Skip to content

Let’s Talk Pocahontas

Sarah Robinson, Rotary Intern 2013-2014

Sarah Robinson, Rotary Intern 2013-2014

We are honored to have Sarah Robinson as our guest author. Sarah has been interning with our education department and helping with HistoryConnects.

The word “internship” brings to mind an image of a frazzled, college grad in their early twenties, hustling to bring their boss a cup of coffee while simultaneously making calls, filing, and basically doing the work that no one wants to do. Luckily for this intern, that was not my experience at all. Since the fall of 2013, I’ve been working in the education department thanks to funds provided by the Rotary Club. I’ve done a bit of everything including research, gallery tours, and Stories at the Museum programs. I’ve spent most of my time working with HistoryConnects, a virtual field trip using the latest technology in video conferencing while also hitting on Virginia SOL standards and speaking with a historian! Or me!

Engraving of Secotan by Theordore De Bry (printed 1590) based on watercolor by White. (Accession number F229.H27.1590)

Engraving of Secotan by Theordore De Bry (printed 1590) based on watercolor by White. (Accession number F229.H27.1590)

The program that I enjoyed teaching the most was Pocahontas and the Powhatan Indians. Honestly, they couldn’t have chosen a better person for this position. I could talk about Pocahontas all day! I have distinct childhood memories of playing Indians and Settlers with my friends in the neighborhood and going on field trips to Jamestown with my history-teacher mother. I even had a Pocahontas Barbie, which was my absolute favorite toy. So, talk about Pocahontas for an hour to children and get paid for it? I was born ready.
Along with my internship here at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS), I also work as a part time preschool teacher. Therefore I know firsthand how difficult it can be to engage children for long periods of time. But with this program, every set of eyes is glued to my face.

We use both primary sources and replica artifacts to tell the story of Pocahontas and her people. John White’s watercolors illustrate the details of a Powhatan village—the various ways they procured fish and the Indian’s physical appearance. We also use John Smith’s map of Virginia to point out how close Werowocomoco and Jamestown were to each other and their close location to waterways. Various paintings of Pocahontas help children understand the difference between a primary and secondary source, and I always get squeals of surprise when they see Simon van de Passe’s portrait of the Indian princess in Elizabethan clothing.

VHS educator showing off replica artifacts during a HistoryConnects program

Replica artifacts combined with the green screen technology help bring history to life!

The artifacts play a huge factor in keeping the children’s attention simply because Indian stuff is cool! With the little ones, I’ll ask who they thought built the houses and farmed the crops; the mommies or the daddies? I almost always get the daddies. The Powhatan women not only built the houses but also owned them and did all the farming, except for tobacco. At a young age, children see certain tasks as male and female oriented. I like to use history to break them out of that way of thinking. They also get really excited when I show them all the various things the Indians would make once they killed an animal. From a white tailed deer, the Powhatans could cook supper, make a garden hoe from its shoulder bone, create arrow tips from the antlers, boil down its hoof to make glue, whittle a sewing needle, and even make fish hooks from their toe bones! This is a great way to explain to children the importance of not being wasteful, and it can be tied into lessons on recycling and taking care of the planet.
Of all the times I’ve given this program, one particular class sticks out in my memory. In mid February I came into work a little early to talk with a group of five and six year olds from England, the farthest country HistoryConnects had ever connected with! And those kids were adorable. They wore matching purple school uniforms, sat crisscross on the multi-colored carpet and had the cutest questions, such as: “Did Pocahontas make the men’s tea?” Priceless.


A portrait engraving of Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe, 1616. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 1993.192)

I couldn’t be happier with my time spent here at the VHS as Rotary intern. Not only did I get to share my knowledge and love for a favorite Virginia figure, but I also was able to contribute to the growth of HistoryConnects by creating a new program on the life of George Washington for first grades, coming soon to a class near you!

Learn more about HistoryConnects by visiting our website or reading previous blog posts.

Rotary International LogoThe VHS would like to thank the Rotary Club of Richmond for funding the 2013-2014 Rotary Club of Richmond student intern.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.

Hiking the AT vs. The Exploits of Admiral Richard E. Byrd


On the eve of leaving my position at the Virginia Historical Society to pursue my goal of Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect upon my motivations for hiking, and in doing so, look at the life of one of Virginia’s most renowned explorers, Admiral Richard E. Byrd. In doing this, I’d also like to consider the relevance his travels have on my own impending adventure. Not to embellish too much, but a lot of the initial motivation for choosing to devote the next four to six months of my life to hiking is simply to see if I can do it. In his book, Alone, Byrd states:

“Above everything else . . . I really wanted to go for experience’s sake . . . to know that kind of experience to the full, to be by [my]self for a while and to taste peace and quiet and solitude long enough to find out how good [I] really [am]” (pp. 3–4).

