Princess Pocahontas and Heacham in Norfolk
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Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

Daughter of Chief Powhatan of the Algonquinn Red Indians, Pocahontas has been immortalised by Walt Disney.

Her father Chief Powhattan of the Algonquinn Indians is said to have had over 100 wives and many many children. It is believed that Pocahontas was born around the year 1595 and was actually called Matoaka Rebecka. She is said to have been one of Chief Powhattans favourites and according to the Powhatan Indians 'Pocahontas' was actually a nickname which meant ‘naughty one’ or ‘spoiled child’.

When Sir Walter Raleigh explored the country of North America which he named Virginia after Queen Elizabeth the first, his accounts of the richness of the country caused an English company to be formed called the "London Virginia Chartered Company". It was this company who sent  English settlers to North America of which Captain Smith was one of them. Smith was captured by the Indians whilst exploring their teritory.  Now according to Walt Disney and the legend Pocahontas is said to have saved the life of Captain John Smith by laying her head over his when her father had ordered that Captain Smith be clubbed to death.

There is  no real proof that it was Pocahontas who saved Smith's life as there are no documents about it and Smith only began to mention this incident after Pocahontas had died. If it did take place then Pocahontas would have been around 12 years old.

Whatever did or did not happen Chief Powhatan did not have Smith clubbed to death but instead initiated him into his tribe as a subchief.  He feasted him, and then returned him safe and sound to the colony. When later Smith's colony ran out of food, it was Pocahontas who kept the colonists from starving to death.  By visiting them regularly with food and acting as an intermediary between her father and the colonists.

Then in 1613 Pocahontas was lured abroad a ship ‘The Treasurer’ by a Captain Samuel Argyll, where she was held hostage to ensure the good behaviour of the natives.  Or it may have been that he planned to trade her for Englishmen held captive by the Indians. On board ship her jailor was the Revd Whittaker and his wife who gave her Christian teaching from the bible helped by one John Rolfe. She was baptised 1613/1614 in Jamestown and renamed Rebecka. It is said that she was the first Indian to have been baptised.

John Rolfe (1585/1586–1622) of Heacham Hall had left the family home for America to seek his fortune he was involved in the tobacco trade and was the first Englishman to introduce the regular cultivation of tobacco into Virginia. He embarked with his FIRST wife on one of a number of ships carrying settlers into the new world but his first wife died with their child at some stage during the journey.

Some say that Pocahontas fell in love during her Christian teachings and that Rolfe was captivated by her looks, her bravery and her gentle manner, others suggest that Rolfe thought having a daughter of a Indian Chief as a wife would greatly assist his long term aims in America. They were married around 1614 probably in Jamestown, (which incidentally was named after the reigning King of England of that time.) Pocahontas's father is said to have agreed to the wedding but did not attend the ceremony.

John Rolfe and Pocahontas had a child Thomas who was born around 1615. The whole family returned to England in 1615/1616 and Pocahontas was presented at court where she caused a sensation with her exotic looks. King James had her father Powhatan coronated Emperor of Virginia, which made Pocahontas a princess, theoretically outranking a lot of the English nobility. Some rumours say that James 1st never forgave John Rolfe for marrying a Princess without his Sovereigns leave. She attended plays by William Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre, attended balls and also met Captain John Smith again.

The family decided to return to Virginia in 1617. Pocahontas succumbed to the English disease of small pox and died on the eve of her return to America at Gravesend. Others say that she had actually boarded ship and then fell ill and had to be taken off. She was buried at Gravesend.  Unfortunately in 1727 Gravesend Church burnt down and the exact location of her grave was lost. The register is said to record 'Pocahontas 1616 March 2 buried in ye Chauncell'.

John Rolfe returned to America married for the THIRD time but died with his wife during the fighting which took place during the Indian massacres in 1622.

Pocahontas's son Thomas remained in England until he was 23, then he returned to America possibly  to Virginia where there is a village called Heacham which dates from the time of his return.

Inside the church of St. Mary at Heacham there is a memorial to Pocahontas carved by a pupil of 'Rodin', she is also shown on the village sign of Heacham. In both she is dressed in a stylish Jacobean trilby hat and great neck ruff. A picture which is believed to be of Pocahontas and her son can be found at the Kings Lynn Museum. There is also a memorial to Pocahontas in the church at Jamestown.

Heacham Hall was unfortunately destroyed by fire during the Second World War.

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography