Matoaka aka Pocahontas (with Lauren DeLeary)

We’re joined today by Lauren DeLeary to talk about the true story of Matoaka, commonly known as Pocahontas. Her story has been misinterpreted countless times from the 16th century through today, perhaps still best known from the animated Disney film. Lauren was the screenwriter of Missing Matoaka, an alternate audio track to the Disney film, presenting her as the first Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman.

Learn more about Missing Matoaka: The True Story of Pocahontas

Learn more about the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women


Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma by Camilla Townsend

The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Dr. Linwood “Little Bear’ Custalow and Angela L. Daniel “Silver Star”

Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America by Benjamin Woolley

The True Story of Pocahontas: Historical Myths Versus Sad Reality by Vincent Schilling (Indian Country Today)



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Vulgar History Podcast

Matoaka AKA Pocahontas (with Lauren DeLeary)

April 10, 2024

Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster and today’s topic was actually, I want to shout out, this was suggested by Kristy who is a member of the Patreon community, and it was her suggestion to talk about the person who was known as Pocahontas, she’s AKA Matoaka. We’re going to use mostly Matoaka but both names and we’re going to explain in the episode how and why she has both of these names. It was a topic that has interested me for a long time, as a person who during my main babysitting era as a teenager, I was babysitting a girl who loved this movie, and I watched it probably every week for a year. So, I’m very familiar, or it felt like I was very familiar with the Disney film, but I also haven’t watched it in I don’t know, 20, 30 years. 

So anyway, I just know that Pocahontas, the myth, the legend, is so well known and there are so many things about it that people think that are incorrect. And then I remembered that there’s this project from a few years ago, the Missing Matoaka project, we’re going to talk about it as well because my guest, Lauren DeLeary was the screenwriter for Missing Matoaka. What it is is an audio track that tells the real story that you can sync up to play while you’re watching the Disney Pocahontas movie. Anyway, I was looking up the project, I contacted Lauren, I was so excited that she agreed to come and be on the podcast because this story is so important to her. So, we’re going to listen to Lauren helping us understand the story of the real Matoaka. 

But first I wanted to situate this whole story on the history we’ve already talked about on the podcast and the history you may or may not know about the colonization of America because all of us, we live in a specific era, the way that the world is affects our lives in certain ways but the way that Matoaka’s life, the way it went was entirely because of what happened. So, on this podcast, we’ve talked before about when Spain went to colonize Mexico, we did that episode about Malintzin AKA La Malinche. So, that was all happening around 1512, the English had not really come over to North America yet but what had happened was that Spain went around the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico region and they found, “Oh, hey guess what is here? Gold. A thing we value a lot.” The English were like, “Okay, we want to do this too, but we don’t want to go to war with Spain so let’s find a place where Spain hasn’t gone.” So, they just kind of went up the coast, more and more north, hoping that they would find gold also. They didn’t. What they found though was tobacco. So, the English colonization of America, they had already successfully colonized Ireland and so many of the early colonists of North America had their start in colonizing Ireland and they were like, “Let’s do the same thing but in kind of like, North America region.” Where they went, where this story takes place is around what is modern-day Virginia, Virginia named after Elizabeth I, who was the Queen when they started doing all this kind of stuff. 

So, the first expedition of English people went to Roanoke Island in 1584 but they were poorly prepared to live there and by six years later they had all disappeared. There’s numerous podcasts about what happened to those people. So, that colony did not work for the English. 1606 – this is about 20 years after Roanoke – by this time, the king in England is a person that many listeners will be familiar with from my Mary, Queen of Scots series, James I, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, he’s the king. He granted charters to the London Company for the purpose of establishing a permanent settlement in North America. So, they headed over and they established a permanent colony that they called Jamestown, named after him, in the Chesapeake Bay in what is now Virginia. At this time, I think they had a couple hundred people on the ship and when they arrived, there was about 30,000 Indigenous people living in that region at that time. One of them was a 10-year-old girl named Matoaka and so yeah, I’ll just go right from here into my discussion with Lauren DeLeary talking about the story of Matoaka and what happened to her, what she did, what her story is. 


Ann: So, I’m joined today by Lauren DeLeary. First of all, can we talk about the name of the person we’re talking about today because we’re not calling her Pocahontas? 

Lauren: Right. So, I mean, I will probably interchangeably call her Pocahontas and Matoaka, that was her born, given name, Matoaka. And yeah, so everybody knows about Pocahontas, but she chose that name later on, she was about 14 when she chose it. But also, as a kid, her father called her Pocahontas endearingly because that was her mother’s name. Either way, Matoaka or Pocahontas, like I said, I’ll probably use it interchangeably.

Ann: Let’s talk about the Missing Matoaka project. 

Lauren: Yeah. So, the Missing Matoaka project, it’s an audio track that goes alongside Disney’s Pocahontas, so it’s an alternative audio track you can play. There’s the countdown, so you pull up Disney’s Pocahontas on one tab or on your Disney+ whatever, wherever you’re watching, and then you also go to and you press play while you also press play on Pocahontas on mute. So, it’ll coincide with what you’re seeing visually. We lined everything up, every single moment, every second, every millisecond, [chuckles] I wrote the script to line up to what you’re seeing on the screen but telling her story accurately which was quite a feat because Disney’s Pocahontas was not accurate [laughs] very much at all.

Ann: Yeah, when I was watching it, I found it was so perfectly lined up, I thought “Wow.” The dialogue that other people are saying or when a silly thing happens with the hummingbird or the raccoon, the sound effect is there and everything. But as the movie went on and the story got more preposterous, I’m just like, “How are they going to do this?” because there are these montages of Pocahontas and John Smith frolicking into fields and I’m like, how? But I love the way you wrote it. I love the dialogue. She often is like, “Are you going to leave now? Can you please leave?” as on the screen, they’re like, lying in a meadow together looking dreamy and he’s like, “No, I have to stay here until I’ve completed the genocide.”

