THE ORIGINAL “HANDS Across the Sea” happened 400 years ago. Chartered by King James I in 1606, the Virginia Company was a joint stock company charged with the settlement of Virginia. In December of that year, three small ships set sail from England with a complement of 144 sailors and colonists bound for the shores of the New World. In May 1607 the tiny flotilla landed on the shores of Chesapeake Bay and on a small island in the James River estuary established the first permanent British colony in North America.
Since 1807, Jamestown has marked its founding with commemorative celebrations every 50 years. The Jubilee at Jamestown in 1807 was a five-day event that included a regatta of sailing vessels, a parade and orations by the students of the College of William and Mary. In 1857 overnight cabins, a temporary saloon and a dining hall accommodating 500 were constructed for visitors who came by ship and steamer to attend the festivities.
The Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition of 1907 drew more than a million visitors, and naval fleets from across the globe. Booker T. Washington, Mark Twain and President Teddy Roosevelt were featured speakers. In 1957 Jamestown’s 350th anniversary drew more than 1 million visitors as well. The highlight of the 1957 celebration was the first state visit of Queen Elizabeth II since her accession to the throne. Completion of the Colonial Parkway linking Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, and the re-created colony of Jamestown Settlement are lasting reminders of the Jamestown Festival 1957.
Fifty years have passed and Jamestown is celebrating again. This summer’s sail of Godspeed north along the Eastern Seaboard marks the beginning of 18 months of events commemorating the 400th anniversary of England’s first colonial settlement on these shores.
State agencies across Virginia are joining a Jamestown Federal Commission and local organizations of Virginia’s Historic Triangle under the umbrella of Jamestown 2007 to coordinate events ranging from an American Indian Intertribal Cultural Festival to a series of academic conferences on the “Foundations and Future of Democracy” held at universities across Virginia. A Jamestown British Committee, headquartered in Maidstone, Kent, is coordinating a variety of commemorative activities on that side of the sea—including ceremonial salutes to the Virginia Company, the 1606 departure from London and the celebrated princess known as Pocahontas.
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Recently retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor serves as honorary chair of Jamestown 2007, which hosts its biggest party in Jamestown on “America’s Anniversary Weekend,” May 11-13, 2007. Once again, representatives of the British royal family are expected to join the weekend festivities. Ongoing news and details of all the events planned for America’s 400th anniversary celebrations can be found online at www.Jamestown2007.org. If you would like to visit Virginia’s Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown next spring, it would be wise to plan well in advance.
Pocahontas: An Indian Princess in King James’ Court
By Jean Paschke
Everyone knows that Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, saved the life of her lover, Captain John Smith, by flinging herself upon him as clubs were about to descend on his hapless skull. Unfortunately, what everybody knows is essentially untrue.
Pocahontas’ real name was Matoaka, or possibly Amonata. Pocahontas was a nickname meaning “playful girl.” Her father’s name is actually unknown—Powhatan was the very large village he ruled as chief. Smith only recounted his hairsbreadth escape years later, and since it joins several narratives about various other women who had saved his life, it is highly suspect. Captain Smith claimed that he was taken captive in December 1607 and brought to Powhatan. He was given a feast, then stretched out on two flat stones where he was to be beaten to death until Pocahontas’ timely rescue. Powhatan then pronounced Smith to be his friend and adopted son. If this story is true, and some Native American sources deny it, it was a traditional “execution and salvation” rite, although it isn’t known whether Smith was in on the joke.
In any case, Smith and Pocahontas were friends. He found her intelligent and attractive, but she was perhaps 10 or 12 years old, and a romance appears unlikely. She did live up to her nickname. When she saw English boys turning cartwheels, she would “wheele so herself, naked as she was, the fort over.”
Smith returned to England. In 1610 Pocahontas might have married a native named Kocoum, who then vanishes from history. Shortly thereafter, she was taken captive in Jamestown and held for ransom until Powhatan returned some English captives, ammunition and “a great quantity of corn.” During her captivity, she was well treated and instructed in Christianity and English. On her release, she married John Rolfe, a pious widower who was besotted with her, even though he found her manners and education lacking in many areas. Rolfe insisted that by marrying her, he only wanted to further her Christian conversion. Under her new baptismal name, Rebecca, she married Rolfe in April 1614, and a period of peace between Powhatan’s people and England ensued for a time.
Two years later, the Rolfes, with their infant son, Thomas, went to England. Rebecca Rolfe found herself the toast of the country. Regarded as royalty, the young Indian princess was presented to King James I and Queen Anne, attended a performance of The Tempest at the Globe, met a drunken Ben Jonson and had her portrait made in court dress. She also met Smith again, but accounts of the meeting are ambiguous, and it probably did not go well.
In March 1617, after a period of ill health that a stay in the country could not cure, Pocahontas was taken from the ship that was to return her to Virginia and died, possibly of smallpox, tuberculosis or the English climate. She was buried at Gravesend, Kent. Rolfe returned to America, remarried, and four years later, was killed by natives led by Pocahontas’ uncle. Little Thomas stayed in England, returning to Virginia as an adult.
Pocahontas is depicted on the magnificent ceiling of the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, where guides eagerly point her out to visiting Americans.
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