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Pocahontas

Political Figure / Legendary Character

Born: c. 1595
Died: March 1617
Birthplace: Werowocomoco, Virginia
Best known as: Algonquian princess who befriended English settlers in 1607

Name at birth: Mataoaka

Pocahontas was the nickname of Mataoaka, a young emissary between native tribes and English setters in North America's early Colonial period. Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, an important chief of several tribes of Algonquian Indians in the Chesapeake Bay region (along the coast of Virginia). Although she is one of the most famous Native Americans in history, biographical details are based on few resources and murky at best. Much of the Pocahontas story came from Captain John Smith (1580-1631), an English promoter of colonization whose most well-known account was published several years after their acquaintance. According to Smith, his life was spared only through the intervention of Pocahontas, who at the time was around 12 years old. The story took on a romanticized flavor in the 19th century and over the years has been retold as a love story, but there is general agreement that Smith and Pocahontas were not sweethearts.

Other accounts indicate that Pocahontas was a talented and charismatic child who acted as a go-between for Powhatan and the settlers at Jamestown. In 1613 she was kidnapped by Captain Samuel Argall and held at the fort for a year as a bargaining chip in dealings with her father. In captivity she was baptized and christened Rebecca, and in 1614 married John Rolfe, with whom she had a son, Thomas. In 1616 she was among a group of Algonquian Indians taken to London as part of a plan to popularize Jamestown; she was presented to King James I and made a good impression on the royal family and high society. After seven months in England, Rolfe decided take his family back to Virginia and set sail in March of 1617. Pocahontas immediately became gravely ill and the ship went ashore at Gravesend, England, where she died. Her burial at Gravesend was recorded as taking place on 21 March 1617.

Extra credit: "Pocahontas" means "playful" or "little wanton one"... Many stories speculate that Pocahontas married one of her father's chiefs, Kocoum, sometime between 1610 and 1613... Pocahontas has been depicted in the movies since the early days of cinema, including recently in Disney's 1995 animated feature (Pocahontas, with Mel Gibson as Smith) and The New World (2005, starring Colin Farrell as Smith and Q'Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas).

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