Imagine holding museum quality artifacts… some over 400 years old!! That was our afternoon with Pocahontas’s Great-Great-Great (12th Great) Granddaughter, a member of the Powhatan Nation.
The kids and I were greeted at the door, by Ms. Angie who was wearing traditional dress. Everything about our visit was fabulous! “Welcome to my yehakin,” she said as she ushered us into her home. Yehakin (pronounced yee-HAW-kin), she explained to the kids, was the word for the type of dwelling her ancestors lived in. She knew that we had visited the Powhatan village area at Jamestown and had the opportunity to walk inside the yehakin dwellings. (See this post Native Americans of the Northeast for more about that.)
Some background about Pocahontas: Most Americans have heard of Pocahontas. This was actually a nickname, her real name was Matoaka. Disney made a famous, though not accurate, film about her life. Many of us know that Pocahontas was the daughter of the Powhatan Indian chief, Wahunsonacock. She was born in 1595 (This was 11 years before the first settlers arrived at Jamestown). Most people also know that she married an English settler. The Disney movie implied that she fell in love with John Smith, but there is no evidence of this. She married John Rolfe, an English settler, when she was 19.
The information shared by the Powhatan Renape Nation explains that when she was 17, Pocahontas was taken prisoner by the English when she was there for a social visit. She was held hostage for over a year. During her captivity, John Rolfe took a “special interest” in the young prisoner. As a condition of her release, she agreed to marry Rolfe. They married in 1614 and shortly after that they had a son, Thomas.
Pocahontas and Rolfe went to England with their son. This was good propaganda for The Virginia Company of London. According to the Powhatan Renape Nation website:
She was wined and dined and taken to theaters. It was recorded that on one occasion when she encountered John Smith (who was also in London at the time), she was so furious with him that she turned her back to him, hid her face, and went off by herself for several hours. Later, in a second encounter, she called him a liar and showed him the door.
Not long after that Pocohantas, John Rolfe and their son were heading back to Virginia when she became ill. She was taken off the ship and soon died. She was just 21. Her father died the following spring (in 1618). During the next few decades, the Powhatan people were decimated and dispersed and their lands were taken over.
What happened to Thomas Rolfe? Pocahontas’s son stayed in England. He was brought up by his uncle. He never saw his father again because by the time he returned to Virginia (probably around 1635) his father, John Rolfe, had died.
One thing that Ms. Angie shared with us — and that is not written down in the history books — was a story that was passed down through her family; she was told that Pocahontas was actually a widow. At around age 14, Pocahontas married a lesser chief named Kocoum, an elite Potowomac warrior and guard at Werowocomaco (the Powhatan capital village). Some believe they had one child, but the name and gender is unknown, and Kocoum passed away after an encounter with the colonists. Her marriage to John Rolfe was her second marriage. Ms. Angie says she has no way of verifying that, but that is what was passed down orally through her family line as well as referenced in The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Dr. Linwood “Little Bear” Custalow and Angela L. Daniel “Silver Star.”
What made this visit so extraordinary, were the objects we were able to touch and hold… Right off the bat, Ms. Angie brought out a coyote shield that has been passed down through her family. She said she had taken it to the Smithsonian to be carbon dated. It dates back to the early 16th century (though some of the cloth was added later). The kids and I got to hold it as Ms. Angie explained that this was a ceremonial shield and spirit protector.
She showed us a coup stick that was passed down through her family. It is also over 400 years old, but was not traditionally used by Powhatan warriors. The origin is unknown, but this might have been a trade item.
The kids were fascinated by the arrows. She showed us how boys would first use a stick (third one down). Then they would transition to a sharpened stick (the one at the bottom) before transitioning to an arrow with a point.
We were all fascinated by some of the tools, Ms. Angie showed us. She had a bone needle and thimble case that girls/women would have worn as a necklace around their neck.
She showed us a garden tool that was decorated to personalize it and a small bowl that contained fishing hooks, a whistle and more:
She showed us a ceremonial fan (below) in addition to a traditional turkey feather Powhatan fan used for fanning the fires and other tools. We were fascinated by the turkey claw. Again, it would have had multiple uses like in the garden. Some of the items in her collection were modern replicas, others were many generations old.
For example, Ms. Angie brought out decorated mocassins made by her Great-Great-Great Grandmother. While the little moccasins were made by her grandmother for her son. The mukluks (Inuit mocassins) date back from the 1800s:
While a public school teacher in Virginia with some time off during the summers, Ms. Angie would go on cultural exchanges, sharing her Eastern Woodlands culture and learning about other tribal customs. While in Alaska, she traded some of her traditional items with the Inuit people and so shared a number of the items from their culture as well. We were really blown away by the traditional Inuit sun glasses they wore. They work really well!
I think what made this entire experience amazing was the combination of story telling and the experience we had touching and trying on the various objects in her collection. It was a privilege and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from Ms. Angie.
Ms. Angie does presentations and shares her vast collection professionally for schools, historical groups and organizations and shares her vast collection. (Drop me an email if you’re interested in having her do a presentation and I’ll pass along your details to her!) My post hasn’t come close to sharing her stories or all the objects in her collection. To say it was better than any museum I’ve ever been to is an understatement! The kids and I are grateful that Ms. Angie opened her home to us and let us spend an amazing afternoon with her!
You may be interested in these related posts:
- Native Americans of the Northeast (Part I: The Algonquian Indians)
- Native Americans of the Northeast (Part II, Iroquois Indians) where I shared our Wampum belt project and the printable you see below:
Stay tuned for our next post — Native Americans of the Southeast: Seminole, Cherokee and the Trail of Tears (which also has free notebook pages)
See you next time here or at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page!