Thursday, December 29, 2022

Follow-Up: Ka-Okee, Daughter of Pocahontas

I have received many comments and emails of late regarding my original post about the theory of Ka-Okee being the daughter of Pocahontas and Kokoum, so I felt that the time was right to do a follow-up post that addresses some of the more popular questions and comments that I have received, as well as providing some more context and information that I have obtained through research and correspondence with William Deyo, historian emeritus of the Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia. In order to be as clear and concise as possible, this post will be divided into sections, each addressing a different issue.

This bronze statue of Pocahontas, completed in 1913, 
is one of the most famous landmarks of Jamestown Island.

There is strong evidence that a Native American woman named Ka-Okee existed and is the ancestor of many current members of the Patawomeck Tribe, even if she was not the daughter of Pocahontas and Kokoum.

Many members of the Patawomeck tribe have long known that they were descended from an early colonial Patawomeck ancestor named Ka-Okee. This knowledge was made apparent by Ka-Okee's many namesakes. Several of her descendants were named after her, including Kaokie Chilton (1849-1924), oldest daughter of William Chilton and Susan Robertson; and Golden Okie Rose (1905-1985), youngest daughter of Henry Rose and Eliza Robertson. A quick records search on for the name "Okie" and related spellings will show you records pertaining to at least a dozen other people from Stafford County, VA (ancestral home of the Patawomeck Tribe, and home of their tribal center today) who also carried this name in one variant or another. It has long been asserted by many tribal members over several generations that Ka-Okee was the mother of Christian Martin (born c. 1637), wife of John Martin of Stafford County.

Kaokie Chilton and Golden Okie Rose were relatives of William Deyo. Kaokie Chilton died before he was born, but he knew Golden Okie Rose - and she was the one who told him that she and her cousin, Kaokie Chilton, were named for their ancestor. During our correspondence, he told me the following:  "When I was a teenager, I went with my grandaunt and grandmother to visit their cousin, Okie, and asked her about her name.  Okie told me that her mother (Eliza) wanted to name her after her ancestor, Pocahontas, but her husband (Henry Rose) would not allow her to do it.  He did allow her, however, to name the daughter, "Golden Okie", after another Indian ancestor." 

Detail from the 1880 US Census, showing Kaokie Chilton in the household of William Chilton.

While the preservation of this unusual name is not in and of itself proof of Ka-Okee's existence and lineage, the fact that two people within the same family carried such an unusual name and were both said to have been named for the same ancestor is compelling circumstantial evidence for the existence of that ancestor. Add to it the many other people from the same area, most from connected families, who have variants of the same unusual name, and the evidence becomes even more compelling.

The theory of Ka-Okee being the daughter of Pocahontas did not come about until William Deyo started connecting the dots.

Oral histories are much stronger among families of Native American descent who remain in touch with their ancestral practices. As a result, these families are often able to retain accurate information about their past over the course of many generations - far better than the typical family of European descent. Deyo knew of many families belonging to the Patawomeck tribe who were adamant about their family's descent from Pocahontas; however, none of them could find a genealogical connection to Thomas Rolfe, Pocahontas' only documented child. Deyo's family was one of these, and in an effort to find their connection to Pocahontas, he began tracing the genealogies of many of Stafford County's most prominent families. 

After many years of research, he never found a common connection between these families and Thomas Rolfe. What he did find, however, was that every one of these families did descend from Christian Martin, either through her first marriage to John Martin or through her second marriage to Francis Waddington. This is when he began to theorize that not only must Pocahontas have had a second child, but that Ka-Okee could possibly be this child. He knew that Christian Martin Waddington was born about 1637 (she had said during a deposition in 1687 that she was about 50 years old), which meant that her mother would have been the right age to be Pocahontas' child.

William Deyo formed his theory about Pocahontas having another child and about Ka-Okee being that child long before the book The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Custalow and Daniel was published.

Deyo's theory regarding Ka-Okee was already fairly well-formed before the chief of the Mattaponi Tribe, Dr. Linwood Custalow, worked with anthropologist Angela Daniel to publish the portion of the Mattaponi Sacred Oral History that pertained to Pocahontas. Pocahontas' mother, for whom her daughter was named when she came of age, was a member of the Mattaponi tribe and was the favored wife of Chief Wahunsenacawh (known more commonly by the name of his tribe, Powhatan). Because of this connection, the truth about Pocahontas' early life, her first marriage to the Patawomeck warrior Kokoum (which was also recorded by William Strachey, a member of the Virginia Company, in 1612), her involvement in Native American/English relations, her kidnapping and captivity at the hands of Samuel Argall, the abuse and rape she suffered while being held hostage, her forced marriage to John Rolfe, and her suspicious death while en route back to Virginia from England were preserved via oral histories, carefully passed from one generation to the next over the course of four centuries. 

When Deyo happened across the book and found that the Mattaponi had preserved the fact that Pocahontas had another child from her marriage to Kokoum, it confirmed the first part of his theory: Pocahontas did have another child. The book referred to the child as "Little Kokoum," but an appendix explained that as the child was raised by the Patawomeck after being orphaned, the Mattaponi did not not actually know much about the child other than the fact that a child existed. "Little Kokoum" was the name that Custalow and Daniel used to refer to the child; but the fact of the matter is that the Mattaponi did not even know whether the child was a son or a daughter.

Considering the fact that neither tribe remembered the name of the child, it actually makes much more sense that the child was a daughter. It would have been far more acceptable for an English man of means (such as Thomas Pettus, who many genealogists agree is the most likely candidate for the father of Christian Martin Waddington) to marry a Native American woman of prominent parentage than for an English woman to marry a Native American man, especially if the English man of means could gain control of large tracks of desirable land as a result.

