Famous for helping maintain peace between the English colonists and Native Americans, Pocahontas befriended the settlers at Jamestown, saving the life of their leader, Captain John Smith.
Chapter 1: The English in Virginia
In January 1607 three ships left England and sailed to America. There were a hundred and fifty men on the ships, and they wanted to find a new world in the west – a home in a new and exciting country.
The ships were at sea for four months, and they arrived in Virginia on the 26th April, 1607. After four long months at sea the men were tired, ill, and hungry. But Virginia was beautiful. The sky was blue, and they could see rivers, and flowers, and forests of tall trees. The Englishmen were very happy.
But the Algonquin Indians of Virginia were not happy. They were afraid of the Englishmen and their ships. “This is our home,” they said. “We don’t want these white men here. We must fight them.”
But some Indians said: “No, wait. These men are interesting. Let’s make friends with them, and learn about them.” So the Indians, tried to talk to the Englishmen, and gave them food to eat. The Englishmen gave things to the Indians, too – little knives and pictures and beads.
The Englishmen began to build a little town. They called it Jamestown, because the King of England was called James. They called the river James River, too.
The leaders of the Englishmen were Christopher Newport, Edwart Wingfield, and John Smith. They wanted to learn more about Virginia, so Smith and Newport took twenty men and went up the river in a small boat.
The other men stayed in Jamestown with Wingfield. They began to build houses, and to make gardens and fields outside the town.
“The fields are more important than the houses,” said Wingfield. “And we must work quickly, because it’s nearly summer now. We must have corn and vegetables for the winter.”
But it was not easy. The weather was hot, and the men were tired after four months at sea. Some men worked hard, but many sat in the sun, and did nothing. The Indians watched, and waited.
Smith and Newport went a hundred kilometres up the river. They visited Indian villages and talked to a lot of Indians. Some of the Indians were friendly, and some were not. When Smith and Newport came back to Jamestown, Wingfield was very pleased to see them.
“I was afraid for you,” he said. “But you’re not dead!”
“No, of course not,” said Smith. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s the Indians,” Wingfield said. “They’re trying to kill us. Yesterday, they nearly killed me!”
“Well, what did you do?” Smith asked. “Our men have guns, and the Indians are very afraid of guns.”
“But there were hundreds of Indians,” said Wingfield, “and… we weren’t ready. Our guns were on the ships.”
“Why?” asked Smith angrily. “The men must always be ready; they must carry their guns with them. The Indians tried to kill you because they weren’t afraid of you.”
“Yes, but – we must be nice to them,” said Wingfield.
“We can be friendly, but we must be careful first,” said Smith. “We must build good walls round the town, and put the big guns from the ships on them. Then the Indians can’t kill us.”
For a month everyone worked hard. They built walls round the town, and moved the big guns from the ships. But the men were afraid to work in the fields, because of the Indians. And the sun got hotter, and hotter.
In June Newport went back to England with two of the ships. A hundred and five men stayed in Jamestown. They had very little food. The corn from England was now bad, and the new corn in the fields was not ready. The river water was bad too, and soon many of the men were ill with a fever. Forty-six men died that summer.
Some of the men tried to leave Jamestown and go home in the ship, but Smith stopped them. “We’re here to work, and to build a new town,” he said. “But first, we must find food. There are birds in the sky, fish in the river, animals in the forest – we must kill them and eat them. And we must get corn from the Indians, too. I can do that.”
Smith wasn’t afraid of the Indians, but he was always very careful. He carried his gun all the time. Most of the Indians were afraid of Smith, but they liked him too. He was friendly, and he loved their beautiful country. And he learned their language, because he wanted to talk to them and understand them. Often, he gave the Indians little things from England, and they gave him food.
But when winter came, there were only fifty men alive in Jamestown. They had some food, but they needed more. The Virginian winter is long and cold, and fifty men need a lot of food.
In December Smith went up the river in a boat with nine men. Two of the friendly Indians went with them. It was very cold, and the Englishmen were hungry. But Smith was happy and excited.
“I’m going to find food for Christmas,” he said to the men in Jamestown. “Wait for me here, and work hard! This is a beautiful country, and we’re going to stay here!”
