Thanksgiving and Indian lore

Published 5:35 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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Thanksgiving and Indians. It was certainly the Pilgrim story we learned in elementary school that led us to associate Indians with Thanksgiving. The romanticized story of benevolent Native Americans sharing their bounty with their new neighbors: Everyone friendly, everyone happily bonding as they gathered to give thanks around a groaning board of food.

Coupled with that, for us Virginia-born kids, was the love of our own state’s early history, driven into our sometimes-thick noggins by teachers who invariably were Virginia-born and considered themselves the protectors of the Old Dominion’s heritage.

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Such early teachings, however sparse on facts, reinforced our love of Indian lore. The Pilgrims had their Wampanoags and we had the Powhatans — and Pocahontas.

In time, of course, the gentle Puritans of Massachusetts drove out and eventually massacred the Wampanoags and the Virginia settlers took even less time to clear most of the natives from our “New World.”

But the legends remained. And no Native American was ever more romanticized than the young daughter of Powhatan, who was kidnapped by Jamestown colonists and ultimately married the colony’s first great entrepreneur, John Rolfe.

Pocahontas, after all, was baptized at Jamestown, leading colonists and future generations of Virginians to view her in a special light.

While Virginians have had belated sympathy for the remnants of Pocahontas’ people, they elevated her to something far grander than she probably ever saw herself. People far beyond Virginia have attempted to trace their roots to Pocahontas and Rolfe and many consider themselves first among the FFV’s — the First Families of Virginia.

In Victorian times, the effort to connect to Pocahontas became fevered. Even here, in Isle of Wight, there were attempts made to connect with the noble princess. There is no historic reason to believe that Pocahontas ever traveled into Warrosquoyacke (Isle of Wight), yet local lore even named a fresh water spring for her. The Pocahontas Spring was located on the headwaters of Jones Creek, next to Historic St. Luke’s Church.

I heard elders tell of it when I was a child. Red Point Road crossed the ravine where a dam is now located, and travelers would stop to water their horses or mules and drink from the Pocahontas Spring.

When Historic St. Luke’s Restoration rebuilt the dam and roadway some years ago, the ponds were partially drained, and water could then be seen trickling in from a spring near the old road, quite probably where our ancestors had watered their teams. That spring wasn’t unusual. There are many such tiny streams emerging from the sandy hill known as the Suffolk Scarf. But I like to think that was the legendary and romanticized “Pocahontas Spring.”

In St. Luke’s itself, a beautiful stained glass window celebrates the conversion of Pocahontas to Rebecca. Other windows pay tribute to other early characters who played roles in her life: Rolfe, who married her; John Smith, whom she reputedly saved, and the Rev. Alexander Whitaker, who baptized her.

Legends run deep in these parts and, fact-based or myth-based, they are an integral part of our heritage, and thus our history.