Lauren: Right. It’s a bit ironic, you have to write it a little ironic because even still, it’s not like Pocahontas, it’s not like Matoaka and John Smith had these sort of conversations at all but we’re kind of pretending as if they did and if they did, she would say something along the lines of, “I’m 10 years old. You’re a creep.” [laughs] You know, whatever. So, even though it was the correct story, her correct story, it was still a version of it because the visuals are just so inaccurate.

Ann: Yeah. At first, I was like, “Okay, you’re explaining the story,” and then I’m like, “Wow, this must have been so challenging as the story got more and more wild.” But also, can we talk for a minute about John Smith because from what I’ve been reading about him, the reason why the myth of Pocahontas is what it is, is because he’s the one who told the story, initially.

Lauren: Yeah. So, John Smith ended up writing, like, a memoir of his adventures. When he wrote it and published it, people who could have counteracted or told the truth of what actually happened were long gone or not in contact or had no idea it had come out or anything like that. So, he just got to tell his version of the story which is, you know, we’ve seen many times in history that history can be quite colonized and white-washed, this is no different. 

John Smith himself though, he was a crook, he was known to be a terrible person, and people did not like him. He was not the charming, blonde stud that Disney portrayed him to be, at all. He was about 27 years old when he arrived and when he did arrive, he was very sickly. He was imprisoned on the boats because he was a crook, he was known for being a terrible, horrible person. So, he was not well, not the stud we have been taught to believe. 

Within that, he ended up being captured and he ended up being a weroance, the Powhatan made him one because they actually ended up liking him. So, I’m definitely feeling, John Smith was definitely a narcissist, [laughs] and I know that’s something we kind of throw around now but I feel like it’s pretty easy to see that he was a terrible person but then he gained favour with the Powhatan, so he was made weroance, which basically makes him a leader of the colonists in a way and helps him basically have an inside with the villages and gave him rights that he actually really took advantage of and continued to be a terrible, terrible person. So yeah, John Smith was not a good guy. 

Ann: Yeah. I was looking at stuff about his other writings because before he came to America, he was being a dirtbag adventurer around Eastern Europe and different places. It’s an interesting coincidence, everywhere he went, the beautiful daughter of a king would throw herself at him to save his life. [Lauren scoffs] It’s interesting how that kept happening to him.

Lauren: [laughs] That’s funny. I actually didn’t know that about John Smith, about his other writings and other places he went. That’s interesting, my focus was on Matoaka and her life story but that’s fascinating. I would definitely see that’s just another thing that John Smith was a narcissist. [laughs]

Ann: Or I don’t know, he wrote that story once and it went over well he’s like, “Oh, I’ll just say that that kept happening to me.”

Lauren: Delusional!

Ann: I was just like, god yeah, I know! That’s the thing. So, he’s out of the way. [laughs] Let’s talk about Matoaka and who she really was and what her story was. And to set the scene, this is like, the first successful English colony in the New World. So, when they encounter John Smith and everybody, this is, like, the first time this has really happened, right?

Lauren: Yeah. Well, first of all, if people don’t know her story, she was probably born around the late 1500s, early 1600s. It was about 400 years ago, over 400 years ago. And yeah, this was touted around as a successful colonization, was used for trade, was used as this proof of, “Oh, we’re friendly.” She was kidnapped, which was how she was used, by the way. She was taken away and then she was raped and forced to marry, and they converted her to Christianity, and they touted her around as that successful token of “Oh, look at all the good things that we’re doing in that land. We’re saving them, we’re making them ‘civilized.’” 

So, when the European invaders made their way over, she was probably about 10 years old. Like I mentioned, she was the Powhatan’s daughter, the chief’s daughter, so she had a lot of people in the tribe taking care of her, looking after her, she was not this little sex cat in the woods, unlike the false narrative, she did not abandon her people at all. Like I said, European invaders kidnapped her and held her hostage and her father felt threatened that if he came to rescue her that she would be harmed so he kept his distance with her but that’s later on. 

From 10 years old to 14, the idea that she had any sort of conversation or any type of relationship with John Smith is just absolutely crazy because she would have been watched out for and looked after by so many of the people in the tribe. She also had lots of siblings, probably as the Powhatan, he likely had multiple wives too so there were a lot of people looking after her. The only time that she would ever be going into Jamestown – which wasn’t just down the street, it was kind of a travel day away – she would have gone with her people. She was taken one time, with her people, as kind of this reflection, this token of innocence because she was a kid. They were like, “Hey, by the way, we’re showing up and we come in peace because look, we’re bringing our most prized possession, our child. Powhatan’s daughter, his favourite one at that.” So, that would be the only time that she would be in Jamestown. She didn’t escape, she wasn’t running to John Smith, she was with her family and with those who were looking after her. 

A fun part of her story is that she was her dad’s favourite. Her mother died and so after her death, obviously her father was devastated and because she looked like her, he really loved her and favoured her and that’s why he would give her the name Pocahontas because that was her mom’s name. So, it was a loving, endearing thing and they chose to call her Pocahontas around the European invaders to kind of keep her identity sacred, keep that protected, which is why you see that her name as Pocahontas is the most known. However, when she was 14, she was in a ceremony where she got to choose her name and she did choose Pocahontas. So anyway, Matoaka is very much her name and so is Pocahontas and later in life she actually had a third name, Rebecca. [chuckles] So, it was a lot.

