The Life of Powhatan Indian Pocahontas

Engraving of Pocahontas
Engraving of Pocahontas (Matoaka or Lady Rebecca). Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-8104


c.1594, Virginia Region


March 21, 1617, Gravesend, England


Pocahontas was a nickname meaning "playful" or "naughty one." Here real name was Matoaka

After her conversion to Christianity and baptism, Pocahontas was given the name Rebecca and became Lady Rebecca when she married John Rolfe.

Pocohontas and John Smith:

When Pocahontas was approximately 13 years old in 1607, she met John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia. They met in her father's village which was called Werowocomoco on the north shore of what is now the York River. A tale often associated with Smith and Pocahontas is that she saved him from death by appealing to her father. However, this cannot be proven. In fact, the incident was not recorded until Pocahontas was traveling in London many years later. However, she did help the starving inhabitants of Jamestown during the winter of 1607-1608.

First Marriage:

Pocahontas was married between 1609 and 1612 to a Powhatan named Kocoum. It is believed that she might have had a baby girl who later died from this marriage. However, little more is known about this relationship.

The Capture of Pocahontas:

In 1612, the Powhatan Indians and the English settlers were becoming more hostile with each other. Eight Englishmen had been captured. In retaliation, Captain Samuel Argall captured Pocahontas. It was during this time that Pocahontas met and married John Rolfe who is credited with planting and selling the first tobacco crop in America.

Lady Rebecca Rolfe:

It is not known whether Pocahontas actually fell in love with Rolfe before they married. Some conjecture that their marriage was one condition of her release from captivity. Pocahontas converted to Christianity and was baptized Rebecca. She then married Rolfe on April 5, 1614. Powhatan gave his consent and presented Rolfe with a large piece of land. This marriage brought peace between the Powhatans and English until Chief Powhatan's death in 1618.

Thomas Rolfe Born:

Pocahontas gave birth to Thomas Rolfe on January 30, 1615. Soon after, she along with her family and her sister Matchanna and her husband traveled to London. She was well received by the English. While in England she met back up with John Smith.

Illness and Death:

Rolfe and Pocahontas had decided to return to America in March 1616. However, Pocahontas got sick and soon thereafter died on March 21, 1616. She was only 22 years old. There is not real evidence to the cause of her death. She died in Gravesend, England, but the site of her death was destroyed years later when the church where she was buried was being rebuilt. Her son, Thomas, remained in England even though John Rolfe did return to America after her death. Many claim to be descendants of Pocahontas through Thomas including Nancy Reagan, Edith Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson Randolph, grandson to Thomas Jefferson.


Ciment, James. Colonial America. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2006.