John Rolfe Seeks Chief Powhatan’s Consent to Marry Pocahontas

Christian Bale as John Rolfe

Governor Dale sends Captain Samuel Argall and 150 men aboard the Treasurer up the York River seeking the Indians. In order to show a peaceful intent, John Rolfe and Pocahontas are on board. Captain Samuel Argall is again part of the Pocahontas and John Rolfe story. Captain Argall and his men meet some resistance at the first Indian village they encounter, so they sack and burn the village and kill five or six Indian men.

Farther upriver, at Werowocomoco, which in the early days of Jamestown had been paramount Chief Powhatan’s village, the English go ashore with Pocahontas. She refuses to speak to any Indians other than royalty, and two of her brothers come to speak with her. Pocahontas’ brothers agree to remain as hostages while John Rolfe and young Rob Sparkes seek Powhatan’s permission for Rolfe to wed Pocahontas.

Powhatan is three days journey away, so Rolfe meets with Powhatan’s younger brother Opechancanough (sometimes Opechankeno). A message is received from Powhatan. Chief Powhatan gives permission for the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, and Chief Powhatan further suggests a general peace between the natives and the settlers.

Ralph Hamor’s View of John Rolfe’s Letter to Governor Dale

Ralph Hamor, then Secretary of the colony, summarizes Rolfe’s situation in a simpler style:

Long before this time, a gentleman of approved behavior and honest carriage, Master John Rolfe, had been in love with Pocahontas and she with him … made known to Sir Thomas Dale by a letter from him [Rolfe], whereby he entreated his advice and furtherance in his life, if so it seemed fit to him [Dale] for the good of the plantation. And Pocahontas herself acquainted her brethren [her brothers] therewith.

In spring 1614, Governor Dale consents to the marriage. Now Rolfe seeks Chief Powhatan’s consent to Rolfe’s marriage to Powhatan’s daughter.

After Chief Powhatan Agrees to the Ransom Demands, Captain Argall Keeps Pocahontas Prisoner

On April 13, 1613, after receiving a favorable answer to his ransom demands, Captain Samuel Argall leaves Potowomac, but sails to Jamestown rather than to meet Chief Powhatan and receive the ransom. After reaching Jamestown, Princess Pocahontas is sent to the new village of Henrico, 55 miles upriver from Jamestown. Sir Thomas Dale, the Marshal, is headquartered in Henrico.

Captain Argall Holds Pocahontas For Ransom

Knowing Pocahontas to be a princess, Captain Samuel Argall asks for ransom. He asks for the release of English prisoners held by paramount Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas’ father, and return of all English weapons that were acquired by the Indians over the years. Chief Japazaw sends messengers to Chief Powhatan. Two days later the messengers return and report that Chief Powhatan accepts the ransom terms and asks Captain Argall to sail his ship up the Pamunkey River to the village of Matchut to receive the ransom.

John Smith Meets 10 Year Old Pocahontas

Title Page of John Smith's 1608 Book A True Relation ...

On June 2, 1608, John Smith writes a letter about Jamestown that is published in part, A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Have Happened in Virginia Since the First Planting of That Colony Which Is Now Resident in the South Part Thereof, Till the Last Return. Smith tells of his December 1607 capture by the Indians and being taken to Chief Powhatan. He makes no mention of being attacked with clubs or of the presence of Pocahontas during his captivity. There is also no mention of being threatened with clubs and saved by Pocahontas in his 1612 book about his Virginia adventure.

In April 1608, Smith captures seven Paspaheghans Indians as a result of a trade disagreement. The Paspaheghans are one of about 31 tribes in the Powhatan confederacy. Smith first mentions Pocahontas in his June 1608 letter as part of Powhatan’s response to his capture of the seven Paspaheghans in April 1608. Smith relates that in May 1608, Chief Powhatan sends a messenger Rawhunt, and his daughter, to secure the release of the Paspaheghans held by the colonists. He describes Pocahontas:

Powhatan … sent his daughter, a child of ten years old, which not only for feature, countenance, and proportion much exceedeth any of the rest of his people, but for wit and spirit the only nonpareil of his country. This he sent by his most trusty messenger, called Rawhunt …

May 1608 is Pocahontas’ first visit to the fort at Jamestown. She is still ten years old.

John Smith Captured by Powhatan Indians

John Smith 1616

In December 1607, on his fourth trip up the Chickahominy River, John Smith goes past the Chickahominy territory and into joint hunting territory shared with the Powhatan and is captured by Opechancanough, werowance or chief of the Pamunkey tribe and brother to the paramount chief of the Powhatan Empire, Wahunsenaca, known as Chief Powhatan. Two of Smith’s men are killed.

Some weeks later, Smith is taken to Werowocomoco on the York River and received by the paramount Chief Powhatan. Pocahontas had just turned 10 years old on September 17, 1607, and was not present. Indian sources are adamant and historians agree, that John Smith was not about to be beaten to death by the Powhatan and was not saved by Pocahontas. As a child, even the child of the chief, she would not have been at the audience of the prisoner. A popular animated film with a disclaimer at the end of the credits (that very few people see) says it is not historically accurate but for entertainment, has given many people a quite different impression of the facts.