Ann: It’s a lot. It’s a lot for a very short life. So, if we’re just going to do some myth-busting. So, there’s the John Smith told and commonly retold story, including in the Disney film, that Pocahontas’s father was going to kill John Smith and she came and threw herself over him to be like, “No! Don’t kill him!” What’s interesting, from what I was reading, is that when that allegedly happened, which it didn’t, John Smith didn’t write about it. It’s only later on, 20 years later he’s like, “Oh yeah, this thing happened to me, and he was going to kill me.” So, it’s like, maybe there was some ceremony, maybe when he was named a weroance, and he’s just kind of like, embellishing.

Lauren: Oh yeah. So, the thing is, there is a ceremony when someone is made a weroance and children would not have been allowed, so she wouldn’t have even been there, she wouldn’t have been in that sort of ceremony. Also, this ceremony is an honour. The Powhatan did not have any intentions of killing John Smith, he was honouring him. So, he very much got that twisted. So, there’s no way that Matoaka, Pocahontas would have been there at all and that his life was in danger either.

Ann: John Smith, this guy. So, what I found really interesting too when I was watching your audio track with the film and remembering when I first watched it too, I didn’t realize that Kocoum was a real person. 

Lauren: Yeah.

Ann: Like everybody else in the film, he’s done so dirty.

Lauren: Yes. So, she ended up marrying Kocoum, I’ll kind of go backwards. She married Kocoum at around 14 or 15. Before that, she was just a kid and that’s why in that ceremony, she got to choose somebody to dance with and she chose Kocoum. It was likely kind of set up as well within the village, who was who, and they had a kid, she got pregnant pretty much right away and for a long time the child was just called Little Kocoum because people didn’t know what the name was of the child or even if it was a boy or a girl, they didn’t know. But later on, we did find out that she did end up having a girl and was raised by, obviously, the village. 

So, the story of Kocoum, he was not some angry… Just Disney’s portrayal of him, he was also younger. And he was actually killed when they kidnapped Pocahontas, when they kidnapped her, they didn’t want him going after her, rescuing her so they actually killed him off, which is just horrible. So much was unnecessary, obviously, but even that I think watching the movie back as I’m writing this script, it’s so sad to see how he was portrayed when really, it was just all these stories, the Native people were, a lot of time so innocent in this and made out to be… well, savages, as the movie and the song kind of makes people see it.

Ann: I appreciated with your audio track, I was watching it and then, I don’t know, just the settings on my TV, I had the closed captioning on for the actual script. So, it was interesting at times because I could see what they were saying and then–

Lauren: What it was! Yeah.

Ann: So, it was funny because the actual film is saying, “Oh Kocoum, he’s so serious I don’t like him,” and in the audio track it’s being like, “Kocoum is a great warrior and I appreciate him.” [both laugh] I was like, I love what you’ve done.

Lauren: Yeah, a lot of the time, it was like a roadmap honestly, I was like, “What is the opposite of what she’s saying?” sometimes. It was crazy. Yeah, so that was really a story that was very much convoluted. All of it was but that, to me, it really stuck out when I was writing it because she also chose him, so I don’t know if it was a story of love, but she did have the autonomy of choosing who she ended up marrying and then having a child and then she never got to see that child again either, it’s sad. And she ended up having another child but that was out of wedlock and due to rape so that was a completely different situation later on. 

Ann: And just to keep up with how young she is. So, she was around 10 years old when the colonists first arrived. She gets married to Kocoum when she’s around 14, has this child… which is not weird in their culture, that’s just like…

Lauren: No. Yeah, I mean, at 14 or 15, that would be a very appropriate age at that point. If you look even today, she would have hit puberty, and everything would have been totally appropriate. Again, Powhatan’s daughter, her life was set up; she was good, she was okay, she was taken care of, and she was favoured, so yeah. She was clearly living with Kocoum at the time when she was kidnapped and that was when the Anglo-Powhatan War started and that’s why she was captured by Samuel Argall because he wanted to keep them from attacking, keep the Natives from attacking them like, “If we have one of yours, you won’t hurt us.” So, that was sort of the attempt.

Ann: So, it’s sort of the flip side of what you just said. She was the daughter of Powhatan, of the chief, she was so important, she was so valued and the danger of that is they knew that if they were going to kidnap somebody, her. She’s the one who is most valued, she’s the one, his favourite daughter, she’s the most precious person. That’s why she was chosen. 

Lauren: Yep. Yeah, exactly. That’s like, again, what I was really passionate about with this retelling was that she never abandoned her people. You can see it in now-corrected history. She survived, she survived it and didn’t want any harm coming to her people, so she just went along. When she was captured though she was raped, probably by multiple people and had gotten very anxious and depressed for very obvious reasons so they actually had her oldest sister come alongside and go with her to kind of help her with that depression and fear. So, like I said, she did end up getting pregnant and then was forced to marry John Rolfe. So, she had a son and she raised him for a couple years before her death.

Ann: So, John Rolfe, I haven’t watched Pocahontas II. After I finished watching the first one with the audio track I was like, “Oh, I want to watch the second one.” I’m like, “No, I don’t actually want to watch the second one.” I would want to watch the second one if you had done an audio track for it. [Lauren laughs] But as I understand it, in the second one, that’s where she meets and falls in love with John Rolfe which is not true. There’s also, I haven’t watched this, there’s the movie, The New World, the Terrence Malick one and I guess in that one they show her and John Smith having a romantic relationship and then her and John Rolfe having a romantic relationship. People just can’t…

Lauren: Let that go.

Ann: … stay away from this narrative of, “These are love stories.” Because if you look at what the actual story is, you’re like, “This is horrific. Let’s not make a movie. This is not entertaining.”

Lauren: Yeah. It’s a horror story. It’s not love. It’s a horror story, truly. So, that doesn’t exactly sell to kids and their families.

