Pocahontas. Captain John Smith. Free London Tour.


Backtrack to Bow lane and turn left along it. When you arrive at the church wall go left along Bow Churchyard, then right into the main churchyard.


To your left you will see a statue to Captain John Smith, a parishioner of St Mary-le-Bow, and one of the first colonists to settle Jamestown Virginia. The early survival of this, the first permanent English settlement in North America owed a lot to Smith’s leadership abilities.

However, Smith is perhaps best known through his involvement with Pocahontas, the daughter of a native American Chieftain.

Matoaka – to give her correct name - was the spirited daughter of the Indian Chieftain, Powhatan, ruler of the land that the English called Virginia. “Pocahontas” was her childhood nickname and translates as either “little wanton” or “the naughty one”. She was around eight years old when her legendary encounter with the English adventurer Captain John Smith took place. According to his account, Smith was captured by a group of Indians in December 1607 and taken before Powhatan. He was forced to lie stretched out on two large flat stones, whilst several warriors stood over him armed with heavy clubs as though about to beat him to death. Suddenly, a little girl hurried over to him and took his “head in her arms and laid her own upon his to save him from death”. The girl was Pocahontas and, thanks to her intervention. Powhatan not only spared Smith’s life, but also made him a subordinate chief.

Pocahontas and Smith soon became friends. She was a regular visitor to the English colony of Jamestown whose residents she helped save from starvation by bringing supplies of food throughout the winter. However, the following year, relations between the Indians and the colonists began to deteriorate and Pocahontas’s visits became less frequent. Then, in October 1609, a gunpowder explosion seriously injured Captain John Smith, and his injuries necessitated his returning to England.

In 1612, Captain Samuel Argall, an English colonist, seeing an opportunity to extort concessions and a hefty ransom from Powhatan, lured Pocahontas onto his ship and took her hostage. He sent word to Powhatan that his daughter would only be released if he returned the English Prisoners he was holding, plus weapons that the Indians had stolen. Powhatan paid enough to keep negotiations open and then asked that the English take good care of his beloved daughter. Meanwhile Pocahontas, whose first reaction to her dilemma was “exceeding pensive and discontented”, had grown “accustomed to her captivity”. In April 1613, Argall returned to Jamestown, bringing Pocahontas with him. Shortly afterwards she was moved to the new settlement at Henrico, where she was educated in the Christian faith and met and fell in love with wealthy widower, John Rolfe

A year later the governor of Henrico, Sir Thomas Dale, gathered a force of one hundred and fifty armed men, and sailed with Pocahontas into Powhatan’s territory, where he demanded that the full ransom be paid immediately. When the Indians attacked, the English retaliated by destroying several villages and killing a number of native’s. But then Pocahontas was allowed to go ashore and meet with two of her brothers. She told them that she was being well treated and that she had fallen in love with, John Rolfe whom she wished to marry. When word reached Powhatan, he consented to the union and the English departed, elated at the prospect of a peacekeeping marriage. Returning to the colony, Pocahontas was Christened Rebecca and, on April 5 1614 she married John Rolfe. As the English had hoped, a general spirit of goodwill between the colonists and the Indians resulted from the marriage.

In 1616, hoping to raise further investment in the Virginia Company, Sir Thomas Dale sailed for England. To gain publicity he took with him several Indian’s, including Pocahontas, who was accompanied by her husband and their young son, Thomas. She was presented to King James 1st, lauded by the great and the good of London society and caused a sensation wherever she went.

In March 1617, John Rolfe decided to return with his family to Virginia. But no sooner had they set sail, than it became apparent that Pocahontas, who was seriously ill with either pneumonia or tuberculosis, would not survive the voyage. She was taken ashore at Gravesend and, as she lay dying, comforted her grieving husband with the words “all must die. ‘Tis enough that the child liveth”. She died on March 21st 1617, aged just twenty-two, and was buried in the churchyard of St George’s Gravesend.

Go right along Cheapside, cross to its left side go over Kings Street, and keep ahead over Ironmonger Lane.