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Pocahontas remembered 400 years after her death on English soil

  • Pocahontas statue re-listed to commemorate anniversary
  • New listing: Virginia Quay Settlers Monument in Blackwall

Pocahontas is an icon of popular culture, but little is commonly known of her true story and many people assume she is a fictional character.

It is largely untold that she was a real Powhatan Native American woman who converted to Christianity, married an Englishman and travelled over 3,000 miles to England in 1616.

In March 1617 she died in Gravesend, Kent at the beginning of the return leg to Virginia.

To commemorate 400 years since the death of Pocahontas on English soil, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has re-listed the statue of Pocahontas in Gravesend and has newly listed the Virginia Quay Settlers Monument in Blackwall, both on the advice of Historic England.

Image of the Pocahontas statue, St.George's Churchyard, Gravesend, Ken which has been re-listed to mark 400 years since Pocahontas' death.
Pocahontas statue, St.George's Churchyard, Gravesend, Ken which has been re-listed to mark 400 years since Pocahontas' death. © Greg Balfour Evans. Alamy Stock Photo

Debbie Mays, Head of Listing at Historic England, said: “Pocahontas is remembered for her forging of ties between two very different cultures.

These monuments are physical reminders of her story, those of the English setting sail to the New World, and our shared colonial past and we are pleased to mark their importance on the National Heritage List for England.”

Pocahontas in England

A life-size bronze statue of Pocahontas stands by the Church of St George in Gravesend in honour of the final resting place of this extraordinary woman.

First listed in 1975 the statue has been ‘re-listed’ in time for the 400th anniversary of Pocahontas’ burial on 21 March.

The list entry has been updated to include a full history and description of the important role this woman played in both English and American history at a critical time in the founding of modern America.

Pocahontas was primarily linked to the English colonists through Captain John Smith, who arrived in Virginia in 1607.

After he left for England she spent a year in the English encampment, possibly as a captive, and during this time she converted to Christianity.

She later married the colonist John Rolfe and became known as Rebecca Rolfe.

Image of St George's Church in Gravesend where the statue of Pocahontas stands. Pocahontas is thought to be buried beneath the church
St George's Church in Gravesend where the statue of Pocahontas stands. Pocahontas is thought to be buried beneath the church © Diamond Geezer via Flickr

Records suggest her 10-month visit to England was part of the Virginia Company’s campaign to secure more funding, and to recruit new settlers for the colonial settlement at Jamestown.

To some, Pocahontas became a symbol of Indian religious conversion and was even received by the royal court of King James I.

Others argue she was forced to assimilate to English culture following her captivity.  Whatever her experience, she was a significant figure and demonstrated her extraordinary capacity to build-bridges and adapt during a period of seismic change.

The Gravesend statue is a copy of a sculpture still standing in Jamestown; a physical reminder of the shared history of these two places.

The statue is an early 20th century depiction of an indigenous American. In Gravesend the figure faces north towards the River Thames, a stone’s throw away from where Pocahontas likely came ashore suffering from a fatal bout of pneumonia or tuberculosis.

The statue was given to the British people by the governor of Virginia 50 years ago, on the 350th anniversary of Pocahontas’ death.

The exact location of Pocahontas’ burial is unknown as the medieval Church of St George burned down in 1727 during a great fire that destroyed most of Gravesend.

It is thought she lies beneath the rebuilt Georgian church, which is already Grade II* listed.

Image of the Virginia Quay Settlers Monument in Blackwall, London, newly listed at Grade II
The Virginia Quay Settlers Monument in Blackwall, London, newly listed at Grade II © Julian Walker via Flickr

The First Settlers and Blackwall

In an unlikely spot across the River Thames from the O2 arena is a memorial to the men, women and children who set out from the quayside at Blackwall for North America in 1606.

These adventurers, including Captain John Smith, went on to establish Jamestown, the first Virginia English colony, in April 1607.

Listed today at Grade II the Virginia Quay Settlers Monument’s rough-hewn rock base and astrolabe navigation instrument on top combine to convey the sense of adventure involved in crossing the Atlantic during the 17th century, and the risks associated with establishing a colony on an unknown continent.

Conflicts with the Native American population, coupled with disease and famine meant that by 1609 only 60 of the original c105 settlers had survived. Legend has it that Captain Smith was captured by Native Americans and that his life was saved by Pocahontas, cementing her reputation as a peacemaker between the two populations.

Pocahontas 2017 is a season of public events marking the 400th anniversary of Pocahontas' death.

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