StGeorges Gravesend Thursday 17 April 14

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Pocahontas

Pocahontas

Window of PocahontasPrincess Pocahontas was a native American who in the year 1607 intervened to save the life of pioneer Captain John Smith. Later she left her home in Virginia to travel to England, where she married an Englishman and became a regular in the court of King James. She became the first of her nation to convert to Christianity.

Pocahontas died on a ship anchored off Gravesend before she was able to return to the country of her birth. It is popular belief her remains are interred somewhere in the vicinity of the church, having been removed for reburial after the previous church was destroyed by fire.

The Story of Princess Pocahontas

Pocahontas was born about 1595-96, a daughter of the Chief over some forty Algonkian Indian villages; these were spread about the shores of the rivers now called the James and the York, which flow into Chesapeake Bay. Her father called Powhatan after his chief village named her Meto-aka and later "Pocahontas", meaning "Playful little Girl".

Powhatan’s rule was threatened by the arrival of the Spanish, French and English mariners, exploring for a Northwest Passage to the (East) Indies. After the death of Elizabeth 1, the end of England’s struggles with Spain and Scotland released capital and manpower for trade, and the conversion of the "savages". The English claim to North America was split between two companies; one based in Bristol, took North Virginia. In spring 1607, three London ships appeared in Chesapeake Bay and though permitted to land, Powhatan discouraged their would-be settlers from staying. When they started to build a fort the Indians attacked, but were repulsed by ship’s cannon. The ships sailed home before the winter, leaving 105 men – no women having been brought – who were only saved from starvation by the success of Captain John Smith in obtaining corn from more distant Indians.

Pocahontas Meets the English Captain

John Smith was exploring and seeking trade when one of Powhatan’s chiefs captured and killed his two companions. About December 29th 1607, he was brought before Powhatan, and afterwards reported that tribal chiefs held a long consultation. Then two big stones were brought in, and tribal chiefs held him. He was forced down on them with executioners apparently ready to kill him with clubs. At this point, a young girl ran from Powhatan’s side and placed her head over his. He was released and given to understand that he and Powhatan were to be friends and he would be free to return to his base. It seems possible that Powhatan arranged this "sparing of his life" ritual as a prelude to Smith’s being recognised as a friend and being received into the tribe. John Smith recorded that Pocahontas had saved other lives by giving warning of Indian attacks. In 1609, John Smith was elected President of the Jamestown Council. He was badly injured by an explosion of gunpowder, and was put on a ship for home; it was widely believed that he had died. Readers who are familiar with the plot of the Disney cartoon film will note that this is roughly the point at which the story is left. In reality the story of Pocahontas’ life is worth telling further. The settlers' numbers rose to 600 that winter. Then all but 60 died of starvation: but in 1610 a further 150 arrived. That year Pocahontas, when 16 was married to Kocoum, an Indian about whom nothing is known; apparently he died within the next three years.

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