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Not quite Disney. Etching from 1616.

Pocahontas (c. 1595 – March 1617) was a Native American from the tidewater region of what is now Virginia. She was the favorite daughter of Powhatan, who ruled the loose confederacy that gave him his name.[1] She is perhaps best known for her "rescue" of John Smith, an event that many scholars argue was misunderstood by Smith, or perhaps, never occurred. She was instrumental in providing food to the Jamestown colony in its earliest days. In 1610 the English abducted Pocahontas and held her hostage aboard ship in an effort to insure her father’s good behavior toward the English. During her captivity, she “converted” (there is some dispute as to the sincerity of her conversion) to Christianity and was rechristened Rebecca. She subsequently married John Rolfe, a colonist who was instrumental in the economic salvation of Jamestown when he introduced a hardy, flavorful strain of tobacco.

Pocahontas bore a child by John Rolfe, one Thomas Rolfe. Pocahontas returned to England with Rolfe, where she was introduced to court. She took ill just as the Rolfes embarked to return to England. She died there, and is interred at Gravesend.

She is the subject of a few stunningly inaccurate movies, not the least of which is Disney's rather frightening (in terms of historical accuracy) portrayal. But Disney's portrayal was hardly the first to go the pseudohistory route (though Disney at least owned up to it). Because she is an ancestor of most of the First Families of Virginia[2] and because later Americans did not want to acknowledge the acts of any non-white person in their history, Pocahontas's story was greatly romanticized, to the point where some[3] insisted that she must be white, thus leading to such absurd claims as that she was the daughter of Virginia Dare.[4] There are supposedly more than 100,000 descendants of Pocahontas.[5]

The Pocahontas Exception[edit]

When the State of Virginia attempted to define race in attempting to ban miscegenation in 1924, the legislators realized that they had to carve out an exception known as the "Pocahontas Exception". This was because many of Virginia's most prominent families were (or at least claimed to be) descended from both Europeans and from Pocahontas.[6]

See also[edit]


  • Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown (University of Virginia Press, 2006).
  • Camilla Townsend, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma (Hill & Wang, 2004).


  1. Well, title actually. "Powhatan" is roughly the equivalent of "Emperor" or "President."
  2. http://pocahontas.morenus.org/poca_gen.html
  3. Such as Mary Virginia Wall in her aptly named 1908 novel The Daughter of Virginia Dare
  4. Which would almost have required a virgin birth, given that Dare would have had to give birth to Pocahontas at the tender age of 8. Not impossible,Wikipedia's W.svg but extremely implausible and completely undocumented.
  5. Pocahontas descendants
  6. White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier