As we celebrate Thanksgiving and look back through history at the time that the first European settlers arrived in the United States, it is easy to become confused about the details. One of the reasons for this confusion is that many of the details were never written down. Those that have been passed down as stories may have been distorted a little with each telling.
One of the things that historians do is try to find facts that support the stories that have been passed down. We know for sure that Pocahontas was important in the early years of the American colonies. However, there are plenty of details that cannot be confirmed historically. I hope this article will help separate the myths from the facts concerning who Pocahontas was and what she has to do with Thanksgiving.
In 1607, the first of the English colonials came to America in boats. They landed on the shores of what is now the state of Virginia and established a little town which they called Jamestown. This first boat filled with colonials was not the first boat from Europe to arrive in that area. Unfortunately, there had been an at least two other attempts at settling in the new land. More than twenty years before the Jamestown group arrived there had been another boat from England that had tried to settle on the Virginia shores. The natives of that area, an Indian tribe known as the Powhatan’s, had befriended that group of settlers. They treated the Indians badly, abusing and enslaving the friendly natives.
Because of this abuse, the Powhatans did not receive the new group of settlers kindly. They attacked the Jamestown settlers and killed one of the boys. This was the beginning of hostile relations between the Powhantans and the Jamestown settlers. However, when the settlers started to die during their first winter, some of the Indians took pity on them and helped them survive. One of these helpful natives was a young Indian girl named Pocahontas. She helped the settlers and enjoyed playing with the English children; we know this because one of the settlers described her in a journal in the year of 1610.
In the year of 1612, Pocahontas was invited to dinner aboard an English ship from which she was taken and held hostage. The English used her as a shield and to try to win back men that had been taken hostage by the Indians. One of the well-respected colonists, John Rolfe, fell in love with young Pocahontas and asked the Powhatan chief if he could marry her. The chief agreed, and the two were married.
The couple then traveled to England, and Pocahontas was introduced to the royal court. By all accounts, they loved her, and she loved them. Their acceptance of her may have been due to a letter that John Smith wrote the Queen prior to their arrival. In this letter, John Smith claimed that Pocahontas had saved his life several times. This may have been made up, since none of Smith’s other writings mentioned the life-saving events.
During their time in England, John Rolfe and Pocahontas (who took on the Christian name of Rebecca Rolfe) had two children. The Rolfe family began the trip back to Virginia in 1616. During the voyage, Rebecca (Pocahontas) got sick, and she died. She died on March 21st, 1616 and was buried in England.
These are the documented facts of the life of Pocahontas. The first official Thanksgiving prayer was marked in 1619 and the first Thanksgiving feast was celebrated by unrelated settlers in 1621. Both several years after the death of Pocahontas.