Hidden History: Bridging gaps in the New World

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — David Voelkel looks at a painting in The Valentine’s collection with adoration. He considers it to be one of his favorite pieces for what it signifies beyond face value.

“They’re celebrating the founding of the country in Virginia, and it really starts here,” says Voelkel, the museum’s Elise H. Wright Curator of the General Collection.

The painting is of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. They met shortly after she, the Powhatan Indian Chief’s daughter, was captured in 1613.

The two fell in love, and she converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca.

“It’s a really powerful story,” explains Voelkel. “This is really our first interracial couple.”

Despite their cultural differences, Rolfe wrote to Govenor Thomas Dale asking for permission to marry the woman recognized by the English as a ‘heathen.’

“That really took me aback,” Voelkel says. “After five centuries it’s still a shocker.”

As their relationship developed, others did too across Central Virginia. Dale negotiated with the Powhatan, and there was a time of peace between both sides.

Voelkel credits the couple for bridging gaps between the English and native people.

“Love truly can overcome all boundaries,” he says. “Their marriage and their family did not in any way end the world. In fact, it made it stronger and made our society stronger.”

This year marks the 410th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. It is also 400 years since the death of Pocahontas during a trip to England with Rolfe and their infant son.

Because of her contributions to the colony, some historians refer to Pocahontas as ‘Virginia’s First Lady.’

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