Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry continues her series on descendants of the Jamestown settlers, focusing on a descendant of Pocahontas. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.
Today I continue with my “Jamestown Descendants: Who’s Who” series, focusing on Catherine Chamber Barnes (1938-2009), a double descendant of John Rolfe and Pocahontas – 10th generation from her father’s line and 11th generation from her mother’s. Rolfe married Pocahontas, also known by her Christian name “Lady Rebecca,” in Virginia in 1614.
Other Jamestown notables in Catherine’s family tree include James Williamson, William Underwood, John Bolling, William Hatcher, Christopher Newport, William Bassett, Robert Dudley, and Christopher Robinson. The Jamestowne Society has a list which is linked at the end of this article.
In 1962 the Virginian-raised Catherine, born to William Chambers Barnes and Louise Gay Stubbs, reached celebrity status when she portrayed her ancestor Pocahontas for the Jamestown Festival Park’s 350th anniversary celebration marking John Rolfe’s first planting of a tobacco crop, which rescued the Jamestown Colony from economic collapse.
I found some smoking tidbits on the weed that saved Jamestown by searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. These newspaper articles include photos of Catherine performing her role as Pocahontas during the re-enactments at Jamestown.
[Editor’s Note: the modern reader, made aware of the dangers of smoking, may be puzzled by the newspaper articles in this blog article that hail “sublime tobacco” as an economic miracle. Keep in mind these articles were all published in 1962 – Surgeon General Luther L. Terry’s report warning the nation of the health hazards caused by smoking was released in 1964.]
The tobacco enterprise, coupled with Rolfe’s perseverance and ingenuity, set the stage for English development in the New World and marked the beginning of the nation’s successful trade and commerce. Additionally, Rolfe’s marriage to Pocahontas brought a period of peace with the Indians.
According to the Virginian-Pilot, Pocahontas’ great contribution to Rolfe’s success in making tobacco the hottest commodity ever was her knowledge of how to grow the weed, which she learned from her Indian family.
This article reported:
“A tablespoon of tobacco seed can produce enough plants for a five-acre field.
“An even smaller amount was used 350 years ago this spring to start the first crop that established Jamestown as the first permanent English settlement in America, which anchored the development of the United States…
“Before [John] Rolfe left England [in 1609] he knew about tobacco, which was imported from Spanish Caribbean possessions. He and London smokers did not relish the harsh, biting taste of native Indian tobacco.
“Somehow Rolfe obtained a seed of sweet-scented tobacco from Trinidad. It is surmised that seed were smuggled to him by some ship crewman through the jealous guard the Spaniards kept over their tobacco monopoly.
“Although Rolfe was classed as a gentleman – those not supposed to work with their hands – he cleared wooded land and planted his tobacco seed. He cultivated the plants, watched them grow to a man’s height, then plucked and cured the leaves in late summer.”
His first shipment was sent to England aboard the ship Elizabeth, and this was the start of a booming venture that changed everything for the colony of Jamestown and America! More on this in my next story.
Another duty Catherine Barnes performed as Pocahontas was the unveiling of the statue of Queen Elizabeth I at the gateway to Jamestown Park during a “celebration marking the 350th anniversary of the beginning of the American tobacco industry.” A photo of Catherine and Mrs. Harrison, wife of Governor Albertis Harrison, appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch.
During the tobacco celebration, Governor Harrison paid high tribute to Rolfe and Pocahontas for saving the Jamestown colony.
This article reported:
“‘There is not a person within the sound of my voice who has not benefitted from the tobacco industry… this product of the free enterprise system,’ the Governor said. He mentioned the hospitals, schools, and recreational facilities which have been made possible by the leaf industry.
“The nation owes a great obligation to John Rolfe, he said.
“The celebration, arranged by the National Tobacco Institute and the Jamestown Foundation, commemorated the successful harvesting and sale of Rolfe’s tobacco crop in 1612. Success of Rolfe’s tobacco crop is credited with saving the Jamestown colony from economic collapse, and with paving the way for the spread of English law and parliamentary government in the New World.
“The beginning of the tobacco industry is also credited with being the beginning of the nation’s commerce and industry.”
And Queen Elizabeth, whom Virginia was named for (she was known as the “Virgin Queen”), was known to take a drag or two herself off a tobacco pipe. The Queen was instrumental in first making smoking acceptable. Sir Walter Raleigh was granted permission to instruct the ladies of her court how to smoke.
Catherine Barnes was 23 when she was picked to play the role of her ancestor Pocahontas. She later married William Ralph Stein, and the couple had three children and several grandchildren. Read an obituary for Catherine at Dignity Memorial.
View a video featuring both Catherine and another actress, Elizabeth Smith, as Pocahontas at U.S.A.: Jamestown Celebration 1962
Jamestowne Society list of qualifying ancestors: Jamestowne Society.
Stay tuned for more Jamestown stories!
Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in.
Note on the header image: a portrait of Pocahontas engraved by Simon van de Passe in 1616. It is the only known representation of her made during her lifetime. Credit: National Portrait Gallery; Wikimedia Commons.