Everything the Admiral did, he did in style (Seen here in a hood that resides within the VHS holdings)

Everything the Admiral did, he did in style (Seen here in a parka that resides within the VHS holdings – VHS accession number: 1993.95.15)

Fortunately for me, the adventure I hope to pursue does not involve nearly the amount of peril that Byrd faced. Nor does it require nearly the amount of detail in planning, nor coordination of resources and manpower (many have said these were Byrd’s greatest strengths). That noted, I’ll still need to account for my own most basic needs without relying on others, a steady income, or the convenience of a non-primitive environment (unfortunately restaurants and other amenities will be few and far between). In an ever more convenience-oriented world, I hope to use this opportunity to develop the discipline required in planning everything from healthy food and water consumption (what is light and nutritious to eat, how do I keep my water free of giardia and other water borne pathogens?) to the shelter that I sleep in at night. Needless to say, technology has advanced considerably since Byrd’s era, and the conditions where I’ll be are considerably more forgiving than the arctic; but without taking the time to plan these things, the chances of successfully completing the goal are minimal.

Just as important as being able to develop and follow through with a plan is being able to deviate from that plan if the situation calls for it. According to Alone, during Byrd’s second Antarctic trip, he suffered for several months from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by running a gasoline powered engine in the poorly ventilated shack he had constructed to study weather conditions. Rather than risk the lives of others by calling for help (once more this is in -60 degree temperatures in Antarctica), he continued reporting his weather findings as planned via radio until others inferred he was ill from his progressively nonsensical messages. Had he deviated from such planned reports or admitted his condition, assuredly the illness would have been treated sooner, thereby ending his stated mission momentarily. It’s also probable that the defective ventilation could’ve been remedied with the help of his comrades, thereby allowing him to continue reporting the weather. Needless to say, it is always a good idea to have a back up plan for your back up plan—or, even better, to have general/adaptable guidelines that can be molded to fit differing situations. So, just because an Appalachian Trail trip plan says that I’m hiking one hundred miles one week, it doesn’t mean that I have to hike those one hundred miles, so long as I keep a lifeline at home informed of my whereabouts and adapted trip plans.

Ultimately, the thing I hope most to take away from my time spent hiking in the woods is a greater appreciation for the world I live in; not only the natural wonder of the places I will visit along the way but also everything from the love of the people I leave behind to the seemingly basic comforts of warm running water and a bed. Byrd writes about his time in his Antarctic shack:

“I should have time to catch up, to study and think . . . and for maybe seven months, remote from all the simplest distractions, I should be able to live exactly as I chose, obedient to no necessities but those imposed by the wind and night and cold, and to no man’s laws but my own” (Alone, p. 7).

So, though romantic, his words ring true. I, as he did, will have more than ample opportunity to reflect on my life, on the world around me, on the relationships I share with others, and hopefully all will be enriched as a result of the journey.

One of many beautiful overlooks to be found in the Appalachian Mountains.  Unfortunately the trail does not pass over Old Rag Mountain.

One of many beautiful overlooks to be found in the Appalachian Mountains. Unfortunately the trail does not pass over Old Rag Mountain. (Photo by Matthew Chaney)

Interested to learn more about the Appalachian Trail, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, or other great explorers from Virginia history [see: Lewis and Clarke]? I won’t be there, but don’t let that dissuade you from visiting the library at the Virginia Historical Society to get your research on!

Matthew Chaney is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.

Virginia Voices Visits Tangier – Documenting a Disappearing Island


The following blog was written by Jeff Boedeker, senior producer at BPI, and producer of the Virginia Historical Society’s new documentary, “Virginia Voices.”  To add your story to our film, visit

In the 1954 classic film, Brigadoon, Gene Kelly plays a New Yorker who visits the Scottish highlands to do a bit of hunting. He wanders through heather, fog, and mist only to find a magical town that appears once every one hundred years. The people of Brigadoon are cheerful, their costumes colorful, and their way of life is refreshingly simplified. But they live in the shade of a dark possibility: if one of their own crosses the bridge and leaves Brigadoon, the entire town will evaporate and be lost forever to the mists of time.

