Pocahontas Remembered… An Ocean Away

Time Period
16,000 BCE to 1622 CE
American Indian History
Politics & Government
Women's History

Engraving of Pocahontas, 1616, by Simon van de Passe. (VMHC 1993.192)

Though it was certainly the longest journey of her life, and she was already exposed to English ways, nothing could have prepared Matoaka—better known as Pocahontas—for what she would experience when she landed in England in1616. It was more than an ocean that separated her lifestyle at home from that of London and its surrounding communities…it was a wholly different world. Pocahontas was shaped by her encounters with the English very early in her life, but more importantly, she proved to be unmatched as an influencer of English longevity in the colonies.  

Whether the accounts of John Smith are believable or not, Pocahontas did, time and again, come to the aid of the settlers, and specifically, perhaps, John Smith. There was something powerful about Pocahontas’ relationship with the English. She was, by all accounts, a force for reconciliation and peace.   

Well beyond her encounters with Captain Smith, she was a uniting presence between two cultures. In fact, it may have been duty to diplomacy and peacebuilding that ultimately led her to marry John Rolfe in April 1614. Once married, with child, and converted to Christianity, Pocahontas — now called Rebecca Rolfe (her Christian name) — was the ideal ambassador for the Virginia Company, the English backers of the Jamestown project. For the Virginia Company, she was a sign of their “progress” with the colony — a moral success story in lieu of their earlier hope for outright financial gain. As such, they sponsored a trip to bring her to England.


Statue of Pocahontas at St. George’s Church in Gravesend, England.

Pocahontas, her husband, son, and others boarded a ship and made the journey to England in late 1616. They arrived at Plymouth and spent their several-month stay in London and Brentford. In London, Pocahontas was presented to the king and queen, and commentators noted the presence of the Rolfes at numerous public events. During her stay outside of London in Brentford, she reconnected with John Smith.  

Tragically, Pocahontas never made it home. She fell ill during her travels and ultimately died in the port town of Gravesend along the Thames River—the common outbound route for ships headed to sea. Her body was interred on the grounds of St. George’s Church in Gravesend in March 1617—the exact spot is no longer known. While separately, her husband and son eventually returned to Virginia. 

To commemorate Pocahontas, the anniversary of her passing, and her legacy of strength, courage, and peacemaking, President & CEO Jamie Bosket accompanied Chief Anne Richardson, the first female Indian Chief in Virginia since the 18th-century, for a special remembrance journey to Gravesend in 2018.  


Modern view of Gravesend from the location where the historic docks were located.

Chief Richardson is of the Rappahannock tribe, which is part of the Powhatan Nation that Pocahontas’ father once ruled. It is also one of the six tribes that at long-last received federal recognition in February 2018.  

Bosket and Chief Richardson’s visit was in conjunction with the “Pocahontas Project,” a series of events planned by a dedicated group in England together with a similar group in Virginia that strive to honor and tell her real-life story.  

A play, “Gravesend,” has been written by Londoner Kieran Knowles and the 27-year-old British actress who portrayed Pocahontas, Yasmine Hassabu, visited the VMHC and spent time with Senior Curator Dr. William M. S. Rasmussen, the author of the historical society’s popular publication, Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend


President Jamie Bosket, Chief Anne Richardson, and the deputy mayor of Gravesend. 

The trip by Bosket and Chief Richardson to Gravesend took them to several of the locations of Pocahontas’ fateful travels, including the site of the 17th-century docks. They were received by the mayor and deputy mayor, visited local schools, and spoke together in St. George’s Church (an 18th-century church built very near the site of the original) to a crowd of local residents. 

“It was a great honor to be with Chief Richardson to tell one of the most important stories in Virginia history, and to remember a remarkable representative of our deep American Indian heritage,” commented Bosket. “It was very moving to see how sincerely the people of Gravesend treasure their connection to us, and to Pocahontas.” 

Outside the church, symbolically marking Pocahontas’ final resting place, is a copy of William Ordway Partridge’s statue, the original of which was commissioned for the 1907 tercentennial in Jamestown, where it remains today. Memory of Pocahontas remains strong, and she still today is uniting people across a vast ocean.