Light Articles. Read Now!

Table of Content

Pocahontas: The Tragic and True Story

The true story is much darker, and for some of you out there, this video just may ruin your childhood memories. This is the true story of Pocahontas.


Pocahontas - In the famous Disney film, Pocahontas sang about the “Colors of the Wind”, and we learned that everyone can get along, despite their cultural differences. While the intent behind the movie may have been good, it is nowhere near being historically accurate. The true story is much darker, and for some of you out there, this video just may ruin your childhood memories. This is the true story of Pocahontas. 

A Peaceful Existence 

The first thing you should know about Pocahontas is that it wasn’t her birth name. Native Americans have a unique tradition when it comes to someone’s name and identity. Children are given a name at birth, and it often changes as the person grows up, and the family learns more about their personality. At birth, her name was “Amonute”. And as as she grew older, she was developing into a true beauty, so her father gave her the new name Matoaka, which means “The flower between two streams”. She was apart of the The Powhatan tribe of Eastern Virginia, which had a population of over 25,000 people. 

They were broken up into roughly 30 smaller tribes, which were governed by respected village leaders.Pocahontas’ father, Wahunsenacawh, was the one head chief who was above all other tribal leaders, known as the honorable “Chief Powhatan”. The Powhatan people had a tradition where one woman from each tribe was sent to become one of the wives of the Chief Powhatan. Women came of age at 14 years old, and they often found a husband soon after. So it’s likely that they would also be around this age when they were chosen. 

Once the young woman gave birth to his baby and weaned them, she could leave the child to be raised by the Chief, and go back to her home village to get married and started a family of her own. While it sounds like a frightening prospect for the modern world, this was considered to be a huge honor. Only the most beautiful and intelligent girls were chosen to have children with the Chief, so that they could pass on the best traits of the tribe together. These children of the Chief were given special training, and often grew up to be the next generation of leaders in their community. There was one wife who held a special place in Chief Wahunsenacawh heart.

Pocahontas: The Nickname

He gave her the nickname “Pocahontas”, which means “the playful one”. When he was raising her daughter, Amonute, he noticed that the girl’s personality was almost exactly like her mother. He started to call her “Pocahontas” as well, because they were so much alike. There is no historic record of what happened to her mother, but most historians believe that she must have died during childbirth. As a young girl, Matoaka would run through the forest, climb trees, and do cartwheels.

She was always laughing and smiling, ready and willing to play with her dozens of half-siblings. Her mother’s name truly did suit her, so at age 14, when she went through her coming-of-age ceremony, she chose to officially change her name to Pocahontas. Colonization, and The Lies of John Smith In the early 1600’s crews of British explorers gathered supplies on their ships, and sailed towards the New World. Once they arrived, they founded the Jamestown Colony in 1607. 

John Smith

One of these explorers was a man named John Smith, who was dubbed the “President of Virginia” and the “Admiral of New England”. He would later publish a book bragging about his adventures, which many modern-day historians know is full of fiction. In his book, John Smith claims that soon after he arrived in Virginia, he was captured by a man named Opechancanough, and he was tied up and paraded around all 30 villages. Then, he was brought to Chief Wahunsenacawh, who ordered his execution. 

Apparently, he accepted his fate with dignity, but just as his head was about to be smashed on a rock, a beautiful girl named Pocahontas comes to his rescue, begging her father for mercy. According to him, she said that if he must kill John Smith, then she should die, too. He goes on to talk about their newfound friendship. Kind of sounds like the Disney movie, right? But most historians agree that this sounds completely ridiculous, for so many reasons. 

First of all, Pocahontas would have only been 9 or 10 years old at the time, and John Smith was 27. Children were never allowed to be near anything as brutal as a trial or execution. This story also paints the Native Americans as being savage, and willing to kill anyone without a valid reason. The true story is that in 1608, the Jamestown colonists were starving, because they had run out of supplies. Instead of trying to negotiate a fair trade, John Smith ordered his men to attack the tribal villages, and steal whatever they could. He would also set fires, and demanded that they give in to his demands. However, the weakened colonists were no match for the tribe, so many of the white men were killed or taken prisoner. 

