Thursday, September 3, 2015

Reflections at Historic Jamestowne

   During a recent family mini vacation we visited Historic Jamestowne and Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia. The best part of this recent trip was being with my family. We toured the area briefly and went to Busch Gardens. We had visited both places almost twenty years ago, with our son and oldest daughter, who were small children, at that time. Then, we did the normal things that tourists do there, like touring the Governor's Palace and watching an actor demonstrate milking a cow.

    Yet, for me, the best part of our recent visit to that area, was the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center; it's like a museum. History interests me, so I was pleased to see that there was a lot of historical information, including the exhibits in the center. The historical information provided a little more in depth information on the most popular historical people of that area, such as Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, Wahunsenacawh, Pocahontas' father (also known as Chief Powhatan), John Rolfe, and the history of that area in Virginia, four centuries ago. 

   The early presence of Africans in this English settlement was acknowledged and depicted in the museum, their arrival in 1619, as slaves and/or indentured servants. This was noted by John Rolfe, the Englishman who married Pocahontas. Wahunsenacawh, Pocahontas' father, was a paramount chief of the Powhatan Native American people of Virginia during that time. 

   The interesting thing about this was actually being in the area where Pocahontas was born and lived within her Native American nation, until she was kidnapped by the English settlers. (She was later renamed and known as Rebecca Rolfe.)  I reminded myself that these historical figures that we read about in school, Pocahontas, her father the Powhatan the paramount chief, Captain John Smith, and John Rolfe were all there in that scenic waterfront area. Wahunsenacawh (chief of the Powhatan Native Americans) was a head of state, so to speak. They had a culture and lived and walked on this land, as we do now.

    Four centuries later, things have changed, but that does not change that Pocahontas and Wahunsenacawh were real people who lived in Virginia four centuries ago, long before the English settlers came. Captain John Smith and John Rolfe were real, too. The impact of their arrival (Captain John Smith arrived in 1607.) would reveal itself four centuries after their arrival. The indigenous population of the Powhatan people, Pocahontas' native nation, has almost disappeared.  This is not to emphasize what's known already: there was a nation of people here before the English settlers arrived. It's just to acknowledge the reality of this part of the history our country, how we converged there four hundred years ago, the indigenous population of native people, the English settlers and other European immigrants seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity, and the Africans as a forced labor force.

   So, as I stood there in Jamestown, Virginia, I pondered how Pocahontas and her father stood on that land, too, as a once powerful paramount chief and his daughter, who would travel to Great Britain to represent her native people to English royalty, though she died and never made it back to her homeland in Virginia. That thought made me ponder the visceral reality of them, in spite of being four centuries a part from them.

By Angeline Bandon-Bibum

For more information about the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center see

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