The epic story of Native American woman Pocahontas (1596-1617) has fascinated people for generations and here we find a local connection.

Pocahontas landed at Plymouth on June 12th 1616, with her husband John Rolfe, their son Thomas, and 11 of her fellow Powhatans. They travelled to London, where she was presented as a Princess.

In the 17th century (as before that and since), their route would have been the old coach road via Exeter.   So we can be fairly sure that Pocahontas and Rolfe stayed overnight in Exeter – perhaps at the White Hart on South St, an inn since the 15th century.

Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan or Wahunsenacawh, a chief of a group of peoples in what became Virginia. Legend says that she saved the life of Englishman John Smith by placing her head next to his before the axe fell. She was captured by the settlers, took the name Rebecca and became a Christian. She married John Rolfe, and they had a son called Thomas Rolfe (from whom many people in the US and the UK claim descent).

In the engraving (made in London in 1616 by Simon van de Passe and now held in the British Museum), her name is given as Matoaka or Rebecca.

More on Pocahontas on the online Encyclopaedia Britannica and listen to the excellent edition of Radio 4’s In Our Time discussing the story of Pocahontas.