The Real Pocahontas ~ Powhatan

Published on April 7, 2012 by Amy

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The Real and Disney Pocahontas
The Real and Disney Pocahontas

Matoaka was the beautiful and lively daughter of Powhatan, ruler of the land that the English named Virginia. “Pocahontas” was her childhood nickname, translated as “little wanton,” meaning she was playful and hard to control. When she was born, Powhatan sent her mother home to her own village, to raise Pocahontas. That was his custom. When she was about school age, Pocahontas left her mother to live in her father’s capital, with with her older brothers and sisters. As they grew up, Powhatan appointed some as chiefs of his other tribes. Pocahontas became her father’s favorite, “the apple of his eye”.

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Pocahontas is most famous for saving the life of Captain John Smith. This story has been retold many times in many ways. Disney’s Pocahontas was their first attempt to rewrite a historic event, instead of a fairy tale. As usual, the Disney version resembled the original just enough to confuse everyone. Here is the original story, told by Captain John Smith himself.

The real Pocahontas

Pocahontas was a girl of 11; Smith was a man of 28.

Pocahontas was a naked child when she visited John Smith in Jamestown. For Winter warmth, she would wear a mantle; one of hers was covered with feathers. When she turned 12, she started wearing a leather dress with or without one shoulder strap. Dresses were often decorated with pictures of animals, birds, or tortoises. She probably did have tatoos.

John Smith was short, had a full beard, and wore puffy pants (like everyone else). He did wear the type of armor shown.

The colonists sailed in three ships: the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery.

The colony did not have a governor for the first couple of years. It had a council with a president. Captain Newport was admiral and fleet commander during the voyage of 1607. After they landed, they opened the secret orders to see who was on the governing council. (It was Smith, Ratcliffe, Wingfield, Newport, Gosnol, Martin, and Kendall.) The council elected Wingfield as the first president. Ratcliffe was elected president in September, 1607. Captain John Smith is elected council president of Jamestown Virginia in 1608. In 1609, Smith left, and Percy became President. Thomas West (Baron De La Warre) was appointed the first Governor in 1609, but he did not arrive until 1610.

John Smith was arrested and clapped in irons during the voyage, and was not released until a month after the landing at Jamestown. After that, he did plenty of exploring and trading. He mapped most of the area.

John Smith was captured on an expedition one day in December, when he and his Indian guide split off from the other two Englishmen.

When Opechancanough captured him, John Smith used his compass to demonstrate “the roundnesse of the earth and skies, the spheare of the Sunne, Moone, and Starres, and how the Sunne did chase the night round about the world continually: the greatnesse of the Land and Sea, the diversitie of Nations, varietie of Complexions, and how we were to them Antipodes…”

It appeared that John Smith was going to be executed in Powhatan’s long house, in front of Powhatan’s warriors and counselors. The colonists did not know where he was.

John Smith met Pocahontas when she “rescued” him from execution. Powhatan then adopted Smith as his son, “Nantaquoud”. Pocahontas and her new kinsman became good friends.

This really belongs in Pocahontas II. After John Smith went home to England, then Pocahontas was engaged to Kocoum, but she chose John Rolfe instead.

George Percy was a prominent colonist who followed Smith as council president, and wrote two books about his experiences. A clever name for the dog! Thomas Savage, young laborer, arrived in January 1608, and was sent to live with Powhatan the next month, sort of like a “cultural exchange student”.

Disney’s Pocahontas

Pocahontas and John Smith were both young adults when they met.

Pocahontas had an amazing figure, and wore a leather minidress with one shoulder strap. She had a tatoo.

John Smith was tall and clean shaven. He wore tight pants and some armor.

The colonists sailed on the Susan Constant.

Ratcliffe was governor of the colony, so he was in charge during the voyage.

As soon as they landed, John Smith started scouting around.

John Smith was captured when ventured out alone at night to meet Pocahontas.

John Smith’s compass showed Pocahontas where her true path lay.

John Smith was going to be executed on top of a bluff at dawn, in front of an army of colonists who had come to rescue him.

John Smith and Pocahontas met in the wilderness and fell in love, like Romeo and Juliet.

Pocahontas was engaged to Kocoum, but she chose John Smith instead.

Pocahontas had animal friends. Percy was Ratcliffe’s dog. Thomas was a young colonist friend of Smith’s.

One good thing about Pocahontas II was that you didn’t come away from it thinking that Pocahontas married John Smith. You knew that John Rolfe was a different guy. Award one point to Disney!

Source: pocahontas Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2014 Native American Encyclopedia.
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