Pocahontas pōkəhŏnˈtəs [key], c.1595–1617, Native North American woman, daughter of Chief Powhatan. Pocahontas, meaning “playful one” (her birth name was Amonute, and her family called her Matoaka), used to visit the English in Virginia at Jamestown. According to the famous story, she saved the life of the captured Capt. John Smith just as he was about to have his head smashed at the direction of Powhatan, an account that is questioned by scholars and present-day members of her tribe. In 1613, Pocahontas was captured by Capt. Samuel Argall, taken to Jamestown, and held as a hostage for English prisoners then in the hands of her father. At Jamestown she was converted to Christianity and baptized as Rebecca. John Rolfe, a settler, gained the permission of Powhatan and the governor, Sir Thomas Dale, and married her in Apr., 1614. The union brought peace with the Native Americans for eight years. With her husband and several other Native Americans, Pocahontas went to England in 1616. There she was received as a princess and presented to the king and queen. She started back to America in 1617 but was taken ill and died at Gravesend, where she was buried. Pocahontas bore one son, Thomas Rolfe, who was educated in England, went (1640) to Virginia, and gained considerable wealth.

See P. L. Barbour, Pocahontas and Her World (1969); G. S. Woodward, Pocahontas (1969).

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