Exactly 400 years after the wedding of Pocahontas to John Rolfe, which took place April 5, 1614, several hundred onlookers watched a reenactment of the marriage in Historic Jamestowne. The wedding even took place at the same site the two were originally married.
The ceremony was presented three times on Saturday, April 5, 2014 as part of “The World of Pocahontas Initiative,” which focuses on the events surrounding Pocahontas’ capture, marriage and voyage to England.
The initiative is presented by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Preservation Virginia at Historic Jamestowne in collaboration with the Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center and the Patawomeck Heritage Foundation.
Jim Horn, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of research and historical interpretation said the day was successful because of the collaboration of all parties involved. According to estimates, several thousand witnessed the wedding reenactment.
“This is a team effort and we have welcomed from the very beginning the efforts to bring Jamestowne to life through the contributions of our good friends from the Pamunkey and Patawomeck and also from other Indian people,” Horn said. “It was so important to us to have their involvement because we wanted to be inclusive in the story Indian people played.
“This was an effort to remind people of the early history of Jamestowne… and what ensues from that. Pocahontas and her husband John Rolfe symbolize the meeting of these different peoples in early America, which is one of the most diverse places on earth and brings together European, Indian people and ultimately African people. We need to be more aware that our very origins were rooted in this diversity.”
As part of the wedding reenactment, three Native actors portrayed family members of Pocahontas that were very likely at the wedding in 1614. Pocahontas herself was the main character, though the only words she uttered for the wedding were “I will” in accepting the marriage to John Rolfe.
“It is a commemorative event so we are trying to borrow a bit from the historical record and we are also trying to be considerate of balancing a story that has been predominately a white narrative for a long time,” commented Dr. Buck Woodard, director of the American Indian Initiative. “We are trying to bring Pocahontas and the Native people of this landscape back into the storyline.
“I think a lot of folks who have studied this history that saw the event today would be struck by how much of the Algonquin aspect they don’t know.”
Considering many onlookers claimed to be direct descendants of Pocahontas, and a number of little girls were dressed in Halloween-style regalia, and the fact that some say Pocahontas married for love, Pamunkey tribal member Ashley Atkins says that though the reenactment was respectful, the outcome may be more romantic than ideal.
“I thought there was too little of the Indian dialogue,” Atkins said. “The word savage was used a lot. It is period so you want to use words and nomenclature of the period, but at the same time, you want to have a counter to that. I would have loved to see more back play.”
When asked if she thought Pocahontas married for love, Atkins said she couldn’t be sure.
“I wouldn’t doubt that there was affections there… you can’t deny that there was political play on both sides of the fence,” she said. “The fact that a Pamunkey person is playing Pocahontas is a good step toward reclaiming her image and her legacy.”
When Pocahontas herself, portrayed by Pamunkey tribal member Wendy Taylor was asked what she thought of the day, she replied as the daughter of a chief might.
“I’d like to thank everybody for their support it means a lot. I’d also like to thank my tribe and my family.”