John Smith was their leader, and he begged for the Chief to spare his life. Chief Powhatan chose to have mercy on John Smith, without Pocahontas being involved at all. Later, John Smith would have spotted the beautiful little girl playing with her friends. When he found out that Pocahontas was the Chief’s favorite daughter, he made a mental note of it, and filed that away for later. An Act of War When she was 14 or 15 years old, Pocahontas married a young man named Kocoum, who was the brother of one of the village leaders known as Japasaw. 

She moved to this new place to be with her husband, and this new village was much closer to Jamestown than where she grew up. And the news of this new “princess” moving into the tribe’s village spread, so even the colonists knew of Pocahontas’ arrival. John Smith also remembered from years before that she was the Chief’s favorite. In the summertime, the Native Americans would walk around naked when it got too hot outside. To them, there was nothing sexual or exploitive about it- they were all just people trying to keep cool. 

But to the English settlers in Jamestown, this was shocking. And considering that many of these were men who already saw the natives as less-than-human, and they hadn’t been with a woman in a very long time...

You Can Guess What Happened 

Women and children were taken from their homes and violated. In Powhatan culture, if a man committed sexual assault, the rapist was immediately sentenced to death. As soon as they see that someone is a rapist or a murderer, they’re gone. There is no such thing as rehabilitation. They’re never going to pass on their DNA. 

Sorted. This made the crime extremely rare. In England, though, men got away with rape all the time. Women were often accused of lying, unless there was a witness- which, of course, there almost never was. Even if he was caught, the punishments were far from a death sentence. 

So when the Powhatans people interpreted this as an act of war, and the Chief Powhatan was ready to attack Jamestown. This began the first Anglo-Pawhatan War. Meanwhile, Pocahontas was now 16 years old, and heavily pregnant. The white men in Jamestown devised a plan that they would kidnap her and use her as leverage, to stop Chief Powhatan from completely obliterating the colony. Pocahontas had just given birth to her first baby. 

She would have been in the care of the tribal women, and away from her husband, Kocoum. Soon after delivering her child, a white man named Captain Samuel Argall snuck into Pocahontas’ tent in the middle of the night, and kidnapped her. Physically weak and recovering from giving birth, Pocahontas didn’t stand a chance at defending herself. In his book, John Smith described the scene of Pocahontas being carried to the English men’s massive ship. She had never seen this technology before, so she was screaming in horror as her abductors forced her inside. 

The Captain

There was a jail cell in the bottom of Captain Argall’s boat, which is where they locked her up. In his version of the story, John Smith blamed everything on the Native Americans, of course. He wrote that the Powhatan had stolen their weapons and supplies from Jamestown, and they were using Pocahontas as leverage to broker a peace treaty. Even though he writes about her distress, he never goes into further detail about what happened to her. According to the Native American’s oral history, Pocahontas’ husband, Kocoum heard the news that she had been kidnapped.

Kocoum galloped towards Jamestown the next day, killing men with his arrows as he went. He made it all the way to Captain Argall’s ship, but he was gunned down before he could save her. John Smith wrote that they kept Pocahontas while they waited for payment from Chief Powhatan. He says, “We received part of the payment, and returned (her father) this answer: That his daughter should be well used; but we could not believe the rest of our arms were either lost or stolen from him, and therefore til he sent them, we would keep his daughter.” 

So...Basically, this guy is justifying kidnapping a teenage girl and blackmailing her father, and somehow, the English thought this was totally acceptable when they read it in his book. Of course, those weapons never came, because they had never been stolen in the first place. Pocahontas eventually fell into a state of depression.

We know from the Native American oral history that she stopped eating, because she missed her family so much. The colonists needed to keep her alive for leverage, so her sister was finally allowed to visit. When the two young women were allowed to speak, Pocahontas told her that she was being raped by the crew of the ship on a regular basis. She begged to come home, but the English men were refusing to let her leave, unless her father promised to give them weapons and supplies, and sign a peace treaty. But of course, Chief Wahunsenacawh was never going to stop the war until he got his daughter back. 

Don’t Worry, it Gets Worse

Records show that the First Anglo-Powhatan War lasted from 1610 to 1614, but the timeline of events gets a bit blurry. According to John Smith, Pocahontas was only on the ship for three months. But if you actually think about it logically, she must have been kept prisoner on that boat for at least a year, if not longer. Some records claim that she was kidnapped near the beginning of the war, in 1610, while others say it happened in 1613. 

