If you’ve watched Disney’s Pocahontas, you might be aware of a villain known as governor John Ratcliffe. In the film, Ratcliffe is portrayed as a greedy and ruthless individual who seeks to build the English colony of Virginia and has only contempt for the native Americans he sees as barbaric. He doesn’t die in the end, but does end up jailed.
However, you may have missed it that the character was in fact based on a real person of the same name (1549-1609) and as much as the film taken liberties with historical accuracy, it was not unfounded. The real John Ratcliffe, who arrived in Virginia on the ship Discovery, was also in charge of the new colony, and like his cinematic portrayal abused his position at the expense of other colonists, demanding they build him a mansion despite being sick and starving
The main difference is however, that the real life Ratcliffe met a more horrific fate that any Disney movie could have ever depicted. In 1609, the Virginia colony was starving. Entering a new land with limited supplies, and challenging conditions to engage in agriculture, meant life in the New World was tough and deadly. This also meant that despite hostilities, the new colony had to try and trade with the Powhatan Native Americans who resided on the land.
That December, as winter conditions severely limited food supplies and people starved to death, Ratcliffe and 25 colonists were invited to meet with the Indians who purportedly offered corn in exchange for copper. However, the promised food was not delivered and the meeting turned out to be a trap whereby the Powhatan tribe ambushed Ratcliffe and his delegation. They were taken to the village.
While the rest of the colonists were slaughtered on the spot, a horrific fate awaited Ratcliffe. First, they stripped off his clothes. Naked, he was then tied to a stake in front of a fire. Then, female Indians produced empty mussel shells and began to use them to scrape and strip the skin off his body. As they removed it, they threw it into the fire before his eyes. After finishing his body, they then flayed his face.
Finally, they then threw him into the fire, burning him alive, naked and skinless. This is arguably one of the most horrific executions a person could experience. Unfortunately, the Disney version of him who was equally, if not more evil, never met this monstrous end.