Ann: No. So, John Rolfe. So, she’s there, she’s kidnapped– Actually, can we just talk for a minute about the way that this Missing Matoaka project, and I’ve seen in other interviews, you speak about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and that aspect of her story. Can you talk about that as well?

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. So, this obviously, her story, yes it was over 400 years ago, but this is still very much a problem today with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. So, with this project, we really are so passionate about helping support accurate Indigenous representation in the media and by telling the truth, hopefully showing the harmful effects of stereotypes. 

In the film, she is seen as this available sex cat woman who wants to betray her people and go be with the white guy and whatever. That depiction continues to shape this false narrative about Indigenous women being more sexually available and less worthy than non-Indigenous women and that has truly manifested into something… The real-world statistics of Indigenous women are that they are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other demographic group, and four out of five Indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime. So, that’s real-world statistics happening today, which is why this is such a big deal and why we need to change the narrative, why we need to course-correct, we need to tell the story correctly because it does make an impact today. 

So, the project, I hope is inspiring to other Indigenous people that we need to tell our stories and we need to feel like we are able to take up the space to let our voices be heard and let our stories be heard but also to not ignore the history. So, hopefully, there’s proactive steps that help break down stereotypes that hypersexualize and demean Indigenous women and girls and to essentially end the practices that perpetuate the myth that Indigenous women are more sexually available and less worthy because of their background or their race.

Ann: Well, and I think connected to that, is just watching this movie again, which I haven’t seen since I was 12 years old, watching it now, I was just like, “Oh my god.” There’s no other Disney princess who has this sexual of a story. Her body is extremely curvaceous in a way that you’re not seeing in Frozen or Cinderella. She’s drawn as such a sexual object, the way she moves, you call this out in your audio track where she’s just prowling through the woods like a sex cat. And also, her and John Smith, they kiss several times and I’m like, pretty sure…

Lauren: It’s disturbing.

Ann: Yeah, not just the fact that she’s 10 and he’s 27 but I don’t think there’s any other, I don’t recall, any other Disney animated movie where the main character is this sexual. And the fact that it’s their only Indigenous character and then it leads to stuff like Halloween costumes, you know? Because her outfit is very sexy in this movie.

Lauren: Right. So, like, who doesn’t want to be like that, especially on Halloween? But kids! Yeah, so my passion for correcting her story began very young for me. If I hadn’t mentioned it yet, I am Indigenous, I’m Ojibwe, I was raised knowing semi-the-truth of Pocahontas. You don’t exactly tell a 6-year-old her whole story, but I knew there was inaccuracy, and I also knew and was taught by my family that dressing up as Pocahontas, or as a Native American, just dressing up as a Native is disturbing. We’re not a costume, we’re not something to poke fun of. Especially because as a kid, where I grew up, nobody knew that Natives still existed. It was almost like “Indians” were from Peter Pan, they were similar to a mythical creature as a mermaid. 

So, I remember as a kid, being proud of being Indigenous and telling people I was and telling kids or whatever and they would either tell me I’m lying because again, they thought I was saying I was a mermaid. They were like, “No you’re not.” Or they would be like, “Well, where’s your teepee?” or “Where’s your costume?” or whatever. And there’s no acknowledgement, there’s no education on, 1) the right history of Natives, but we’re fixing that. But also, as a kid, especially again where I grew up, that we live today; there are modern Indigenous people, we are here today. Which kind of just blows my mind. Depending on where you are in America, some people know more than others but where I grew up, no, they knew nothing. I was the only Indigenous person for miles, well besides my siblings, of course. 

So, there’s a lot of education that I came out swinging as a little kid being like, “Well, you need to know that her name was Matoaka…” and you know, so when this project came across my… when it showed up, when they asked me to be a part of it, I was like, “Yeah, this is my passion. Let’s go. Let’s tell her story right.”

Ann: I feel like what you just said, the concept, it’s like being a mermaid, people not realizing that there are still Indigenous people today. So, if your first exposure to the entire concept of this is watching this film, and you talk about this in the audio track, like the song “Savages” is just like, oh god. 

Lauren: Yeah. I remember the first time… So, I had this little friend. I was young, I probably was like, somewhere between 4 and 7 and I remember we were close and that he loved Native stuff. I think he watched Pocahontas and really loved that I was Native, and it was this cute little friendship, crush, whatever. And then I remember going to have a playdate with him and for some reason, he decided to change his tune. He must have seen something with a cowboy or something because I remember he got stirrups and got all cowboy, got a cowboy hat or whatever and I remember him pulling out his little fake gun from his whatever and he was like, “You’re a dirty savage.” And I was like, “Well, we were friends and now we’re not.” 

That was the first time I had experienced somebody… well, calling me a savage and pulling out a gun and pretending to kill me because I’m this dirty savage Native. And I knew what he was referencing because I had seen Pocahontas, clearly. But I didn’t fully understand until that point that this is bad, this is bad for us, this is bad for Natives. And like I said, I was between 4 and 7 so how I processed it was different, but I knew from that moment on, we were not friends anymore.

Ann: And it really speaks to the importance of, if somebody is not living in a place where there are Indigenous people around, then everything you learn is from pop culture and it’s like, old pop culture, it’s like cowboy movies or this Disney film. Anyway, augh, that’s terrible.

Lauren: Yeah, I think the two main films were Pocahontas and Peter Pan that people knew about Natives, as kids especially, that’s all they knew so that’s what they referenced.

Ann: Augh. Anyway, the two extremely awful examples and then the extremely awful actual story. So, she became pregnant through sexual assault and then she was married to this guy Thomas Rolfe. His whole deal, what I gleaned is he, the whole reason why the colonists were there was really to try and find a crop that they could sell to make money and they were like, “Tobacco! That’s it. Let’s do it.” So, there were some kind of techniques for curing tobacco that the Powhatan knew, and he was like, “Well, if I marry her, then they’ll teach me these techniques and then my tobacco will be the best tobacco,” basically?