This is also why many history books are fuzzy about her exact age and date of birth, because there are so many conflicting stories of exactly what happened. What we do know for certain is that during her time as a prisoner, Pocahontas became pregnant by one of the men. Now that there was a child on the way, the men could no longer hide the fact that she had been raped in captivity. It would seem that there was no hope in negotiating a peace treaty, now. They needed to come up with a plan to cover up their crimes.

He is credited for being the first man to bring tobacco farming to the Jamestown colony. He was able to build a sustainable business for the colonists to make a profit by growing tobacco and shipping it to England. Since there was so much land in this New World, tobacco became a booming business. So, if you don’t already hate his guts by the end of this story, you can basically blame him for bringing bad smoking habits and lung cancer to the western world. 

Rolfe was a widower in his 40’s. He was friends with all of these men who were keeping Pocahontas prisoner, and he may have been one of the rapists. He offered to take one for the team and marry her. The only trouble was that an English person could not marry a Native American, because they were considered less-than-human. In 1914, Pocahontas was forced to go through a Christian Baptism, because it was the one and only way they would even consider that she might have a human soul. 

She was Baptised in the Anglican Church, and given a new name English name; Rebecca. Shortly after her Baptism, she was forced marry John Rolfe. Now that Rolfe and Pocahontas were married, this sealed the deal. The colonists claimed that the two had fallen in love. Once Chief Wahunsenacawh knew that his daughter was safe, and apparently happy, the peace treaty was finally negotiated. 

Peace of Pocahontas

This became known as the “Peace of Pocahontas”, because from that day onward, the Jamestown colonists and the Powhatan tribe were finally able to stop fighting, if only for a few years. Even though her father had agree to the peace treaty in hopes to get her back, she was never allowed to see her family again. Life in England Once she was married to John Rolfe, Pocahontas was forced to begin a new life in England. The Powhatan people had a tradition of tattooing their bodies. Even the women had face tattoos, which has lead some people to believe that Pocahontas may have had them, as well. 

But since women were so covered up in England back then, it may have been easy to hide her ink. From the perspective of the English people, this was a wonderful love story. Two people from vastly different cultures were able to fall in love in the New World, where anything can happen. But of course, not everyone was drinking the kool aid. During an interview, someone asked John Rolfe if he truly loved her. 

Normally, if someone asks you to prove your love for your significant other, maybe you’d start gushing about all of their wonderful qualities. But John Rolfe responded that if he was actually trying to take advantage of a teenager, he would have chosen a white girl who was “more pleasing to the eye”. Despite all of the glaringly obvious issues with a 40-something year old man marrying a 17 year old, this narrative that Pocahontas was “choosing” a white husband and converting Christianity was also a sign to white people that maybe these natives weren’t so savage, after all. They became so popular, people wanted to make souvenirs of their union. Portraits were even painted and sold of Pocahontas and John Rolfe.

These happy stories became so popular in English culture, that their fictional romance was published in newspapers everywhere, and it even inspired the Disney movie Pocahontas 2. John Rolfe claimed that the unborn child was his, of course. And when Pocahontas gave birth to a son, who they named him Thomas Rolfe. He was also baptised as a Christian. Legally speaking, John Rolfe was taking on all of the responsibility as a father. 

Rebecca Rolfe

He signed his name on both their marriage certificate, as well as Thomas’ birth certificate. John Rolfe got to enjoy Pocahontas’ newfound fame and popularity, as she was invited to the best parties in the country, and became a household name. Portraits were commissioned of her wearing the traditional European clothing, and she had to learn to speak fluent English. 

She was forced to style her hair and makeup like English women, and completely conform to their society. Everyone now called her “Rebecca Rolfe”, instead of her chosen name. Despite the fact that she was a young woman who had been abused and taken from her home, Pocahontas handled her new duty as a diplomat with grace. She was representing the Powhatan people, and everyone called her the “Indian Princess”. 

Pocahontas was incredibly polite to all of these new English people, and represented her tribe to the best of her ability. After meeting Queen Anne and King James, their view of Native Americans completely changed. They could see that these people actually did have souls, and began to push for a more peaceful coexistence between the colonists of the New World, and the natives. A few months after arriving in England, John Smith finally stopped by for a visit. 

