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 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.
Financial Success and Expansion
John Rolfe’s two important contributions, the financial success and the period of peace for the first permanent English colony in the Americas, led to the establishment of the English common law and the English cultural heritage of representative government and religious freedom on which the United States of America was founded. If John Rolfe hadn’t created a financially successful industry and fallen in love with Pocahontas, we could have a French, Spanish, or even Dutch heritage.
Wedding of John Rolfe and Pocahontas
Notably, the wedding of John Rolfe and Pocahontas was the first interracial church marriage in the New World. John Rolfe’s initiative in his personal life as well as his business life set an enduring precedent for American life.
Pocahontas’ marriage to Rolfe led to a period of peace, known as The Peace of Pocahontas, which allowed the English foothold in Jamestown to expand until there were too many English for the natives to kill or expel. This period of peace was directly responsible for the success of the Virginia colony, and John Rolfe was responsible for it.
Pocahontas and John Rolfe
Second, John Rolfe fell in love with Princess Pocahontas. He asked for and received permission from the Governor of Virginia to marry Pocahontas, recognizing that interracial marriage was at least discouraged if not prohibited. No white man had ever married a Native American. He also asked for and received permission from Pocahontas’ father, Chief Powhatan, the paramount chief of 31 Algonquin tribes. John Rolfe and Princess Pocahontas were married on April 5, 1614.