Friday, 25 April 2014

"Pocahontas" Alias Metoaka and Her Descendants

Since I'm from the oldest surviving English colony in the United States, I thought I'd focus this month on one of the most famous Native Americans from Virginia: Pocahontas. She had one son but her descendants now number in the tens of thousands. There are several ancestor associations, which people may join if they can prove their descent from Pocahontas.

Rev. James Mitchell is my 4X great grand uncle

My relationship to Pocahontas is very tortuous and certainly wouldn't gain me admission to any Pocahontas ancestor association were I to want to join. I find it interesting nonetheless as every elementary school history book I was required to use included a chapter on her. I am from Virginia after all!

Matoaka "Pocahontas" also known as Rebecca Rolfe, engraving by 
Simon van de Passe; courtesy of Wikipedia

When I was researching her descendants, I discovered a wonderful old book on Google Play, Pocahantas and Her Descendants, written by Wyndam Robertson and published in 1887.  

The book included seven generations of Pocahontas descendants, including Wyndham Robertson (1803-1888) himself. Robertson included a delightful declaration of love by John Rolfe:

"Pocahontas…to whom my hartie and best thoughts are, and have long bin so entangled and inthralled in so intricate a laborinth, that I was even awearied to unwinde myselfe thereout." 

Wyndham Robertson, painting by Louis Mathieu Didier Guillaume; 
courtesy of Wikipedia

Robertson was the acting governor of Virginia from 1836 to 1837. As senior member of the Council of State, he was also Lt Governor when Governor Littleton Waller Tazewell resigned the office.  At the time the legislature elected the governor and it was controlled by the Whigs so Robertson was not returned to office in 1837. After his term was over he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates several times and was in that office during Virginia's struggles over secession from the Union. Robertson was a staunch Unionist and tried to prevent secession. 

When Abraham Lincoln made his call for troops on April 15, 1861, Wyndham Robertson became "zealously active in all measures in defense of his state." After the Civil War he served on the Committee of Nine, which sought Virginia's readmission into the Union. After long and faithful service to Virginia, he retired and wrote his genealogy book. He died on February 11, 1888, and is buried at Cobbs, Virginia.

He later said about his service to his state during the Civil War:

"And now, after twenty years of experience of yet unripened results, I have no regrets, nor repent a single act of my State, or myself, in these unhappy affairs -- welcoming the end of slavery, but still believing it would have been reached without the horrors of war."

And this is yet another reason I love old books so much -- not only are the subjects of the books fascinating so are their authors.

Genealogy books are great references but should be considered just that a reference. They are not sources. Even experienced researchers make mistakes. And one of those mistakes put me on a trail that ended Pocahontas. For several months, I believed my sister-in-law descended from the Bermuda Tucker family based on a Tucker genealogy book that claimed her 6 times great grandfather's father was a Henry Tucker of Bermuda. But DNA has proved that the author confused several Henry Tuckers, who lived in Southampton County, Virginia, in the late 1600s. The Bermuda Tuckers married into the Randolph family,  one of the first families of Virginia, that do descend from Pocahontas, but my sister-in-law's Tucker line still deadens with Benjamin Tucker (1714-1799). 


  1. We all study Pocahontas in school. It's such an interesting story. I recently found a post on from a distant relative who thinks he's related to Pocahontas. Haven't had time to check it out but it's a tasty little tidbit to research later. I do agree that the book writers of the day were as interesting as the subjects they wrote about.

    1. Ann, I wasn't sure which other states taught Virginia colonial history. I've since learned that while Virginia public schools reveled in their important place in that era, their curriculum was sadly lacking in other early American history, such as that of Lousiana before Jefferson's famous "purchase," and California before the Gold Rush. Family history has taught me so much wonderful general history, too.

  2. A fascinating aspect of local history which I enjoyed reading, especially as I have been lucky to visit parts of colonial Virginia.


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