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American Royalty

By Lisa Karon Richardson

Royal weddings seem to be all the rage right now. But 397 years ago today a very different royal wedding took place. And it proved fundamental to the survival of the Virginia colony.

In 1614 the Jamestown settlers had been clinging to Virginia despite the odds for seven years at this point. Captain James Smith had returned to England five years before. And then in 1610 Baron De la War (immortalized in the name of the Delaware colony) arrived with new colonists reinvigorating those who had been about to abandon the whole experiment as a bad job.

With De la War came a handsome farmer named John Rolfe. Rolfe was the first to plant the tobacco that would become Virginia’s salvation.

Unfortunately, since Captain Smith’s departure relations between the colonists and the natives had steadily deteriorated. In spring of 1613 Chief Wahunsonacock’s daughter Matoaka was kidnapped by Captain Samuel Argall, who hoped to use her to negotiate a permanent peace.

The English called Chief Wahunsonacock “Chief Powhatan” because he was the head of the Powhatan confederacy of tribes. We know Matoaka by her nickname, Pocahontas, which has been translated as “playful one.”

In Jamestown, Pocahontas was placed in the custody of Sir Thomas Gates. Far from treating her as a prisoner she was treated as an honored guest, although she was encouraged to learn English customs. During this time she also converted to Christianity, and was baptized Lady Rebecca.

It was also during this time that she met the planter, John Rolfe. He was about 10 years her senior which would have made him about 28.

Eventually her father agreed to the terms of the peace treaty, but by then she had already fallen in love. On April 5, 1614 Princess Pocahontas and John Rolfe married, cementing the peace between the colonists and the Powhatans, (at least for a time.) During this time of peace the colonist's grew in numbers and strength until

A year later, Pocahontas gave birth to a little boy named Thomas. The following year, the couple set sail for England where she was made a triumphal tour of the country, being feted across the land. She was even presented to the court of King James I.

In 1617, Pocahontas and Rolfe prepared to return to Virginia. Sadly, she grew ill and passed away the day before they were scheduled to depart. It’s believed she died of smallpox.

Her grief-stricken husband had her buried in the parish church of St. George in Gravesend, England. John Rolfe did return to Virginia and so did their son, Thomas. He married and became a very prominent member of the colony.

Today, thousands of Americans claim to trace their heritage back to the “Indian Princess.”

Are you looking forward Kate and Will’s wedding or could you care less? What other famous royal marriages have made an impact on the world. (Besides Victoria and Albert and Charles and Diana!)

Comments

  1. Imagine the stir around Lady Rebecca as she toured the UK and the continent!

    I don't suppose I'll be watching the nuptials this month, because of a little thing called work, though I would absolutely sit and catch the whole thing. I mean, the hats alone are worth the time.

    Thanks Lisa!

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  2. Speaking of royals... and marriages,
    I think The King's Speech comes out on disc on the 19th.
    And did Wallis Simpson bear any Amer-royals?

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  3. Deb, I can pretty much guarantee that there will be plenty of opportunities to catch the wedding on TV even if you don't get up at some forsaken hour, or it's during work hours. It will be analyzed and picked apart probably until we're all sick of it.

    And I don't think Wallis Simpson had any children.

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  4. Oh, and if you haven't already seen it, you will love The King's Speech!

    And also, I am hoping to go see Jane Eyre next weekend. Color me excited!

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  5. Love the information about Pocahontas- really interesting.

    Now, about the royal wedding, although terribly adorable, I think (sigh) that it's all much ado about... you know... on the other hand, who can resist???

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  6. Ameri-royals?! LOL, Deb.

    Great post, Lisa.

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  7. I'm with you, Cheryl! It's a fun diversion in the midst of world events that are nightmarish. Some people are taking the coming wedding way too seriously for sure.

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  8. Thanks, Gina. I think the closest we've come to American royalty is the Kennedy family. Anyone else have a nomination?

    (And how ironic is it that I am suggesting that we vote for royals? American to the core I guess!)

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  9. Well, truth is, I considered taking the morning off to watch the wedding live. I want all the really boring stuff too and the repeats will only show the actual wedding. I want to see all the snarky Royals and celebrities sneering at each other and comparing hats and morning coats...

    And yes, I've seen the King's Speech (spectacular )and I too will see Jane Eyre this Saturday. Finally!

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  10. Deb you sound like me with the Oscars. I just watch all the celebs on the red carpet and change the channel when they actually get to the ceremony.

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  11. Lisa, I love this post. I never knew Pocahontas was baptized Lady Rebecca. How cool. When I think of American royalty, do think automatically of John-John who was my own age and I do remember seeing him saluting his daddy's casket which, even as a very young child, touched me deeply.

    We Americans do have other royalty: Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Queen Noor of Jordan. Two beautiful and gracious women.

    Fun post, Lisa.

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  12. Thanks Suzie. Good point about Grace Kelly--man was she gorgeous. She definitely knew how to pull of being a queen. And I would never have remembered Queen Noor. Doesn't that name mean "moon" in Arabic?

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  13. I don't remember what it means, Lisa. I wish I could remember her American name. For some reason I was thinking it is Lisa, but I don't know for sure. She's lovely woman!