The Blood of Innocent

By now, Pocahontas had learned of all the fictional stories he had written about having a friendship with her to the Queen. In fact, she had thought John Smith was dead, after he was arrested for what he had done to their villages. She had no idea that he had used her name to create a fictional universe where her entire tribe was full of savages, and she was the one person who had hope of having a soul. He created a best-selling book based on lies, stained with the blood of the innocent. 

Seething with rage, Pocahontas confronted John Smith, and told him off for ripping her away from her family for the sake of his own glory. She said, “Your countrymen will lie much.” Death, and Legacy As we mentioned earlier, John Rolfe owned a tobacco farm in Virginia, but he lived in England, and managed the incoming shipment of his product. Rolfe’s ships were going back and forth to Virginia on a regular basis, and Pocahontas begged him to let her return home on one of them. 

The better she got at speaking English, the more dangerous it became for the men who captured her, and lied about it. As time went on, it became possible that she would eventually expose the truth. So in 1617, when their son was 2 years old, he finally agreed to bring them back to visit her family. Not long after they set sail, Pocahontas contracted a mysterious illness, and died on the boat. While there is no record of what killed her, most assumed that it must have been one of the many illnesses that the English had built up an immunity to. At the time, no one dared to suggest that it may have been foul play. 

Rolfe Family

When she died, they turned the ship back around, and returned to England. Pocahontas was buried in St. George’s Church in Gravesend. Rolfe could have afforded to give his wife the best funeral money could buy, but she was given a pauper’s burial in an unmarked grave. Young Thomas was sick with the same illness that had killed his mother. 

Instead of helping to nurse his son back to health and help him cope with the trauma of losing his mother, John Rolfe left him with some random dude called Sir Lewis Stuckley, and sailed back to Virginia...Because if we know anything in modern times, it’s that leaving kids to live with strange men on their own has always worked out perfectly fine. Nothing bad has ever come of that. Thomas made a full recovery, but it was clear that John Rolfe no longer wanted anything to do with him. 

In his mind, he knew that the boy probably wasn’t his biological son, anyway, and it would seem as if he felt no fatherly love towards him at all. John’s brother, Henry Rolfe, finally learned that his nephew was being watched over by this Lewis Stuckley guy, and he quickly jumped in to take custody of the boy. Henry was shocked by his brother’s cold heartedness and willingness to abandon his own son with a complete stranger. 

Even though John Rolfe was wealthy from tobacco farming, he refused to give any money to his brother for child support. Henry Rolfe actually had to sue John in court, demanding that his nephew be left with something. John Rolfe never had any other descendents, so when he died, Thomas inherited the tobacco farm in Virginia when he was 20 years old. This was the first time that Thomas Rolfe had sailed back to Virginia from England. Now, he was a wealthy landowner, and he had to learn about the tobacco farming business. 

He also became a lieutenant of the Jamestown Colony. Thomas grew up hearing the stories of his mother, Pocahontas, and he knew that his grandfather, half-sister, and his many aunts and uncles would have been overjoyed to see him. By this time, there had been several wars and conflicts between the Native Americans and the colonists. There were now strict rules that the colonists should not interact with the Native Americans, and vice versa. Thomas Rolfe tried to petition the governor of Virginia to let him meet his family, but his request was denied. 

He lived among the white colonists of Jamestown. If he ever found a way to speak to his relatives, he would have had to do it in secret, and there would never be a record of it. Yes, this story was incredibly tragic and downright infuriating. We wish there was a happy ending. Unfortunately, sometimes, the bad guys win. 

But if it were not for Pocahontas’ resilience and strength, this story could have been so much worse. She was such a special person, that she was able to prove to the English that the natives truly did have souls, and were worthy of maintaining their culture. If there is any light in this dark story, it is that Pocahontas became a well-loved icon for hundreds of years. For all of the historic inaccuracies, the movies inspires a love and understanding of Native American culture, as well. 

Instead of focusing on the darkest parts of her past, the world has chosen to celebrate her best qualities- Her friendliness, kindness, and diplomacy. 

She chose to embrace the name she gave herself- “the playful one”, because at the end of the day, it’s still who she truly was. We’re not going to ask if you enjoyed that one, but feel free to vent your frustrations in the comments below. Or, if you’re trying to cheer up after hearing that story, what Native American style name would you call yourself? Thanks for Reading..

Manusia biasa yang suka membaca, menulis dan berbagi

Posting Komentar