Icon At The Crossroads Of Race And Sex

The Story

The legend of Pocahontas has enjoyed wide popularity in American culture in a number of versions and in various genres since the early 17th century. Although little is known with any certainty about Pocahontas, stories, images, poems, songs, and dramas have been produced on all levels of culture celebrating the Indian Princess. As the facts concerning her history are scant, it may be helpful to review some of the key events of her life, ones that in resurface in the multivarious interpretations of her story.

  • 1595
    Birth of Matoaka, later nicknamed Pocahontas ("little wanton" or "little plaything"). She is the eldest daughter of the powerful Indian leader, Powhatan.

  • 1607
    She saves Captain John Smith from execution, thus initiating a friendly relationship with him and other Jamestown settlers.

  • 1612
    Pocahontas captured by the English captain Samuell Argyll and used as a political pawn in his dealings with her father.

  • 1613
    Pocahontas converts to Christianity

  • 1614
    She marries John Rolfe, (though she may have married a man of her tribe at an earlier date) and their son, Thomas, is born the next year.

  • 1616
    To great fanfare, Pocahontas travels to England as the "Indian Princess" and receives an audience with King James I and Queen Charlotte. Simon Van de Passe executes the only portrait done in her lifetime. See the center thumbnail at the top of this page, as well as the two later versions on either side.

  • 1617
    She dies, and is buried at Gravesend

    Interpretations and Readings


    Pocahontas, Half-raced and Fully Sexed:
    The Almost Empty Signifier and American Iconography.

    Pocahontas in the Art and Literature
    of the Nineteenth Century.

    Further Reading


    Original Design [Art section] by John Blackburn. New Architecture and Scans by Kendra Hamilton and Tuomi Forrest. 'Home Page','Interpretive Strategies', 'Columbus', and 'Sectionalism' by Forrest. 'Malleability', 'Hampton', 'Racial Purity' and 'Further Reading' by Hamilton.


    The American Studies Group @ The University of Virginia