There were a lot of Indian villages in Virginia, and every village had its Chief. But there was only one King. That was Powhatan, and he was the King of all the Algonquin Indians.
“Tell me about these white men,’ Powhatan said to his brother, Opekankanu. “They are living in my country, and killing my people. I want to see one of them.”
Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, heard this. She was thirteen years old. “What are white men, father?” she asked. “Are they white because they are ill?”
Powhatan smiled. “No, little Pocahontas, they aren’t ill,” he said. “They are a new people from over the sea. Perhaps we can see and talk to a white man soon. My brother is going to find one for us.”
The next day Opekankanu went into the forest with two hundred men. They found John Smith’s nine men next to their boat by the river. Smith’s men were afraid and got out their guns. But Opekankanu’s men killed two of them, and the other seven ran away.
John Smith was in the forest with the two Indians. When they heard the noise, they ran back to the boat – and saw two hundred men, with bows and arrows. Then an arrow hit Smith’s leg. He quickly took out his gun, and put a friendly Indian in front of his body.
“What do you want?” he asked. “Don’t come near me!”
“King Powhatan wants to see you,” said Opekankanu.
“Give me your gun.”
“No,” Smith said at first. But there were two hundred Indians, and he was one man. So he gave them his gun, and went with Opekankanu to Werowocomoco, the village of King Powhatan.
In the village, everyone came out to see the Englishman. Pocahontas looked at Smith carefully. He was very interesting. He was not very tall, and he had hair on his face. Indian men had no hair on their faces. And his eyes – his eyes were blue! All the men in her village had brown eyes. She looked at Smith’s blue eyes for a long time. They were beautiful, the colour of the sky.
Smith smiled at the little girl, and closed one of his eyes for a second. Pocahontas laughed, and then she smiled back at him.
“Why are you in my country, white man?” Powhatan asked. “Where do you come from? Who is your king?”
Smith told him about England, and King James, and Jamestown. It wasn’t easy, because he didn’t understand Powhatan’s language very well, and Powhatan didn’t always understand him. “We want to live here, and be your friends, Powhatan,” he said. “But this winter the people of Jamestown are hungry, so we need food.”
Opekankanu was angry. “These Englishmen cannot live here,” he said to his brother. “They are taking our land killing our people with their guns. They want King James of England to be king here, too. They call their town King James’s town, and they call our beautiful river King James’s river! But what about us? This is our country! We live here, and our fathers and grandfathers lived here before us. We don’t want the English, or their King James. We must kill them all now!”
“Perhaps,” Powhatan said. “But let’s think first. The English have guns, so we need guns too. I must think carefully about this. Pocahontas, come with me.”
They walked into the forest, and Powhatan asked his daughter: “What do you think about this Englisman, little Pocahontas?”
“Oh, father, I like him. He has wonderful blue eyes – the colour of the sky.”
“My brother wants to kill him, but I want to know more about these Englishmen first – and you can help me. I’m going to give him to you, little Pocahontas.”
“Give him to me, father?”
“Yes. Listen carefully, now. You must do this…”
They went back to the village. “Are we going to kill this white man now, Powhatan?” Opekankanu asked.
“Yes,” Powhatan said. “Bring him here.”
They put John Smith’s head on a stone, in front of Powhatan’s feet. Then Opekankanu took a big stick, and walked to the stone. Pocahontas looked at her. Now Opekankanu was next to the stone. John Smith closed his eyes, and waited to die.
Suddenly, he felt warm arms on his face and head. He opened his eyes and saw the face of the young girl, with her beautiful dark eyes.
“No, Opekankanu!” she cried. “No! I am the King’s daughter, and I say no!” She looked at her father. “Father – don’ kill this man – please! Give him to me!”
At first Powhatan said nothing. Then, slowly, he smiled. “Very well, Pocahontas,” he said. “You are only thirteen years old, but this white man is not very big. He is a boy with hair on his face. You can have him.”
Angrily, Opekankanu put his stick down.
Pocahontas smiled. “Come with me, white man,” she said to him. “You are my Englishman now. Come!”
John Smith stayed with Pocahontas for some days. She learnt some English, and he learnt more of her language. Soon they were good friends.
