Pocahontas and Family
(Please note, I am sharing this article with you as it is written. There are many views on Pocahontas so read, review and distinguish what you see as truth. It does contain grammatical errors, but I left it as such so show the author’s authenticity.)
Our understanding of the Powhatan and surrounding Native-American peoples is derived primarily from archaeology and the writings of early European explorers and settlers. By about 1300 AD, the tribes of the Coastal Plain lived in semi- sedentary villages supported by small hunting and gathering camps. Increasing reliance on horticulture focused the location of villages along floodplains and areas of rich sandy soil near rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The rich environment provided almost unlimited quantities of fish and shellfish, much of which was dried for storage. The material goods of these people included tools and ornaments made from stone, wood, bone, and shell. The era from about 1200 BC to 1600 AD, known as the Woodland period, also marked the introduction of pottery into the Eastern Native-American groups. By the time of European contact; a wide variety of pottery styles and shapes were in common usage.
Throughout most of the Late Woodland period (900 to 1600 AD), these groups formed small independent tribal societies. By the 16th century, however, larger chiefdoms developed and hundreds of villages dotted the landscape. European traders were able to capitalize on the Native Americans’ extensive use of personal ornamentation. The men of the group painted and tattooed themselves and wore various types of ornamentation. The women painted and tattooed their faces and also wore ornaments of bone and shell, including necklaces. Their clothing consisted of short apron-like garments of skins.
By 1600, the Powhatan chiefdom, under the rule of Wahunsunacock, covered an area extending from Washington, D.C., to the North Carolina line, and included at least 32 sub-chiefdoms in over 150 villages. The Powhatan chiefdom was one of a number of Algonquian language groups in the larger region. John Smith noted that
“ The forme of their Common wealth is a monarchical government, one as Emperor ruleth over many kings or governours. Their chief ruler is called Powhatan .”
Powhatan controlled these groups through inheritance and power; they paid him tax or tribute and received his aid in times of need.
Pocahontas, also known as Matoax or Matoaka, was born to Powhatan sometime around 1595 or 1596. The colonists reported her place of birth as Werowocomoco, along the York River, Powhatan’s principal residence until 1609.15 Pocahontas began visiting the Jamestown settlement with some regularity and developed a friendship with Captain John Smith, who realized the need to cultivate communication between the English and Native Americans. ‘I She appears to have been very willing to help break the language barrier and assist settlers in procuring food from the more cooperative members of her group. However, her most famous service to the colonists is the legendary rescue of Captain Smith. As the story goes, Smith had been captured and taken to Werowocomoco, where he received a death sentence from Powhatan and his advisors.
As he was about to be killed, Smith reports in his Generall Historie that Pocahontas took his head in her armes and laid her owne upon his to save him from death.
Powhatan agreed to spare Smith’s life and proposed that he return to Jamestown and deliver two guns and a grinding stone in exchange for adoptive membership in the Powhatan fold.”
The almost mythical story of Pocahontas had its origins in the first accounts of the settlers: the histories of Smith, Argall, Dale, Purchas, and Hamor. Fictional accounts appear to have begun in the late 18th century with a romanticized version of the story, The Female American, written by Mrs. Unca Eliza Winkfield in 1767.
If the story of Pocahontas grew during the late 18th century, it blossomed during the first half of the 19th. Historian Frances Mossiker has noted that “grease-paint Pocahontases overran the stages of America throughout the first half of the 19th century. 1121 The earliest of these dramas was The Indian Princess; or, La Belle Sauvage, the 1808 work by James Nelson Barker and John Bray, an “Operatic Melo-Drame in Three Acts. 1121 The Pocahontas story continued to be told in story, verse, and song throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Although most of the works provide some detail on her son Thomas and his family, Pocahontas’s story usually ends not long after her death in England.
Pocahontas did not marry Captain John Smith as many believe. In 1613, she was abducted by the English and brought to Henrico, where she remained for a year or more, and in 1614 was converted to the Christian faith. It was while in Henrico that Pocahontas met her future husband, John Rolfe. Shortly after her conversion, Rolfe wrote to Sir Thomas Dale, expressing his desire to marry Pocahontas. Dale felt the union would benefit the colony, and after a trip to obtain permission from Powhatan, the couple was married in the church on Jamestown Island in April 1614. The Rolfe’s built a new house along the James River near Varina, between Henrico and Bermuda Hundred. In 1615, Pocahontas gave birth to her only child, a son named Thomas. Later the same year, members of the Church of England proposed the creation of an Indian school – in Virginia and suggested that Mrs. John Rolfe might visit England to launch the venture. The Virginia Company appropriated the idea as a way to raise more money and attract new colonists to Virginia.
In June 1616, John Rolfe, Pocahontas, and son Thomas arrived in England. The Seven-month visit was a success in every way, generating new interest in the settlement of Virginia and important financial backing. The celebration quickly ended, however, as Pocahontas and her family prepared to return home. While waiting for the ship to sail from Gravesend, England, Pocahontas became ill and died. She was buried in St. George’s Parish Church on March 21, 1617.
John Rolfe returned to Virginia, but without his son. Thomas was placed in the care of his uncle, Henry Rolfe, who raised the boy. Father and son did not see each other again. When Thomas returned to Virginia in 1635, he received his father’s land in Varina as well as several thousand acres left to him by Powhatan. It appears that Thomas settled in Surry County, in an area known as “Smith’s Fort.” Although Thomas visited the Powhatan on occasion, he lived the life of an English tobacco planter. Thomas married Jane Poythress, and the couple had one child, a daughter named Jane. Little else is known of their life together.
Linebaugh, Donald W. Kippax Plantation: Traders, Merchants, and Planters. An Exhibit Celebrating the Families of Pocahontas.Center for Archaeological Research, the College of William and Mary, Historic Hopewell Foundation, Inc. The City of Hopewell (1995).