The start of school in Year 2 was based around the topic My World and learning about the history of our local area Gravesend. Mid October saw the whole of Year 2 dress as Native Americans to celebrate Pocahontas Day which they all enjoyed and later on when we were in the town centre I took the girls to St Georges church to see the statue of Pocahontas and to see if I could find where Pocahontas was buried.
One thing the girls knew from school is that the ‘real’ Pocahontas wasn’t like the one they had seen in the Disney film but her story was very similar.
The Story of Pocahontas
Powhatan her father was a powerful man and ruled over 40 Native American tribes, he gave his daughter Matoaka the nickname Pocahontas which means ‘the playful one’, she was her father’s favourite and the most beautiful of all his children.
As she grew up she witnessed many changes in Virginia her homeland, Europeans started to arrive and set up colonies. They brought objects with them like mirrors and knives which Pocahontas had never seen. There was a growing mistrust between the Native Americans and the Europeans, relations grew worse in 1607 when Captain John Smith was caught on their territory and brought in front of Powhatan for trial.
Pocahontas is believed to have fallen in love with him and she pleaded with her father to save his life but he refused, Pocahontas threw herself between Captain James Smith and the executioners and her father was forced to let him live.
Captain James Smith later became leader of the settlers who built Jamestown, the first settlement in Virginia named after the English King James 1. The captain returned to England badly wounded in 1609 leaving a heartbroken Pocahontas believing he was dead. He survived and became a hero in the King’s court telling tales of his wondrous escape.
Back in Virginia relations between the settlers and the native Americans grew steadily worse, Powhatan ordered that the white man should stay within the confines of Jamestown. Pocahontas however was still fascinated by them and was easily enticed to the settlement where she was held captive whilst a ransom note was sent to her father.
It is said that she thoroughly enjoyed her captivity and in 1613 was the first native American to be baptised and re-named Rebecca. Shortly after this ceremony she married John Rolfe the magistrate of the colony in 1614 with her father’s blessing. They lived on John Rolfe’s tobacco plantation for two years and Pocahontas had a sone named Thomas.
In 1616, Pocahontas set sail for England with her family on Sir Thomas Dale’s ship with an escort of twelve Native Americans. They arrived in Plymouth and travelled to London where they created quite a stir. Pocahontas was praised for her beauty and became known as ‘la belle savage’.
It was on her return journey to Virginia after a year in England that she arrived in Gravesend, she became seriously ill offshore and was hurried to land where she spent her last few hours. It is thought she died of the plague and was quickly buried in St George’s Church at the age of 21. The parish church register the entry
“1617. March 21st Rebecca Wrolfe, Wyffe of Thomas Wrolfe, gent., a Virginia lady born, was buried in ye Chancell.”
Sadly the church was destroyed in a fire in 1727 and now no one knows the exact spot of her burial. The Pocahontas memorial serves to remember her.
Gravesham was twinned with Chesterfield County of Virginia in 2005, since then pilgrimages have come to seek out the burial spot of Pocahontas. Her importance in English history has been recognised by a number of ceremonies including the placing of a plaque in the church in the late nineteenth century, a tablet and stained glass windows being donated in 1914 and a bronze statue of Pocahontas unveiled by the Governor of Virginia in 1958.
In July 2006 Gravesham welcomed eight tribes of Native American Indians who visited the UK for the first time. The visit was organised by Jamestown British Committee and Gravesham Borough Council to develop a better understanding of history, culture and to create new friendships.
Gravesend – What’s on?
To find out what’s going on locally take a look at Go Gravesham and check out their full Christmas schedule including Christmas Jumper World Record on the 6th December – can you be there?