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St Mary's - Heacham

The friendly church

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Pocahontas

Heacham has an historic link with the Indian Princess, Pocahontas, recently popularised by the Disney films. The link is celebrated by a memorial in the Church and the inclusion of a replica of the Church plaque on the Village sign.

In April 1607, the London Company sent out a second company under the leadership of Sir Thomas Dale, who later became Governor of Virginia. With Sir Thomas sailed Captain John Smith of Lincolnshire. About the same time an interesting group of Norfolk men, John Rolfe of Heacham, Henry Spelman of Congham, Cobbe of Snettisham, etc., went out. The expeditions anchored in Chesapeake Bay and called their settlement Jamestown after the reigning King of England, and the district, Norfolk, a name it still retains. The new colonists at first entered into friendly relations with the natives but when Captain John Smith, in December 1607, attempted to explore further into the Indian's territory, he was captured and taken to Powhattan's camp.

According to Smith's account (published in 1662) Powhattan, after a parley with his chiefs, decided upon the Englishman's death. The natives were preparing to brain him with their clubs when Pocahontas - "the King's own darling daughter" - then a child of ten, interposed her own head between Smith and his murderers. Powhattan ordered Smith's life to be spared.
There is no doubt that from 1608 onwards Pocahontas was a frequent visitor to Jamestown and that she acted as intermediary between her father and the colonists. This became increasingly necessary as disputes constantly arose between the settlers and the natives; indeed Pocahontas is depicted as "the good genius of the colonists, warning them of the hostile schemes of the Indians and sending them provisions in times of scarcity".

On the l3th April 1612 Pocahontas was about 15 years old and while she was away staying with her uncle, she was lured on board a vessel and taken to Jamestown as hostage for the good behaviour of the natives. In the following year she converted to Christianity, was baptised under the name of Rebecca, and later married to John Rolfe, who appears from his letter to Sir Thomas Dale (now in keeping of the Bodlian Library at Oxford) to have been sincerely attached to the Princess. Powhattan was flattered by his daughter's marriage to an Englishman and the event was followed by a friendly alliance, the exchange of prisoners and other proofs of goodwill.

In 1616 Sir Thomas Dale brought Pocahontas, her husband, their young son and a numerous retinue of attendants to England. It is recorded that Pocahontas was presented to Queen Anne, Consort of James 1st, who paid her marked attention. In company with the Queen she attended the twelfth night masque in 1617. Although the Queen smiled on the Princess, the King scowled on John Rolfe. Tradition has it that Rolfe was nearly prosecuted for high treason for having married a Princess without his Sovereign's leave. Sir Thomas Dale was included in his King's displeasure but he replied that, as Governor, he represented His Majesty and accordingly had given his sanction to the Marriage as a matter of urgent policy. The King thereupon made no reply.

In the Colonial Entry Book of January 1617 we learn that the Princess Pocahontas, though reluctant to return to America, ailed under an English climate and on the eve of her return to America died at Gravesend and was buried in the Chancel of the Parish Church.
In 1727 Gravesend Church was burnt down. A church was rebuilt on the same site but of different architecture and no one knows whether the present apse is over the old church or somewhat West or North of it. The registers going back earlier than Pocahontas fortunately escaped the fire and tell us that "The Princess was 1616 Mar 2 buried in ye Chauncell". Her actual grave has been sought in vain.

There is legend that the very ancient Mulberry tree in the gardens of Heacham Hall - always known as the Pocahontas Mulberry tree - was planted at the time of a visit which John Rolfe and his wife paid to Heacham. On the death of Pocahontas, Rolfe returned to Virginia leaving their son Thomas to be brought up in England, partly with his uncle, Henry Rolfe, and partly with Sir Lewes Stukely of Plymouth.
Thomas returned to Virginia in 1640 when he was about 25 years old. It is significant that a village in Virginia named Heacham dates from that time. Thomas Rolfe remained in America and married Jane, daughter of Francis Pothyress, leaving issue an only daughter, Jane, from whose marriage to Colonel Robert Bolling, many eminent American families are descended. The forefathers of John Rolfe rest in Heacham Church and it is fitting that the tablet in memory of his wife Pocahontas should be placed just above those of his father John Rolfe and his mother Dorothy Rolfe.

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A sculpture of Pocahontas in Jacobean dress by Otillea Wallace, a pupil of Rodin hangs on the church wall above a plaque dedicated to John Rolfeā€™s father.

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