When Pocahontas was not playing games with the boys at Jamestown, she played a more serious role: carrying messages and gifts, she became the liaison between her father, Powhatan, the ruler of the Chesapeake tribes, and the English colonists. She developed a close friendship with Captain John Smith. How close?
The exact nature of their relationship has been a matter of speculation from that day to this. Before Smith left Virginia in 1609, Pocahontas had reached puberty, changing from a coltish child to a nubile young woman. According to the reports of Smith’s contemporaries, Smith “would have made himself a king, by marrying Pocahontas, Powhatan’s daughter. It is true she was the very nonparell of his kingdome, and at most not past 13 or 14 yeares of age. Very oft she came to our fort, with what she could get for Captaine Smith . . . But her marriage could no way have entitled him by any right to the kingdome, nor was it ever suspected he had ever such a thought.” But nonetheless, “If he would he might have married her . . . .”
John Smith was 29 years old; Pocahontas was not even half his age. The relationship between the young English captain and the adolescent Indian princess has fascinated scholars, poets, playwrights, and novelists for four hundred years. In 1994 the story inspired Walt Disney’s animated Pocahontas, and in 2005, Terrence Malick’s The New World. In that film Pocahontas (as she did in real life) married the English colonist John Rolfe. But the mysteries remain.