Pocahontas Heacham mulberry tree DNA test ‘inconclusive’

As many of you know, I am the 11th great-granddaughter of John Rolfe and Pocahontas through my paternal lineage from my Boling family and that I have been researching and writing about Pocahontas and the Rolfes in my blogs for about ten years. In fact, the Heacham researcher (mentioned in the following article published by the BBC News on January 5, 2020), and I have become close friends from our research collaborations.

Further, my husband and I visited the gravesites of my Boling ancestors in Kippax, Virginia, where the former plantation is said to have been the source of the mulberry tree seedling gifted to Heacham, England and the DNA research findings in the BBC article. How appropriate that BBC’s article was published on my birthday–what an awesome, yet inconclusive answer to our studies. I hope you enjoy the article.

Mulberry tree at Heacham Manor Hotel
Image captionThe tree (far right) is planted at Heacham Manor Hotel in Norfolk

Tests aiming to establish the truth of a legend claiming that Pocahontas planted a mulberry tree in Norfolk have proved inconclusive.

The Native American travelled to England in 1616 with husband John Rolfe after helping save a colonialist’s life.

Legend has it she planted a mulberry tree at a manor house in Heacham, where Rolfe was from.

But DNA analysis of the tree and others have proved inconclusive.

Rolfe and Pocahontas spent 10 months in England – before her death in Gravesend, Kent, in 1617 – when it is said that while visiting her husband’s family home in Heacham, she planted a tree in the area,

The tree – in the same spot, but now in the grounds of Heacham Manor Hotel – still produces fruit.

From prisoner to palace guest

Statue of Pocahontas
Image captionA life-size bronze effigy of the Native American stands in Gravesend, Kent
  • Pocahontas was the daughter of Chief Powhatan, leader of a Native American tribe
  • Legend has she negotiated the release of Capt John Smith, earning her a reputation as a peacemaker
  • After Smith returned to England, she was captured and spent a year in the English encampment
  • There she converted to Christianity and married John Rolfe, adopting the name Rebecca Rolfe
  • During her time in England she was received by the court of King James I
  • Pocahontas was buried in the chancel of St George’s Church, Gravesend, on 21 March 1617

Researchers at the Forestry Commission carried out DNA research following claims by a retired Heacham resident who has extensively researched the Pocahontas legend.

It was hoped this might establish a DNA connection between the hotel’s tree and other very old mulberry trees at Buckingham Palace, Syon House in west London and Narford Hall, Norfolk.

It was thought Pocahontas might have visited one of these trees and collected seeds, and research could establish whether they were forebears of the Heacham tree.

Joan Cottrell, from the Forestry Commission, said scientists had “attempted to fingerprint” eight trees “but failed to get clear results”.

She said tests showed the eight trees “probably” belonged to the same clone, but that the work was “not conclusive”.

Heacham village sign
Image caption The Heacham village sign depicts Pocahontas

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