In the Disney version, Pocahontas’ legend goes like this:
Despite escalating tensions between her tribe and the colonists, Pocahontas, a Native American princess, falls in love with John Smith, a British colonist, in the Disney version. She saves John’s life just as her father is about to execute him, and her bravery brings peace to the two factions.
The actual story of Pocahontas however, is significantly less romantic than Disney’s rendition, as is the case with most Disney story remakes.
The real story goes like this:
Pocahontas is thought to have been born in 1595 to a Powhatan chief. Matoaka was her given name at birth, but she was also known as Amonute. “Pocahontas” was a slang term for “spoiled youngster” or “naughty child.” Matoaka’s tribe was one of around thirty Algonquian-speaking tribes in Virginia’s Tidewater region. The English had arrived in the ‘New World’ during Matoaka’s childhood, and confrontations between settlers and Native Americans were regular.
With a company of roughly 100 other settlers, John Smith, an Admiral of New England and an English soldier and adventurer, came in Virginia by ship in 1607. One of Powhatan’s hunting groups kidnapped John Smith as he was investigating the Chickahominy River. Powhatan’s home in Werowocomoco was where he was taken.
The details of what transpired next differ from one source to the next. In his original manuscript, John Smith described a huge feast followed by a sit-down conversation with Chief Powhatan. In a letter to Queen Anne, John Smith related the story of Matoaka flinging herself across his body to save him from Powhatan’s death. John Smith is thought to have been a conceited man who told this story to acquire notoriety. Matoaka/Pocahontas is represented as a young lady in the Disney version when she saves John Smith, but according to his recollections, she was only a 10-year-old girl at the time, making any relationship between them exceedingly implausible.
Matoaka frequently visited the Jamestown settlement to assist the inhabitants during times when food was scarce. During one of these visits, Samuel Argall seized Matoaka to ransom her for some English prisoners kept by her father on the 13th of April, 1613 AD. For about a year, she was held captive in Jamestown. During her captivity, tobacco planter John Rolfe took a ‘special interest’ in the attractive young prisoner, and he eventually conditioned her release upon her agreeing to marry him.
Matoaka was baptized ‘Rebecca’ and in 1614, she was married John Rolfe – the first recorded marriage between a European and a Native American.
Two years later, John Rolfe took Matoaka to England to exploit her as a symbol of hope for peace and good relations between the English and the Native Americans in a propaganda drive to support the colony of Virginia. Rolfe was praised for his success in bringing Christianity to the ‘heathen tribes’, and ‘Rebecca’ was hailed as an example of a civilized’savage.’ Matoaka met John Smith while in England. She refused to communicate with him, turning away and fled his presence — a far cry from the Disney movie’s depiction of their eternal love. The Rolfe family embarked on a ship to return to Virginia in 1617. Matoaka, on the other hand, would not make it back home. She grew very ill, and she was brought off the ship at Gravesend, where she died on March 21, 1617, from smallpox, pneumonia, or TB, as well as poisoning. When she died, she was believed to be 21 years old. Matoaka, however, did not have a happy ending.
There is a movie loosely based on the true story called – The New World.