Marking the 400th Anniversary

Marking the 400th Anniversary: of Pocahontas’ Death

[4] The text in the oval frame encircling Pocahontas reads, “MATOAKA ALS REBECCA FILIA POTENTISS: PRINC: POWHATANI IMP: VIRGINIÆ.” The text below her portrait reads: “Matoaks als Rebecka daughter to the mighty Prince Powhatan Emperour of Attanoughkomouck als virginia converted and baptized in the Christian faith, and wife to the wor.ff Mr. Joh Rolfe.”

[5] Pocahontas entered European history books before she even sailed to London. In 1614, two years before her transatlantic voyage, Ralph Hamor, one of the original James Fort colonists, published A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia. In it he described her abduction. In 1619, the Theodore de Bry family published volume 10 of America and not only recounted the abduction story, but illustrated it with an engraving. In 1624, Jamestown colonist John Smith published his, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, and in it he included, for the first time, his dramatic account of his capture and imminent death at the hands of Powhatan and his men. He described how his life – and by extension, the colony – was saved by Pocahontas. The Simon van de Passe Pocahontas portrait was published in Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, as well as in certain editions of Bazilioologia: A Booke of Kings.

[6] See Camilla Townsend, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma (2004), pages 154-156

Cécile R. Ganteaume is an associate curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and formerly at the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, in New York. She is currently collaborating with lead curator Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche) on the upcoming exhibition Americans. One of Americans’ galleries will explore Pocahontas’s unique place in American national consciousness.