(Pocahontas in animated and engraved formats)
Pocahontas became a legendary figure whose story was commercialized in books, films, ballets, and other aspects of popular culture; however, the real woman was significant as well although much of her life remains unknown to historians. She was born around 1596 as Matoaka, the daughter of Powhatan, who was leader of thirty Algonquian speaking Native American groups near Tidewater, Virginia. She encountered the Jamestown settlers under circumstances that have been romanticized by some and misunderstood by others. Captain John Smith told the famous story that the young girl saved his life when her people threatened to club him to death. Some experts believe the events were actually part of a ceremony designed not to harm Smith but to symbolize his “death and rebirth” as an ally of the group. In any case, the legend survived and Pocahontas became famous. She was taken captive by the English and during this time she married a tobacco planter named John Rolfe in April 1614. She gave birth to their son Thomas in 1615. She joined her husband on a voyage to England where she enjoyed a certain amount of celebrity as a Native American Christian and a symbol of peace between the colonists and the Native Americans. She died while in Gravesend, England in 1617. Pocahontas became the first Native American woman represented on a postage stamp in 1907. Several communities in the United States were named in her honor as were many schools or public buildings. She was the heroine of ballets, plays, movies, and even became a Disney Princess in an animated film. Several U.S. Naval ships were named after her and she remains an admirable symbol of peace and understanding.