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Mythic Pocahontas Rescue Site, Powhatan Complex Protected

The site in Virginia where Pocahontas is said to have saved Capt. John Smith and where Powhatan's empire was located is being preserved forever.
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The story goes that Pocahontas saved Captain John Smith from being clubbed to death by her father, Powhatan, in 1607. The validity of this story is questionable, but the site of the famed rescue is real.

The site, in a farm field overlooking the York River in Tidewater Virginia was once called Werowocomoco, which roughly translated means “place of chiefs,” and was Powhatan’s empire.

“This is like our Washington,” Kevin Brown, chief of the Pamunkey tribe, told the Associated Press. “History didn’t begin in 1607 and there are a lot of people who overlook that.”

The privately owned 57 acres have been on loan to archaeologists for more than a decade, and now it will all be preserved forever in an agreement with the state that will protect the land from future development.

Werowocomoco, situated about 15 miles from the struggling settlement of Jamestown, had a population of 15,000 to 20,000. Excavations have uncovered the largest longhouse ever found in Virginia and a system of ditches that may have been used to separate sacred and secular areas, reported the Associated Press. (Related story: “Survival Cannibalism Confirmed at Jamestown Settlement)

Randolph Turner, a retired state archaeologist who has been searching for Werowocomoco since the 1970s, said Powhatan’s empire was “one of the most complex political entities in all of eastern North America.”

And its discovery can be credited to Mobjack Rhett Master Hunter, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever belonging to land owners Lynn and Robert Ripley. Lynn would pick up sharp objects while walking the dog to protect its paws. She found arrowheads, spear tips, pipe stems and pottery shards.

Ashley Atkins, a College of William & Mary doctoral candidate has been working at the site since 2005, and said the excavation is secondary to working with her fellow Pawmunkey people.

“Unfortunately, Native people in the past have had no involvement at all in the way that their history has been investigated, uncovered and presented to the public,” said Atkins. “Most people would think, ‘They wouldn’t be involved in uncovering your own history?’ But the reality is that has not been the common practice.”

This is not the case at Werowocomoco. Archaeologists at the site have been talking with Indian leaders since the beginning and honoring their wishes that burial grounds not be disturbed, reported the Associated Press.

Martin Gallivan, a William & Mary anthropologist, said the involvement of Indian leaders has “enhanced the project immensely.”

The preservation of the site will be commemorated Friday, June 21 during a ceremony with Gov. Bob McDonnell and Indian leaders. An easement will ensure the site remains safe from future development and open to exploration.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Martin Gallivan, College of William professor, right, gestures as Pamunkey Indian Jeff Brown, left, and Randolph Turner, retired state archaeologist, center, listen during a tour of a farm field overlooking the York River in Gloucester, Virginia, Monday, June 17, 2013. The field is known to many in Virginia as the place where Pocahontas interceded to rescue Capt. John Smith from her powerful father, Powhatan, who ruled a vast empire in 1607.