Pocahontas was born in 1595 in Werowocomoco (Eastern Virginia) to the powerful tribal leader Powhatan. She was one of as many as one hundred children. Pocahontas, however, was said to be Powhatan’s favorite. Powhatan was the chief of the Algonquian Indians in the Virginia area. Pocahontas’s real name was Matoaka.
In April of 1607 the first group of English settlers arrived in Virginia and founded the colony of Jamestown. Life was difficult for the settlers. Pocahontas watched as the settlers struggled to find food, build shelter, and survive. As winter set in Pocahontas made several visits to Jamestown bringing the colonists much needed supplies.
During her visits to Jamestown she met Captain John Smith whom she taught the Powhatan’s language and tradition. Pocahontas took an immediate liking to Captain Smith, and some accounts claim that she saved him from execution. Other accounts assert that Smith was captured by the Algonquian Indians and was to be executed, or, that a false execution was a ceremony to adopt him into the tribe. The Powhatans admired John Smith and believed him to be a powerful magician. Pocahontas went back and forth delivering messages from her father and keeping trade between the Indians and the settlers open. Powhatan, however, eventually demanded that the settlers bring him guns in exchange for food and supplies, but John Smith refused. Slowly, relations between the two groups broke down. The Jamestown settlement continued to suffer from corruption, laziness, disease, and poor management. In October of 1609, John Smith was badly injured by a gunpowder explosion. After his injury, and repeated attempts by the Indians and the settlers to kill him, John Smith returned to England. After his departure, and several changes in leadership, the Powahatan Indians moved in on the settlers.
Powhatan ordered several settlers to be killed and Pocahontas was sent to live with the Patawomeke tribe. In response, Captain Samuel Argall devised a scheme to kidnap Pocahontas. With the help of Japizaws and his wife, and two Patawomeke Indians, Argall lured Pocahontas onto a ship headed for Jamestown. The ship promptly set sail and Pocahontas was a captive. During her capture she was treated well and learned of Christianity. She was baptized in 1614, at which time she renounced her previous Gods. While in captivity, Pocahontas met colonist and tobacco developer John Rolfe. They were married in 1615. Soon after, Pocahontas gave birth to a son, Thomas.
Pocahontas traveled to London in 1616 with her husband and son, where she soon became the center of attention. She met with the king and queen and went to banquets and dances all over England. While in England she was reunited with John Smith whom she believed was dead.
While in England Pocahontas contracted small pox and died in March of 1617 at the age of 21. She was buried in the chapel of the parish church in Gravesend, England. John Smith wrote that Pocahontas was “the instrument to pursurve this colonie from death, famine, and utter confusion.”