Above (left): An Anglicized portrait of Pocahontas etched in
England one year before her death. Although Simon Van
de Passe portrayed her as a European, Pocahontas was a
full-blooded 17th century Powhatan Algonquian young
woman. An Indian woman of high status had facial tattoos.
Above (right): 1585 watercolor paintings depicted
full lips, tan to brown skin coloring, dark hair and
eyes, as well as facial and body tattooing.
Above (right): Close-ups of Algonquian females painted by John White ten years before Pocahontas' birth. White
accompanied an English expedition in 1585 to an area similar to Powhatan's territory. These more accurate
watercolor studies show true Powhatan Indian coloring and facial features, including traditional female tattoos, that
may be closer in reality to Pocahontas' actual appearance and ethnicity. The de Passe engraving of a more
"acceptable" image of Pocahontas was a form of propaganda, like the selling of "Virginia Territory" land acquisition
GIVEN POWHATAN NAMES: Amonute (no known meaning); Matoaka ("Bright Stream Between the Hills);
and Pocahontas ("Little Playful One")
ENGLISH BAPTISMAL NAME: Rebecca (a Judeo-Christian name). She was sometimes called "Lady Rebecca".
MARRIAGES: (1) To Kocoum (a Powhatan man) in 1610, when she was at the childbearing age of 15 years old.
It was customary to be married at that age. The early English chronicles made no mention of children from
her three year marriage to her Powhatan husband. The existence of her Indian children may have been
intentionally deleted from the "official record" by the English for propaganda purposes.
(2) Her second marriage was to John Rolfe, an English widower, in 1614. She was possibly still married
to Kocoum at the time she was a kidnap victim in English custody. There was no historical mention of a
divorce from Kocoum. John Rolfe and Pocahontas had one child (Thomas).
Pocahontas (her original name was Matoaka) lived from 1595(?) to 1617. She was reputed to be the favorite
daughter of the paramount chief Powhatan, the leader of the 32 Indian nation alliance called the "Powhatan
Confederacy" by 17th century English colonists in "The New World" of Virginia (called "Tsenacommacah" by the
indigenous native-born community). Primary historic information about Pocahontas comes from colonial-era English
sources, when Englishmen wrote about her in spare passing remarks. The exception to the scarcity of information
about her can be found in the writings of the adventurer John Smith, who initially referred to her in his first report to
his employers at the Virginia Company of London (a capitalist venture company, that hoped to export marketable
goods from Virginia to Europe, in addition to acquiring land from the Indians). John Smith wrote a more detailed
history of a young Pocahontas, which emphasized the key role she played in preventing his execution on the orders
of her father Powhatan, and her subsequent help to feed and protect the English at James Fort (the original name of
the 1607 Jamestown Settlement). His accounts of the level of her influence with her father may be exaggerated.
Pocahontas appeared as John Smith's "savior" in a 1624 account written after her death. (The story of his being
rescued "by a fair lady" was repeated by Smith on other occasions in later works. Smith's rescuers were generally
ladies of high social rank who ignored his lowly social standing in their rush to save him.) Smith's accounts of
Pocahontas chronicled key events of her life during her adolescence, when she was perceived to be friendly towards
the English settlers. (Most indigenous Americans think that Pocahontas represented "the icon for assimilation".)
When Pocahontas reached a marriageable age, she wed a young Indian named Kocoum. (Around 1610).
In 1613, Pocahontas was kidnapped by the English while she was visiting the Patawomecks. Her capture was made
possible by a lesser chief named Japazaws, who conspired with Samuel Argall (the captain of the ship she was
captured on). Pocahontas was baptized into the Christian religion during her captivity, and given the new name of
"Rebecca" (in the Bible, Rebecca was the wife of Isaac, who left her own people to go to her husband's tribe).
In 1614, Pocahontas was married to an English widower named John Rolfe.
In 1615, "Lady Rebecca Rolfe" gave birth to a son. He was named "Thomas".
In 1616, the local Virginia Company of London employed Pocahontas to set sail for England, to work as a hired
"celebrity" (in an attempt to raise badly needed funds for the capitalist venture that was the foundation of the newly
formed colony in Virginia). She was a real hit in London, where she was presented at court as royalty from "The New
World". The propaganda trip was a great success for the Virginia Company. Pocahontas met John Smith in England.
