Heacham, a couple of miles south of Hunstanton, is a deceptive place. It’s one of the largest villages in the region, with a population of around 5500, yet you’d hardly realise it’s there at all, by-passed as it by the busy A149.
Heacham’s greatest claim to fame is hinted at in its village sign, which bears the portrait of a young dark-skinned woman in fashionable Elizabethan costume. This is Pocahontas, the Native American princess who married John Rolfe, the 17th century English settler who organised the proper cultivation of tobacco in Virginia. Rolfe’s home in England was at Heacham Hall.
Pocahontas had earned the respect of the Jamestown colonists in 1607, when, at the age of around ten, she had intervened to save the life of Captain John Smith, who had been sentenced to death by her father, Great Chief Powhatan. In 1612 she was taken hostage by the colonists to guarantee her people’s good behaviour, and a year later, after converting to Christianity, she married John Rolfe.
Pocahontas gave birth to a son, Thomas. In 1615 and in 1616 the family sailed to England, where the princess was received by King James I and feted at banquets in London.An ancient mulberry tree in the grounds of Heacham Hall is said to have been planted to mark Pocahontas’s visit there. The hall itself burned down in 1899. John Rolfe was appointed Secretary and Recorder General of Virginia, and arrangements were made for him and his family to return to Jamestown. While waiting at Gravesend, Kent, for their ship to sail, Pocahontas, in her early twenties, succumbed to fever and died in March 1617. A tablet commemorating the American princess can be found in Heacham parish church.
If anybody would like to expand this series please do. I would just ask that you let Smokeypugs know first so they can keep track of the Village Sign numbers and names to avoid duplication.