But Powhatan’s men watched Smith carefully, and he could not leave the village. Then one day Powhatan said: “you can go home to Jamestown, John Smith. But you must give me two of your big guns.”
John Smith did not like this, but he could not say no. So he went back to Jamestown, and Pocahontas, Opekankanu, and some Indians went with him.
In Jamestown Wingfield was not happy. “We can’t give our big guns to the Indians!” he said. “Then they can kill us, with our guns!”
“It’s all right,” said Smith. “Wait.”
He took Opekankanu and his men to the guns on the town walls. “Now watch,” he said. He put some gunpowder and some stones in the gun. “Put your hands over your ears,” he said, “and look at that tree.”
BANG! Pocahontas closed her eyes. Then she opened them, and looked at the tree. It wasn’t there!
“What happened?” she asked. “Where’s the tree?”
“I killed it with this gun,” Smith said. He looked at Opekankanu. “This gun can kill ten men, Opekankanu. Remember that. So, take your two guns.”
But the guns were very big, and of course, the Indians could not move them.
“Look,” said Smith. “You can’t carry these guns through the forest. But I can give you some gunpowder for Pocahontas. Here, take it. Be very careful with it.”
“Thank you,” Opekankanu said. “But one day, we want these big guns too. They are very important for us.”
“Perhaps,” said Smith. “But we want to be your friends, and friends are better than guns.”
That winter, Pocahontas came to Jamestown every week with food for the Englishmen. She learnt many interesting things in Jamestown.
“Look at this, Pocahontas,” John Smith said one day. He had a compass in his hand.
“What is it? Pocahontas asked. She tried to put her finger on the arrow in the compass, but she couldn’t.
“It’s a compass. The arrow always points to the north,” Smith said. “Where is the north? Do you know?”
“Of course I know. All my people know that.”
“Well, look – the arrow in the compass knows it too!”
“Why can’t I put my finger on it?”
Smith smiled. “Because of the glass. You can see through glass, but you can’t put your finger through it.”
“Yes,” she said slowly. “But – what is a compass for?”
“It helps us in our ships when we can’t see the sky,” he said. “Which way do we go? Where is the north? The compass tells us all that.”
Pocahontas was interested in everything. She loved to talk to John Smith, and she learnt many things about England and the English.
In March and April 1608, two more ships came to Jamestown. Powhatan asked Pocahontas about them.
“How many Englishmen are there now?” he asked.
“There were thirty-eight before the ships came, father. But now there are about a hundred and fifty.”
“It’s spring now. They must sow corn and vegetables in their fields. Are they doing that?”
“Yes, father. But they aren’t very good at it. This is a new country for them. They don’t understand it.”
“But they must have corn!” Powhatan was angry. “They need food for the winter. We can’t give them our corn every year! And we kill animals, birds, and fish for our food – the English must learn to do that too!”
“They are learning, father,” Pocahontas said. “But most of these men come from towns in England. They don’t know about these things.”
“Well, they live here now, so they must learn,” said Powhatan. “Or they must give me guns. We have a lot of food in our village, but we need guns. I can give the Englishmen food, but they must give me guns first. Tell that to your English friends, Pocahontas!”
But the English didn’t want to give Powhatan any guns. “Oh no, Pocahontas,” John Smith said. “Your father has thousands of men, but we have only a hundred and fifty. We can’t give him guns.”
Later, some of Powhatan’s men tried to take guns from the English. Smith was very angry. He locked the men in a little room in Jamestown for a week. Then he talked to Pocahontas about them.
“I’m very angry with these men, Pocahontas,” he said. “But I’m not going to kill them, because your father didn’t kill me in Werowocomoco. I’m going to give them to you. Take them home, Pocahontas.”
Pocahontas liked the English, and she often visited Jamestown. John Smith liked to teach her new things.
“The sun, Pocahontas,” he said one evening, “is a red ball in the sky. This world is a big round ball, too. Thirty years ago, an Englishman called Francis Drake sailed round the world in a ship.”
Pocahontas laughed. “But that’s not true! Of course the world isn’t a ball! Why does the sea stay on it, then?”