Lauren: Yeah, you got it. That’s pretty much right. So, she had her son Thomas and then married John Rolfe but yeah, he married her to gain favour, actually with both sides. Showing that there was progress happening and there were Natives who liked them and were helping them. So yeah, it became very successful because they cultivated a new strain of tobacco that way and pillaged the lands which was heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching for the Native people, who… Our whole sentiment, our whole life’s breath is to live in harmony with Earth and with nature, so it was just as horrific to see the Earth essentially be brutalized as it was the people because it was one and the same. So yeah, the way that the curing tobacco, that was part of ceremony and is part of ceremony, it was sacred, so he had to marry her in order to gain the permission to know and to learn the way that they cured tobacco because they were not doing it well by themselves, so they needed help. So yeah, that’s why she was forced to marry him.

Ann: And this is around the same time she converted to Christianity and was given the name Rebecca.

Lauren: Yes. So, after they were married, they forced her into Christianity and again, it was another level of, “Look. We’re saving them, we’re making them civilized. Look at this one, she has a white name now and she’s married to a white man,” and whatever. So, it was just further “proof” of the success that they were having. But it also, like I said, it worked in their favour on the side of then the Native people didn’t want to harm them, and her father didn’t want to rescue her because he was scared that he was going to be hurt if he did so he stayed away, which is just, augh, it’s just so sad to think about. And fast forward, she did end up being poisoned so…

Ann: He was right to be concerned, obviously. But I think also, the fact that he didn’t come after her, I’ve seen that has been reframed in some retellings as saying that he didn’t care and that’s why he didn’t come after her.

Lauren: Right, that’s what they told her. And I mean, you can know all the truth in your heart but if you’re 17 years old and you’ve been in captivity and being touted around, you’re essentially going to believe it. You kind of hope that she didn’t but I mean, you’re still a child and aren’t being rescued, what else do you think? So, that’s me. It’s just sad. What her last few years were like just with the mental torture, not just physical but the mental torture, I truly can’t even imagine. 

Ann: Yeah. On this podcast, when I’m looking at stories, I really try to be like, “Here’s what the woman was doing and here’s what she was thinking.” But Matoaka is really just like, she wasn’t in a space to be able to do anything, stuff was just happening to her and every day, all she could do was just survive, really.

Lauren: Yes, exactly. And again, because she didn’t want to cause harm to her people, the total opposite of how she was portrayed, she was portrayed as if she wanted to betray her people, it was completely the opposite. She went along with what she needed to do for herself to survive and also to not cause harm to her people.

Ann: And also, there’s not a roadmap for what was going on with her and with them. They didn’t know the end result of colonization but also, this was the first time there had been this extended amount of time with colonists in America, with Indigenous people. They didn’t know where this was all headed, nobody knew what was going on really, so how could they make decisions of what to do next when nobody really knows what was happening?

Lauren: Of course. Which, you know, after she had been in England for a while, they told her that she was going to be going back to “Virginia.” I say that because that’s not what it was called to her. What the history tells us and what her sister had noted, she was in really great health before she got on board to go home, and she had hardly got… they hardly even got going and she got very sick, all of a sudden, and they took her off the boat and she died shortly after. It points to a poisoning. So yeah, it’s just horrible how her life ended and who knows why that was needed. Likely nervous that they were going to be harmed when they brought her back because they had kidnapped her for way longer than they had agreed to because it was, at first, an agreement of, “We’ll take her for a while, and she’ll come back.” So, they probably were scared of retaliation of Native people, which would have been warranted. And so, by her just dying, it kind of solved their problem and in a way kept them from feeling fear that they were going to be threatened by the Native people.

Ann: Her time in England was basically, she and John Rolfe and Thomas, and other people, her sister was with her and her sister’s husband. And what they did in England, they just kind of dressed her up in European-style clothes and were like, “Look, it’s Rebecca. Look how she’s civilized.” The intent of that was to be like, “So, if you could fund our further missions, that would be great.” She was just kind of there to advertise their success so they could get more investors. And once that was done, I guess they’re like, “Okay, we don’t need her anymore.”

Lauren: Yeah. Yup, probably. They were like “Thanks for that, goodbye. We literally don’t need you anymore.” Who knows what her relationship and marriage was like to Rolfe in the meantime. Now, there is a record that she did see John Smith at some point when she was in England and she did express how angry she was about the mistreatment and especially because he was a weroance and was made a weroance, she let him have it.  But yeah, it’s just Little Kocoum, obviously, was raised without her and then her son Thomas actually ended up, I’m pretty sure returned to Virginia as well at some point.

Ann: Yeah, I’ve got this later on in my notes about her son but that just reminded me about John Smith because I think this is important for people to know just in the continuing narrative of “He sucks” is that in the original story, not the original story, he was over in the “Virginia” area and he went back early because of a gunpowder accident, like, whatever that means. So, in the movie it’s like, “He was heroically shot, and he was sent back,” where it’s like, no, he was just a dumbass and then…

Lauren: Yeah. [laughs] He literally was stupid and had an injury and had to go back.

Ann: Now I’m confusing what I read with what the saga is but I think Pocahontas was told he was dead and then she went back to England and it was like, “Surprise, he’s not dead.” And I think she was mad about being misled about that too.

Lauren: I mean yeah, she had a lot to be mad about.

Ann: Yes. And it was his recorded… He recorded what his interaction was like and he was saying that she was so upset about things but also I think, probably the fact that she went to England and she was kind of a celebrity when she was there, I think that’s where he was like, “Oh, if I write a book about how I met her then that’s going to bring me money.” So, that’s part of where she became well known which is why he pounced on that, to make his own living as a memoir writer. But he sucks, just so everybody knows.

