Meaning of POCAHONTAS in English

born c. 1595, near present-day Jamestown, Va., died March 1617, Gravesend, Kent, Eng. personal name Matoaka, Christian name Lady Rebecca Powhatan Indian woman who helped maintain peace between English colonists and Native Americans by befriending the settlers at Jamestown, Virginia, and eventually marrying one of them. Dramatic accounts of her unusual role have immortalized her name in American folk history. Matoaka, whose pet name was Pocahontas (translated variously as frolicsome and my favourite daughter), was the daughter of Powhatan (as he was known to the English; more properly Wahunsonacock), chief of a confederation of some 30 tribes of the Tidewater region. Pocahontas was a young girl when she first became acquainted with the colonists who settled in the Chesapeake Bay area in 1607. She first entered the historical record in that year when she interceded to save the life of Captain John Smith, military leader of the months-old Jamestown settlement, who had been taken prisoner by Native Americans. In later, perhaps fanciful versions of Smith's story, she flung herself over him as his captors prepared to club his head on a stone. At her urging Smith was released to return to Jamestown. She subsequently became a frequent visitor in the settlement, sometimes bearing gifts of food to relieve the hard-pressed settlers. Her playful nature made her a favourite, and her friendship proved valuable to the settlers in helping to preserve peace. After Captain Smith's return to England in 1609, relations between the settlers and Powhatan gradually deteriorated. Pocahontas seems to have abandoned or been abandoned by her English friends for a time. In the spring of 1613, however, Captain Samuel Argall took her prisoner, hoping to use her to negotiate permanent peace. Treated with great respect and courtesy during her captivity, Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and was baptized Lady Rebecca. She was ransomed by her father but had in the meantime fallen in love with John Rolfe, a distinguished settler; both the Virginia governor, Sir Thomas Dale, and Powhatan agreed to a marriage, and peace prevailed as long as Powhatan lived. In the spring of 1616 Pocahontas and her husband sailed with Governor Dale to England, where she was lionized by society and presented at the court of James I. While preparing to return to America, she contracted smallpox and died. Additional reading Pocahontas Wight Edmunds, The Pocahontas-John Smith Story, ed. by James H. Bailey (1956); Grace Steele Woodward, Pocahontas (1969); Philip L. Barbour, Pocahontas and Her World (1970); Frances Mossiker, Pocahontas: The Life and the Legend (1976, reissued 1996).

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