StGeorges Gravesend Sunday 23 July 17

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Pocahontas

Pocahontas

Pocahontas taken as a hostage

In 1612 the colony was in surprisingly good shape when another Captain, Samuel Argall brought reinforcements, and went exploring for food among Indians on the River Potomac. Hearing that Pocahontas was visiting those tribes he resolved to ransom her for eight English held by Powhatan. Argall used a friendly Indian Chief and his wife to persuade Pocahontas aboard his ship and took her to Jamestown in March 1613. There she was treated as an honoured guest, and assured that she would be in a position to bring back friendship and faith between Powhatan and the English.

During the next year, she was in the care of Alexander Whitaker, a Calvinist minister, who began to instruct her in the Christian faith. She also met John Rolfe, then 28, who had arrived with his wife in 1610, possibly from Heacham, Norfolk. On the outward voyage their child, Bermuda, was born and died on that island, and his wife died after arrival in Jamestown. Rolfe brought tobacco seed from Trinidad to produce a leaf more palatable than the coarse local variety. Tobacco saved the colony: in 1616, it exported 2,500 lbs., 1617, 20,000 lbs., and in 1618, 50,000 lbs.

Pocahontas marries

John Rolfe fell in love with Pocahontas and obtained permission from the Governor to marry her. Powhatan consented and sent his two sons to witness the marriage. She was first baptised Rebecca, and then the wedding took place in April 1614. They left for England with the Governor, and a dozen Indians, in April 1616. At this stage they had an infant son Thomas.

Statue of PocahontasPocahontas in England

While in England, Pocahontas and her entourage of Indians was the subject of much curiosity. She was presented at the court of King James as "the first Christian ever of the Virginian nation". She also met John Smith again, but it is known that the meeting was a disappointment to her, Smith denying the close association with her father. She was presented to the Bishop of London, at which point it was noticed that that Pocahontas was unwell.

The link with Gravesend

In March 1617, the Rolfes prepared to leave London on Argall’s ship the "George".They were to return with Virginia’s Governor and his family. At this stagePocahontas’ health was deteriorating. She was suffering from tuberculosis, to whichthe Indians appeared rather prone. Pocahontas was brought ashore at Gravesend,either dead or dying. She is thought to have been buried in the vault beneath thechancel of the local parish church - St. George’s. Her son, Thomas returned toVirginia where he is understood to have numerous descendants.

The original churchwas destroyed by fire on 24th August 1727 and later rebuilt. In 1896 the memorial tablet to Pocahontas was made in the chancel of St. George’s Church, and the Colonial Dames of America presented the memorial windows in1914. In 1923 a Virginian received permission to search for the remains of Pocahontas, but nothing conclusive was found.Entry in the Gravesend St. George composite parish register recording the burial of Princess Pocahontas on 21 March 1616/1617.

The entry reads: Rebecca Wroth wyffe [i.e. wife] of Thomas Wroth/ gent[leman] [i.e.gentleman] a Virginia [America] Lady borne [i.e. born] was buried/ in the Chauncell[i.e. chancel]Our thanks toMedway Council City Archivesfor their kind assistance with this photograph.This account was summarised from a compilation of "Pocahontas and her World" byPhilip Barbour, And R.H. Hiscock’s "History of Gravesend’s Parish Churches" byColin Pilgrim – Rector, in 1975.

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