What Are the Facts Behind the Story of Pocahontas?


Quick Answer

Pocahontas, whose real name was Matoaka, was the daughter of Powhatan, a Native American chief. The English captured her in 1613 but freed her when she agreed to marry John Rolfe. John Smith claims that she saved his life when she was a child, although whether the story is true is unknown. She died in March 1617.

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Full Answer

Historians believe Matoaka was born in 1595 or 1596. Her nickname, Pocahontas, meant "naughty one" or "spoiled child." John Smith encountered Matoaka's tribe in 1607. In his original account, he states that he ate and had a long conversation with Powhatan. In a 1608 letter, he states that Powhatan was about to club him to death when Matoaka placed her head over his, saving him, though this story has been disputed.

The English took Matoaka prisoner for one year due to a conflict with the Native Americans. During this time, a minister taught her about Christianity and the English language. John Rolfe also met her and wanted to marry her. After her baptism, Matoaka took the name Rebecca. She married Rolfe and became Rebecca Rolfe. The couple had one child together, a son named Thomas.

Matoaka became ill while on a ship to Virginia. The ship stopped in Gravesend, England, and she died after going ashore. Her cause of death is unknown.

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