Most people know the legendary Pocahontas as a young Native American woman who was instrumental in inspiring peace between the Indians and the English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia. But beyond the Disney-famous details, how much do you know about Pocahontas?
Plan a trip this fall to visit 'Pocahontas Imagined' at Jamestown Settlement, an exhibit exploring her legacy featuring copies of portraits, sculptures, memorabilia and interactive experiences to give context to her enduring story.
In the meantime, surprise your dinner guests with these five roles the beloved Native American played during her lifetime.
1. Woman of Many Names
It was common for Native Americans to have several names, including secret names. In fact, Pocahontas was a nickname meaning, “playful one,” but her secret name, Matoaka, means, “bright steam between the hills.” Known also as Amonute, historians believe her original name was Matoax, which she later changed to Rebecca, meaning “mother of two peoples.””
2. Faithful Friend
Contrary to the Disney film, Pocahontas’ actually married John Rolfe, a widow and tobacco farmer, not John Smith. Though her relationship with Smith has been romanticized over time, it was purely platonic. However, when trade negotiations Smith was leading turned for the worse, Pocahontas snuck to Smith’s camp to warn him that her father had ordered him to be killed. He escaped, but later was involved in a gunpowder accident which forced him to return to England.
3. Peacemaking Princess
Considered an Indian “princess,” Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, the chief among thirty Native American tribes located in the Virginia area. She was only about 18 years old when she married Rolfe, creating peace between the Natives and the colonists. Though Rolfe worried about his decision to be with a non-Christian woman, he married her “for the good of the plantation, the honor of our country, for the glory of God, for mine own salvation….” Powhatan gave his blessing to this peace-making marriage, but sent Pocahontas’ uncle to witness the ceremony at James Fort.
4. Natural Explorer
Growing up, Pocahontas visited Jamestown often, delivering messages from her father and accompanying Indians trading hatchets and trinkets for food and furs. Later, after marrying Rolfe at James Fort, she gave birth to a son they named Thomas. They traveled to England to promote the colony to investors, and she was celebrated throughout London. However, as the family began their journey back to Virginia, she became sick and passed away in Gravesend, England.
5. Greater Williamsburg Icon
Pocahontas’ story can be found all around the Greater Williamsburg area. Her time spent at James Fort with the early colonist is immortalized at Historic Jamestowne with a larger-than-life bronze statue, and you can see the remains of the church where she and Rolfe were married. At Jamestown Settlement, visitors can explore the re-created Powhatan Village, where interpreters demonstrate grinding corn, gardening or playing a game of corncob darts as Pocahontas likely did. To connect with Pocahontas in nature, walk in her footsteps along the York River in York River State Park. Bonus points for singing “Just Around the Riverbend” as you stroll along the water.