What are some facts about Chief Powhatan.

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Powhatan's true name was Wahunsonacock. He was the chief of the Pumunky Indian tribe of Virginia. The English settlers at the Jamestown settlement called him Powhatan which was actually the name of a confederation of Indian tribes which he led. There were roughly 100,000 Indians in the area. He was a shrewd leader and was responsible for organizing the confederation. The Indians were not happy to have the Europeans on their turf but decided to adopt a "wait and see" attitude before taking any action.

The incident of John Smith with Pocahontas (Powhatan's daughter) is partially true, but John Smith embellished it quite a bit. Pocahontas's real name was Matawoka. Pocahontas was a nickname which loosely meant "frisky." At the time of the threatened "beheading," Pocahontas was only eleven years old, so it definitely wasn't love at first sight. Indeed, the whole incident was a staged performance by the Indians to demonstrate to Smith--and anyone else exposed to the ritual--that Powhatan had the power of life and death over them. Needless to say, she later married John Rolfe in what was actually a political marriage to seal a peace treaty with the Indians.

Upon his death, Powhatan was succeeded by his brother, Openchancanough, at a time when relations with the English settlers had gotten quite bad. Openchancanough attacked Jamestown and killed over 300 people, including John Rolfe. Pocahontas had previously died in England at a very young age.