Sometimes I feel that this country isn’t real, that Britain is actually a storybook tome, disguised with trees and chimneys to fool the reader into thinking that we are living on a rock. In actuality perhaps if we prodded it a little bit harder and peered a little bit closer that we would see the seams between worlds. (That got a little bit Matrix in style, sorry!)
But seriously, it sometimes seems as if each corner has a knight on pure white steed about to charge (Temple Church), damsels defending their land (Queen Boudicea in Epping Forest), incredible feats of daring (Bletchley Park) or wizards ready to enspell the world (Stonehenge) and the tales are such a rich tapestry of fascination – especially for an expat like myself.
So when I discovered that 400 years ago Pocahontas – the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of Native American tributary tribal nations in the Tsenacommacah, encompassing the Tidewater region of Virginia, not to mention Disney legend – sadly died in a small, ancient Kent town I just knew we had to visit her final resting place.
Forever and a day the Mayfairy, our Aussie friend and I been plotting to make our way out to the small Church, so we ambled out to Gravesend on a grey Saturday morning, ready to witness a unique piece of English history.
Pocahontas lived an incredible life. Raised amongst her tribe, she is said to have saved the life of a captive of the Native Americans, the Englishman John Smith, in 1607 by placing her head upon his own when her father raised his war club to execute him and was later abducted by English settlers during Anglo-Indian hostilities in 1613.
How high will a sycamore grow?
If you cut it down then you’ll never know
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountain
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind
During her captivity, she converted to Christianity
and took the name Rebecca. When the opportunity arose for her to return
to her people, she chose to remain with the English. In April 1614, she
married tobacco planter John Rolfe (unlike the Disney silverscreen version), and in January 1615, bore their son, Thomas Rolfe.
Eventually leaving her home in Virginia to travel to England, she
became a regular in the court of King James, becoming something of a
celebrity and was elegantly fêted, even attending a masque at Whitehall
Sadly (400 years ago to the day of publishing this post) she took ill on board a ship returning to Virginia and died just outside of Gravesend, never to see her home again. Her amazing story lives on at St George’s, a parish church where the local community still worships and random tourists rock up in surprise to see the ‘local events’ flyers sit side by side with images of Native American history.
Oh England, how I do love thee.
We meandered through the old town of higgledy streets and 18th-century market hall, stopping for a cuppa and a scone, before taking a fruitless amble down to the docks. It was a grey but settled day, so we didn’t see this Kent Town in the best light (literally – my photos are super grim) but I can see a return one day for another amazed walk through the higgedy streets.