Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Edith Bolling Wilson: America's First Native American First Lady?

by John Powell

A partially finished beaded belt on a small wooden hand loom, purportedly the handiwork of Pocahontas, presented to Mrs. Wilson by Sarah Wilber of Shawano, Wisconsin in January 1916.

Did you know that First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson was a direct descendant of the famous Native American, Pocahontas? It's true, although not everyone is aware of the fact. Mrs. Wilson was proud of her connection to the legendary princess and surrounded herself with depictions of her illustrious ancestor. These mementos, pictured here, can be seen today on a visit to Woodrow Wilson House, a National Trust Historic Site in Washington, DC.

Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, the powerful chief of the Algonquian Indians who lived in the Virginia region. She was born around 1595 to one of Powhatan's many wives. Her tribal name was Matoaka ("Pocahontas" was a nickname meaning "Little Wanton.") Pocahontas first became acquainted with the English colonists who settled in Jamestown around 1607. In 1614 she converted to Christianity and married John Rolfe, a Jamestown colonist. In 1616 Pocahontas, together with her husband and their young son, Thomas, traveled to England. There Pocahontas was presented to King James I, the royal family, and the rest of London society. Before returning to Virginia, Pocahontas fell ill. She died in Gravesend, England in March 1617. Thomas Rolfe, the couple's only son, returned to Virginia in 1635 at the age of 20. His daughter, Jane Rolfe, married Colonel Robert Bolling, a direct ancestor (7 times removed) of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson. The descendants of Jane Rolfe Bolling, including Edith, were known as "Red Bollings" as opposed to "White Bollings," because of their Indian heritage.


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