MEET A VIRGINIAN: Pocahontas

Pocahontas. The name resonates to–what? Mystery? History? John Rolfe? Disney? Elizabeth Warren?

Born in Werowocomoco, Virginia, about 1596 as Matoaka and also known as Amonute, Pocohontas was a Native American known for her association with the settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of Powhatan, chief of a network of Tribal nations in the Tidewater area. While historically suspect, she is said to have saved the life of Englishman John Smith in 1607, when her father intended to execute him.

In 1613 she was captured by the English, converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, and married John Rolfe. In 1616 the Rolfes traveled to London; she died the following year at age 21. Her story has been widely romanticized, and she is the subject of literature, art, and film. And, unfortunately, in recent times it has become a favorite presidential epithet. 

Of note also is the “Pocahontas exception” to the 1924 Virginia Racial Integrity Act, which stipulated that at birth, all children must be categorized as either “white” or “colored.” It defined colored as having any African or Native American ancestry (the “one drop [of blood] rule). However, since many influential Virginia families (“First Families of Virginia”) claimed to be descendants of Pocahontas, the legislature ruled that one could be considered “white” with even as much as 1/16 Native American ancestry.  In light of this exception and her contribution to history, attempting to use Pocahontas as an epithet against a female US Senator resoundingly fails its purpose.  But, then, the one who seeks to defame one woman with another, defames neither and will never appreciate the error.

 



Categories: Issues, Local, National

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