You already know that the animated 1995 movie Pocahontas isn't the most historically accurate film of all time. One of the biggest liberties Disney took with the story was playing up a nascent romance between the titular Powhatan princess and English explorer John Smith. While this is pure fantasy—Pocahontas would have been not much more than 10 years old when she met Smith in 1607—the dramatic story of the princess saving the explorer's life has inspired romantic fantasies for centuries.
The real-life Pocahontas did end up marrying an Englishman named John, but not until she was a slightly less creepy 18 years old—and the groom wasn't John Smith, but a 28-year-old Virginia settler by the name of John Rolfe. Rolfe had moved to Virginia in 1610, and made a name for himself as an early tobacco planter. He and Pocahontas first set eyes on each other in one of history's weirdest meet-cutes: the princess had been taken hostage by an English captain and was being held at Jamestown in order to force her father to release several English prisoners he'd been holding. While a prisoner, the teenage Pocahontas converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca. She and Rolfe likely met at church, and became friends when she taught him some Powhatan secrets for tobacco farming.
Pocahontas and Rolfe kept in touch after her release. Rolfe was clearly smitten with the princess, but was worried about how his English peers might react if he married a Native American girl "whose education has been rude, her manners barbarous." Eventually, Rolfe's heart won out. In a letter to Virginia's governor Sir Thomas Dale, the lovestruck planter laid out his reasons for wanting to marry Pocahontas, "to whom my hearty and best thoughts are, and have a long time been so entangled, and enthralled in so intricate a labyrinth, that I was even awearied to unwind myself thereout."
The two finally tied the knot on April 5, 1614 in a tiny wooden chapel (the remains of which, incidentally, were discovered by archaeologists in 2010). Pocahontas wore an English-style gown and a pearl necklace given to her by her father. The couple's friends and family had more to celebrate than just a wedding: the union marked an unprecedented period of harmony between the native Powhatans and the English newcomers that became known as "the Peace of Pocahontas." As Rolfe's friend Ralph Hamor later wrote,
"Ever since [the wedding] we have had friendly commerce and trade, not only with Powhatan himself, but also with his subjects round about us; so as now I see no reason why the Colony should not thrive a pace."
The birth of Pocahontas and Rolfe's son Thomas in 1615 gave both sides even more reason to be optimistic about the future—but two years later, at the end of a trip to Rolfe's native England, Pocahontas suddenly fell ill and died. She was only 21 years old. Heartbroken, Rolfe left their son Thomas in England to be raised by a friend. He remarried three years after his return to Virginia, but passed away himself in 1622.