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Jamestown Lesson Ideas

Updated on October 8, 2011

Jamestown: the first permanent English settlement in the US

Jamestown is one of the most fascinating topics in American History. Jamestown was started in 1607, and survived only by the skin of their teeth.

Who was responsible for the long-term survival of Jamestown? Did Pocahontas love John Smith and save him from death at her father's hands? These questions and more will be answered in this lens.

This lens will provide resources for teaching about Jamestown.

Great Overview of Jamestown - From Hippocampus

Who was Pocahontas? - Little Wanton

Pocahontas was the daughter of Chief Powhatan of the Algonkian, born around 1595. She probably met Englishmen for the first time in 1607, and she visited Jamestown frequently, carrying messages and food and furs for trading. It is unlikely that she was involved in any way in the meeting between John Smith and Chief Powhatan that occured in December 1607. John Smith wrote about his experiences in Jamestown in 1612, and did not mention how Pocahontas rescued him from her father. He did not mention it until 1624: SEVEN years after she died. There are no other records of this happening.

She apparently was married the Indian Kocoum in 1610, and was living with the Patawomecks when she was kidnapped. Captain Samuel Argall decided to kidnap Pocahontas when he found out where she was living, because he thought he could extract prisoners, weapons and food from Chief Powhatan as ransom. Argall took her to Jamestown in April 1613, and she moved to Henrico. Chief Powhatan never gave the full ransom for her, so the English never gave her back.

She met John Rolfe in July 1613, who tutored her in English.

In 1614, John Rolfe wrote a letter to Sir Thomas Dale regarding Pocahontas: "To whom my hartie and best thoughts are, and have a long time bin so intangled, and inthralled in so intricate a laborinth, that I was even awearied to unwinde my selfe thereout." He was trying to convice Sir Thomas Dale of the good that would come if Rolfe married Pocahontas. Rolfe clearly cared for her, but he also realized that their marriage would foster positive relations between the English and the Indians.

In May 1614, they were married after she was converted to Christianity. Her name was changed to Rebecca.

In 1616, Sir Thomas Dale took Pocahontas and her family with him to England to help secure more funding from the Virginia Company. It was during this visit that she had an emotional reunion with John Smith, whom she thought was dead. She was the toast of London, she even got to meet the King.

In March 1617. Pocahontas developed pneumonia or TB just as they were to sail back home. She died and was buried in England. She was 22 years old.

Pocahontas' Role in HIstory:

She played a large part in maintaining good relations between the Indians and the Jamestown colony, through her friendship with John Smith and her marriage to John Rolfe.

Books for kids about Pocahontas


Book written for grades 6-12. Tells the story of Pocahontas and John Smith from their different points of view.

The Double Life of Pocahontas
The Double Life of Pocahontas

Written for grades 4-7. This book takes the point of view (not entirely discredited by all historians) that her 'saving' John Smith from execution was a ritual that Smith did not understand.

Pocahontas (Disney's Wonderful World of Reading)
Pocahontas (Disney's Wonderful World of Reading)

The book version of the Disney movie.


About the Powhatan Confederacy

Who was John Smith?

John Smith was born in England in 1580.

He was one of the seven council members that were to lead the Jamestown colony in April 1607. At the time he was not a captain, he was a yeoman, and chosen for his outstanding military record.

December 1607: John Smith was captured by Oppechacanough, during his fourth journey up the Chickahominy to trade for food. The Indians killed the other members of Smith's party. John Smith was brought before Chief Powhatan and they attempted to communicate about their intentions and needs, but there were no translators at that time. John Smith wrote an account of this experience in 1612, and again in 1624. In the 1624 account, he stated that Pocahontas rescued him from her father.

Smith was released on friendly terms and returned to Jamestown after 4 weeks.

While Smith was gone, the colony was falling apart. There was a lack of supplies and some colonists were trying to desert the colonies. There were only 38 colonists left. The council blamed Smith for the death of the other men in his party, and he was condemned to hang. Captain Newport returned from England just in time and stopped the execution. Smith left again to explore the Chesapeake region, to look for food.

Smith became president of the council in September 1608. He took a hard line with the colony and began the rule that if you did not work, you did not eat.

In October 1609, Smith was injured and returned to England. He never went back to Jamestown.

He died in 1631.

Jamestown Related Coloring Books

Where Disney Embellished

Fact: Pocahontas was the daughter of Chief Powhatan. Disney is right on this.

Fiction: Pocahontas fell in love with John Smith.

Fact:There is no evidence that Pocahontas fell in love with John Smith. She was around 12 when they first met, and the story about her saving him from her father was made up by John Smith years later.

Fiction: John Smith is discovered kissing by Pocahontas' husband to be, Kocuom, and this is what precipitates the Indian attack on Smith's party and his eventual meeting with Powhatan.

Fact: John Smith was actually on his fourth journey in the area and got caught by chance by some Indians on a hunting party. All the men in Smith's party were killed, except for John Smith. He was brought to Chief Powhatan and they developed an alliance.

Fiction:Ratcliffe gathers some men to go save John Smith.

Fact:John Smith was in amicable captivity for four weeks. When Smith returned to the colony, there were 38 colonists left. They were not in any condition to rescue anybody. Did they even know John Smith was captured? it was not unusual for him to be gone for long periods of time while trading for food.

Fiction:John Smith took a bullet for Chief Powhatan.

Fact:That certainly sounds like a John Smith-style embellishment. I've never seen anything to indicate that he glorified his gunpowder wound, possibly because it was his own fault and there were witnesses? The gunpowder accident wounded him, and forced him to return to England for medical care. He never went back to Jamestown.

Fiction: Ratcliffe is arrested for attempting to shoot Chief Powhatan.

Fact:John Ratcliffe became governor of Jamestown on September 12, 1607. In September 1609, Ratcliffe was trying to bargain with Powhatan for food but was captured and tortured to death.

Jamestown Books for Kids

The Best (and Worst) Online Resources for Jamestown

These are some of my favorite web sites about Jamestown.

Great Jamestown Lesson Plans

Jamesetown Changes: A great lesson plan from Edsitement. This lesson has several activities that are appropriate for grades 3-5. Uses primary sources!

Images of the New World: Another Edsitement lesson. This was designed for grades 9-12 and uses primary sources.

Leadership in Jamestown: A lesson plan examining the leadership of Jamestown. From the Virtual Jamestown web site.

Who is your favorite 'character' in the Jamestown saga and why?

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    • cuttingboard profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      I love John Smith. He is so full of himself, he amuses me. He also wrote that a Turkish princess saved him from imprisonment. What a ladies' man!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have no favorite but the story is fascinating in itself!


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