Pocahontas, a reproduction of the statue of her in Jamestown, Virginia by American sculptor William Partridge. A gift to the British people presented by the Governor of Virginia in 1958 at her burial ground at St. George's Church, Gravesend, England.
Walt Disney Feature Animation, made an animated musical film, loosely based on Pocahontas’s life and legends, released in 1995 directed by Eric Goldberg and Mike Gabriel.
Pocahontas was born in 1595 in Werowocomoco a village, Tsenacommacah, the Powhatan Indians homeland, in what has became a part of Virginia, located near the north bank of the York River. Her birth name was Amonute later Metoaka (or Matoaka) but she was nicknamed and best known as Pocahontas meaning playful one by her father Chief Powhatan (Wahunsenacawh) paramount chief of over 30 Algonquian speaking tribes, each with its own werowance (chief).
The English settlers landed in 1607 and they traded with the Indians who helped them survive though difficult times. However in time the relationship between Native American's and the European settlers deteriorated. The Powhaans were possibly alarmed by the increasing numbers of settlers, their increasing demands, their infringements on Native American land, resources and traditions.
When in 1607 Captain John Smith was captured on tribal territory, he was taken to the chief Powhaan at Werowocomoco, the main village of the Powhatan Confederacy, sentence to death. Pocahontas aged around thirteen years old, who in Smith's recounting of the incident , threw herself across his body: "at the minute of my execution, she hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown" in a letter to Queen Anne of Great Britain.
Some historians and commentators have found the story of Pocahontas based from the first hand observations of Captain John Smith not to their taste and have guessed at alternative scenarios or altering interpretations to the events described. However the romantic legend persists.
Pocahontas with members of her tribe also brought supplies to Captain John Smith's starving settlers. Although Indians brought some food, Smith wrote that “more than half of us died. Captain John Smith leader of the settlers who built Jamestown establishing the first permanent English settlement, named after the English King James 1. In these challenging times one of Captain John Smith's sayings to motivate his followers was "he who shall not work, shall not eat."
In 1609 John Smith was seriously injured in a accidental gunpowder explosion and returned to England for recuperation. He was never to return to Virginia (although he returned to another part of America that he named, New England). Pocahontas was told, incorrectly, that he Captain John Smith was dead.
Despite Pocahontas help to the new comers, she was captured by these settlers during the Anglo- Indian hostilities in 1613 and held for ransom. During Pocahontas's captivity she converted to Christianity and was baptised Rebecca, first native North American to be baptised into the Christian religion. The following year she married an Englishman John Rolfe, with the consent of her father. It was the first recorded marriage between Native American and European in North American history. John Rolfe introduced the cash crop tobacco to the settlers in Virginia.
For two years they lived on Rolfe's tobacco plantation and had a son named Thomas. In 1616 they traveled to England accompanied by some other Native Americans from her tribe, arriving in Plymouth. Pocahontas impressed those she encountered when she was introduce to English society and the court of King James I.
After a year in England the family set sail to return to Virginia, but Pocahontas (Christian with married name: Rebecca Rolfe) became terminally ill when the ship was moored on the River Thames near Gravesend, Kent. She was returned to land where she died on 21st of March 1617 and she was buried at St George's Church, aged just 21 years old. Entry in the Gravesend St. George composite parish register recording the burial of Princess Pocahontas on 21 March 1617. The entry reads: Rebecca Wroth wyffe [i.e. wife] of Thomas Wroth/ gent, a Virginia Lady borne was buried/ in the Chauncell.
The original church and surrounding buildings was burnt down by a fire in 1727 and a new church rebuilt. The exact burial place of Pocahonta's remains was lost and is not now known. In these burial grounds a bronze replica of a statue of her in Jamestown Virginia, by American sculptor William Ordway Partridge stands. A generous gift to the British people presented in in 1958 by the Governor of Virginia, occasioned by Queen Elizabeth II visit to Jamestown the year before. Also Queen Elizabeth II viewed the original statue 2007, while visiting Jamestown for the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first successful English colonial settlement in America.
Pocahontas son Thomas Rolfe returned to London to his uncle Henry Rolfe. As an adult he returned to Virginia, and has many descendants.
Pocahontas's story has inspired adaptations, in sculpture including this bronze statue by William Ordway Partridge (1861 - 1930); in art starting off with an engraving by Simon van de Passe when Pocahontas was 21 years old in England 1616 dressed in European attire of which a print is held in British Museum collection, from this image some early paintings may have been based. In literature starting with Captain John Smith's letters and writings, including John Smith's "The Generall Historie of Virginia" (1624), and many more books over the years. In films including, Walt Disney Feature Animation, loosely based on Pocahontas’s life and legend, directed by Eric Goldberg and Mike Gabriel; also place names, products and so on.
It is more difficult to claim that the famous peace maker Pocahontas, influence for better relations between Native American tribes and the settlers descendants has endured, even past her death let along to date. Perhaps her legacy is to inspire a future generation to take positive actions. However Pocahontas remains an unforgettable symbol of peace, of unrequited courageous generosity from a Native American host Nation towards the new guest Nation, leaving a debt of honour.
St George's Church Gravesend, Kent, England, UK, 30 May 2013
Location: St George's Church, Gravesham, Kent, UK
Photographer: Richard Keith Wolff