Although Pocahontas' trip to England was advantageous for the Virginia Company, the venture cost her life.
In 1617, Pocahontas died in Gravesend, England, where she was taken ashore during her trip to return home. Since
her death, Pocahontas has been lauded in innumerable creative works that pay homage to her as "the Mother of
American History". St. George's Church of England, where she is buried, has become a shrine to Pocahontas.
Patron Saint of Colonial
This is an excerpt from a 2002 undergraduate thesis on
the Eugenics Movement, Racial Integrity and these
influences on the people from the historic Powhatan
Confederacy, by Kiros Anthony Boston Auld.
It is the first definitive examination of Pocahontas written
by a Powhatan Native American descendant.
Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, is undeniably
among the pantheon of Native American men and women
who enabled the colonization of the Americas by
Kiros Auld, a Pamunkey,
Tauxenent and Taino
from the School of Law,
Howard University in
2008. The law school
was founded in 1869 by
John Mercer Langston
whose mother was also
1. Hamor, Ralph. A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia (1617), (Richmond: Virginia State
Library), Pg 3.
2. Wingfield, Edward. Discourse in The Jamestown Voyages Under the First Charter(1608), 2d ser.,
vol. 136, Pg 213-234 ed. Barbour, Phillip. (Cambridge: The Hakluyt Society, 1969), Pg 215.
3. Ibid., Pg 216.
4. Smith, John. The Generall Histo[y of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, 1624, in The
Comi)lete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), vol. 2, ed. Barbour, Phillip (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1986), Pg 151.
5. Ibid., Pg 57.
6. Hamor, Ralph. A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia (11617), Pg 4-5.
7. Ibid., Pg 6.
8. Ibid., Pg 7-11 & 52-53.
9. Smith, John. The Generall History of Virginia, New Enaland, and the Summer Isles (1624), Pg 8.
10. Ibid, Pg 71.
11. Hamor, Ralph. A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia (11617) Pg 11.
12. Ibid, Pg 10.
13. Ibid, Pg 11 & Rolfe, John. "Petition of John Rolfe for Permission to Marry Pocahontas"
14. Rountree, Helen C. Pocahontas's Peogle. (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press),
15. Smith, John. The Generall History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles (1624),
16. Whitaker, Alexander. "To my verie deere and loving Cosen M. G. Minister of the B. F. in London,"
in Ralph Hamor, A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia (1617), (Richmond: Virginia State
Library), Pg 59-61.
17. Rountree, Helen C. Pocahontas's People Pg 60.
18. Hamor, Ralph. A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia (1617) Pg 24.
19. Ibid, Pg 24.
20. Rountree, Helen C. Pocahontas's People Pg 63.
21. Virginia Company of London, "A Declaration for the certaine time of dravving the great Trading
22. Facsimile of the Entry of the Death of Pocahontas, in the Parish Register of St. George's Church
23. Smith, John. The Generall History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles (1624), Pg
European powers. She joins the ranks of Doña Marina and Squanto; the former served as a guide and translator
for Cortés, the latter taught the Pilgrims to raise corn and served as their emissary. The lives and deaths of such
individuals were noteworthy, as the role they played was pivotal in determining the course of colonization in the
Americas. One may argue that the colonization of the area that came to be known as Virginia would not have been
as successful for the British without Pocahontas. Unlike the Spanish, who came with armies of conquistadors and
priests, the English resorted to diplomatic relations until they could secure reinforcements from their densely
populated motherland. In the most extreme sense, stalling tactics included the kidnapping and ransoming of
Pocahontas on April 13, 1613. [1.]