Lauren: Yeah. He’s awful. He’s the worst.

Ann: Nothing he did was never not awful.

Lauren: Yeah, and just… I think that watching the movie and knowing that about him I’m like, how could you even do that? How did Disney think that writing this story about this crook, this horrible crook who was known to be a crook, that wasn’t even hidden in history, that was out there. And creating this love story between this crook and a 10-year-old, that’s so, so messed up. I don’t know how that got approved.

Ann: Everything about it, just watching it not as an adult, my eyes were just so wide I’m like, “What is happening? How does this exist?” Everything about it is just like “Oh god, this is just…” Not to mention the fact that she goes to talk to a talking tree.

Lauren: [chuckles] Yeah, that further points to the mythical creature, magical power, story about Native Americans. Again, they’re like mermaids, they can do this, they’re like fairies, all these little magical powers that further that stereotype.

Ann: Yeah, of just being this mythical…

Lauren: Not human. Savage. Different. Other. Other. They’re not human.

Ann: Yeah, everything about that movie is, oh my gosh. I don’t…

Lauren: The thing is too, I think about, they could have written a story about Pocahontas as a child, before even the European invaders came. Could have been like, “This young girl was born in this tribe, she was her father’s favourite, she had lots of siblings.” They could have even done up to Kocoum and having a baby. Again, it’s like that’s not the full truth but at least it would have been the truth. You could have done the truth up to a certain point, you know? They decided to just, “Nope. We’re going to make it all up.” [laughs]

Ann: It’s bizarre. And it’s, I’m pretty sure, the only Disney princess movie where it’s based on a real person also.

Lauren: Right. Yes, exactly, exactly. I’m like, you could have chosen so many things! Why that?

Ann: And the fact that the other movies in the princess series are about fairytale magical places, I can understand why a child would understand this as also about a fairytale made-up thing. Why would you think this one is actually based on facts?

Lauren: It’s in fairytale books.

Ann: Is it?

Lauren: Yeah. It’s in fairytale books, it’s in princess books. Yes, I had this big fairytale book where it had all the different stories, yeah, it was in there. It was a fairytale.

Ann: So, it makes sense that people would understand it as a fairytale, as not a thing that happened.

Lauren: Of course. Which is why we’re telling the truth of it.

Ann: Yes. I’m just myth-busting here. People need to know. So, she died in England, and I found this really, everything about her life from the time the colonists came, I guess from her kidnapping on is just awful, but I found it awful that she was buried in England, that her remains were never returned.

Lauren: Yeah. And then they say, “We don’t know where her remains are because some church was destroyed in a fire.” Some of that could be true but up to this point, can we believe anything that’s being said about her? Or do they know and don’t want to…? There’s just so many things. At this point, I don’t even know what her remains would be but I’m sure at one point it was like, “Hey, we don’t want anybody looking into this because they might find out she was poisoned,” which is horrific because in Native cultures you need to be with and buried with your family. It’s literally beyond the grave, beyond life, it’s still an ongoing tragedy because her body was never returned to her people.

Ann: Yeah, I find it kind of odd that in the absence of knowing where her remains are but there’s a statue there, in England.

Lauren: Yeah, well she was made a celebrity, like you said.

Ann: Yeah, it’s an odd thing. And then her father was so upset that she died that he died shortly after of grief basically because…

Lauren: Horrible.

Ann: Everything they went through.

Lauren: Augh, it’s just horrible.

Ann: So, her legacy. Yeah, so her son, I’m just looking at what I have here. So, her son stayed in England for a while, was raised by the Rolfe family but he later returned to Virginia as an adult, and he had many descendants. So, her lineage lived on through him including the actor, Edward Norton.

Lauren: Yeah, yeah. That and her daughter, who she had with Kocoum, she also had children as well. So yeah, her lineage did carry on and it’s cool to see that she had people to kind of pass on her life. I mean, every bit of when we tell her story, I feel like we’re able to give her the rest in power, you know? Rest in peace, rest in power, that she really truly deserved.

Ann: Yeah, when we tell her real story because the made-up story continues to be so widely understood and widely disseminated and I think what your project just on the website it mentions one of the books that you looked at was that one, The True Story of Pocahontas and that draws from the oral storytelling. So, a lot of what we know about what really happened was through… Because there were people with her; her sister was with her when she was in England and went to stay with her when she was kidnapped so like, they passed on, “Here’s what she was going through. Here’s the depression she had. Here’s what the story is.” So, I appreciate that, that we know her story through her people in that way.

Lauren: Right. Yeah, exactly. I mean, a lot of native history is passed down orally, that’s kind of tradition and yeah, I’m glad somebody wrote it down. We have to because of the genocide and the separation of families, eventually oral history can’t exactly keep up but I’m glad we have the bit that we do about her and grateful her sister was with her in order to know what was going on and be able to kind of… Or else, we wouldn’t have known anything, the truth of any of this so I’m just grateful that things were passed on.

Ann: Especially if all we had to rely on and what people had to rely on for a long time was just the John Smith books.

Lauren: Yeah, which we all know now, it’s so messed up and not even close to the truth.

Ann: So, at the end of all my episodes, I think I sent you this but just as a reminder, I score everybody I talk about on the show in four different categories. 

Lauren: Oh, okay!

Ann: It’s sort of like, I have the four categories because different people have different strengths and I want everybody to be able to get some points in one category. So, it’s on a scale of 0 to 10. So, the first category is scandal. How scandalous do you think she was?

Lauren: She was?

Ann: I don’t think she was scandalous at all, frankly.

