Saturday, January 24, 2009

Princess Pocahontas at Gravesend

Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, a powerful chief of the Algonquian Indians in the Tidewater region of Virginia. She was one of many children born to the chief and his many wives, and was reportedly one of his favorite daughters. She was a loving and cheerful child with a pleasant disposition and was given the name Matoika which means “Little Wanton.”

In 1607, Pocahontas and her Algonquian tribe met the first Englishmen to land on the shores of Virginia. Much has been written about that first meeting and the fact that Pocahontas saved the life of Captain John Smith. There may be some truth to the story, but it is generally assumed their first encounter has been romanticized over the years. However, the man who stole Pocahontas’s heart was another settler called John Rolfe. Rolfe loved Pocahontas but would not marry her until she became a Christian. This she did and took the name of Rebecca Rolfe. In 1616, Rolfe, his wife and their young son Thomas, travelled to England, a journey that would be disastrous.

After a whirlwind visit that included much of London’s society, Pocahontas was presented to King James I. She was considered a fine young woman and treated as a princess by the court of King James. Eventually, the young family made plans to return to Virginia but on the eve of their journey, Pocahontas became seriously ill, possibly with an advanced stage of tuberculosis. She was taken ashore at Gravesend where she died. She was buried at the Parish Church of St. George at Gravesend. It is said her last words to her husband were "all must die. 'Tis enough that the child liveth." Pocahontas was 22 years old at her death.

The memorial reads:

“Princess Pocahontas, the first North American Indian to become a Christian, who had been received at the Court of King James I died as she began her return journey to Virginia and was buried in the chancel of the church on 21 March, 1617.”