Pocahontas – How Disney got it so wrong…….



There are countless myths attached to this woman`s life and loves, all of them written in an attempt to project the concept of the noble savage being saved by western civilisation and Christianity.

She was in fact married twice in her short life, but neither time to the settler John Smith who invented the tale of her having saved him from being killed by her vengeful father.

According to Smith, at the time of the event young Pocahontas was twelve years old, which is somewhat young ( not to mention being female)  to being interfering in tribal affairs. Her name was in fact Matoaka – the Pocahontas bit being a nickname given to her by her father which meant “playful thing”. Her father is also misnamed; Powhatan was his tribal title, his real name being the wonderfully long and difficult to pronounce Wahunsunacawh.

This sorry tale gets worse as Smith did not think to mention Pocohontas risking her own life to save his until ten years after the so called event. He had also previously told a strikingly similar tale, this time about a beautiful Turkish girl saving his life when he was in Hungary (?) in 1602.

Meanwhile back to Pocahontas. Her first marriage it seems was a tribal affair to a fellow called Kocoum at the age of 14. Very little is known about her husband and presumably he died or just disappeared. Despite an uneasy truce between Wahunsunacawah and the Jamestown settlers there were repeated incidents prompting the latter to kidnap and ransom the young Algonquin princess. Wahunsunacawah refused to pay so the poor girl remained as a captive pawn in the ensuing negotiations.

Forcibly instructed in Christianity in preparation for a political marriage to benefit the colony, she had little say in the matter and baptised as Rebecca, she married settler John Rolfe in the April of 1614. While hardly the loving union of Disney-inspired imagination, the marriage did produce a period of peace between the settlers and the locals.

Swiftly impregnated to leave her no option of returning to her people, she gave birth to a son, Thomas, in the January of the following year and stayed with Rolfe on his Virginian plantation until 1616 when they both set sail with him to launch a PR exercise for the Virginia Company, anxious to promote further colonisation.

The couple lived in Brentford, Middlesex for several months where the poor girl not yet twenty-two contracted small pox. She died en route to the return trans-Atlantic ship and was buried at Gravesend on 21 March 1617. Rolfe returned to America and in a delicious stroke of irony was killed by her kinsmen a few years later.

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