The view from here: Virginia Voices visits Tangier Island, March 2014

My name is Jeff Boedeker, and I’m the senior producer for BPI Productions. Currently I’m producing the Virginia Historical Society’s new film, Virginia Voices. My film crew is on the road, touring the state of Virginia, and reaching out to far-flung localities to make sure that they’re included on our film’s website, The journey led us to the remote location of Tangier Island, just twelve miles west of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

The people of Tangier warmly greeted us with their authentic Elizabethan accents,

“Welcome to the island.”

We rented a golf cart and set out in the inclement weather to begin our search for folks who were willing to be interviewed for our film. The elements were against us as we faced chilling rain and low temperatures.

Freezing temperatures were the first to greet our film crew. Left to Right: Nic Donnelly and Jeff Boedeker of Virginia Voices.

Because it is the off season for crabbing and oysters, we were able to find many islanders who were available and willing to chat with us. Most were hunkered down, passing the time and waiting for the next season to begin. We followed the story of a waterman who retrieves rockets for NASA. We also interviewed a retired school principal and the mayor of Tangier.

Former school principle, Danny Crockett, now runs the general store on Tangier Island.

Many expressed their deep concerns for population decline and loss of land as the waters of the bay rise around them. Fishing licenses are limited. The young residents of Tangier must seek work on the mainland or as tug and shipping boat operators. The lack of sea wall around the island is causing much erosion. It seems that the elements and reality itself are stacked against the people of this tiny island.

On the Chesapeake Bay with Virginia Voices

Where does one begin to accurately document a disappearing land and its people? We came, we saw, and we filmed as many interviews as we could. We witnessed the rich heritage and history of a place where many Americans will never visit. I clutched the rail of the ferry headed back to Crisfield, Maryland, trying to keep my balance, my belongings and my lunch in check as we left the tiny island of Tangier in the rain and in the midst of ten foot swells.

Tangier Island crab pots are stored for the season.

In the United States, where culture is homogenized and our future identity dictated by big box stores and shopping malls, it is remarkable to hear the clear voice of Tangier and to witness their very pronounced culture. I don’t know how to save Tangier from the mists of time, but I know that my Virginia Voices film crew will return to get more interviews and more footage of this important island and its vanishing way of life.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.

Unknown No Longer: Remember the Women


Since 1987 the United States has observed Women’s History Month officially as a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture, and society. I have been working with the collection of Sarah Harriet Apphia Hunter (1822-1874) of Essex County, Virginia. She was the youngest of four sisters who lived at the Fonthill plantation. Her three-part diary, correspondence, account books, receipts, slave inventories, hiring records and lists illuminate areas of history that provide a glimpse into plantation society where a female presided.

List of Sarah Harriet Apphia Hunter (VHS call number: Mss1.H9196a.FA2.Box28.Ser13.Fdr1b_001_small)She recorded the births and deaths of slaves as well as mother-children groupings. In particular, I became fascinated with the detailed lists of gift and supplies she distributed among her enslaved workforce. What must it have been like to receive calicos, flannels, petticoats, old dresses, bonnets, and aprons? What prompted her to give such an array when most slave owners provided so little? Even after slavery ended Sarah kept records of the freedpeople’s hours and wages. Her records are filled with notes about the people who enabled her to live comfortably. Among the enslaved women Sarah listed I learned of Sappeana who had five children; Martha Ann was one of her children; another offspring was William who was born in 1841. And another offspring of Sappeana’s who was born in 1839 contracted the mumps in 1859. We just made available in the Unknown No Longer database an 1846 bond.

Of course, if you want to see more, stay tuned as we are always updating the site. And our library is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Hunter documents are located in Mss1H9196a FA2 Box 28 Series 13 Folder 1a – 1c. Working with these documents gave me the opportunity to review Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s classic, Within the Plantation Household, Black and White Women of the Old South, (1988) and Patricia Morton’s edited edition, Discovering the Women in Slavery (1996).

Unknown No Longer main imageWhat a pleasure this has been to discover through these records the Virginia women, both enslaved and slave-owning, who were entrapped in slavery created by a benevolent slave owner and subsequent employer. We are delighted to bring this bit of history to you!

The Unknown No Longer database continues to grow as new names are added.  Please visit the database website and discussion board at

Created Equal: Slavery by Another Name


I began my career at the Virginia Historical Society almost thirty years ago as an archivist. In 1987, I processed a collection of papers of Leon M. Bazile, a Hanover County native, lawyer, legislator, and judge of Virginia’s 15th judicial circuit. Bazile’s name may be familiar to you.  He was the judge who sentenced Mildred and Richard Loving each to a year in prison for violating the state’s ban on interracial marriage and suspended the sentences when the couple agreed to leave the state. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Bazile’s decision in the landmark ruling, Loving v. Virginia. As I processed the papers, I kept an eye open for materials related to the case but found very little.