"There is no written record of Ka-Okee, her parentage, or her marriage and progeny."

No - there's no surviving record that directly references Ka-Okee, her parentage, or her marriage and progeny. 

According to Patawomeck tradition, Christian Martin Waddington was the daughter of a prominent English colonist and Ka-Okee, who even before the Pocahontas theory emerged was known to be from a prominent family of the Powhatan confederation. Many genealogists agree that Thomas Pettus is the most likely candidate for Christian's father, among them William W. Pettus IV, who published three volumes on the subject of Pettus genealogy. In his last book, Foundations of Pettus Family Genealogy in Virginia, Pettus examined the "Pocahontas Connection" carefully, using both the oral traditions of the Mattaponi and Patawomeck and the few primary source documents that were available regarding Thomas Pettus. He found that Thomas Pettus obtained 1,000 acres of very desirable land along Potomac Creek, which directly adjoined the land where the seat of the Patawomeck tribe was located. This suggests that there was a strong connection between Thomas Pettus and the Patawomeck tribe. You can read more about this matter at the Pettus Heritage blog, which was founded by William Pettus before his passing in 2021.

Countless records from Colonial Virginia were destroyed by fire, flood, and shear unadulterated carelessness over the centuries. There might well have once been a record of a marriage between Thomas Pettus and Ka-Okee, which could have been subsequently destroyed or otherwise lost. It's also a possibility that they were never married at all, but still had a child together. He certainly would not have been the first man to sire a child out of wedlock, provide for the child, and later secure a good marriage for said child. 

As to the matter of a written record of Ka-Okee's parentage: there wouldn't be one. The Patawomeck undoubtedly wished to protect the child's identity, out of fear that the child would be kidnaped and held for ransom, as Pocahontas was. 

"The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History is a hoax. These events happened in the way that the English recorded them."

Claims like this are frankly quite problematic and insensitive. What right do people of European descent have to claim that they are more knowledgeable about this history of a tribe than the tribal members themselves? And aside from the fact that calling the authenticity of the sacred oral history of the Mattaponi into question is wildly racist, consider this: they have no reason to lie about this. They have nothing to gain. And as I pointed out in my previous post, this project was originally a PhD dissertation from the College of William and Mary, an Ivy League university, which would have gone through a rigorous process of review by experts in the field. If they find the Mattaponi's sacred oral history to be credible, we can as well.

"Everyone wants to be connected to Pocahontas. This story is just a desperate attempt to make that claim."

Here's the thing: claiming descent from a prominent historical figure is only a point of pride for the one claiming it if a) it's true and b) you can prove it, or at least make a solid case for it. Most people who have done solid research on this topic would of course be disappointed if some sort of primary source evidence could prove that the claim was unequivocally untrue; however, I doubt that a single one of them would continue to make the claim if confronted with this hypothetical evidence. Genealogy is a science, and as such we follow the evidence. And while we will never know the full story of Ka-Okee, the evidence suggests that she existed, she was a Patawomeck woman of some prominence, and she married a prominent English colonist and had issue. There is further evidence to suggest that she was strongly connected to Pocahontas, and that the man she married was Thomas Pettus. 

It is worth mentioning here that several people who read my original post and contacted me have said that long before they ever heard of William Deyo and his theory, their relatives passed the story of Ka-Okee and her connection to Pocahontas on them, but that they were told that Ka-Okee was actually Pocahontas' sister, not her daughter. This is also a strong possibility, and one that will need to be investigated further.

One commenter from the original post posed this question:

If there was no documented proof that Ka-Okee existed or who she married, then why assume it must be so? A lot of families wanted to be related to Pocahontas, and have assumed it to be fact. And why is Pocahontas more important than any other Indian?

I believe that people seek to find a genealogical connection to her not only because of her extraordinary story, but because she is one of the few Native Americans that history remembers by name. For every Pocahontas, Zitkala-Sa, or Susan LaFlesche Picotte, there are literally millions of Native American women whose names were never recorded on paper, and unfortunately go unremembered today. It's only natural that so many people want to have a genealogical connection to her - but only if it's a real genealogical connection.

When considered in context, there is a possibility that Pocahontas herself left us a clue about her first child in her final words.

Detail of the statue of Pocahontas at her burial site in Gravesend, Kent, United Kingdom.

As a fitting ending to this follow-up post, I will leave you with Pocahontas' last words, and how their meaning might go deeper when considered in context of the Mattaponi's sacred oral history. According to her second husband, John Rolfe, Pocahontas' last words before she passed away from a sudden illness were: 

"All must die. ‘Tis enough that the child liveth."

On the surface, most would assume that she was speaking about her son, Thomas Rolfe. However, when you consider the bleak reality described in the Mattaponi's sacred oral history, these words take on another meaning. According the oral history, Pocahontas left her firstborn child with relatives before she was lured aboard an English ship, captured, and held for ransom by Samuel Argall. The oral history goes on to say that during her captivity she had to endure the murder of her first husband Kokoum, forced assimilation into English culture, and horrific sexual abuse. After ten months of captivity, Pocahontas finally agreed to convert to Christianity, take the Christian name of Rebecca, and marry John Rolfe in order to improve not only her own living conditions, but to reestablish peace between the English and the Powhatan Confederation. It is unclear whether the English were aware of her first child, but my guess is that they were not; otherwise, the child might have been found and held for ransom like Pocahontas was.

Could it be that Pocahontas' last words before her untimely (and, frankly, suspicious) death were actually one final act of defiance? Was she actually saying "You may have killed me, but my first child - the child not of one of my captors and abusers, but of the man I married for love - lives on among her own people"?

We will never know for certain whether this was the case, but like the other evidence presented here, it is quite compelling when examined in context.


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