Back From the Future – Part 3 (With John Rolfe and Pocahontas)


I wish to thank my dear friend, retired College Lecturer, and fellow Pocahontas research enthusiast, Christine Dean, for her ongoing updates about happenings in and around her hometown of  Heacham, Norfolk, England.  From her undaunting energy and perseverance while delving into local legends about Pocahontas and John Rolfe, I am able to bring you new posts that allow us to travel back from the future and into the past based on new details and discoveries provided to me with the help of Christine in our present day.

So let’s begin Part 3 of this journey back from the future in the year 1597.  Here, we find John Rolfe, age 12, living at Heacham Hall with his mother Dorothea Mason Rolfe Redmayne, (who had been widowed in 1594 at the death of John’s father (Sir Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe), and with his stepfather,  Dr. Robert Redmayne (since his mother’s marriage to him in 1595).  Robert Redmayne had been Chancellor at Norwich Cathedral since 1588.  His chancellorship went on to span 37 years and five bishops including a family relative, Bishop William Redman (1595-1602), who chose to spell his name as it sounded. It would be only 12 years later when the U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration records would show that John Rolfe arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.  In fact, pages 15-21 of this reference include the persons aboard the Sea Venture, which left Britain in 1609 for Jamestown but was wrecked off Bermuda. And, specific names appear on pages 16 and 17, with genealogies of some of the passengers on succeeding pages.

Six years later in 1615, biographical histories have documented a visit to Heacham Hall in Norfolk County, England, by John Rolfe, his wife Pocahontas, and their infant son Thomas Rolfe.  This visit lasted nearly two years–from early June 1615 until March 1617.  Unfortunately Pocahontas died in January 1617, leaving her husband, John, a widow with their two-year-old son, Thomas.  Shortly after Pocahontas’ death, John Rolfe departed England to return to Jamestown, Virginia.  John left his son, two-year-old Thomas, in London, in the care of Sir Lewis Stukley.  Upon Sir Lew Stukley’s death in 1620, Thomas’ guardianship was transferred to John  Rolfe’s, two-years’ his junior, younger brother, Henry Rolfe, until Thomas was 21.  And in 1635, passenger and immigration records show that Thomas Powhatan Rolfe arrived in Virginia.

But Wait, Our Story in England Isn’t Yet Finished–We’re Gonna Be Talk’n ‘Trees’

The mulberry tree in the grounds of Heacham Manor (far right of building) Picture: Chris Bishop

The mulberry tree in the grounds of Heacham Manor. Picture: Chris Bishop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heacham Manor Hotel 3

Today’s luxurious Heacham Manor Hotel

A four hundred year old legend exists.  It tells of the Rolfe’s now infamous visit to Heacham Village and adds trees into the mix of our family’s history–and not branches of our ancestry tree. But, literally a living mulberry tree and its branches.  A tree that Pocahontas is said to have planted at Heacham Hall during her stay there.  And today, 400 years later, the manor and villagers say this same mulberry tree  remains and is thriving beside the Heacham Manor Hotel main entrance.  

But wait–what if this mulberry tree could talk–what might it tell us?

Palace of WhitehallPrincess Pocahontas is said to have visited Queen Anne and King James I on Twelfth Night 6th January 1617 at their Palace of Whitehall in London.  They had a garden that had nine mulberry trees and they were giving away 1000+ mulberry seeds to all their noble friends, who they encouraged to plant them to grow trees for medicine, healthy food, drink, and wine and to cultivate silkworms for spinning silk from which new shirts could be made.  So, the question remains “could the Heacham mulberry tree seeds have come from King James I’s and Queen Anne’s Buckingham Palace Gardens?”

Syon House and ParkSyon Park also in London has about 200 acres (Thames-side near Isleworth), and includes the Syon House. This estate has been owned by Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke of Northumberland,  and his ancestors for about 400 years. Syon House was the  home of the 9th Duke of Northumberland’s family and Earl George Percy  was a President /Governor at Jamestown in 1609-1610 and his brother ‘Wizard Earl’ alchemist expert Henry Percy.  Henry Percy remounted  Pocahontas pearl wedding earrings with  silver clasps when she visited him at the Tower of London in 1616. Syon House  has the oldest surviving mulberry tree in England dating back to 1548 and growing in the meadow where Pocahontas stayed in their two cottages close by at Brentford after she became ill in London.  Could this tree be the parent tree to the one in Heacham?

Mulberry Tree Red Lodge Country HouseAnother old mulberry tree grows on the estate of Narford Hall that is situated in the Breckland District of Norfolk County, in the garden at the  Red lodge Country House behind the wooden seat–this was the home of John Rolfe’s  stepfather’s family, the Redmayne’s.  It possibly dates back to a 1643 gift from King Charles 1.  Further, Uncle Edmund Rolfe also lived at Narford Hall with his son Henry and grandson Francis.  Princess Pocahontas’ might had picked up seeds or truncheon twigs from this tree to plant at Heacham Hall.  Princess Pocahontas probably commuted between Heacham and other England vicinities by carriages, possibly changing horses at relatives’ stables in Narford Hall.

The map of England’s Norfolk County from 1658, below, is the best I could find to try to show where the Rolfe and Redmayne farming families would have traded in their ships, horses and carriages along the yellow River Nar that flows from Kings Lynn to several major ports at Waterbeach Cambridge, Huntingdon, Peterborough, Isle of Ely, and the Royal Boston port.  The tidal water is highlighted in  grey.

Norfolk England Map 1658

Cottrell Joan

Dr. Joan Cottrell

Dr Kevn Burgess Columbus St Univ GA

Dr. Kevin Burgess

In just a few weeks, (sometime in May 2017), when the fresh mulberry leaves at the luxury country house Heacham Manor Hotel (formerly Heacham Hall) are mature enough, Dr. Joan Cottrell of the Forest Research, Northern Research Station, Roslin, Midlothian, UK, and Dr. Kevin Burgess of Columbus State University, Georgia, USA will take a six-inch branch from this tree to conduct DNA testing of it and compare it to branches from three other very old mulberry trees.  It is hoped this will lead to finding a DNA connection between the Heacham Manor Hotel’s tree and three other very old mulberry trees identified in the UK – at Buckingham Palace, Syon House in West London and Narford Hall, Swaffham, Norfolk, where it is thought Pocahontas might have visited and collected seeds from one of them.  This research could establish whether any of these three other trees are forebears of the Heacham tree–which today is still producing delectable fruit that is served on the menu at Heacham Manor.

As I understand it (in very lay persons terms), one chromosome passes from a mother tree to a child tree.  By analyzing clippings, scientists can sometimes detect a matching digital DNA barcode.  Ultimately, this process might identify and connect a species of seeds to this mulberry tree to help corroborate the story of Pocahontas’ mulberry tree planting in Heacham Village!