Smith smiled. “Oh, I can tell you. Listen…”
He talked well, so it was easy to understand him. Pocahontas listened, and watched his beautiful blue eyes. She was fourteen years old, and for her, John Smith was the most exciting man in the world.
“Do you have a wife, John Smith?” she asked one day.
“No,” he said slowly. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, because one day I must have a husband, and…” She did not finish, but John Smith understood.
“Pocahontas,” he said carefully, “you are only fourteen years old, and I’m twenty-eight. And the daughter of the King must marry somebody important.”
“You are an important man in Jamestown,” she said quickly. “And my people and your people must learn to be friends. A husband and wife can…”
“Stop.” He put his finger on her mouth. “Pocahontas, I like you very much, but I’m not the right husband for you, and… I don’t know a lot about women.”
“I can teach you about that!” she said.
He looked at her in surprise, and laughed. She was angry when he laughed.
“I’m nearly fifteen. In my village a girl can have a husband when she is fifteen! Why are you laughing?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You are a beautiful, interesting girl, Pocahontas. But you are only a child!”
“I’m not a child! You’re afraid of me, because I’m a King’s daughter, and I want you for my husband.”
Pocahontas was angry and unhappy. She went away, back to her father’s village, and she didn’t visit John Smith again for two months. But she thought about him every day. There was only man in the world for Pocahontas, and that was John Smith.
And in Jamestown, perhaps John Smith thought about Pocahontas, too.
In the winter of 1608 the English in Jamestown were hungry again. So John Smith went to Werowocomoco and asked Powhatan for corn. He took many beautiful glass beads with him, because the Indians loved these things. But Powhatan wanted more than beads.
“You can have corn,” he said, “but you must build one of your big English houses for me – with windows of glass. And you must give me some guns.”
“A house – yes,” said Smith. “Tomorrow my men can bring things from Jamestown and begin to build a house for you. But guns – no. Friends do not need guns.”
Powhatan smiled, but he was angry, very angry. “Yes, we are friends,” he said. “Tonight you must stay here and eat with us. Tomorrow you can have your corn.”
That night Pocahontas came to John Smith. She was afraid. “My father is angry,” she said. “He wants to kill you, and all your men. You must be careful!”
John Smith took her hands. “What a good friend you are, Pocahontas!” he said. “How can I thank you?”
Pocahontas looked into his blue eyes. “You are my King,” she said quietly. “My King – now, and always.”
So Smith and his men carried their guns all the time and they watched very carefully. The next morning Opekankanu and his women came with the corn.
“There is your corn,” Opekankanu said. “Now, give us your guns!” He smiled. “Look behind you!”
Smith looked. And seven hundred Indians came out of the forest, with bows and arrows.
How can ten men fight seven hundred? In a second, John Smith had his hand in Opekankanu’s hair, and his gun in Opekankanu’s face.
“My gun can kill you,” he said angrily, “before an arrow can get to me.” He looked at Opekankanu’s men. “Do you want Opekankanu to die?” he called.
The Indians were afraid of John Smith. To them, he was a King, and it is not easy to kill a King. They put down their bows and arrows, and went away into the forest. Opekankanu, too, was afraid. His women put the corn in Smith’s boat, and Smith and his men went back down the river to Jamestown.
Powhatan and Opekankanu were angry. “We don’t want these Englishmen in our country,” Powhatan said. “We must kill them – kill them all!”
“No, father!” said Pocahontas. “We must learn to be friends with the English. John Smith says –“
“Be quiet!” Powhatan said. “John Smith is our enemy. Stay away from him! Do you understand?”
“But you gave him to me, father. Do you remember? I loved his blue eyes then, and I love them now. I cannot stay away from him.”
Pocahontas did visit John Smith after that, but not very often. It wasn’t easy for her. There was often fighting between the English and the Indians now, and dead men do not make friends.
More ships and more men came from England – and more guns. Jamestown was now a town of five hundred people – five hundred hungry people. The English wanted the Indians’ corn, and the Indians wanted the Englishmen’s guns.
One day, in October 1609, Pocahontas went to Jamestown, but she could not find John Smith.
“Where is he?” she asked some Englishmen.
