What is factual about John Smith and Pocahontas? In the winter of 1607 when Smith was taken prisoner and met Pocahontas, he was thirty-seven and she was twelve. While the age difference is disturbing and illegal today, it was not necessarily a barrier to their relationship back then. Powhatan, Pocahontas’ father, was the powerful chief of a confederacy of tribes that neighbored Jamestown. Would such a powerful man allow his daughter to have a romantic relationship with a white prisoner of war?
First, some historians believe than instead of being on the verge of execution when Pocahontas spared him, Smith was actually being initiated into the tribe. Smith was a respected opponent, and maybe Powhatan liked him enough to allow his daughter to get close to Smith. Her name was Matoaka, Pocahontas was a nickname that meant “frisky.” It is very reasonable that a twelve year old innocent extrovert would be intrigued by such an unusual stranger as Smith. They could have been friends without being lovers.
When Smith was set free, he and Pocahontas continued to have contact, and she brought food to the starving people of Jamestown. In 1609, Smith returned to England, never saying goodbye. Jamestown settlers told Pocahontas he was dead. Was this to save her the heartbreak of abandonment and allow her to move on with her life?
In 1613, Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom by the Jamestown settlers. In 1614, she converted to Christianity, became known as Rebecca, chose not return to her tribe, and married John Rolfe, which helped end Indian-Jamestown conflict. Rebecca traveled with her husband and son to England where she was treated as a celebrity, met the king and queen, briefly reunited with Smith, and died in 1617 as they began to leave England. Her son, Thomas Rolfe, returned to America and had many important Virginia descendants.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.