Pocahontas Lesson for Kids: Facts & Biography

Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

Pocahontas was a Powhatan princess who became a legendary figure portrayed in many stories and movies. In this lesson, we'll explore Pocahontas, her life, and how she became a symbol of peace between her Native American people and the English.

Who Is Pocahontas?

Pocahontas was a Native American princess. She was born around 1595 with the name Matoaka and was given the nickname Pocahontas (which means 'naughty child') because of her mischievous spirit.

Pocahontas
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Very little is known about her mother, but some historians believe that Pocahontas' mother died during childbirth. Her father was chief of the large Powhatan Nation, which has approximately 25,000 Native Americans. Pocahontas was born and raised in what was once known as Tsenacommacah, which sat in what is present-day Virginia.

Tribe Life

During her childhood, like other girls in the tribe, Pocahontas learned how to search for edible plants, farm, build tribal homes, and collect water. In addition, Pocahontas would have learned how to make various tools and crafts, such as mats for their homes, wooden spoons, pots, and baskets.

This was considered 'women's work.' The men and women of the tribe were responsible for different types of duties, but both groups had quite demanding responsibilities. By the time she reached 13 years of age, Pocahontas would have learned much of what she needed to know as an adult.

Meeting John Smith

In the spring 1607, around 100 Englishmen settled in the Jamestown colony of Virginia. The settlers came into contact with the Powhatan people that winter, when Captain John Smith was kidnapped by one of Pocahontas' relatives. According to Smith, he was about to be killed by a Powhatan warrior when Pocahontas (about age 11 at the time) rushed in and saved him at the last possible moment.

A depiction of Pocahontas saving Captain John Smith
Pocahontas

After this near-death incident, Pocahontas and the rest of the Powhatan Nation befriended Smith and the Jamestown colonists. Chief Powhatan sent much-needed food to the hungry settlers, and Pocahontas, who was seen as a symbol of peace between the two groups, often negotiated with the English for the safe return of Powhatan prisoners.

Upon her visits to Jamestown, Pocahontas could often be seen playing with the children at the settlement. English settlers regularly traded items, like beads, with Powhatan tribes in exchange for food.

Capture and Marriage

The friendship between the Powhatan people and the Englishmen was short-lived. As the Jamestown settlement expanded, the Powhatan people began to feel that their lands were being threatened. In summer 1609, the conflict between the two groups erupted into the First Anglo-Powhatan War. During the war, Pocahontas was kidnapped by the English, who were asking to trade her for Englishmen who had been captured by the Powhatan.

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