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Pocahontas & The Virginia Indians Online Course

Class #7 - Pocahontas- Religion & Faith

In this class we will continue our intersection with the Virginia Museum of History & Culture 2018 Pocahontas Symposium with the presentation of session #2 titled Religion and Faith , moderated by Chief Anne Richardson and offering thoughts from panelists Rev. Chris Stone from Gravesend and Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher. Since Pocahontas' conversion to Christianity is at the core of her impact on the future course of world events, Class #7 provides some important context with 2 videos sandwiched around the VMHC session, with Carol Gallagher as the thread that ties them all together.

As you learned in the last class, Carol Gallagher is the first American Indian female bishop in the Episcopal Church and the first Indigenous female bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Carol's life experience gives her great insight into the possible thoughts and feelings for Pocahontas as she transformed into the Christian named Rebecca Rolfe. In 1997, a decade before the 400th anniversary of the 1607 landing at Jamestown, Carol facilitated and helped produce a commitment ceremony for the Episcopal Church called the New Jamestown Covenant , created to strengthen the bonds between the Church and its Native American members. Our first video is a wonderful documentary of the 1997 ceremony on Jamestown Island produced by a new friend of the Pocahontas Project - Steve MacAusland.

Since she is a student of the course and prominent in the first two videos, the Project asked Carol to offer some current reflections as our Student Video for Class #7, which is the last video in the formal course content. Carol helps to frame the importance of religion and faith in the life, legend and legacy of Pocahontas and starts a discussion of how life has come full circle to today as the world struggles with racial inequity and calls for social justice.

Finally, to help cement the powerful historical importance of the conversion of Pocahontas to Christianity, student's are presented a link to information on the painting named Baptism of Pocahontas , installed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 1840. This massive (12 feet by 18 feet) painting by John Gadsby Chapman is a 19th century romanticized depiction of the baptism ceremony. It's placement in the new capitol rotunda of a new nation signified the importance of the story to Americans at the time. The online article from the Architect of the Capitol offers an image of the painting and lots of background information.


Rick Tatnall

Shout out Video from a place named for or connected to Pocahontas- Superintendent Nate Clark at Pocahontas State Park, Chesterfield, Virginia

Formal Class Content

On November 1, 1997, almost 400 years after King James I asked the Church of England to propagate Christianity in the New World, Native Americans and descendants of English colonists gathered and signed a new covenant of faith and reconciliation to heal four centuries of misunderstanding and mistrust.  During an All Saints Day ceremony in Jamestown, Virginia, Edmond Browning, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (the successor in the United States to the Church of England), described the pain he felt rereading the original charter from James I calling for the Church of England to convert the New World's "infidels and savages". Another Episcopal Church leader said the church had at times aided and abetted colonialism.  The pain and responsibility felt by Bishop Browning and others led to the adoption at the Episcopal Church’s 75th General Convention of the New Jamestown Covenant, offering a decade of remembrance, recognition and reconciliation.  The following video captures the essence and power of the event on Jamestown Island.      

The 2nd session of the VMHC Pocahontas Symposium offers a trio of familiar faces.  Moderated by Chief Anne Richardson, this session titled Religion and Faith involves panelists Rev. Chris Stone from Gravesend and Rt. Rev. Dr. Carol Gallagher, who students met in the New Jamestown Covenant video (Carol was a primary organizer of the overall New Jamestown Covenant effort and the celebration event on Jamestown Island)

The Class #7 Student Video has been placed after the main course content.  Continuing and stitching together the historical sequence through to today, fellow student Rt. Rev. Dr. Carol Gallagher offers her thoughts on Pocahontas and her connection to religion and faith.  As the first American Indian female bishop in the Episcopal Church and the first Indigenous female bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, Carol has a unique perspective on the spiritual intersections that Pocahontas considered and embraced.

Indicative of the power of her life and legend, and the extraordinary significance of her conversion to Christianity, a massive (12’ x 18’) painting of the baptism of Pocahontas by John Gadsby Chapman was installed in the US Capitol Rotunda in 1840.  Click here to view "Baptism of Pocahontas" from the Architect of the Capitol website:

Class #7 Thoughtwork

(to be done after reviewing all class content)

  • While we do not know her thoughts and motivations, Pocahontas seemingly made the spiritual transition from her native beliefs to those of the Church of England. What elements do you see in common between Powhatan worship and English worship? Do you see any areas of potential conflict?

  • “Believing, belonging, and behaving” are basic Christian precepts according to Rev. Canon Chris Stone. Do you see evidence of these precepts in Pocahontas? What do you imagine were the biggest challenges for Pocahontas regarding her faith life?

  • The conversion of Pocahontas to Christianity is a pivotal aspect of her life and its influence on future world events. Based on what you have read and seen to date, what do you think – was the transformation from Matoaka to Rebecca a strategic move to create harmony between her people and the English, or was it something more spiritual?

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