WHILE THE STORY OF NATIVE AMERICAN POCAHONTAS (BORN MATVAKA, KNOWN AS AMMONITE, AND LATER KNOWN AS REBECCA ROLFE, C 1596-1617), IS SUCH THAT IN 1607 SHE SAVED THE LIFE OF JOHN SMITH, AN ENGLISHMAN CAPTURED BY INDIANS, 80 YEARS BEFORE SMITH SET FOOT IN VIRGINIA, A FLORIDA POCAHONTAS SAVED THE LIFE OF A SPANISH EXPLORER.
In this chromolithograph credited to the New England Chromo. Lith. Company, ca. 1870, Pocahontas saves the life of John Smith. But some historians have suggested that this story, as told by Smith, is untrue. And that, according to historian William Coker, “the evidence, I think, leans pretty heavily in favor of him borrowing the story.”
“Some historians dismiss Smith as a blowhard and self-promotor. One biography is titled ‘The Great Rogue’.” (Source: articles.latimes.com)
So what story did he borrow, and who was, perhaps, the real Pocahontas?
She was the daughter of Tocobaga Indian Chief Hirrihigua who saved the life of Spanish explorer Juan Ortiz, long remembered in Florida tradition as Princess Hirrihigua.
Princess Hirrihigua (www.princesshdar.org)
ExploreSouthernHistory.com refers to the Florida Pocahontas as “one of the most remarkable stories in American history. It is the story of Juan Ortiz, a Spanish explorer who had the misfortune of being captured and almost roasted alive by outraged indians at Tampa Bay.”
Ortiz was a member of an expedition by Panfilo de Narvaez that landed in or near what is now St. Petersburg, FL in 1528. Chief Hirrihigua developed a “fierce hatred for Europeans” after Naveraez cut off his nose.
Ortiz, the son of a nobleman, was the subject of Chief Hirrihigua’s revenge and after being used as a slave, the then 18-year-old was tied to a grill over hot coals, where the chief wanted to slowly roast him alive. This special torture is called barbacoa, a word that now means barbecue.
It was Princess Hirrihigua that pleaded with her father and persuaded him to save him. Although he was severely burned, the Princess believed her father would strike again and told him to flee to the village of a neighboring chief, Mosoco. She knew that the chief there would “receive him with regard, as she had heard that he had asked for him, and said he would like to see him: and as he knew not the way, she went half a league out of the town with him at dark, to put him on the road, returning early so as not to be missed.” (Source: The Florida Review, Vol. V, No. 4 April 1911).
Ortiz lived peacefully with Chief Mosoco for 11 years until he encountered Hernando De Soto’s expedition, where he joined the Spaniards as an interpreter. He and De Soto died near the Mississippi River during the winter of 1541-1542.
Princess Hirrihigua may have been the real Pocahontas.