Since its inception, Virginia was a struggling colony. In 1607, the English established Jamestown on a poorly
chosen site that was low, marshy, and malarial. In addition to a poor location, the colonists were ill equipped for
rudimentary survival. Most of them were too busy looking for gold and other precious metals to plant crops and dig
wells. In the early years, July and August were known as the starving time. In the summer of 1608, the Indian corn
crop came in late, and the English were low on provisions. Having consumed the last of their wine, the English
resorted to drinking the brackish water of the James River, which lead to numerous cases of typhoid, dysentery,
and salt poisoning. The situation was so desperate that some colonists ran away to the Indian towns.[2.] At such
junctures, it was the Indians who fed the colonists, thus reasserting the dominance of the former in the region. [3.]
Pocahontas made her first appearance (in a documented source) through the logs of Captain John Smith. During
his later years, Captain Smith wrote that on December 10, 1607, she saved his life from an execution ordered by
Powhatan. [4.] One should note that this event was not included in his earlier account, wherein Smith promised to
serve as one of Powhatan's vassals. [5.] This (albeit debatable) first appearance of Pocahontas features her
unknowingly serving the interest of British colonists, thus beginning her career as a colonial tool. The veracity of
this account has little bearing on its effect, for it produces the impression that the individual in question,
Pocahontas, would be willing to sacrifice herself for one who heralded the downfall of her people. The next
development involving Pocahontas changed the balance of power in Virginia to the favor of the British.
The kidnapping of Pocahontas occurred on April 13, 1613, at the hands of Captain Samuel Argall and with the
assistance of a Patawomeck couple. According to the written testimony of Ralph Hamor, this couple was
responsible for keeping Pocahontas occupied, while luring her to the captain's ship. After successfully coaxing her
aboard, Argall paid the couple with an iron kettle, and disembarked for English territory. Argall sent Powhatan a
message from Patawomeck, reporting her kidnapping and stating the terms of ransom. [6.] From this moment
forward, the British used Pocahontas as a political prisoner. Powhatan paid part of the ransom and pledged the
rest with the return of Pocahontas. The account of Ralph Hamor, one of the colonists present, portrayed an
increasingly pensive Powhatan. Hamor reports that the ability of Powhatan to run his office was hindered as a
direct result and that there were three months of silence between Powhatan and the British. [7.]
The British responded to Powhatan's indecisiveness with even greater demands, insisting that Pocahontas would
be returned only after Powhatan surrendered all English arms, tools, swords, deserters, and a ship full of corn as
compensation. Governor Dale, emboldened by Powhatan's indecision, committed yet another audacious act
during March of the following year. With a hundred and fifty men and Pocahontas in-tow, Governor Dale sailed
up-river into the seat of authority of the Powhatan Confederacy. Powhatan was unable to attend to the
proceedings with Dale, so his brother Opechancanough took charge. Dale made a series of demands and
sailed-down the river unmolested by the overwhelming number of warriors awaiting the command of their
superiors. The key factor in surviving the ensuing struggles was again, the use of Pocahontas as a hostage. it was
through negotiation with Opechancanough that the resolution of the hostage situation was delayed. [8.]
One could easily charge Powhatan with deliberately putting Pocahontas in harm's way by allowing her to act as an
intermediary. However, such an argument ignores the likelihood that this was a fulfillment of her duty as the chief's
daughter, and Powhatan may not have anticipated such treachery from a promising partner in trade. John Smith
appreciated the importance of learning enough of the local language to carry on trade and diplomacy. Smith
followed standard practice in leaving English boys, sent to Virginia as servants, with various local communities to
learn their languages and customs. Apparently, Pocahontas served in a similar capacity as a child. She often
accompanied her father's emissaries when they sent the English food and was given exposure to their
language.[9.] However, Powhatan did not use her when he was on poor terms with the English. He removed his
daughter from contact with the English from childhood into puberty. Pocahontas' kidnapping was not the direct
result of her exposure to the English by Powhatan. John Smith testified to this fact, as he states that she was found
and kidnapped by an English trading ship in 1613. [10.] During the period leading to her abduction, Pocahontas
did not serve the capacity of intermediary, and was not intentionally being placed in any precarious situations.
Continuing to argue that Powhatan remains at fault for the kidnapping of his daughter would only serve to blame
the victims of a crime perpetrated by the English, with the assistance of a few Patawomeck opportunists.
Immediately following this impasse, John Rolfe made a proposition to Governor Dale, and requested permission for
the hand of Pocahontas in marriage. At this time, Pocahontas was in her teens (around sixteen or seventeen by
some accounts) and Rolfe was a widower with a child, so the marriage was more political than one based on love
or physical attraction. The insight provided by Hamor about his comrade's marriage confirms the aforementioned
notion, as it is referred to as a "pretended marriage." [11.] Yet, such behavior contradicts Hamor's previous
assertion that John Rolfe was "a gentleman of approved behavior and honest carriage." [12.] John Rolfe's own
words seem more ironic than those of Hamor, as the former invokes the divine while entering a holy union for
material purposes. Both men agree that the union was for the explicit purpose of ensuring "the good of the
Plantation." [13.] These sentiments and statements may seem contradictory to contemporary notions of marriage;
however, they were in keeping with the institution of marriage within English society. At this time in England, women
were often required to prove to men that they could bear children by becoming pregnant before the wedding. In a
population that consisted of more women than men, the competition for well-to-do husbands was considerable.
Marriage based on love and physical attraction between both partners is a relatively recent phenomenon.
According to Smith, Rolfe was not the first English colonist with the idea of marrying Pocahontas to secure better
relations with Powhatan. Smith cites her as having provided the English with provisions at their fort in Jamestown,
against her father's wishes. Some scholars believe that this "rebellious nature" was nothing more than a
fabrication of Smith's but let us entertain it here, as it is secondary to the matter at hand. [14.] This is among the
few times that she was vulnerable to the whims of the English, and at her own accord, no less. During this time, it
was said that some colonist could "have made himself a king, by marrying Pocahontas". [15.] After dispelling any
notion of being that "lucky colonist", Smith disregarded the possibility of attaining such high status through
marrying Pocahontas. He also believed that her father held neither Smith nor any of the English in such high
regard. This assumption was demonstrated to be true with her actual marriage to John Rolfe. The holy union also
went unrecognized by the Virginia Indians during Opechancanough's revolt in 1622, as Rolfe was among the
The marriage of John Rolfe to Pocahontas and her baptism signaled the beginning of her acculturation, making
her a "right-thinking savage." Besides Pocahontas' baptism and concomitant acceptance of Christianity, she
became further Anglicized when she was christened "Lady Rebecca". As is ever the case, acculturation is not
tantamount to assimilation. Pocahontas was not accepted by the colonists in the same manner an Englishwoman
would have been. One indication of this was the fact that her Indian name was often used in favor of the one given
at her christening. The memoirs of her English contemporaries are proof of this fact. Interestingly, Pocahontas was
either already set to marry or married to a warrior named Kocoum at the time of her capture. If the latter were true,
she would be the first documented female Virginia Indian bigamist. However, such a thing would be immaterial to
Christians of that (or any) time, as pagan marriages were annulled upon baptism. This cultural imperialism was
implicit in Christian doctrine, and the English.
Reverend Alexander Whitaker's judgment of the marriage and conversion of Pocahontas is characteristically
culturally imperialistic. There is no mention made of the class differences that exist in the marriage, nor of the
racial difference. Whitaker assumes the persona of a "man of God," albeit an English one, lauding Pocahontas'
renouncing of "her country Idolatry" and confessing the faith of Jesus Christ. [16.] Here, the missionary impulse
takes precedence over all others. His judgment may be representative of the Anglican Church, which would later
exhibit the same intolerance towards interracial marriages between Europeans and Africans in the Virginia Colony.
One could interpret this marriage as the beginning of the whitening process of the indigenous people of Virginia,
which continues unabated today. Technically, Pocahontas was not the first Virginia Indian to engage in
miscegenation with whites. There had been a number of non-recognized liaisons between the English and Virginia
Indians since 1607. [17.] However, paralleling Pocahontas with Doña Marina assumes a role of particular
significance here, in that both are also well-known for being among the first mothers of American Indian-European
hybrids, at least in their respective regions. Other contemporary accounts echo the sentiment of Whitaker.
