5 Myths About Pocahontas

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Four centuries after Pocahontas’ death, unlearn everything you thought you knew about this Native American icon. Myth 1 Born around 1596, Pocahontas was reputedly the favorite daughter of Wahunsenaca (known to the English as Powhatan), paramount chief of a coalition of some 30 Algonquian-speaking tribes in Virginia’s Tidewater region. As is possible even today among the area’s Native Americans, she received multiple names, including Matoaka and Amonute. Pocahontas was merely a childhood nickname, meaning “Little Playful One” or “Little Mischief.” “It would not have been a name she would have kept throughout her life,” says Camilla Townsend, a history professor at Rutgers University and author of “Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma.”Yet because John Smith, a founder of the Jamestown colony whose interactions with her would propel them both to lasting celebrity, called her Pocahontas in his writings, that’s how she’s become known to history. After marrying English tobacco planter John Rolfe in 1614 and converting to Christianity, Pocahontas picked up yet another name, Rebecca, and was sometimes referred to as “Lady Rebecca.”

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