John Smith and the English colonists stayed near the Powhatan on nearby Jamestown Island, but later began to explore out-lying areas.
In the meantime Smith terrorised Native people when he put guns to heads of village chiefs, demanding food and supplies. In fact the early 1600s were a horrible time for all local tribes. Young children were targets of rape, so the Native women offered themselves to men, to keep their children safe. The Powhatan people were in an unwinnable situation since the English government offered them no protection.
The true story of Matoaka (later Pocahontas c1596-1616) has been gathered from years of extensive research of the written records and oral histories from her descendants and tribal peoples of Virginia. Read Vincent Schilling who tells a tale of tragedy and heartbreak about a young Native girl Matoaka who was kidnapped, raped and perhaps murdered by those who were supposed to keep her safe.
Matoaka’s mother was Pocahontas (who died giving birth) and her father was Wahunsenaca, the tribal chief. Little Matoaka was raised by the Mattaponi women, along with her many siblings.
Matoaka was c10 when John Smith and English colonists arrived. Since Pocahontas was living with her father Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, she seemed to be protected. In winter 1607, the colonists and Smith met with Powhatan warriors and Smith was captured by the chief’s younger brother. Later Wahunsenaca grew to like Smith, offering him the position of werowance/colonists’ leader, plus land with great access to game and seafood.
"English" Pocahontas' portrait, 1616
She was in rich red and gold, with white lace cuffs and high collar, pearl earring, and an ostrich feather fan.
Years later, Smith alleged that Pocahontas saved his life in the four-day process of becoming a werowance. But children were not allowed to attend any sort of religious rituals, so she could not have thrown herself in front of John Smith to beg for his life. [In 1624 Smith published his book General Historie of Virginia where he claimed Pocahontas had twice saved his life, but Vincent Schilling said it wasn’t true].
In 1608-09, Smith’s role as the colonists’ werowance had failed. The colonists made inadequate attempts to plant crops to harvest, and Smith violently demanded supplies from surrounding villages. Pocahontas’ father was disgusted.
When Matoaka turned 14, she choose a new name after her mother, Pocahontas. During a ceremony she danced a courtship dance with Kocoum, younger brother of Potowomac Chief Japazaw. She married the young warrior and soon became pregnant. It was at this time rumours surfaced that colonists planned to kidnap Pocahontas.
An English colonist Captain Samuel Argall was particularly keen to find her, thinking that a captured daughter of the chief would prevent Native attacks. Argall came to the village and demanded Chief Japazaw, Pocahontas’ brother-in-law, to give up Pocahontas or suffer violence against his village. So he relented in the ridiculous hope that she would only be gone temporarily. Before Argall left the village, he gave Chief Japazaw a copper pot as a “trade” for her.
Pocahontas had to give her baby, Kocoum, to the women of the village. She was trapped onboard an English ship and her husband was killed by the colonists. The tribal chiefs of the Powhatan never retaliated for the kidnapping of Pocahontas, fearing they would suffer!
Pocahontas’ anxiety was so severe that her English captors allowed sister Mattachanna and brother-in-law Uttamattamakin to help. In The True Story of Pocahontas, The Other Side of History, Linwood Custalow wrote that when Mattachanna and Uttamattamakin arrived at Jamestown, Pocahontas confided she had been brutally raped.
By the time John Rolfe arrived in Virginia in May 1610, 600 colonists had been reduced to 70 by famine, disease and clashes. Mattaponi history is clear that Pocahontas and Rolfe had a son out of wedlock, Thomas. Eventually Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca.
During her captivity, the English colony of Jamestown was failing. John Rolfe was under a 1616 deadline to become profitable or lose financial support from home. Rolfe sought to learn tobacco-curing techniques from the Powhatan, but curing tobacco was a sacred Native practice. Realising the value of aligning himself with the tribe, he eventually married Pocahontas.
Only then did the Powhatan spiritual leaders and family share the curing practice with Rolfe. And soon Rolfe’s tobacco was a sensation; he saved the colony of Jamestown!
The Powhatan tribal lands were now highly sought after for the tobacco trade and the tribe suffered badly of greedy tobacco farmers. Rumours of the colonists’ desire to take Pocahontas made its way to the Powhatan, who feared for her well-being. They thought of rescuing her, but once again Wahunsenaca did nothing because he feared his daughter might “be harmed”.
Rebecca Pocahontas Rolfe travelled to England in 1616 with John Rolfe, son Thomas Rolfe, John Argall and some Native tribal members. The bringing of Pocahontas to England was to show friendship with Native nations; it was a key to continued financial support for the struggling colonists.
According to Mattachanna’s record, Pocahontas realised that she was being used and desperately desired to return home. According to Jane Dismore, Pocahontas carried herself with great dignity. The Bishop wrote he ‘accustomed her selfe to civilitie’ and ‘still carried her selfe as the Daughter of a King, and was accordingly respected [by] persons of Honor, in their hopefull zeale by her to advance Christianitie’. Clearly she was very popular in King James’ court, and did not want to go home.
Plans were made to return to Virginia in 1617 when Pocahontas was in good health. Yet at only 20 she died (of TB?) in March 1617 and was buried in St George’s Church Gravesend.