Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, chief of the tribe of native Americans in Colonial Virginia. She was born in the year 1596 and named Matoaka at birth, and later known as Amonute. Children born to this tribe were often given several names with different meanings during special occasions. Her first name, Matoaka, was a secret and translated “secret stream among the hills”. Pocahontas was a nickname given during her childhood that meant “playful one”.
It was said that when Pocahontas was 11 years old she prevented her father from killing the Englishman, John Smith who had been captured by the natives. This account was retold by Smith, and there is some skepticism as to whether the story is true.
In the year of 1613 hostilities broke out between the Indians and the English settlers, and Pocahontas was taken captive and held for ransom. During this time Pocahontas became a Christian convert and changed her name to Rebecca. In April of 1614, she was married to John Rolfe who owned a tobacco plantation, and their son Tomas was born the following January.
In the year of 1616, the Rolfe family traveled by ship to London, England where Pocahontas (Rebecca) was presented as an example of a civilized savage to English society. It was hoped this would spark interest in the Jamestown settlement among English businessmen, and they would be willing to invest in the new American colony.
Pocahontas became very popular in England and quickly gained celebrity status. Her social experience included a masquerade ball held at Whitehall Palace, which must have been quite a thrill for her.
Unfortunately, Pocahontas was never able to return to Virgina since she died unexpectedly at Gravesend soon after setting sail for home. She was buried in a church located at Gravesend, but the name and exact location of her burial place is not known.
The marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe helped to create a climate of peace between the natives and the English settlers. Unfortunately, after the death of Pocahontas and her father Powhatan a year later, the “Peace of Pocahontas” began to unravel.
Pocahontas is remembered as a positive influence who smoothed relations between the native people and the Jamestown settlement. Her childhood action of preventing the death of John Smith may have been an indication of her peaceful nature. The fact that she converted to Christianity while she was in captivity also supports the idea.