Gateway to the Classics: A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston
A First Book in American History by  Edward Eggleston

The Story of Pocahontas

While Captain John Smith was a prisoner among the Indians of Powhatan's tribe, he made the acquaintance of that chief's daughter, Pocahontas [po-ka-hon'-tas], a little girl of ten or twelve years of age, with whom he was very much pleased. Years afterwards, he said that Powhatan had at one time determined to put him to death; but when Captain Smith's head was laid upon some stones, and Indians stood ready to beat out his brains, Pocahontas laid her head on his, so that they could not kill Captain Smith without striking her; seeing which, Powhatan let him live. Captain Smith said nothing about this occurrence in the first accounts of his captivity, and many people think that it never happened.

But it is certain that, whether Pocahontas saved his life at this time or not, he was much attached to her, and she became very fond of going to Jamestown, where she played with the boys in the street. When the settlers were in danger of starving, she brought them food. When a messenger was sent from Jamestown to carry an important message to Captain Smith, then in Powhatan's country, she hid the man, and got him through in spite of Powhatan's desire to kill him. When the Indians intended to kill Captain Smith, she went to his tent at night and gave him warning. Captain Smith offered her trinkets as a reward, but she refused them, with tears in her eyes, saying that Powhatan would kill her if he knew of her coming there. These are the stories told of her in Captain Smith's history. And when a number of white men then in the Indian country were put to death, she saved the life of a white boy named Henry Spelman by sending him away.


Pocahontas Carries Venison to Jamestown

When Captain Smith had been in the colony two years, ships came from London with many hundreds of people. The ships that brought this company to Jamestown in 1609 were under the command of men that were enemies of Captain Smith, who had come to be governor of the colony. These men resolved to depose John Smith, so as to get the government of Jamestown into their own hands. Smith, having been injured by an explosion of gunpowder, consented to go back to England. His enemies sent charges against him. One of these charges was that he wished to marry Pocahontas, who was now growing up, and thus to get possession of the colony by claiming it for the daughter of Powhatan, whom the English regarded as a kind of king.

The colony had every reason to be sorry that Captain Smith was sent away. The men left in charge managed badly, Powhatan ceased to be friendly, and his little daughter did not come to see the English people any more. The people of Jamestown were now so afraid of the Indians that they dared not venture outside the town. Soon all of their food was gone, and they had eaten up their horses. Some of the people were killed by the Indians; some fled in one of the ships and became pirates; and great numbers of them died of hunger.

Ships arrived at last, bringing help to the colony. Under one governor and another Jamestown suffered many troubles from sickness and from the Indians. There was in the colony a sea captain named Argall, who thought that, if he could get Pocahontas into his power, her father, the great chief Powhatan, might be persuaded to be peaceable.

Pocahontas was by this time a young woman of about eighteen. She was visiting an old chief named Japazaws, who lived on the Potomac River. Argall was trading with the Indians at Japazaws's town. He told Japazaws that, if he would bring Pocahontas on board his ship, he would give him a copper kettle. Every Indian wanted to have a copper kettle, of all things. Japazaws and his wife, pretending that they wished to see the vessel, coaxed Pocahontas to go with them. Argall refused to let her go ashore again, and carried her to Jamestown a prisoner.


Pocahontas Taken Prisoner

Here she stayed a year. The English people in Jamestown refused to give her up unless Powhatan would return some guns which the Indians had taken. There was an Englishman living at Jamestown, named John Rolfe, who fell in love with Pocahontas, and proposed to marry her. When word was sent to Powhatan of this, he readily agreed to the marriage, and an old uncle and two brothers of Pocahontas went down to Jamestown to attend the wedding. Pocahontas, having been instructed in the Christian religion, was baptized in the little church, and married to Rolfe in 1614. Her real name was Matoax, but her father called her Pocahontas. When she was baptized, she took the name of Rebecca.


The Wedding of Pocahontas

The marriage of Pocahontas brought peace with the Indians. In 1616, with her little baby boy, Pocahontas was taken to England. Here she was called "the Lady Rebecca," and treated with great respect as the daughter of a king.

The people at Jamestown had told Pocahontas that John Smith was dead. When she saw him alive in England, she was very much offended. She fell into such a pout that for some time she would not speak to anybody. Then she announced her intention of calling Captain Smith her father, after the Indian plan of adoption.

She was greatly petted by the king and queen and all the great people. The change from a smoky bark hut to high life in England must have been very great, but she surprised everybody by the quickness with which she learned to behave rightly in any company. She was much pleased with England, and was sorry to go back. When she was ready to sail, she was attacked by smallpox, and died.

Her little boy was now left in England. Captain Argall, who had made Pocahontas prisoner, was now made Governor of Virginia. He was a very dishonest man, and he and some partners of his appear to have had a scheme to get possession of the colony by claiming it for the child of Pocahontas as the grandson of "King Powhatan." Argall sent word to England that the Indians had resolved to sell no more land, but to keep it all for this child. This was, no doubt, a falsehood. Argall was a bad governor, and he was soon recalled, and a better man took his place. The son of Pocahontas returned to Virginia when he was grown.

But when Pocahontas was dead, and Powhatan also, there was nothing to keep the Indians quiet, and in 1622 they suddenly fell upon the settlement and killed more than three hundred people in one day. Long and bloody wars followed, but the colony of Virginia lived through them all.


Indian Massacre in Virginia

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