Pocahontas (born Matoaka, known as Amonute, and later known as Rebecca Rolfe, c. 1595 – March 1617) was a Virginia Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribal nations in the Tsenacommacah, encompassing the Tidewater region of Virginia. In a well-known historical anecdote, she is said to have saved the life of an Indian captive, Englishman John Smith, in 1607 by placing her head upon his own when her father raised his war club to execute him. The general consensus of historians is that this story, as told by Smith, is untrue.
Pocahontas was captured by the English during Anglo-Indian hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca. When the opportunity arose for her to return to her people, she chose to remain with the English. In April 1614, she married tobacco planter John Rolfe, and in January 1615, bore him a son, Thomas Rolfe.
In 1616, the Rolfes traveled to London. Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of the civilized "savage" in hopes of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She became something of a celebrity, was elegantly fêted, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace. In 1617, the Rolfes set sail for Virginia, but Pocahontas died at Gravesend of unknown causes. She was buried in a church in Gravesend in the United Kingdom, but the exact location of her grave is unknown.
Numerous places, landmarks, and products in the United States have been named after Pocahontas. Her story has been romanticized over the years, and she is a subject of art, literature, and film. Her possible descendants, through her son Thomas, include members of the First Families of Virginia, First Lady Edith Wilson, and astronomer Percival Lowell.
By Dean Hanley
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