The Story of Princess Pocahontas

Item of the Week From the East Hampton Library Long Island Collection

This image of Princess Pocahontas Pharaoh as a young woman was given to the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection by Red Thunder Cloud, also known as Carlos Westez. 

Red Thunder Cloud, who self-identified as Catawba, lived in East Hampton and documented indigenous people here. Pocahontas Pharaoh, occasionally identified as Sarah Pocahontas Pharaoh, was born on the Montauk reservation near Indian Field, Montauk Point, on Feb. 15, 1878. Pocahontas was the youngest child of David Pharaoh, typically known as King David Pharaoh, and his wife, Queen Maria Fowler Pharaoh. 

Pocahontas’s father would die from consumption six months after her birth, when he was about 40 years old. Red Thunder Cloud’s caption recalls his experiences with the disagreement between the Fowler and Pharaoh families, related to the leadership of the Montaukett people.

Pocahontas was born in the middle of the attempts by Arthur Benson and the Long Island Rail Road to force the Montauketts off their land. In October of 1879, before Pocahontas’s second birthday, Benson purchased Montauk for $151,000. When he took control of the property, he allowed the railroad to expand its rail service through it. In 1897, Pocahontas’s brother King Wyandanch Pharaoh turned to the courts to try to get the Montaukett land back, continuing the fight until 1910.

Pocahontas was known for her skilled beadwork, woven baskets, and the scrub brushes she whittled. She never married, working for much of her life as a janitor for the telephone company in its East Hampton office.

Known as the last Montaukett to be born on the reservation, she spent most of the rest of her life in the Freetown section of East Hampton, on the land the Montauketts were given as part of the deal for their reservation. Pocahontas died on Feb. 6, 1963, at the age of 84.

Andrea Meyer is a librarian and archivist in the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.