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Who Is Pocahontas?

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Emilia Zubia

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Emilia Zubia


American History



Many know Pocahontas as the Native American young woman who saved and feel in love with John Smith. However, no one really knows the real story of this women. No one really knows who’s Matoaka. No one knows how she became an iconic figure for the Native American and women overall, the big sacrifices she had to do in order to save her homeland, Jamestown, when the English were conquering and destroying their land.

There are many versions of Pocahontas’s life in literature. Yet these are not all based on her but on what other people would like to think of this strong individual and her life.

In this paper, not only will you learn about her life, but you will also learn why she is worthy of the recognition she’s getting today. Why she should be known as an icon.

Who so Pocahontas? Pocahontas was a Powhatan Native American woman. She is known for the involvement of the colonial settlement of her homeland, today known as Jamestown, Virginia. She saved the life of John Smith by putting her head next to Johns Smiths at the moment of his execution. Then later Pocahontas married a colonist John Rolfe and changed her name to Rebecca Rolfe and died while visiting England in 1617.

Pocahontas was not her name; this was a nickname that she obtained as a little girl. Pocahontas means "playful one," because of her lively and curious nature. Her real name is "Amonute," however she also had another, more private, name: Matoaka.


Pocahontas was born in 1596 in Tsenacommacah known as Tidewater, Virginia. She was born to father Wahunsenaca. who was the paramount chief of the Powhatan, an alliance of about 30 Algonquian-speaking groups and petty chiefdoms. There is nothing written and no documents about her mother. Historians have theorized that she died during childbirth. Because of her dad being the daughter of the paramount chief Powhatan, it was a tradition (and was supposed to) for Matoaka to go live with her mother, who had left to live in another village after her birth. But she stayed to her father. She was the favorite kid of her fathers. He would call her his “delight and darling”.

Pocahontas had a very different lifestyle than the one we have now. In a way, she was the princess for the tribe yet she lived as a typical Tsenacommacah. She learned how to look for food and firewood, farm and building thatched houses. As one of Powhatan’s many daughters, she would have contributed to the preparation of feasts and other celebrations. Women did all the farming, cooking, collected water needed to cook and drink, gathered firewood for the fires, made mats for houses, made baskets, pots, cordage, wooden spoons. Women were also barbers for the men and would process any meat the men brought home as well as make clothing.

 She would wear little to no clothing, and had her hair shaven except for a small section in the back that was grown out long and usually braided. The shaven parts were probably bristly most of the time as the Powhatan Indians used mussel shells for shaving. In winter, she could have worn a deerskin mantle (not everyone could afford one). As she grew, she would have been taught women's work; even though the favorite daughter of the paramount chief Powhatan afforded her a more privileged lifestyle and more protection, she still needed to know how to be an adult woman.

When Pocahontas was about eleven years, the English arrived and settled Jamestown (May 1607), however Pocahontas and her father did not meet them until winter. They met when John Smith was captured by Opechancanough. This was when Pocahontas rescued John Smith. According to John Smith, he was brought in front of Chief Powhatan, two large stones were placed on the ground, Smith's head was forced upon them, and a warrior raised a club to smash in his brains. Before this could happen, Pocahontas rushed in and placed her head upon his, which stopped the execution. However, many historians debate whether this is true or not. What they believe happened was that Powhatan were adopting him to be part of the tribe. They would adopt him into the tribe in return for "two great guns and a grindstone,"

The Englishmen were never in danger Chief Powhatan sent gifts of food to the starving English. Pocahontas would take this gifts, as she was a sign of peace to the English.  The English knew Pocahontas was the favorite daughter of the great Powhatan, and was consequently seen as a very important person. So, the Englishmen soon took advantage of it. They used her to release the prisoners and according to john smith, it was thanks to her that all the prisoners were released.  Later they had a lot of complications and problems about harvesting. Apparently, a severe drought had drastically reduced the tribes' harvests. The settlers were demanding more food and the English were threatening the tribes and burning towns to get it. According to Smith, that night Pocahontas returned to warn him that her father intended to kill him. She also that Pocahontas was willing to risk her life to save his yet again. Afterwards, she disappeared into the woods, never to see Smith in Virginia again. Pocahontas was not allowed to visit Jamestown anymore. In the fall of 1609 Smith left Virginia and died.

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