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Life Portrait of Pocahontas

PocahontasThe only life portrait of Pocahontas (1595–1617) and the only credible image of her, was engraved by Simon Van de Passe in 1616 while she was in England, and was published in John Smith's Generall Historie of Virginia in 1624. She appears stiff in Jacobean court attire, but the costume probably hid tattooing and provided the chaste image wanted by the Virginia Company, which sponsored her trip and probably commissioned the print.

These are the facts about Pocahontas that are known for sure. As a child she played in 1607 with the settlers' children in the streets of Jamestown. Soon after, she befriended the captured English captain John Smith and probably pleaded with her father to spare his life. Thereafter, Smith and Pocahontas had a special, father-daughter relationship. Beginning in early 1608 Pocahontas led delegations of Indians who brought food to the near-starving Jamestown settlers. Then Pocahontas warned Smith of another plot to kill him.

In 1610 she married an Indian named Kocoum. In 1613 she was kidnapped by Englishmen, and eventually was baptized into Christianity. In 1614 she married the Englishman John Rolfe; the couple had a child, Thomas.

In the spring of 1616 the three Rolfes departed for England, where Pocahontas met King James I. Pocahontas and Rolfe were awarded funds to return to the colony to establish a college to Christianize the Powhatan Indians, but on beginning the trip home she died "unexpectedly," in March 1617, at Gravesend, England, where she is buried.

In this video, School Program Coordinator Caroline Legros, discusses the death of Pocahontas in the Virginia Historical Society's long-term exhibition The Story of Virginia, an American Experience.

VHS accession number: 1992.40 

Image rights owned by the Virginia Historical Society. Rights and reproductions

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