The Marriage of Pocahontas and Thomas Rolfe

Pocahontas, (?)1595-1617: real name ‘Meto-aka”, Algonquin princess, Christian convert, daughter of Chief Powhatan. This remarkable woman is said to have prevented her father from executing an English adventurer, Captain John Smith, who was a member of the Virginia Company expedition to Jamestown in 1607. She converted to Christianity, taking the name Rebecca. She married the colonist Thomas Rolfe, who brought her back to England in 1616 as part of a campaign to popularise the Jamestown colony and demonstrate the extent to which native Americans could be civilised by conversion. Setting a trend that has endured among Americans to this day, Pocahontas did a great deal in London in a remarkably short space of time. She was received very cordially by James I and the Bishop of London: she was visited by a drunken Ben Jonson; she took in a Shakespeare play, The Tempest. Finally she and Rolfe set sail back to Virginia, but Pocahontas fell suddenly and seriously ill with pneumonia. Rolfe put ashore at Gravesend where she died. An inscription in Gravesend Church reads: “Rebecca Wroth, wyffe of Thomas Wroth gent, a Virginia Lady borne, was buried in the Chauncell”. That her English trip caused her to lose her health, her identify and her life is in some measure made up for by her enduring popularity as an icon. The Colonial Dames of America presented memorial windows to Gravesend Church; she has been an inspiration to writers as different as Thackeray and Hart Crane; there have been films. Her nickname, Pocahontas, means “playful little girl”, appropriate when one thinks, with a sense of melancholy, of early accounts of her singing and turning cartwheels in the lanes and woods near Jamestown.

2 thoughts on “Pocahontas

  1. My understanding is that Chief Powhatan considered the Jamestown settlers to be a tribe like any other, and he wanted his daughter to marry their chief so as to have their support in conflicts with other nearby tribes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think another factor was her being kidnapped by the British naval officer Samuel Argall and held as “security” against the return of some English captives the chief had taken in his ongoing skirmishes with the Brits. The marriage seems to have been seen by both sides as an expedient and above all honourable way of cementing a peace.

      Liked by 1 person

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