Pocahontas, An American Icon
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

2007 is the year of the celebration of the 400 years since Jamestown, Virginia, was established.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS: John Rolfe:

"Lady Rebecca" was Pocahontas' Christian name. The portrait (above) is from the National Gallery, Washington D.C., USA

POCAHONTAS AND THE COLONISTS:

Without Pocahontas, the Jamestown colonists would have never survived in their new home. Her sympathy and kindness to her fellow humans, be they white or Native American, won the hearts of all. Pocahontas (Matoaka) was only twelve years old, as she was born circa 1595, at the time of the next Europeans arrival, and most of the British thought her to be wanton, because of the words taught to her by John Smith:

"Love me not you? Love me not you?"

John Smith was the only colonist that even attempted to learn the Algonkin language of the Powhatans. These words were taught to Pocahontas when was a child. Pocahontas was taller than the British and so were most of her tribesmen. Her tallness made them think her to be much older than she actually was. She was made fourteen years of age, in the accounts of Captain John Smith, and he made it sound like she loved him, which is most likely why those were the first words he taught her to say? Whatever his motives, his tremendous ego or whatever, he was definately not one to be trusted. Neither was Thomas Dale. Smith was known as a blatant liar by many. He always boasted about his prowess with the ladies. This tendency makes us have to question most of his writings. Although Pocahontas could have thought of him in a sexual way, it was highly unlikely (Davis, John. 1803).

The English kidnapped Pocahontas, to use as leverage, to stop her father's and uncle's attacks on their colonies. Pocahontas told her older sister that she was raped by Thomas Dale. She had no reason to lie about that. Rape was one of the worst crimes in Native American's eyes. They thought a man that would rape a women, should not be allowed to live, and they were tortured. While they had her captured they made Pocahontas into a Christian and renamed her "Rebecca." John Rolfe, as the fable was taught, wanted her in his life because of her sweetness and innocence. However letters written to Thomas Dale, Rolfe referred to her as "a thing." It is thought that Thomas Dale fathered her son Thomas. He made an agreement with John Rolfe to marry her because Dale had a wife and children back in England. King James was against their marriage since John Rolfe was a commoner. In England, commoners rarely married royalty. Afterall, she was an Indian princess. Pocahantas and John Rolfe married on April 5, 1614, and their only son, Thomas Rolfe's birthdate has never been found in any records. If it had been Rolfe's son he would have had his son registered. Whereas, if it was Thomas Dale's som it would have been hidden. The fact that they called him Thomas leads many to believe it was not Rolfe's son. The Powhatan's named their children after family members. So that would have made his name John, not Thomas. Their marriage helped to unite the colonists and Native Americans in peace, for a short time. In the spring of 1616, they both went to England, so Pocahontas could see John's people. They embarked on the ship that was to bring them back to Virginia in February 1617. Pocahontas and her father would never see each other again. Pocahontas died of a respiratory disease, in March 1617, in Gravesend, England. She was buried at St. George's Church, on the Thames River. Many Native American Indians think she was poisoned along with her sister and her brother-in-law, so the secret would never get out. This secret was harbored by the Mattaponi tribe until 2007. Oral history says that Pocahontas first husband was killed by the English as well. They did not find her first son, because he was taken and hid among Pocahontas' people.

Shortly after her death, her father mourns and dies in less than a year. He most likely was told about her fate by her eldest sister. Then Thomas Dale had the very nerve to ask for the hand of her younger sister, but Powhatan refused. Now we know why. The man was already married to an English wife and had children. He just wanted someone in Jamestown to share his bed. Powhatan saw right through this plan.

Powhatan's brother, Opitchapan was chief, but died soon after taking over his leadership. Then Opechancanough became the chief, and many think he may have ended up killing John Rolfe. Rolfe could have died of natural causes, but it seems that it is more than a coincidence that he died when Opechancanough was raiding the settlements. Pocahontas' uncle might have thought John Rolfe's marriage to his niece, and their trip to England, resulted in the deaths of his brother and niece. He was angry that Pocahontas' son was being raised in England. Her family did not get to see him again until he was near adulthood.

In 1635, a twenty (20) year old Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia. His grandfather had willed Thomas thousands of acres of land, and his mother's wedding present and his birthplace, Varina. Until Thomas returned to the Powhatans, his uncle most likely thought Pocahontas' son to be dead, since the English often lied to them. War raged on again for many years. The family of Pocahontas lived on through her only son, Thomas Rolfe, who became prominent in Virginia society. Thomas married Jane Poythress. Later, there was a law that forbade an Englishman to marry an Indian women or vice-versa. Her ancestors were the only allowance to the contrary, because Pocahontas was their fabled "Indian Princess."

My Possible Connection to Pocahontas:

Family legend tells of our relationship to Pocahontas AND John Rolfe through the Bartholomew/Packard line (and associated families). I am currently working to prove that connection with Bartholomew and Rolfe in Shakespeare's time, but I still can't find the correct path to Pocahontas. One name which could hook up is CRUSH. Asseneth Crush married into the Bartholomew family in Medina County, Ohio. The Crush cemetary is located on their old farm in Ohio. The name seems to have disappeared after this, so they must have moved elsewhere?

