February 28, 2018 – Did I just find a drop of honey in the milk pot?
It started just like any other day...here I was, a (very) white American searching my family tree online. It ended with the surprising discovery that I am the great, great* grandson of Pocahontas – one of the most famous Native Americans of all time.
Well, you can add this little bit of ancestry to the list of things I never saw coming.
Words & Photos By Nathan W. Allen
An Anomaly in My Bloodline
I mean, just look at me. My nickname in school was "Casper". My family tree? You can see it from space. It's a veritable smorgasbord of generic Anglo American names. There are classics like:
- Allen (duh)
- Chief Wahunsonacock Powhatan
Wait. Chief? Wahunsa...WHUT??
Yes, scrolling up my line of ancestors on FamilySearch.org, this name obviously caught my attention. FamilySearch is supposedly even more accurate than Ancestry.com, and it showed that my great, great (+ many more greats) grandfather was a Powhatan Indian Chief.
Not just any chief, mind you. He was the paramount chief, responsible for a federation of 30 tribes - consisting of up to 15,000 members. His favorite daughter was Matoaka, and you might know her as Pocahontas.
Upon further inspection, I was shocked to learn that of all his children (he had MANY), I happened to be a descendant of hers. According to FamilySearch, Pocahontas is my great, great...grandmother.
Wow. This isn't just one of those stories you hear as a kid...you know, when your parents tell you you have a distant relation to this or that famous person.
(By the way, if you're interested in your own family heritage, check out these awesome new home DNA testing kits!)
It's quite different when you see it with your own eyes - right there in your family tree. My whole life, I believed I was 100% of north European ancestry. This was huge.
A Descendant of Pocahontas, the Disney Princess?
Haha. Who would have guessed? Intrigued, I kept searching for more information. I've never actually seen the movie "Pocahontas", which portrays some kind of romance between her and the English settler Captain John Smith.
It turns out that John Smith liked to embellish things quite a bit, and most historians doubt the legitimacy of his stories regarding Pocahontas. There was no romance between them, but in fact, she did end up with another John. She met and married the English colonist John Rolfe.
If you're wondering, yes, I found out that John Rolfe is my great, great (+) grandfather.
He was the first secretary and recorder-general of Virginia, but he was also a shrewd businessman. He introduced foreign tobacco seeds, and was the first to cultivate and sell Virginia tobacco internationally.
With this new cash crop, he basically built the base of the economy for the struggling Jamestown colony.
America's 1st Intercultural Marriage - For Peace
The Native American tribes and the English colonists often got along. They formed alliances and created treaties, but as you can imagine, things did not always go smoothly. These were, after all, two vastly different groups.
When tensions did boil over, the result was the Anglo-Powhatan War. It was a bloody conflict, and members on both sides were occasionally taken and held captive.
Pocahontas was one of them, but she was treated quite well by the English. She even began to adapt to (and enjoy) the English lifestyle.
She fell in love with my great grandfather John Rolfe in 1614, and their (quite consensual, by all accounts) marriage brought a time of peace between the two groups – and a much needed end to the war.
They had one child together, Thomas Rolfe (also my great grandfather, of course).
Pocahontas and John Rolfe sailed to London to visit King James and Queen Anne in 1616. There, she was reportedly treated as the princess they considered her to be, and she actually became somewhat of a celebrity.
(Continued below, but I do hope you'll consider following along with me...I'm a travel photographer, but am now journeying back into America's roots to uncover my own family story. I'm just getting started!)
- Nathan Allen
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They remained in Britain until early 1617, when it was time to set sail back to Virginia. This trip may have exposed Pocahontas to unfamiliar germs and/or stress, and tragically, she became quite sick before they even made it out to sea. She died and was buried in Gravesend, England.
Since then, her story has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions around the world.
My Own Family History - Part of American Folklore.
I grew up in California, and never felt particularly patriotic. However, after years of diving into other cultures and living on the opposite side of the world, I began to finally see and appreciate where I came from. To realize what a big, beautifully diverse country the U.S. is...and that yes, of course we have our own culture.
Basically, I finally learned to love my own country...just as I had come to love so many others.
...and I've realized just how American I really am. I mean, clearly my roots go wayyyy back. Quite literally, to the very beginning.
Being homesick on the other side of the world makes this discovery especially surreal for me.
I think back to being a kid in school, learning about Pocahontas and the Jamestown colonists. I never could have imagined that I had such an intimate connection to these historic events – from both the English and Native American perspectives.
It also blows my mind to think that if Pocahontas hadn't met John Rolfe, I wouldn't exist. Even more wild to realize that without the peace created by their union, possibly, neither would the United States of America.
- Nathan Allen
Thanks for reading, and feel free to share!
* To be specific, Matoaka Pocahontas is my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandmother. For everybody's benefit, I decided to shorten the relation for each mention in the article. Haha.