Pocahontas, a nickname meaning “little spoiled one,” was born Amonute, daughter of Chief Powhatan in 1595. She was an extrovert from a young age, inquisitive and naturally good-natured. At eleven years old she played a minor role in securing John Smith’s survival. Later she was the go-between for trade among the settlers and Indians bartering at Jamestown.
The fictionalized version of her love affair with Smith may, in fact, bear some truth, but in a much more disturbing way for our modern sensibility. Today, a thirty-year-old having a relationship with a preteen is pedophilia and a crime. But, in that era, a relationship with non-Christian pagans of any age was not considered wrong. Pocahontas was known to have “long, private conversations” with Smith during her frequent visits to the Jamestown complex, yet the true dimensions of these encounters are a matter of conjecture.
A few years later she was betrothed to the older Englishman John Rolfe, only after she agreed to be baptized in 1614. Two years later Rolfe took her to London, where she was received as a celebrity, billed as a real live Indian princess by high-society, and held an audience with King James. In 1617 she believed the smoky air of London was the cause of her coughs and bouts of weakness and wished to return to Virginia, but the vessel only made it to the end of the Thames River before it turned back. Pocahontas died in London at age twenty-one of a disease called the king’s evil, a form of tuberculosis characterized by swelling of the lymph glands.