Lauren: Oh, no. I don’t think she’s scandalous. There’s no record of her being scandalous at all. I think she was only with Kocoum by choice ever, so I’d say a 0 or a 1. I don’t know if it begins at 0 or 1.

Ann: I think 0. Nothing she ever did was out of line with what was expected of her.

Lauren: Yeah, exactly. So, 0.

Ann: The next category is Scheminess which I contextualize as not just like, a person coming up with a scheme but also somebody who is resilient, they’re put into different situations and they’re able to figure out what to do when they’re in those situations and that sort of thing. And she did survive. 

Lauren: Yeah no, she survived until she literally was blindly poisoned, she couldn’t have even known. In terms of scheme, she played the game she had to play so I’d say she was 7 or 8.

Ann: Yeah, I’ll give her an 8 for that. She’s in this impossible, horrible situation and no one had ever been put in that exact situation before, but she kept going.

Lauren: Yeah, and she was young!

Ann: Oh my god she was so young. When she died she was like 21 or something?

Lauren: Uh-huh, 20 or 21.

Ann: The next category is Significance.

Lauren: Oh well, obviously a 10.

Ann: I feel like a 10. First of all, her name is well known but also the context of her life, this was the first real interaction between Indigenous people of North America with England.

Lauren: Yeah, and she was the first documented missing and murdered Indigenous woman so yeah, she’s pretty important. 

Ann: For sure, she’s a 10. And then the final category is, I call it the Sexism Bonus so it’s basically like how much did sexism get in her way and hold her back?

Lauren: Oh. [chuckles] A 10! Maybe a 9 because most of it likely had to do with her race but yeah, I’d give that like a 9. 

Ann: Yeah, you can’t really differentiate the sexism from the racism and everything but the fact that she was raped, she was taken and used in these ways. It’s very gendered.

Lauren: Yeah, yeah.

Ann: So, her total score is a 27. I maintain a score of all the people we talk about and where they all fit together. A 27 is definitely… There’s a lot of people at that number, a lot of notable people, she’ll fit right in. Can you tell everybody, to plug yourself and all the things you’re doing, and what you want people to know about you?

Lauren: Oh yeah sure. So, first of all, if anyone wants to watch and listen, you can go to and you press play on the track and play Disney’s Pocahontas on mute. You can also just listen if you don’t want to just watch. I do recommend watching along with, but essentially, you could play it like a podcast if you’d like. It’s about an hour and 20 minutes I believe. As far as myself, all of my socials and places you can find me is my name which is Lauren DeLeary. I am active mostly on my Instagram but also on my TikTok. I have a podcast called Curiocity and we have weekly episodes there. Yeah, basically you can find me on my socials, I’m always there.

Ann: Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m so happy that you were able to take the time to do this because I was like, who can I bring on to talk about this story? And I’m like, who knows it better than you at this point?

Lauren: Oh, well thank you. I’m no historian, I will say. I don’t have a doctorate of history, I’m just an Indigenous girlie who is passionate about this story and course correcting, was honoured to be a part of this project and to be able to tell her story, truly, her correct story. So yeah, I appreciate it so much. Thank you so much for having me on!


I love that conversation. I’m so happy that Lauren joined me on the podcast to talk about this because I just feel like she sat with this story for so long. I couldn’t name anyone better to invite on to help discuss this story and all the weird myths and things that have built up about it. 

I wanted to let you know a couple details, sort of connections of this story to other episodes we’ve done. So, when Matoaka and John Rolfe went to London for that trip to England to be like, “Hey look how successful we are with tobacco, please invest in our company,” King James I is still the king, his wife, Anne of Denmark. So, they did in fact, at one point, attend a banquet dinner, a masque party, that was hosted by King James and Queen Anne. So, just thinking about all the people we’ve talked about in that era like Frances Howard maybe was there. This is the intersection. And this is what we’re really going to be looking at the next season, the upcoming season, Season 7, is a lot of these intersections between people from the Western hemisphere, from like North and South America, with people in Europe because this is when a lot of this back and forth started happening, Matoaka being one of the first Indigenous people to ever go to England. But the fact that there were so many awful things happening to her in her life and then on top of that she had to go attend a dinner party held by James I and Anne of Denmark, like, these nightmare people. If you watch Pocahontas II, the Disney film, which I have not yet watched but I might, there’s a scene where she meets them. So, James I and Anne of Denmark are in Pocahontas II which is wild to me. 

Anyway, so what happened to the London Company after all of this? So, because of the success of growing tobacco, which John Rolfe, when he learned how to cure the tobacco his tobacco became really successful, so the population boomed in Virginia although the London Company itself was bankrupted in part due to frequent war with nearby Indigenous people which led King James to take direct control of the colony of Virginia. Because these guys like John Smith, John Rolfe, they were just dumbasses, they didn’t know what they were doing. Anyway, so following this, to try to populate this region, the British started shipping over convicts. We’ve talked before on the podcast, and you’ve probably already heard about how Australia, the British colony there started by shipping convicts there. But before they shipped convicts to Australia, they shipped them to America. So, something like up to 120,000 convicts were eventually shipped over to North America before the American Revolution and then Britain wasn’t able to do that anymore. 

Meanwhile, in this Virginia area, the London Company, the purpose of this colony was to be merchants, to grow crops and to make money, so it was very much about making money and this is what developed into the plantation-type economy driven by chattel slavery and the American South. Meanwhile, a bit further north, in New England, the Plymouth Council for New England sponsored several colonization projects including a colony established by a group of English Puritans, AKA the pilgrims. 

