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Pocahontas, illustration in Baziliωlogia A Booke of Kings, L...

Simon van de Passe1616

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
Washington, D.C., United States

Pocahontas (also known as Matoaka) grew up in coastal Virginia among a confederacy of Algonquian-speaking Powhatan people overseen by her father, the paramount chief. After John Smith and other representatives of the Virginia Company of London established a settlement at Jamestown, she sometimes served as an intermediary. In 1613, however, the colonists kidnapped and ransomed her for corn, guns, and prisoners. While in captivity, Pocahontas was converted to Christianity, took the baptismal name Rebecca, and married the tobacco farmer John Rolfe. Their son, Thomas, was born in 1615. Eager to publicize Pocahontas’s apparent assimilation as a means of attracting investors, the Virginia Company transported her to England, where she arrived in June 1616.

This engraving was created in England for the Bazilioologia: A Booke of Kings (1618), a collection of British monarchs and notables, and depicts Pocahontas as an affluent Englishwoman. Inscriptions proclaim her elite lineage, Christian religion, and marital status (confusing her son’s name with her husband’s). Pocahontas took ill and died nine months after arriving in England. Over the next 400 years, her brief life would inspire many fanciful legends, including a fictitious romance with John Smith.

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