“Smith? He left Jamestown a month ago,” one man said. “He had a bad accident with some gunpowder. He was very ill. So he went home to England.”
“Ill?” Pocahontas said. “John Smith is ill?”
“Yes,” the man said. “It was a very bad accident. And six weeks on a ship… perhaps he’s dead now.”
“Did – did he leave a letter for me?” Pocahontas asked.
The man laughed. “A letter for you, little girl? But you can’t read! Why? Is it important?”
“No,” she said. “It’s not important.” But of course it was.
She went away into the forest and cried for a long time. Where was John Smith, her Englishman with blue eyes, the colour of the sky?
For four years after that, things were very bad. Sometimes Pocahontas tried to help the English. But to Powhatan and Opekankanu, the English. But to Powhatan and Opekankanu, the English were enemies, and they wanted to kill them all.
Powhatan gave the English no more corn. His men came at night to Jamestown, and took guns and other things. When they found Englishmen in the forest or by the river, they found Englishmen in the forest or by the river, they killed them and took their guns and other things. When they found Englishmen in the forest or by the river, they killed them and took their guns. And so Powhatan now had many guns in Werowocomoco.
The new leaders of Jamestown were very unhappy about this. “How can we stop Powhatan?” they said. “We must get those guns back from him.”
“We need to take a hostage,” said a man called Samuel Argall. “One of the Chiefs, or somebody important from Powhatan’s family. Then we can talk to Powhatan. We can give him back the hostage when he gives us the guns – but not before.”
“Powhatan has a daughter, Pocahontas,” said an older man. “He loves her very much, they say…”
In 1613 Pocahontas was nineteen. She lived now with her father’s friend, Iapassus, and his wife. Iapassus was friendly with the English, and so it was easy for Samuel Argall. He came to Iapassus’ village in his ship.
“I have many beautiful things from England in my ship,” he told Iapassus. “They are all for you – but first, you must give me something. You must bring Pocahontas onto my ship, and leave her here.”
So Iapassus took Pocahontas onto the ship, and Argall locked her in a room. Pocahontas was very angry.
“I’m sorry,” Argall said to her, “but you must come with me to Jamestown. Your father must stop fighting us, and he must give us back our guns. Then you can go home.”
So Pocahontas went to Jamestown, and stayed there. At first, Powhatan was angry. He wanted his daughter. But then he looked at his guns, and he wanted then more than his daughter.
“We can kill the English with these guns,” he said to Opekankanu. “Pocahontas likes the English. She can stay in Jamestown – and the guns can stay here.”
There were many women in Jamestown now, and Pocahontas soon made new friends. The Englishwomen liked her very much. She stayed in their houses, played with their children, and spoke English all the time.
After some months, one of her new friends asked her: “Are you happy here with us, Pocahontas? Would you like to go home to your people?”
“The English are my people now,” said Pocahontas.
“But perhaps one day your father –“ said her friend.
“My father,” said Pocahontas, “likes his guns better than his daughter. They are more important to him. This is my home now, and I am very happy here.”
One of her new friends was a man call John Rolfe. Pocahontas liked him. Rolfe was a tall man, with brown eyes. He like Pocahontas, too, and visited her nearly every day. He smiled a lot, and often laughed happily
One day he said: “Pocahontas, I have something important to say to you. We are good friends. I need a wife, Pocahontas, and – you are the most beautiful woman in Jamestown. And the most interesting woman, too! I love you, Pocahontas, and I want to marry you.”
At first Pocahontas didn’t say anything. John Rolfe was a nice man, but a long time ago, she remembered, she wanted to be the wife of a different John. “But I’m never going to see John Smith again,” she thought. “He’s dead. I must forget about him.”
She smiled at John Rolfe. “Yes, John,” she said. “I would very much like to be your wife.”
And so, on the 5th April, 1614, an Indian girl married an Englishman in the church in Jamestown. Pocahontas’ father did not come, but Opekankanu was there, with many of her people.
“Your father is happy for you,” Opekankanu told her.
Pocahontas was happy, too. John Rolfe was a good husband, and a year later, they had a little son, Thomas. Pocahontas loved him very much.