So, the Puritans, this is all the same, like, building under the stuff we’ve talked about before, especially in the Mary, Queen of Scots season and John Knox and Calvinism. So, the Puritans were really into this intensely emotional form of Calvinist Protestantism, they wanted independence from the Church of England and that’s why they went over. So, this is like the Mayflower, a famous ship name, transported them over to the New England area and this is where they established the Plymouth colony on Cape Cod. Actually, these colonists, in 1621, the Plymouth colony was able to establish an alliance with the nearby Wampanoag tribe, I think that might be the story of “the first Thanksgiving,” and this helped them. So, where Jamestown was constantly at war, having trouble, the Puritans, because of this alliance, they were able to learn effective agricultural practices and able to start doing like fur trade and things. 

So, this is really laying some track for some other episodes we have coming up in Season 7 actually, so just to explain to you how the English came to North America and how kind of America, the United States of America, kind of started out, which was these kind of dirtbag plantation owner, tobacco farmer type people in the South and then further north in New England it’s kind of the Puritans working up there. So, it’s already kind of like a North versus the South vibe and it’s all kind of different. Anyway, so that’s just some, for me, honestly, I’m telling you this because honestly, I needed to look this all up for myself to better understand the history of North America and where does Matoaka fit into all of this and was John Smith with the Puritans? When I was learning about all this, I was sort of confused. 

If you want to hear more about how John Smith sucks, there’s an episode of my Patreon podcast, So This Asshole about John Smith and all his stories about how he went to all these different places and the daughters of kings kept being topless and trying to save his life. He had some interactions with the Báthory family of Transylvania. He had an interesting life, let’s just say, John Smith. A person, he sucks, and he had an interesting life, but not as interesting as he tried to make it seem like in his books. And remember, his writings were sponsored by Frances Howard, not the main Frances Howard we know about on this podcast but one of the other people also called Frances Howard. Anyway, all these connections. If this is your first episode of Vulgar History you’ve ever listened to, just know everything starts interrelating in all these intricate ways in the various episodes. 

So, this is Vulgar History, my name is Ann Foster. So, we scored Pocahontas with a 27 on the Scandalicious Scale, the Fredegund Memorial Scandalicious Scale. If you want to see who that makes her be in the neighbourhood of, the whole scale is up at, you can look at the scale to see where all the people we’ve talked about on the show, where they all fit. What I find interesting, I try to find people who have a similar score, and she has a 27 and so does Anne of Denmark, who is the Queen of England when she went over there. 

So, this podcast, I want to let you know, if you want to see some other stuff that I’m doing, I have a Substack newsletter now which is where I write about different people than who I talk about on the podcast. It’s a way to… It’s just the Vulgar History brand is expanding. So, if you go to, you can subscribe there for either free or if you want, you can get a paid subscription. Currently, I’m in the middle of doing a series called “Tudor, I Hardly Knew Her,” where I’m talking about the six wives of Henry VIII and then after that, I’m going to talk about some other women from Tudor history who I’ve never talked about on this podcast before. 

You can support this podcast on Patreon, where for $1 a month you get early, ad-free access to all the episodes. For $5 or more a month you get early, ad-free access to all the episodes as well as bonus episodes like I said, to the So This Asshole series, if you want to hear about how John Smith sucks. I also did one about other colonizers. I’ve done Hernán Cortés, Christopher Columbus. Colonization is such an insidious, awful, genocidal thing and the fact that it was led by these, just, useless dumbasses makes it I don’t know… There’s just a lot to yell about and I do in those episodes. I also have my bonus Patreon series, Vulgarpiece Theatre where I talk about costume dramas with Allison Epstein and Lana Wood Johnson. Most recently we’ve talked about Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which you might not think is a costume drama but it is, and then also, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, which in context with the story of Matoaka is interesting because there is a Native American character not played by a Native American actor in that film and he is very much presented as a mystical, magical being, so it really ties into that whole stereotype. 

Anyway, so if you join the Patreon for $5 or more a month, you get access to those bonus episodes and there’s a big archive of them. So, if you really want to hear me talk, you can. Also, for people who join the Patreon at $5 or more a month, there’s a chat on Patreon which is where Kristy, shout out to Kristy, suggested doing an episode about Pocahontas. Also, we have a Discord that you can access and join, and I like to hang out there and talk to people and see what everyone is up to. Anyway, if you want to listen to just specific episodes of the Patreon episodes like for instance, the John Smith episode, you can purchase those for just $5 each without having to become a monthly Patreon member, you can just buy an episode if you want to hear that. 

I also want to mention our brand partner, Common Era Jewellery, this is a 100% woman-owned business that creates jewellery pieces inspired by the difficult women from history and classical mythology. So, there are some overlap in the pieces that they make. There’s not a Matoaka necklace, although that could be an interesting choice, Torie if you’re listening, consider it. But there are people we’ve talked about on the podcast like Cleopatra, Anne Boleyn, Agrippina, Boudica, the jewellery is beautiful, and they also have other accessories you can buy like some beautiful hair bows, scrunchies and things. And you can always get 15% off anything from Common Era by going to or using code ‘VULGAR’ at checkout. 

If you want to buy Vulgar History merch, it’s available at or if you’re outside the US you can also shop at If you want to get in touch with me, you can. There’s a form at, you can email me directly at, I’m also on Instagram @VulgarHistoryPod and my DMs are open there if you want to get in touch with me there as well. Transcripts of recent episodes are available at, thank you to Aveline Malek for providing these transcripts. 

And until next time– Oh! I was going to tell you, I’ve started doing these teasers, next week, we’re going to be talking more about Indigenous people of North America, specifically Canada, specifically near where I live in Saskatchewan. So, stay tuned for that next week and until then, keep your pants on and your tits out. 

Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma by Camilla Townsend


The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Dr. Linwood “Little Bear’ Custalow and Angela L. Daniel “Silver Star”


Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America by Benjamin Woolley


The True Story of Pocahontas: Historical Myths Versus Sad Reality by Vincent Schilling (Indian Country Today)




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