The legend that Pocahontas, the Native American princess brought to England 400 years ago, planted a mulberry tree that still bears fruit is to be tested by scientists.
The mulberry grows in the grounds of Heacham Manor Hotel in Norfolk close to the ancestral home of John Rolfe, Pocahontas’ English husband.
Legend says that Pocahontas, who died in Gravesend, Kent, in March 1617, planted a mulberry at places she visited during her time in England.
As part of the celebrations surrounding the anniversary of her visit scientists from a government research institute in Scotland have agreed to test the tree’s DNA and compare it with other Pocahontas mulberries. The three other trees, at Narford Hall, Norfolk, Buckingham Palace and Syon House, in west London, are all of a similar age and are at locations Pochontas is said to have visited. If it can be shown from their DNA that they came from the same batch of seeds the legend would gain some credibility.
Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, a native American chieftain who controlled 32 tribes of Chesapeake Indians. He seized Captain John Smith one of the English settlers who had arrived in Virginia in 1607 and had been preparing to have him killed. According to Smith’s account published in 1662 Pocahontas, who was then ten years old, saved his life by putting her own head between his and the executioner’s club. She later earned a reputation as a peacemaker, mediating between settlers and Indians, but was seized by the English who held hostage.
During her captivity she converted to Christianity, changed her name to Rebecca and married John Rolfe, a farmer from Heacham.
In 1616 the couple and their son Thomas sailed to England where Pocahontas was introduced to Anne, queen consort of King James I. Although the royal couple were charmed by Pocahontas the king was furious that a subject had married a foreign princess without asking his consent. There was talk of Rolfe being prosecuted for treason.
During their visit Pocahontas is believed by many locals to have visited Rolfe’s family home, now Heacham Manor Hotel, and planted the mulberry tree. Her portrait features on the village sign and there is a plaque in her memory in the parish church.
Graham Bray, the hotel’s marketing manager, said: “There is a story that Pocahontas was given the seeds by King James himself and planted them at places she visited.”
The visit was cut short by Pocahontas’ death. She was about 20 years old and was buried on March 21, 1617, an event commemorated today, on the 400th anniversary. by a parade through the town.
A six-inch branch of the mulberry tree will be studied by scientists from the Forestry Commission’s Northern Research Station at Roslin in Scotland.
After his wife’s death Rolfe returned to Virginia and established the tobacco industry on which the settlers became wealthy. Their son stayed in England until he was 25 when he went back to America.