The year was 1608. The place was Virginia. Captain John Smith was about to die. Smith, a settler from England, had been captured by a Native American tribe. They had his head on a rock and were about to beat him with clubs.

Suddenly, the chief’s young daughter Pocahontas rushed up. She cradled Smith’s head in her arms. The clubs could not fall without hurting her, too. Pocahontas saved the handsome captain’s life.

At least, that’s how the story goes.


The Pocahontas story probably never happened, although all the people in it existed. John Smith helped set up a Virginia community called Jamestown in 1607. It was the first successful English colony in North America. Smith was captured by a tribe called the Powhatan. Their chief, also called Powhatan, ordered that Smith be killed. Somehow, Smith talked his way out of it.

Powhatan did have a daughter. She was born in about 1595. Her real name was Matoaka, but everyone called her Pocahontas. In her language, that meant “playful one.” But she probably had nothing to do with Smith escaping death that day.


We know that Pocahontas was captured by the English in 1613 and taken to Jamestown. The English settlers were at war with Powhatan’s people. In 1614, Pocahontas married English settler John Rolfe. Both the English governor and Chief Powhatan approved of the marriage. The marriage helped the two groups make peace.

Pocahontas became a Christian. She changed her name to Rebecca and gave birth to a son named Thomas. Pocahontas and her husband visited England. There, Pocahontas died of smallpox. Back in America, the peace soon broke down. The Native Americans and the English went back to fighting.

Pocahontas’s son grew up in England, but he returned to Virginia as an adult. There, he became a leader among the English settlers.


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