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  14. I am! I am! As a Canadian, it's my civic duty to watch the nuptials of my future king. How's that for an excuse, eh. :D

    As for royal marriages having an impact on the world, I'd say because of the Commonwealth, every royal British marriage impacted the world in some way, even if it was just a change of face on the coinage.

    And then King David's marriage to Bathsheba comes to mind because it produced Solomon and all his begats including Jesus.

    Great post, Lisa.

    Anita Mae.

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  15. Any excuse will do, Anita! I don't really need an excuse, but in a pinch I could blame it on the need to research.

    David and Bathsheba is a good one.

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  16. Fun post, Lisa. I have always had a tender spot for Pocahontas. I grew up with a picture book from the 1930s about her, which I LOVED. I have always been sad that she died so young.

    Well, I'm pretty excited for the royal wedding. It's a bummer that it's on a school day. I promised my daughter I'd wait for her to come home before we watch any of it.

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  17. Ah yes, Grace Kelly. Talk about a classy lady. And even though you said to exclude Charles & Di, I can't. That was the biggest royal wedding for me because Diana and I were very close in age, and I thought it was amazing that she was marrying a prince. Very sad how that all turned out, but if not for the union, William and Harry wouldn't be around today.

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  18. I used to check out these biographies from the library (there was a whole series) about famous women. I can still picture the illustration of Pocahontas running in and saving John Smith's life.

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  19. Yep, Jen. I'm praying for a much more "fairytale" end for Will and Kate.

    I remember just seeing pictures of Diana's gown and marveling at that train. I could not believe how long it was.

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  20. I was reading about Pocahontas yesterday. Freaky.

    Last month, husband and oldest son did a tour of the Capitol that focused on the Christian imagery in the building. One of the murals in the Rotunda is of Pocahontas' baptism. Here's a link to a picture of it:
    http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/baptism_pocahontas.cfm

    (Younger son and I were supposed to go, but he got sick the night before. Sometimes being a Mommy is unfair .)

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  21. This is fun, Lisa! I splurged on a month's subscription to ancestry.com and have been tracing my own family and my hubby's all the way back to Plymouth and Virginia in the early 1600's. Interesting!

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  22. CJ, that's so cool. Great minds and all that. I love the pic too! Thanks for sharing.

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  23. Niki, my grandpa has traced our family history back to before the revolutionary war. Had a relative that was a captain in the continental army. After the war he took the land grant instead of the wages he was owed. Settled on the Cincinnati River in the Ohio territory.

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  24. Not planning on watching Will and Kate, but I'm sure I'll catch some snippet of their wedding as it will be played over and over throughout the days following it.
    Hoping things work out with them, though I kinda think the buzz has been a bit overdone. Can't wait to see what her dress looks like!

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  25. Niki - that's too funny - at 6 this morning I signed up for a year's membership of ancentry world. It came about because I wanted to do some research but couldn't access the States. Nelson said our mbrshp was only good for ancestry.ca (for Canada). Then he said he was thinking of upgrading to the world one because he had gone as far back in Canada as our relatives and needed to continue the search in the UK and Finland. We rec'd a $47 rebate from what was left of our year which helped because it cost $299 to upgrade. Ugh. But he said it wouldn't take more than a year to find all our info so we may as well go for it.

    As for Charles and Diana, I stayed up to watch it last time and was entralled for the whole thing except when the sopranist was singing as the papers were being signed. I got kind of dozy at that point but perked up when the new married couple came out again. :)

    Anita Mae.

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  26. Hi Faye, I bet her dress will be gorgeous. She really is a beautiful woman.

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  27. Wow, I didn't know it was so expensive to do ancestry. One site that I've found really useful is the Mormon geneology site. They have quite a bit og info, and best of all it's free.

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  28. Lisa, there's an article on Fox News this morning about why we should care about the royal wedding - which I will be watching.

    Oh, and regarding Ancestry, a lot of libraries have a license and I can access ours from home - it is limited access from home, though.

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  29. That's funny, Suzie. Did Fox make any compelling arguments? Not that they need to. I'll probably DVR it.

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  30. No, not really. I didn't get to read the complete article until my lunch break, but it was mostly on the snarky side. If I'd realized that, I wouldn't have mentioned it.

    These were the reasons, with explanations that made the article seem like either a joke, or a vehicle to make fun of the Queen.
    1) the future of western civilization 2) because this time it may be different 3) because we need a good fairy tale.

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  31. Anita, that's SUPER expensive! It's only $29.95 for a month's worth here. I'm going to have to check out the Mormon site, though.

    Lisa, that's too cool! My grandmother did a bunch of the research to get into Daughters of the American Revolution. Of course, that's the ONE line I haven't traced back, yet, although family history says one of our ancestors was a quartermaster for Gen. Washington during Valley Forge. Which could explain my horror of 1)snow 2)camping 3)lack.
    : )

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  32. I kind of agree with number 3, Suzie. We do need a good fairy tale. They are magical after all. Something life and truth affirming in a fairy tale. I guess that's why they are repeated so often.

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  33. Niki, what a cool tidbit to learn about your family! I don't know what my excuse is, but I also hate camping, lack and snow. I think we could be twins.

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  34. Nikki, you said: Anita, that's SUPER expensive! It's only $29.95 for a month's worth here.

    Actually, it's only $25/month when you buy it for the whole year.

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