John Rolfe and Tobacco:

The colonists began to want more land to grow tobacco. Tobacco was the ceremonial plant of the Indians. It was used for its mystical properties for about 1,000 years before the coming of the conquistadores. Tobacco was used to clear the mind, calm the soul, stave off hunger, and for enjoyment. It was a spirtual device to carry messages to the Great Spirit, ward off evil, cast out witches, heal the sick, bring rain, and other tribal interests.

Powhatan thought that Colonists were defiling a sacred plant, and he was tired of the colonist's hunger for more land. Land could not be owned, in the native mind. Land, however, was a sign of status in the European's minds, and thus the clash of cultures.

The English hailed tobacco for its ability to purge phlegm. John Rolfe grew tobacco on his plantation. He wed Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas on April 5, 1614. She is age 19 and he is age 29. Their son, Thomas Rolfe is born in 1615 (?).

Some think Pocahontas' first husband was named Captain Kocoum. Kocoum died in a war against other tribes. It is thought that they were married about two years, but no one thinks they had any children.

In the spring of 1626, the "Treasurer" heads for England with the following passengers:

01. A Spanish spy
02. an Irish Trader
03. John Rolfe
04. Rebecca Rolfe (Pocahontas)
05. Thomas Rolfe
06. Pocahontas' sister
07. Pocahontas' brother-in-law
08. one of Powhatan's councilors
09. priests
10. several other Native Americans.

On May 31, 1616, the "Treasurer" arrives in England. Pocahontas and her retinue visit King John and his court. They visit John Rolfe's ancestral home, etc. The English throng to see them. On the trip, the healthy Pocahontas suddenly becomes gravely ill. The English tell everyone that she had been sick for the entire trip. They said she died from bacteria and viruses that were not found in Virginia.

The "George" is to take them back to Virginia, but on March 21, 1617, Rebecca Rolfe is buried in Gravesend, England. Her death was thought to have been from smallpox or some respiratory disease.

John Rolfe leaves Thomas, Pocahontas' son, with his merchant brother, Henry Rolfe, so that he can get well. Thomas will never meet his grandfather Powhatan again.

On March 10, 1622, John Rolfe writes his will. Then on Good Friday, March 22, 1622, there is an Native uprising against the colonists. Some think John Rolfe died in this raid, others think he died of some sort of respiratory disease. We only know that he died before October 7, 1633. The oral history of the Mattaponi people reports that they killed him, because of the events of English deceitfulness. In a portrait painted about the time of her trip to England, Thomas looks to be three years old or more.

This fact and the fact that John Rolfe never saw his own son again makes one wonder about his feelings for his Indian bride, and half-breed son.

From her capture through her trip to England Pocahontas is kept from her real family. This is most likely because they did not want her father to know about her rape. Apparently, her older sister and her managed to talk unwatched at one point. One of them managed to sneek past the English guards so they could talk. Most of the time she was a prisoner inside buildings where no one could see her. A typical brainwashing technique.

On May 31, 1630, John Rolfe's will is probated by William Pyers. John Rolfe is survived by his third wife, Joanne Pierce, the daughter of Captain William and Joanne Pierce. His marriage to Joanne produced a daughter named Elizabeth Rolfe.

The colonists traded cloth, glass beads, blankets, hatchets, brass kettles, and adzes for furs and leather goods. The natives, who had previously only killed for food, were now killing more and more deer. Europeans had a thirst for deerskin gloves and book covers. Even though deer reproduce rapidly, many tribes were faced with periodic shortages of venison and deerskins. Indians began to steal from each other, in order to get European trade items. Unfortunately, this worked to the advantage of the newcomers who pitted tribe against tribe.

The Indian Maiden:

Many artists and writers have tried to render Pocahontas and other Indian maids as icons. Here is one artist's concept of the "Perfect Indian Maiden." While everyone seems to have an Indian princess or grandmother in their tree, it seems less have warriors and grandfathers. The exotic images of lovely Indian maiden carries on today. The Disney movie Pocahontas brought out a great outcry of protests from the North American Indian communities. The newspapers were filled with articles complaining about the inaccuracies of the facts.

The New World is the title of a movie starring Colin Farrell and O'orianka Kilcher that showed a much older Pocahontas. This movie never even mentions John Rolfe and shows Pocahontas and John Smith making love. In actuality Pocahontas was only twelve years old when she "saved" John Smith. Ebert and Roeper gave this movie "Two thumbs Up." Apparently, they never studied history. Although the movie had spectacular photography, that won an Oscar for cinematography, it was pure fantasy. This film was directed by Terrance Malick, and only spoke to John Smith's diaries.

See my other pages on early British colonies in the Americas: The Jamestown Colony and The Roanoke Colony from a Native American Indians point of view.

Learn the truth about John Smith and Pocahontas

Pocahontas' Traditional Family:

Rolfe Genealogy|Bolling Family| John Rolfe|Pocahontas|Pocahontas|Rankokus Indian Reservation (Powhatan Renape Nation)|The Plymouth Colony Archive ProjectNew Official website of the Amonsoquath there old domain is for sale|Wicocomico Tapico Indian Nation|

Books on Pocahontas/Powhatans:

Jamestown, Virginia:

Jamestown Timeline ..... Upper Mattaponi
Virginia Indians Past and Present

Bear Clan - Table of Contents

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