Pocahontas was a Native American woman of the Powhatan People, known to her family as Matoaka meaning ‘flower between two streams’.
It has been recorded that one woman from each settlement was sent to the “Honourable Chief Powhatan” to become a wife. A woman “came of age” at fourteen years old, so she would have a baby with Chief Powhatan, and then return to her original home to find a husband and to start her own life and family. This was considered an honour to have been sent, as only the most beautiful and intelligent women were chosen. Pocahontas was a child of the Chief and often thought of as one of his favourites. Unfortunately, little is known about Pocahontas’ birth mother; it has been theorised that she died in childbirth.
During hostilities in 1613, she was held for ransom by the English Jamestown Colonists, when she was encouraged to convert to Christianity and took the name Rebecca. At about 17 years old, she was wed to John Rolfe, a tobacco plantation owner, with whom she had a son; Thomas Rolfe. At the age of 19, she was brought to England and presented to potential investors as a “civilised savage”.
Captain John Smith published a book, Pocahontas: My Own Story, in 1624 and wrote many letters about Jamestown and the Powhatan people. Much of his writing has been disputed by Pocahontas’ documented descendants. There are also some discrepancies in his letters, firstly calling her ‘a child of ten years old’ and then referring to her as ‘a child of twelve or thirteen years of age’ both regarding their initial meeting in 1608.
She died on the return journey to Virginia, only making it as far as Gravesend, at the age of 21. Many theories surrounding her death include smallpox, tuberculosis and poisoning.
Whilst her exact final resting place is unknown, due to the medieval church being destroyed by a fire in 1727, it has been confirmed that she was buried on the grounds of St George’s Church in Gravesend, Kent. A statue was installed in her honour in 1975; a copy of the one in Jamestown.