Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Death of Pocahontas, 1617

         “As long as I live.” When Pocahontas spoke those words to John Smith, she had only a little time left. When she and her husband John Rolfe and their two-year-old son, Thomas, set sail for Virginia in March 1617, Pocahontas became ill. The nature of her illness is not known, but she was so sick that she begged to be taken ashore. She died at Gravesend, and her funeral was March 21, 1617, at St. George’s Church, in the little town of St. George’s, Gravesend, Kent. The church was destroyed by a fire in 1727, and the location of Pocahontas’s grave is unknown.

         Here is her husband’s account of her death, in JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL:

         “It was sudden—so unlooked for.” Rolfe gazed long and thoughtfully into his cup of sack as the others waited in silence. “I still can’t believe she has gone.” He paused, struggling for control of his grief. “She took sick after we came back from Brentford, and it being such wet, chilly weather in London, she could not get warm, somehow. Even when she sat by the fire all day, she was cold. We gave her hot milk possets to drink, and a doctor came and bled her, but it did no good at all. It came time for us to sail.” He glanced at Argall. “Samuel had the ship provisioned and ready, and Pocahontas was still not well, but she said she would go. She was so brave.”
         He looked at his three rapt listeners as if seeking confirmation of that fact, and then he went on, “She knew the Company was anxious for the ship to be off, with the supplies and all, and with Samuel and me to take up our duties here, and she would not hear of our delaying on her account. So we set sail on the twentieth of March. But by the time we had got to Gravesend, Pocahontas had to take to her bed. Breath came hard for her, and she was cold—so cold.” He shook his head. “We tried to keep her warm with hot bricks and a little warming stove, but they did no good. At last she begged me to take her ashore, so she might get warm before she died.” Rolfe cleared his throat. “And she asked if there was any way we could bury her on English soil.” He put his head in his hands and was silent for a moment.
         “She need not have worried. I was not about to bury her at sea,” Samuel Argall said softly. “Even if she hadn’t asked, John, you know I’d have put in at Gravesend for her.”
         “We carried her to the rector’s house near the church there,” Rolfe went on. “He prayed with her, and she was very glad of that. She said she hoped to meet Jesus, and she thanked us all—” Here he broke down and sobbed. . . .
          “She died some while before noon, and we buried her that same day. March the twenty-first, it was. We buried her in the chancel at St. George’s Church.” Leaning back, Rolfe took a drink from his silver cup. “I shall have to go and tell Powhatan. I dread that.”
         See more from the novel at

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