Hamor was less accommodating to the marriage than some of his peers. His description of the union, even though
it was one sanctioned by God, is "one of rude education, manners barbarous and cursed generation, meerely for
the good and honour of the Plantation."  Such bitter testimony speaks of the precedence which race took over
class in colonial Virginian society, serving as a model for later generations. The fact that Rolfe is a commoner
married to a princess seems less of an issue in the colonies than in the mother country. That a British commoner
is able to marry an "Indian princess" devalues the importance of the latter, in favor of the former. This marriage is
an example of a colonial class and racial dynamic, possibly enabled by the frontier mentality. It may be construed
as one of the precursors to feelings of white superiority among the poor white masses-- which those among the
elite of a nonwhite society are on the same level as the average white male.
Developments in the Virginia colony
On June 18, 1614, a letter addressed to a cousin and fellow clergyman by Whittaker reported that the colony was
stable. Besides having been able to expand despite opposition from Native Americans, the Virginia Company
began to develop a cash crop in the form of tobacco. According to Hamor, the marriage between Pocahontas and
John Rolfe served an especially useful function, as Rebecca taught her husband the Powhatan method of curing
tobacco. It was this factor that allowed Virginia tobacco to compete successfully in the European market. Tobacco
emerged as a cash crop, strengthening the economy of the colony, thus strengthening the colony itself and luring
more Englishmen to try their luck in Virginia. [19.]
Up to this point, the Virginia colony had not suffered any significant attack from the Powhatan Confederacy. The
use of Pocahontas as a political tool ensured that this trend would continue until Powhatan's death. Until then, it
was in the interests of the colonists to increase their physical presence in the region. The most appealing option
was to secure indentured servants from England, many of whom would not live to complete their terms of service
and collect their share of property. Until 1630, anyone had a good chance of becoming affluent. The headright
system granted masters fifty acres for every servant and the colony was still expanding. This was not the only
method of motivating potential colonists, as the Virginia Company had secured the perfect spokesperson in
In June, 1616, the Rolfes arrived in London, where Pocahontas became an icon. She was the embodiment of the
"right-thinking savage"; one who had renounced heathenism, embraced Christianity, worked for the good of the
colony, and supported the Virginia Company. Pocahontas was put on display by the Virginia Company of London
and introduced into high society. [20.] In addition to attending social occasions such as dinners and plays,
Pocahontas took part in a lottery sponsored by the Virginia Company of London. Every winning ticket allowed for
the allotment of one hundred acres for each £12 (pounds), 10[s.] (shillings), 5[d.] ("pence" or pennies) per share
purchased. [21.] This level of participation is greater than most historians acknowledge. Pocahontas' active
participation in the selling of her homeland amounts to a treasonous act against her people-- one that transformed
her icon, into a willing actor in the colonization of Virginia.
One may argue that the English would have still succeeded in colonizing Virginia without using Pocahontas, but
that argument is immaterial, as reality points in the other direction. The kidnapping of Pocahontas did take place
and Powhatan's ability to govern his people was hampered as a direct result. Such a turn of events could have
even triggered an uprising on an equal or greater level as that of Opechanough's revolt of 1622.
Records show that Pocahontas died March 21, 1617 as "Rebecca Wroth, wyffe of Thomas Wroth, gent", and was
buried in Gravesend, England. [22.] If the reckoning of John Smith was accurate, she was around the age of
twenty-two or twenty three at this time. [23.] Pocahontas' burial in Gravesend, England also serves to make her
ownership by the British that much more complete. Although the great London fire of 1666 destroyed all traces
leading to the exact location of Pocahontas' grave in the St. George's Church cemetery, her fame attracts the
revenue of travelers from around the globe. In life, Rebecca Rolfe embodied the ideal that was the "right-thinking
savage" and in death, became what many people deem to be a "good Indian". St. George's Church and the town
of Gravesend profit from the tourism and fame brought to them by Pocahontas' grave. In some capacity, she
continues to serve the purposes of the British, their descendants in Virginia, and those who came later. The
better-known descendants of the union between Pocahontas and John Rolfe are among Virginia's First Families.
This is a privileged group within Virginia whose role features prominently in politics, particularly in the state's
determination of who is a member of the white race.
of Indigenous Arts and Culture
Copyrighted 2007 by Auld/Powhatan