VHS call number: Mss1.B3483a.FA21944_3Dec1944

Excerpt of letter from Arthur Page to Judge Leon M. Bazile.

What I did find however was something I hadn’t expected. The collection contained dozens of letters written to Bazile by inmates who had been convicted in his court. Most often, these letters contained pleas for reductions in sentence and support for pardons. Many were sent from the state prison on Spring Street and the state farm in Goochland, but others were written from the state’s convict road camps. At these camps, state and local prisoners worked on the highways. One letter in particular caught my attention—a letter written by Arthur Page requesting a conditional pardon because of an injury he received working on the roads.

Page wrote:

“I was sent to a road camp #7 in Strausburg Va. And was working under Sergt. F. B. Bishop While working in the quarry I was struck in the right eye with a small piece of rock and loss the entire sight of my right eye.”

For much of the twentieth century, convicts worked on Virginia’s roads. This practice grew out of the convict lease system that began right after the Civil War. Virginia and other southern states leased convicts for profit. Most were African American. Virginia provided convicts to railroads, quarries, and the James River and Kanawha Canal Company. The practice served several purposes—raising revenue, alleviating overcrowding in jails, and controlling a newly emancipated black population. Leased convicts often faced hardships and cruel treatment. An 1881 report claimed that the death rate in the convict camps of the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad was seven times higher than the death rate for inmates inside the penitentiary.

Nonetheless, historian Matthew J. Mancini, author of One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866–1928, cites Virginia as an exception to the rule. Many Virginians opposed convict leasing, and the practice began to taper off in the 1890s. In 1906, however, the General Assembly established the State Highway Commission and set up a system of convict road camps operated jointly by the commission and the penitentiary. Convict roadwork became the last vestige of the lease system.

This was not the case in most other southern states. Unlike Virginia, many former Confederate states had no prisons at the close of the Civil War. Determined to maintain control over a large free black population, they coerced thousands of innocent men and women into forced labor between the 1870s and 1940s. Many were charged with offenses such as vagrancy, brought before a county judge and fined. When they could not pay the fine and court fees, a sentence was determined and the convicts leased out to turpentine camps, coal mines, and railroads as well as individual farmers.

On Thursday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m., the VHS will explore convict leasing in the South by showing the documentary film Slavery by Another Name. A facilitated discussion follows. Based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning book by Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name tells the stories of black men who were unfairly imprisoned and subjected to deadly working conditions as convict laborers between the 1870s and the Second World War. The documentary is one of four being shown at the VHS in 2014 as part of the Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle film/discussion series. Underwritten by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities through its Bridging Cultures initiative and offered in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Created Equal uses the power of documentary films to encourage communities to re-examine the meaning of civil rights in America in the twenty-first century.

The film screenings and public programming are hosted by the VHS in partnership with the Richmond Peace Education Center and supported in part by the Gay Community Center of Richmond’s VHS Guy Kinman Research Award.

The second film, The Loving Story, will be shown on June 19.

For more information please contact Bill Obrochta, manager of educational services, at 804.342.9651 or You can also check the calendar on the Society’s website,

VHS Created Equal

Bill Obrochta  is the manager of educational services at the Virginia Historical Society.

Image credits – Slavery by Another Name (Jon Van Amber and Omni Studio); The Loving Story (photo by Grey Villet); Freedom Riders (Birmingham Civil Rights Institute/Mississippi Department of Archives & History); The Abolitionists (©WGBH Educational Foundation/Antony Platt)

Baseball Jersey and Catcher’s Mitt


One in 8.5 Million

The Virginia Historical Society has been collecting since 1831. Included in our unique collection are 8-million processed manuscripts, 200,000 books, 290,000 prints and photographs, and 32,000 museum objects documenting the daily lives and times of all Virginians. The object featured here offers one opportunity to look into the past. Millions more treasures await you at our headquarters in Richmond, by appointment at Virginia House, and online at

Baseball Jersey and Catcher’s Mitt

Baseball Jersey, c. 1930, wool. (Virginia Historical Society, 2007.11.1.A, purchased though through the William Anderson Hagey Fund)

Baseball Jersey, c. 1930, wool. (Virginia Historical Society, 2007.11.1.A, purchased though through the William Anderson Hagey Fund)

Catcher’s Mitt, c. 1930, Wilson, leather and steel. (Virginia Historical Society, 2007.11.2, purchased through the William Anderson Hagey Fund)

Catcher’s Mitt, c. 1930, Wilson, leather and steel. (Virginia Historical Society, 2007.11.2, purchased through the William Anderson Hagey Fund)

This jersey worn by Tyler Phenix of Kenbridge, Virginia, is a typical example of baseball uniforms from the 1930s. Made of wool, it would have been especially hot in summer. The blue felt “K” represented his team’s hometown. Phenix went onto to play for and manage many teams. As a catcher, Phenix used this webbed catcher’s mitt that, because of a rise in hand injuries, had replaced the fingerless leather gloves of the previous decade.

