The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin

The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin

The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin

The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin

Synopsis

Virginians have embellished the saga of Jamestown and Pocahontas, the Indian woman who saved the colony. Similarly, New Englanders have sanctified the Pilgrims and their mythical first step on Plymouth Rock. Here, the myths are compared.

Excerpt

Three sisters surrounded me in an antique-laden living room in a Richmond assisted-living facility; the purpose of our visit was to talk about their ancestor Pocahontas, for whom the eldest of the three was named. In their laps were scrapbooks, clippings, and photographs -- memories of days long past when they had viewed the grave of their Indian antecedent in England or had gathered with other descendants of John Rolfe and Pocahontas to celebrate the founding of Jamestown. They told of ancestral links to Tidewater plantations, where many of the tables and chairs in the room had originated, and reminisced about how the name "Pocahontas" had been passed from generation to generation in their family. Each of these women related different stories about the proud lineage that they shared with other leading Virginians whose common progenitor was John Bolling (1675-1729), great-grandson of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. They seemed most pleased that their roots went back to the daughter of a tribal chief, and they chuckled when describing the times either they or their children had dressed in native costume to portray their illustrious ancestor.

A few months later, I was in the library of the Mayflower Society in Plymouth, hearing similar reminiscences from a spry descendant of eleven different Pilgrim families. With charts and histories to document her lineage, the octogenarian explained how generations of her family had occupied homes in the same neighborhood, only a few miles from where her ancestors had landed in 1620. Although Plymouth had changed dramatically during her lifetime, she found . . .

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