Pocahontas

 

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PocahontasPocahontas. When Captain John Smith was on trial before Powhatan, two of the emperor's daughters occupied seats near him, one on each side of the " throne." One of these was Matoa, or Pocahontas, who subsequently made a conspicuous figure in Virginia history. When Smith was brought before Powhatan, the scene that ensued was impressive. There were at least 200 warriors present. The emperor wore a mantle of raccoon skins and a head-dress of eagle's feathers. The room was a long house, or arbor, made of boughs. The warriors stood in rows on each side in their gayest attire, and back of them as many women, with their necks painted red, their heads covered with the white down of birds, and strings of white beads falling over their bosoms. The captive was received with a shout, when the " Queen of Appomattox " brought water for him to wash his hands, and another woman a bunch of feathers to dry them with. Then he was feasted, and afterwards a solemn council was held, by which he was doomed to die. Two large stones were brought before the emperor, when Smith was dragged to them, his arms were pinioned, and his head placed upon them. Pocahontas petitioned her father to spare the captive's life, but in vain. Huge clubs were raised by strong men to beat out his brains, when Pocahontas, the eighteen year old, sprang from her father's side, clasped the prisoner's head with her arms, and laid her own head upon his.

Pocahontas saving Captain Smith

Pocahontas Saving Captain John Smith from Execution

Powhatan yielded to his daughter, and consented to spare Smith, who was released and sent with an Indian escort to Jamestown. The emperor and his people promised to be friends of the English. Two years after this event the Indians conspired to exterminate the white people. Again Pocahontas was an angel of deliverance to them. She heard of the plan, and on a dark and stormy night left her father's cabin, sped to Jamestown, informed Smith of the danger, and was back to her couch before the dawn. The English regarded the gentle Indian princess with great affection; and yet, when Smith had left the colony, and the Indians, offended, would help them to food no longer, that kind girl was ruthlessly torn from her kindred by a rude sea captain and kept a prisoner several months (see ARGALL, SAMUEL). That wicked act proved a blessing to the colony. While she was a captive mutual love was engendered between Pocahontas and John Rolfe, a young Englishman of good family and education. He was a Christian, she was a pagan. " Is it not my duty," he said, " to lead the blind into light ?" He labored for her enlightenment and conversion, and succeeded. The young princess was baptized at a font " hollowed out like a canoe" in the little chapel at Jamestown, whose columns were rough pine-trees; its rude pews were of "sweet-smelling cedar," and the rough communion-table and pulpit of black walnut. She received the Christian name of Rebecca-the first Christian convert in Virginia. Not long afterwards - on a charming day in April, 1613 - Pocahontas, with her father's consent, stood before the chancel of the chapel with Rolfe, a young widower, her affianced, and was married to him by the Rev. Mr. Whittaker, the rector.

Pocahontas Wedding

The Wedding of Pocahontas

All the people of Jamestown were pleased spectators. The chapel was trimmed with evergreens, wild flowers, and scarlet-berried holly. Pocahontas was dressed in a simple tunic of white muslin from the looms of Dacca. On her head was a long and flowing veil, and hanging loosely to her feet was a robe of rich stuff presented by the governor, Sir Thomas Dale, fancifully embroidered by herself and her maidens. A gaudy fillet encircled her head, and held the plumage of birds of gorgeous colors, while her wrists and ankles were adorned with the simple jewelry of the native workshops. When the ceremony was ended, the eucharist was administered, with bread from the wheat-fields around Jamestown and wine from the grapes of the adjacent forest. Her brothers and sisters and forest maidens were present; also the governor and council, and five Englishwomen-all that were in the colony-who afterwards returned to England. Rolfe and his spouse " lived civilly and lovingly together " until Governor Dale returned to England (1616), when they and the Englishwomen in Virginia accompanied him. The " Lady Rebecca " received great attentions at Court and from all below it. She was entertained by the Lord Bishop of London, and at Court she was treated with the respect due to the daughter of a monarch. The silly King James was angry because one of his subjects dared marry a lady of royal blood! And Captain Smith, for fear of displeasing the royal bigot, would not allow her to call him "father," as she desired to do, and her loving heart was grieved. The King, in his absurd dreams of the divinity of the royal prerogative, imagined Rolfe or his descendants might claim the crown of Virginia on behalf of his royal wife; and he asked the privy council if the husband had not committed treason! Pocahontas remained in England about a year; and when, with her husband and son, she was about to return to Virginia, with her father's chief councilor, she was seized with small-pox at Gravesend, and died in June, 1617. Her remains lie within the parish church-yard at Gravesend. Her son, Thomas Rolfe, afterwards became a distinguished man in Virginia, and his descendants are found among the most honorable citizens of that commonwealth.

 

 

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