The Story of Pocahontas and John Smith ~ Folktales Stories for Kids
This is the story of Pocahontas, John Smith and the leader Powhatan. This story tells of the time Pocahontas saved the life of settler John Smith, as also seen in the Disney version. It is brought to you by Stories to Grow by.
Listen to Pocahontas while you read along!
In the spring of 1607, three ships landed on the shore of what is now America. About 100 men – no women were asked to come – stepped onto the sand to start a new life.
The men built 20 cabins and a fort to go around them all. They called their new town Jamestown. But they were not the only ones living on that land.
Up and down the coast and for miles into the woods lived tribes of Native Americans. Today, the area is called Virginia. Back then, it was called the Powhatan Confederacy. Over 30 tribes in the Powhatan Confederacy were ruled by one chief. His name was Powhatan.
Chief Powhatan’s scouts told him that new men had landed on the shore. They told him the men had built a fort. They also told him the new men spoke in words no one had heard before. They wore clothes no one had seen before. Powhatan knew all that. What he did not know – and what he wanted to know most of all - was, where did they come from? Why were they here? And what would it be like to be their Chief?
But they were not the only ones living on that land.
His scouts told him some other news, too, that was most odd. No crops had been planted around the fort.
No canoes were anywhere near the fort, and the men did not even stand by the river to fish. The men did not go into the woods to hunt, either. Said Powhatan, “These men do not know how to plant, ride a canoe, fish or hunt. It will be easier than I thought to be their Chief.
We will bring food to them – corn, beans and squash. Without us, they will starve. And I, Powhatan, who rules 30 tribes, will rule over them, too!” “Father let me come with you!” said Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas. No one had seen her slip into the longhouse. “I want to see the fort, too.” “Surely not!” said her father. “You have work to do here. When you are done, you may play with your sisters.”
“I play with them every day!” said Pocahontas. “Father, please! I’ll be good!” Powhatan smiled. “Ah, my princess,” he said. “How can I say no to that face?” At last, an adventure for Pocahontas! She felt sure that if she had to sew beads onto one more moccasin, or fill one more basket with berries, she would burst! So Chief Powhatan, with scouts carrying baskets of corn, beans and squash, and with Pocahontas beside them, all went over to the fort.
When they got there, they set down the baskets. And stepped back. In a minute, men burst out of the fort with big smiles on their faces. You can be sure there was much joy! Pocahontas saw something else that made her smile, too. Four boys a bit older than she came out with the other men. She waved to the boys. They waved back! When the grown-ups were trying to talk to each other with their arms and hands, she said to them, “Want to play?”
Men burst out of the fort with big smiles on their faces.
They did not understand her words. But soon they were showing her how to play tag and stickball. And she was showing them how to do cartwheels. After a while, Powhatan called, “Pocahontas! It’s time to go.” Every four or five days after that, Pocahontas came back with the others to the fort. Each time, Powhatan’s scouts carried corn, squash, and beans. Sometimes for a special treat, maple sugar, too. Pocahontas learned the names of her new friends – James, Nathaniel, Richard and Samuel. And they learned hers. She also learned the name of their leader, John Smith.
As the days got shorter, the rain stopped coming. The corn in the fields dried up. The squash and the beans on the vine dried up. Berries on the bushes dried up. “We cannot take food to the fort anymore,” said Powhatan. “We need to save all we have so our people will make it through the winter. We must go to the fort and tell them.”
“We cannot take food to the fort anymore,” said Powhatan.
When the men in the fort heard the news, they got angry. They marched into their cabins. They came out with guns, and shot the guns into the sky. Powhatan got angry, too. He said, “I warn you, white men! Do not go anywhere near our village! If you do, you will be sorry!” The men of Jamestown could not understand what Powhatan was saying. But they could tell from his face that they were not friends anymore.
Soon after that, John Smith was going through the woods looking for food. He was close to the village of Powhatan. Too close. Powhatan’s brother and some of the tribe saw him pass. In a flash, they jumped out at him. They held John Smith down and took him back to Powhatan’s village. “Now it will be done, once and for all,” said Powhatan. “I will be Chief to all the people in the fort.”
That winter, John Smith could not leave the village. Still, Powhatan made him feel at home. Pocahontas, who knew him from before, spent time with him. Day after day, they would teach each other the words that each other’s people spoke.
As the snow melted, the people of Powhatan’s village started to get ready for a festival. Powhatan called John Smith into his longhouse. “The festival will soon be here,” he said. “What festival?” said John Smith. Now he could better understand what Powhatan was saying. “The festival to mark the time when your people join my people. When I become your Chief.” “That will never happen!” shouted John Smith. Powhatan did not know the words the young man was saying. But the Chief could tell that John Smith was angry. “Your people have no choice!” said Powhatan. “If you will not join my tribe, you must die!”
“That will never happen!” shouted John Smith.
No one saw Pocahontas slip into the longhouse. Powhatan said: “Put his head on the rock!” Two strong braves grabbed John Smith and pushed his head down on a rock. Powhatan lifted a large rock above him, ready to strike. “No!” the girl cried out. All of a sudden, Pocahontas rushed up and bent over John Smith, placing her own head over his.
Powhatan held the rock high in the air. “Pocahontas!” he cried out. “Move away!” “I will not move!” she said, turning her head to the side. “Let him be. Let all of them be!” Powhatan held up the rock. Then, he lowered his arms. “My daughter,” he said in a soft voice. “You are right. No good can come from hurting these people.”
After that, Powhatan set John Smith free. Powhatan’s tribes brought food again to the men in the fort, this time smoked meat and fish. In return, the men in the fort gave them glass beads and copper. They traded what they could, and each was the better for it.
Question 1: Choose one character. How did that person or animal change/grow/learn by the end of the story?
Question 2: Say what you think the story is trying to show you.
*Note- Some historians believe that Pocahontas was about ten when John Smith came to America. Others as well as Disney, portray her as a young adult to blossom a love story among herself and John Smith. In our version, we leave it up to the reader.
The story told of Pocahontas that is most famous tells about the time she saved the life of settler John Smith. As Smith himself wrote about it himself years after, the daughter of Chief Powhatan rushed in and placed her head upon his own when her father, Powhatan, was about to kill him. This is the scene that was portrayed in Disney’s movie Pocahontas, too. However, historians note that Smith also wrote about a time he was saved by a Turkish princess in a very similar way. Leading historians to wonder - did Smith make up both stories? Other historians believe Smith relayed what he thought he experienced, but in fact he had misinterpreted events and Powhatan’s tribe was honoring him with a ceremony to welcome him to the tribe.
The version of the Pocahontas tale told below draws from both interpretations as well as from other credible historical and contemporary accounts. The ultimate fate of the Powhatan Confederacy was defeat. However, there were periods of peace, and the end of this tale leads to one of them.