1607-1612

The first meeting of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith is a legendary story, romanticized by Smith in his later writings. He was leading an expedition of the new Virginia colonists in December 1607 when he was taken captive by some Indians. Over many days he was marched through woods and swamps to the official residence of Powhatan at Werowocomoco, which was only 12 miles from Jamestown as the crow flies. According to Smith, he was first welcomed by the great chief and offered a feast. Then he was grabbed and forced to stretch out on two large, flat stones. Indians stood over him with clubs as though ready to beat him to death if ordered. Suddenly a little Indian girl rushed in and took Smith’s “head in her arms and laid her owne upon his to save him from death.” The girl, Pocahontas, then pulled him to his feet. Powhatan said that they were now friends, and he adopted Smith as his son, or a subordinate chief. Actually, this mock “execution and salvation” ceremony was traditional with the Indians, and if Smith’s story is true, Pocahontas’s actions were probably one part of a ritual.

Relations with the Indians continued to be generally friendly for the next year, and Pocahontas was a frequent visitor to Jamestown. She delivered messages from her father and accompanied Indians bringing food and furs to trade for hatchets and trinkets.

She was a lively young girl, and when the young boys of the colony turned cartwheels, “she would follow and wheele some herself, naked as she was all the fort over.” She apparently admired John Smith very much and would also chat with him during her visits. Her character and poise made her appearance striking. Several years after their first meeting, Smith described her: “a child of tenne yeares old, which not only for feature, countenance, and proportion much exceedeth any of the rest of his [Powhatan’s] people, but for wit, and spirit, the only Nonpariel of his Country.”

Unfortunately, relations with the Powhatans worsened. Necessary trading still continued, but hostilities became more open. Pocahontas’s visits to the fort became less frequent. Smith led a trading party to Werowocomoco in January 1609, and when negotiations with Powhatan turned sour, Pocahontas snuck through the nighttime woods to Smith’s camp to warn him that her father had ordered Smith killed. He and his men escaped, but in October 1609, Smith was badly injured by a gunpowder explosion and was forced to return to England. When Pocahontas next came to visit the fort, she was told that her friend Smith was dead.


Exhibits