived English colonists in Jamestown soon came into conflict with each other. To calm things down, Pocahontas urged her father to choose a path of peace and try to understand the English, but the sporadic clashes continued.

At one point during the fighting, an English colonist, John Smith, was captured by the Indians. According to a letter Smith later wrote, when he was about to be executed by the Powhatans, Pocahontas intervened and stood in the way. This gesture by Pocahontas, according to Smith, made her father decide to spare his life.

A relationship with John Smith

Having escaped death and eventually been released from capture, John Smith joined a group of Englishmen back in Jamestown who were suffering from starvation. Here he also met with Pocahontas, who compassionately were bringing food to the starving Englishmen. Through the young Indian’s regular visits to the colonists’ camp, Pocahontas and John Smith then forged a bond.

The relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith, though unlikely as passionate as in Disney’s love story, helped in creating peaceful relations between the Powhatan Indians and the English. However, the peace only lasted for a while. When Smith subsequently got severely injured and sailed back to England, Pocahontas stopped visiting the colonists, and relations between the Indians and the English deteriorated.

At this point, conflict flared up again, and during these clashes, Pocahontas was kidnapped by Englishmen. Held captive, she was now forced to live with the colonists, and over time learned to speak English. She also got married to an Englishman, though not to John Smith, since he remained in England.

Travelling to England

By the time Pocahontas was living with the English as a married woman, information about her role in saving John Smith from execution and aiding the starving colonists in Jamestown reached London. Here, the English king and queen wanted to meet the helpful Indian, and Pocahontas boarded a ship for England. Once ashore, the royals invited her to see a musical, and Pocahontas’ charming ways made her famous as the savage who had turned into a well-mannered English lady.

An unexpected encounter

Pocahontas, while ok with being labelled well-mannered, took offense to being thought of as a former savage, and maintained that it was the English, not the Indians, who behaved uncivilised. This conviction of hers grew even stronger when she, during her stay in England, unexpectedly encountered John Smith again — a man the colonists had told her was dead. At first seeing Smith, Pocahontas could not utter a word to him, but she soon gathered her composure and told him how disappointed she was that he had never contacted her or the Powhatan tribe after his departure from the colony. His inaction, she asserted, had jeopardized the fragile peace that had existed between their two peoples, since the peace partly had relied on the bond between Pocahontas and John Smith.

Feeling betrayed, Pocahontas did not recovered any feelings for Smith. Instead, she made plans to go back to North America, but as it turned out, she never got to see her homeland again. The reason for this was that Pocahontas, while still in England, fell seriously ill and died. She had not even turned twenty-three years old.