Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas
Written and Researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewski, B.F.A.

The controversial issue of John Smith and Pocahontas is a subject of considerable debate. Philip L. Barbour first formulated evidence in his The Three Worlds of Captain John Smith. This book explains that the apparent lifesaving actions of Pocahontas was in fact part of an adoption ritual that was misinterpreted by Smith. This is accepted by Mossiker, Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Jean Fritz, Peter Hulme, and J.A. Leo Lemay (all scholars in the area of Powhatan history). Helen Rountree doesn't fully accept the theory because she felt that too little was known about the Powhatan adoption rituals to be certain. In order to explore this further we must look at the facts:

The claim has also been made that Thomas Jefferson was a descendant of Pocahontas, however, he is a not a direct descendant. His father Peter Jefferson married Jane Randolph, eldest daughter of Isham and Jan Rodgers Randolph of Dungeness. The "Pocahontas blood" was brought into the Randolph family by Isham's younger brother, Richard Randolph of Curles, who married Jane Bolling (The Randolphs of Virginia. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972, x-xxi, 43.).

The noble disposition of Pocahontas was said to have been transmitted to all her descendants. The Bollings, Randolphs, and other Virginia aristocracy were proud to name her as an ancestor.


However, during the days of this event, many Europeans saw her as turning her back on her own people (as a traitor). The popular view was that intermarriage was not to be encouraged. They thought it morally wrong and unnatural. They were forewarned, before they left England, to avoid intermarriage with the people of the New World:

They may not marry nor give in marriage to the heathens, that are uncircumcised. ... William Symonds using Genesis 12:1-3 describing God's calling of Abraham. By 1662, Virginia had a law that prohibited interracial marriage, which was amended in 1691 to remove any doubt that Indians were included in this ban:

"that for a time to come whatsoever English or white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a Negro, or Indian man or woman, bound or free, shall within three months thereafter be banished and removed from the dominion forever." This law was inacted to "to prevent the abominable mixture and spurious issue which may hereafter increase in this dominion."

Another law was on the books, in Massachusetts, prohibiting marriage between whites and non-Caucasions, and in 1786 a law specifically banned marriage between Indians and whites.


Strachey, William. History of Travel into Virginia Brittania, 1612.

(For other sources see; Powhatan Page

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