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- US President Donald Trump has repeatedly used the name “Pocahontas” to bash Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
- He most recently referred to the senator as “Pocahontas” at an event meant to honor surviving Native American code talkers.
- “Pocahontas” was the nickname of a teenage girl who was abducted by English colonists in 1613 and died at about the age of 21.
US President Donald Trump referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” during an event honoring Native American code talkers on Monday.
“We have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago,” Trump said. “They call her ‘Pocahontas.’ But you know what, I like you, because you are special. You are special people. You are really incredible people.”
It wasn’t the first time Trump used the name to bash Warren.
It links back to when Scott Brown, Warren’s Republican opponent in the 2012 race for a Senate seat in Massachusetts, “accused her of faking her Native American ancestry after reports surfaced that she listed herself as a minority in a directory of law school professors,” Business Insider’s Jeremy Berke reported.
Even before Trump began using her name as an insult, Pocahontas has occupied a prominent place in American pop culture.
But who was Pocahontas, and how did we come to be so fixated on her?
First of all, she wasn’t named Pocahontas – it was a nickname that means something along the lines of “mischievous one.” A colonist named William Strachey chronicled how 11-year-old Pocahontas would visit the settlers’ fort at Jamestown and turn cartwheels with the English children, according to the book “Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sacagawea: Indian Women as Cultural Intermediaries and National Symbols.”
There’s a reason we remember Pocahontas and not other members of her tribe and family. Her interactions with the English colonist John Smith had a major role in shaping her legacy.
In December 1607, a Powhatan leader named Opechancanough – who was also Pocahontas’ uncle – captured Smith while he was exploring the Chickahominy River. Smith later claimed that Pocahontas disrupted his execution, throwing her body across his to protect him. In a 1616 letter to Queen Anne, he even wrote, “She hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine.”
- Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Numerous historians, however, have said the event most likely did not happen as Smith described it – if it even happened at all. He left his alleged encounter with Pocahontas out of his earliest writings, not mentioning it until 1624.
And it wasn’t the first time Smith had claimed to have been rescued by a young woman who intervened to save him from her male relatives. In “Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma,” Camilla Townsend writes that Smith said a young Muslim woman had protected him in a similar manner while he was enslaved in Turkey.
Chief Roy Crazy Horse, who was a longtime leader of the Powhatan Renape Nation, wrote that Smith’s account helped propel Pocahontas to lasting fame.
“Of all of Powhatan’s children, only ‘Pocahontas’ is known, primarily because she became the hero of Euro-Americans as the ‘good Indian,’ one who saved the life of a white man,” he wrote.
In 1613, a few years after Pocahontas was said to have saved Smith, an English captain named Samuel Argall lured Pocahontas onto his ship and took her hostage during the First Anglo-Powhatan War. Indian Country Today reported that the Mattaponi tribe’s oral history says that she was raped in captivity and that her abduction separated her from her first husband and daughter.
Ultimately, she converted to Christianity and was baptized as Rebecca. On April 5, 1614, she married a settler named John Rolfe, who had lost his wife Sarah after some English colonists were shipwrecked on Bermuda. Pocahontas and Rolfe had one child together, a son named Thomas.
The marriage established what became known as “the Peace of Pocahontas,” a lull in the fighting between the English and the Powhatan. The cash-strapped Virginia Company hoped to establish the couple as a “symbol of peaceful relations,” according to Encyclopedia Virginia, so in 1616, Pocahontas, her husband, and her young son traveled to England for a publicity tour – on a ship captained by none other than Argall.
She would never return to Virginia.
In March 1617, the family boarded the ship that would take them back to North America, but Pocahontas and Thomas became suddenly ill as they sailed down the Thames River. He survived. She did not.
Pocahontas, who was only about 21 years old, was buried in Gravesend, England, while Rolfe returned to Virginia. He died in 1622, possibly in an attack orchestrated by Opechancanough, according to “The Cultural Roots of the 1622 Indian Attack.” In 1646, Thomas Rolfe became a lieutenant in the English military and fought against the Powhatan, his mother’s people.