Beautiful spring weather set the stage for an outdoor wedding as Pocahontas wed John Rolfe in the 400th anniversary reenactment of the historic Jamestowne nuptials. Scarlett Stahl takes us there and reveals her very special connection to this important era in American history. ~~Rick
THE 400TH COMMEMORATION OF THE
MARRIAGE OF POCAHONTAS AND JOHN ROLFE
By Scarlett Stahl
At Jamestowne, Virginia on Saturday, April 5, 2014, the 400th wedding anniversary of Pocahontas and John Rolfe was celebrated with the reenactment of their wedding. As they are my 13th generation great grandparents, I wanted to be there so I flew from Los Angeles to the East Coast. I flew out on Friday April 4th so I could be there for the reenactment on Saturday and due to other obligations, I flew home on Sunday. I would have liked to stay longer but it was worth it for that one wonderful day. I was happy to share it with one of my best friends, Carol Burgen, who accompanied me to Jamestowne.
The weather was perfect for an outdoor spring wedding, about 65 degrees and sunny. I admit that I was filled with anticipation of the event and was not let down by the reality. There were three reenactments that day, at 10:30am, 1:00pm and again at 330pm. Other events were scheduled throughout the day. This was the only day of the wedding reenactment and I chose to attend only one of the weddings as that made it more real for me. These activities were part of a year-long series of events and lectures about the life and marriage of Pocahontas. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Preservation Virginia organized the events in collaboration with the Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center and the Patawomeck Heritage Foundation.
April 5th is the historical date that the actual wedding occurred in 1614. Ropes were used to outline the dimensions of the original 1608 church, which was only 64 feet long and 24 feet wide. It was the first Protestant English Church in North America, the remains of which are directly below the ground where the benches were placed. In 2010, this site was discovered by archaeologists and named as one of the top ten archaeological discoveries in the world by Archaeology magazine. The benches were like the pews in the church and were reserved for special guests, such as people with the Historic Jamestowne Fund, relatives and press, etc. When I shared that I was indeed a relative as they were my ancestors, I was fortunate to be allowed to sit in the inner circle. Later I learned that about 2,000 people came to Jamestowne that day for the festivities.
Each ceremony lasted only 20 minutes and began with two costumed musicians playing on historic instruments. After an introductory narrative, the cast of actors/reenactors began their procession through the audience along an center aisle that had been left between the rows of benches. They proceeded to a stage with a canvas backdrop where the altar would have been. As they passed, they would occasionally stop and discuss their concerns: the kidnapping of Pocahontas, her conversion to Christianity, etc, thereby giving the history of the events leading up to the wedding.
The actors were drawn from Colonial Williamsburg’s Division of Historic Research and Interpretation as well as several guest performers. David Catanese portrayed John Rolfe, while Wendy Taylor portrayed Pocahontas. Both Wendy Taylor and Pocahontas are from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and Wendy was the only member of the wedding party, who was not an actor/reenactor. She was selected, not only because she has the right lineage, but also because she is the right age and has the right appearance with a shyness and a reserve that made her perfect to portray Pocahontas. She is the first Pamunkey tribal member to be in a reenactment at Jamestowne since the 1907 commemoration. Wendy’s real brother, Warren Taylor, also portrayed the brother of Pocahontas in the ceremony.
Little is known about the original wedding, especially in regard to the bride’s attire. This bride was wearing a midnight-blue velvet kirtle and a white waistcoat with pink silk cuffs. The waistcoat was embroidered with black silk by dozens of volunteers from across the country who worked for several hundred hours on the intricate pattern. Her bouquet was rosemary, a symbol of remembrance. Although there is no proof that Pocahontas wore this type of garment, it does match the style and design of another jacket made during that time. When asked if she would take John Rolfe’s hand in marriage, she replied “I will,” which was her only line during the ceremony.
At the end of the wedding event, the actors remained on stage for photos to be taken, as in a modern-day wedding.
In addition to the wedding reenactment, there were walking tours led by the National Park Service Ranger as well as an opportunity to meet some of the cast, in character.
In the gift shop were many special event souvenirs available for purchase.
