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Portrait of the Day: Pocahontas

Past event archive
6 February 2020, 12:30

Room 4

Free

  • Talks and Lectures

Pocahontas
published by William Richardson, after Simon de Passe
published 10 August 1793 (1616)
NPG D5536

Daughter of Chief Powhatan, a ruler of the coastal region of present-day Virginia, Pocahontas is the most famous Native American from the early era of British colonial expansion in the New World. The arrival of English settlers in Virginia in 1607 led to armed conflict, the Indians had formed a powerful confederacy under the leadership of Chief Powhatan. In May 1610 tobacco planter John Rolfe arrived in Virginia, his development of a fine and profitable grade of tobacco helped revive the colony's economy. Attacks on the settlers were halted when Pocahontas was abducted in 1613. After a year in captivity, Pocahontas converted to Christianity. Baptised with the name Rebecca, she married John Rolfe with her father's consent. Their marriage is widely thought to be the first inter-racial church wedding in US history. Hostilities between the Jamestown settlers and local Indians subsided in 1614 mainly due to the couple's union. Their son Thomas was born in 1615, in 1616 the family sailed to England. Pocahontas, due to return imminently to Virginia with her family in 1617, died of pneumonia at Gravesend before setting aboard ship. She was buried at St George's Church, Gravesend, England. The life of Pocahontas has been fictionalised through art, literature and film. The tendency to romanticise her story was present in the earliest accounts of her life by authors such as Captain John Smith. 

Portrait of the Day talks are given by members of the Gallery's Visitor Services Team and last for up to 30 minutes. Talks are subject to change so please call 0207 306 0055 on the day or check signage in the Gallery.