Pocahontas, the real-life but almost legendary native American whose life is the basis of a Walt Disney animated treatment, is back in the news. According to William Kelso, an archaeologist, the church where Pocahontas married the Englishman John Rolfe has now been uncovered. Six-foot deep post holes found by Kelso indicate a structure strong enough to sustain the daub and wattle construction of the period.
According to various reports, the archaeologist has found the oldest Protestant chapel yet to be found in what is now the United States. It was there that Pocahontas and Rolfe were united in marriage in April 1614. Kelso said it was the first wedding to have joined together a native American and a European in colonial Anglo-America. Other Catholic and Protestant places of worship were established before the Jamestown church, but have left no trace.
It was near the dig that in May 1607, on the James River, that some one hundred men disembarked with the intention of founding the first successful English colony in Virginia. It was there that they founded Jamestown, in honor of King James I. The site, which has been carefully excavated, revealed four graves. It is believed that they contain the remains of an English gentleman, two captains, and Rev. Robert Hunt: the first clergyman to arrive at the colony. DNA tests may reveal the identities of all of the human remains.
According to period documents, the settlement built by the colonists matches the excavation site. Kelso said, “I am convinced because it is the correct size.”
Kelso noted the importance of the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, since the strategic union allowed for the establishment of new settlements in what had been hostile territory. "With that wedding, the Indians backed off and there was no more fighting," Kelso recalled.
Pocahontas figures prominently in the stories told to children about the settlement of the United States by English Protestants. She became more widely known to the world following the release of the Walt Disney movie Pocahontas. In real life, Pocahontas was the daughter of a local chieftain, Powhatan, and had been named Matoaka. According to legend, she had fallen in love with colonist John Smith and saved his life after begging her father’s mercy.
History records that she had been captured and held for ransom by the English during hostilities with the native Americas. During her captivity, she later accepted baptism and took Rebecca as her Christian name. She followed her tobacco planter husband to England, where she died at the tender age of 21 in 1617. Her surviving son, Thomas, is an ancestor of former First Lady Nancy Reagan.