Pocahontas (Matoaka) 1595-1617 [Print]
Pocahontas, a legendary figure in American history, was the daughter of a powerful 17th-century Powhatan chief. Allegedly seeking retribution for the murder of two tribesmen by the English, Powhatans captured John Smith, one of the founders of Jamestown, Virginia, an English settlement established in 1607. According to Smith's account, Pocahontas (whose real name was Matoaka) prevented the execution by her father. Continued cultural conflict led the English to capture and ransom Pocahontas six years later. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity and subsequently, changed her name to Rebecca, married John Rolfe (an English tobacco planter), bore a son, and traveled to London where she was presented as Lady Rebecca at the court of Queen Anne. While on board the ship bound for home in 1617 Pocahontas became ill and died.
As the daughter of a "chief" or "king," the English eulogized Pocahontas as a "princess" even though her status in Algonquian society is unclear. Although exoticized and erotocized to some degree, Pocahontas was further romanticized and sentimentalized. In representations such as Pierre Gustave Eugene Staal's printed in World-Noted Women (1858), Pocahontas was portrayed as more Caucasian and Christian than Native American. And by rejecting her "barbarous" girlhood and embracing piety, chastity, submission, and domesticity in Victorian children's stories, Pocahontas modeled feminine civility for daughters of the "new" middle class.
Students might compare this version with Smith's text and others shaped by prevailing ideals about gender, race, and girlhood including the most recent by Disney.
Portrait Gallery, University of Texas Libraries, http://www.lib.utexas.edu/exhibits/portraits/index.php?img=313 (accessed November 2, 2009). Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell.
How to Cite This Source
"Pocahontas (Matoaka) 1595-1617 [Print]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #338, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/338 (accessed August 1, 2014).