Powhatan to join Pocahontas

Published 2:04 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New ferry will honor man that colonists feared

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

SURRY— The Pocahontas is set to be joined by her father on the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry fleet.

The name of Powhatan had commanded fear and respect from inhabitants of Virginia before it was Virginia, and it’s now on track to adorn the side of what will soon be the newest addition to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s James River flotilla.

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The Surry County Board of Supervisors voted to support naming the upcoming ferry after the early seventeenth century Native American chief Powhatan at its meeting Thursday, Sept. 7. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“He was a strong chief for hopefully a strong boat,” said Williamsburg Residency Administrator for VDOT Rossie Carroll at the meeting.

The proposed name also received approval from the James City County Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday, Sept. 12 meeting, with additional support coming from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. The name will go before the Commonwealth Transportation Board for final approval Wednesday, Sept. 20.

When completed, the Powhatan will share the water with the Pocahontas, the 1995 vessel named after the mighty chief’s equally influential and celebrated daughter, whose marriage to English settler John Rolfe in 1614 is credited as staving off years of war.

Powhatan was the paramount chief of numerous allied Algonquian-speaking tribes collectively known as Tsenacomoco, encountered by Jamestown settlers in the beginning of the 1600s.

The vessel, which will hold up to 70 cars, is being assembled in Mississippi and is projected to be completed by late spring or early summer 2018, according to VDOT.

The ferry will replace The Virginia, the oldest ship in VDOT’s arsenal, which was built in 1936 and has a 28-vehicle capacity.

VDOT has three other ferries cutting across the James River between Surry and James City counties, including the “Surry” and the “Williamsburg,” which both hold up to 50 cars. The Pocahontas, like the upcoming Powhatan, can transport 70 cars.

When VDOT held a contest in 1995 for the naming of the vessel that would become the Pocahontas, the name Powhatan came in second place, according to Carroll.

“He held everything from the Potomac to the Dismal Swamp,” said Jamestown-Scotland Ferry Facility Manager Wes Ripley of Powhatan’s reach. “That encompasses both sides of the river, so there’s no partiality for either side of the river.”

Carsley District Supervisor Kenneth Holmes voiced his support for the historic name, and also asked that VDOT consider docking The Virginia after it is decommissioned from the fleet, and allowing it to be turned into a floating restaurant and attraction in the county.

“Just keep us posted on what’s going to happen,” Holmes said of the future of the old ferry.

Powhatan’s given name was Wahunsonacock, according to the Encyclopedia Virginia. Much of what is known of Powhatan comes from accounts written by Captain John Smith, who, on an expedition around the James River, was captured by Powhatan, and spent subsequent years negotiating trade, defying customs and commands, and just barely avoiding his execution by the powerful chief.

Smith described Powhatan as tall, proud and revered by his people. {/mprestriction}