The Virginia Historical Society’s Role in Richmond’s Impending Zombie Apocalypse: How the Past Can Help the Future



Zombies have become an inescapable part of pop culture in the past decade. They feature prominently in numerous successful films like World War Z, television series like The Walking Dead, and they find their way into a remarkable amount of media and literature. Zombies are so widespread they even feature prominently on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website! It appears the zombie apocalypse is unavoidable, so I have decided to see what the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) can offer when that day arrives.

First and foremost, the society’s goal is to preserve the state’s history, and it will always be best suited to do that. If the building itself is abandoned until the zombies are gone (an optimistic prediction), many of our valuable treasures and historic resources will be preserved for future generations. That being said, if the zombie outbreak occurs right at our doorstep and we do not have the luxury of choosing our stronghold, this is how things would likely unfold.



As our patrons descend upon us in a more ravenous fashion than usual, we could all reasonably assume the zombie apocalypse has finally happened. Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide (not a part of the collections, but available online and at most book retailers) provides invaluable instructions for such a situation, and it clearly outlines how to proceed. Because of the copious amount of windows on the first floor, we would be forced to retreat to the second floor and start barricading the stairwells. Fortunately, along with the large amounts of furniture on hand, there is also a healthy stock of tools and handy supplies such as plywood and 2x4s kept by the maintenance staff. Once the barricades were up and the immediate danger passed, we would know to start stockpiling water from the numerous bathrooms. Then it would be time to take stock of the VHS’s strengths and weakness.

The VHS has a considerable supply of first aid materials and as mentioned before a wide range of tools for any maintenance needs. We also have invaluable human resources, as several staff members are CERC (Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication) certified and would have exceptional knowledge and the ability to lead in any disaster situation. A natural gas-run electrical generator provides power for our most crucial needs once the electricity goes out, and a small fleet of cars and a dump truck provide escape and reconnaissance options. Furthermore the society’s large, four story building offers the safety of height and would allow us to focus our defenses considering there are only a few stairwells.

As for manning those defenses, the VHS does have a variety of weaponry available to battle the undead. 2013.5.8_StoryOfVA_084

We boast a magnificent collection of muskets, but no powder or ammunition. They are best served as clubs and spears (with attached bayonets). Our assortment of swords will prove quite useful as well, as they won’t discriminate between the living and the undead any more than they would a gray and a blue coat. A sleek saber, such as the one below, would give its wielder some elegance in disposing of the dead, whereas a naval cutlass is a shorter blade made for close-quarters hacking.




Things could get messy…

A pike, like this one that John Brown attempted to arm slaves with during his infamous failed raid on Harpers Ferry, would hopefully see more success in keeping zombies pinned away from its handler.


If only we had John Brown around to scare off the zombies.

If all else fails, there are substantial amounts of grain alcohol and acetone in our conservation lab, which could be used to fuel Molotov cocktails.

The VHS library contains a few real gems for the apocalypse. Francis P. Porcher’s Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical, and Agricultural (call number: C.I. 3041) offers a plethora of helpful uses for plants found in and around Virginia. A 1937 Red Cross first-aid textbook (call number: RC 87 R313 1937) could prove helpful in a pinch. Unsurprisingly, though, the majority of the VHS’s resources are dated and inapplicable for the present situation. I risk my job by suggesting they are best served as fuel.

Unfortunately, there are serious dangers to using the VHS as a zombie-proof fortress. Apart from a couple vending machines, the building has little to no food supplies. The location is less than ideal as well. The Map of the Dead (another helpful online resource for mapping the Zombie Apocalypse) points out many useful resources near the VHS, such as convenience stores, pharmacies, and hospitals.


However, all of those resources are ultimately not enough to outweigh the fact that the best place to be during a zombie apocalypse is far, far away from population centers. Therefore, we can only suggest the VHS as a temporary refuge and supply stop on your way out of Richmond. Stick around too long and you’re history!

Tony Walters is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 269 other followers