The following is a quote from Andrew A. Zellers-Frederick, Director, Historic Jamestowne Fund.
We decided to hold this commemoration because the original event was so important to American history. The wedding brought peace to Virginia and enabled the fledgling colony to grow and expand. There will be other programs throughout the year and if you look at www.historicjamestowne.org you will see a page devoted to all of the Pocahontas-related programs and events.
The Jamestown Rediscovery Project is a partnership between The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Preservation Virginia (formerly the APVA and still the owner of the site since the late 19th century). This collaboration highlights the interconnected histories between Virginia first two colonial capitals, Jamestown and Williamsburg, through compelling stories of discovery, diversity and democracy. This initiative, which was launched in 2010, has brought together experts from both non-profit organizations to enhance the public archaeology experience and to create programs like the one on Saturday. As Director of the Historic Jamestowne Fund for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, my efforts are focused on securing funds from many varied sources to support the archaeological program (and wonderful discoveries by Dr. William “Bill” Kelso and his professional team), special events, exhibitions, scholarly research, and special endeavors such as the stabilization and preservation of the iconic 17th century Jamestown Church Tower (which was in dire condition and is now undergoing a three phase project-the first phase was completed last year-to ensure this historic structure will survive for many more generations). To accomplish these tasks we urgently need support from foundations, corporations, governmental entities and individuals. Historic Jamestowne receives no direct governmental funds (other than the National Park Service side of the island which does not contain the original 1607 site of James Fort). If you look at the webpage, anyone can support our tax-deductible by giving online or simply sending support to the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, POP Box 3610, Williamsburg VA 23187-2610. We have a toll free number at 866-400-1607.
We also have a relatively new donor society appropriately called the Jamestown Rediscovery Society with approximately 215 memberships. It is open to everyone.
After Carol and I left Jamestowne, we drove along Route 5 with its many James River plantation homes. I had visited two of them previously but my destination this time was Westover, which is close to Berkeley. My ancestor, Theodorick Bland, had owned the property (Westover), which was sold after his death to William Byrd. When we arrived there, we found a board with pamphlets and the pamphlet showed that the gravesite would be towards the right of the house and gardens. We drove along a dirt road, past farming equipment to a dead end and turned around. When we saw a man in a tractor, I asked where the gravesite was and was surprised to learn it was right behind some hedges near the river.
It was a small gravesite with about eight graves inside an iron fence. There were two other graves outside the fence as well. I was able to still see Theodorick Bland’s name on one of the marble stones and surprised to see a bronze plaque above it, which had been placed there with his name on it from the Colonial Dames of the XVII Century, a society to which I belong! After picking a small flower, I kissed it and laid it upon his grave before we left. After the wedding and the discovery of the gravesite, I must admit I had such a wonderful warm feeling of satisfaction and elation.
I plan on returning to Richmond and surrounding areas as I still have more places to visit, such as Kippax, where Thomas Rolfe and Jane Rolfe Bolling are buried. I want to go back to Blandford Cemetery with family gravesites and the beautiful church with Tiffany stained glass windows. I want to revisit King’s Barbecue on Crater Road. I would like to see Sherwood Forrest, President Tyler’s home. While I was at Jamestowne, I learned that there is a Pamunkey reservation, down back roads from Route 30, which is nearly surrounded by the Pamunkey River. There is a tribal museum there that I would like to visit and a gift shop with their traditional pottery. These are just a few of the places I want to visit.
I belong to The Jamestowne Society, the national organization of descendants of the first permanent English settlement in America. The Society was founded in 1936 and is headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. Its mission includes discovering and recording the names of all living descendants of Jamestown residents, officials, “adventurers” (investors) and land owners from 1607 through 1699, associating them as members of the Society, and honoring the memory of our settler ancestors. It has enrolled over 8,000 descendants; there are 42 Companies throughout the nation. Donations to the Jamestowne Society are deductible as charitable contributions.
The Jamestown Society’s $10,000 gift served as the bell-cow to evidence grass-roots support and helped to attract the balance of the $200,000 to fund the repair and restoration of the 17th century church bell tower, shown in the picures above.