The Truth About Pocahontas' Death

Pocahontas has become an inseparable part of the American lexicon, not just as a borderline folk hero, but also as the subject of the '90s Disney cartoon that future generations will point to the most while whisper-screaming "What were they thinking?" But how much of what we know about her is real, and how much was just shoehorned in because it rhymed with "the riverbend?"

Born somewhere in the ballpark of 1596, the woman remembered as Pocahontas may have actually been named something else entirely. As the Encyclopedia Virginia points out, some historians theorize that "Pocahontas" was either a nickname or a pseudonym used to disguise her actual name from colonists due to a superstition that knowing her real name would allow them to harm her in some way. Famously, the young woman intervened in the execution of one John Smith, saving him from imminent death at the hands of her father. Less famously, this was probably a story John Smith made up for attention.

The World's theories of Poca'

Even less famously than that, Pocahontas was later taken hostage by English colonists and held captive for a year, during which time she converted to Christianity, was baptized, and took the name Rebecca. During this time, she met a gentleman named John Rolfe and the two were married, with the woman who may or may not have formerly been named Pocahontas giving birth to their son nine months later. Their union was reported to have a beneficial effect on relations between the colonists and the Powhatan people.

As with any just-this-side-of-pleasant story from around that time period, this one comes to an uncomfortable and unfortunate conclusion: Rebecca was brought to England to meet the Queen as an example of a "civilized savage" in the hopes of securing extra funding for the Jamestown settlement. On the return trip, she fell ill and died at the ripe old age of 21. The cause? Folks are still debating that. It might have been smallpox, or tuberculosis, or maybe even poisoning. It's unlikely that we'll ever know for sure, as her body was buried beneath a church of indeterminate location which later burned to the ground.