Woman's History

Who is Pocahontas?

Who is Pocahontas?

Let’s talk about Pocahontas.

You probably know her as the fascinating Disney heroine from the movie Pocahontas. Or with history classes, you might recognize her as the fourteen-year-old girl that died of illness once she reached England. But now, there is new research uncovering her to have lived longer and never to have had relations with John Smith in the way he made it seem (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-pocahontas-180962649/ )

What is the truth?

We already know that Disney likes to embellish classic tales, so we can most likely assume that there was no love triangle between Pocahontas, John Smith, and John Rolfe. Disney also led its viewers to believe she was more mature in age and mind than history books depicted her. If they had told the tale from a young girl’s perspective, we would have immediately been turned off by John Smith’s romantic interest.

The relationship between Smith and Pocahontas might not have been so strange at the time of the events (the early 1600’s) but would definitely be frowned upon now. A recent historian claims that their relationship was platonic and was only built up so much because of Smith. He kept a series of letters detailing their interactions and could have easily added in some false information. It’s not like we don’t deal with guys making up rumors about us nowadays, too.

So where does her story go from being a young girl who intervened peace on behalf of an entitled white man and dying of disease, to being a great leader of her people and living to a much older age? It all begins with the realization that the Indians were smart. Pocahontas was smart. She was young, yet she spent time learning and teaching languages with a stranger. After Smith was kidnapped by the Native people, the two of them tried to broker communication.

She wanted to understand the new people.

Pocahontas wanted to know why they acted the way they did, and why they dressed so strangely. She was a curious teenager. You might be able to relate to her in that way.

Imagine yourself, fourteen years old. A stranger comes into your home with a team of people. They demand you give them your home. They are speaking in a language you don’t understand. Your family fears for their loved ones and takes the first stranger hostage. Is your first instinct to make nice with the stranger?

It was Pocahontas’s. She was so incredibly brave. We may never know the exact truth of who Pocahontas was or what she was capable of, but we do know that she was an intelligent child who chose education over a war. Smith and his people were wrong for what they did. They knew it and needed to paint a child as understanding of their behavior, which is why we have what our history books tell us now.

If there is any information on Pocahontas that you want to share or other Native stories that seem fitting, please share them in the comments below!


Sarah is a UAB student and an intern for GirlSpring.

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