I n June 1616 the Virginian princess Pocahontas arrived in Plymouth and travelled to London. With her came her husband, the English tobacco planter John Rolfe, and several members of her Native American family. Done up in embroidered silks and Flemish lace, she enjoyed – if that’s the right word – the adulation of the crowds and an audience with James I. She was not, in fact, a princess, however much it suited the Virginia Company to pretend she was. Nor was her name Pocahontas, which means ‘playful girl’ and like so many other aspects of Indigenous culture had been misunderstood. Yet the name is a fitting symbol of her plight and short life. She was known previously by her childhood names Amonute and Matoaka, and later by her Christian baptismal name, Rebecca, with her husband’s surname: everything about the experience of Native Americans in Europe was caught between the Old World and the New, awkwardly and usually unhappily.
The Virginia Company, a private joint-stock venture, had been struggling and needed some positive PR to attract investment and political support. Four months before the arrival of the Rolfe entourage, the company organised a fundraising lottery, advertised with printed handbills. These were decorated with engravings of the monetary prizes, the royal coat of arms and a pair of American men, Eiakintomino and Matahan, who the previous year had been displayed in St James’s Park, where their portraits were painted. The broadside also included verse, a ventriloquised appeal from the visitors: