Pocahontas’ Son

Last night we watched The New World about the first English settlers at Jamestown. I was intrigued about the story of Pocahontas and for the most part in further research, it was about as accurate as it could be for an event that took place so long ago with few original documents. From a Smithsonian piece titled The True Story of Pocahontas, I picked up some new details and a few reality checks.

Pocahontas died in England where she was treated as the princess that she was. Born about 1596, her real name was Amonute, and she also had the more private name Matoaka. Pocahontas was her nickname, which depending on who you ask means “playful one” or “ill-behaved child.” Much that is known came from Captain John Smith who wrote about her many years later describing her as the beautiful daughter of a powerful native leader, who rescued him from being executed by her father. It’s disputed whether or not Pocahontas, who was only age 11 or 12, rescued Smith or did he possibly misinterpret a ritual ceremony, or worse take the tale from a popular Scottish ballad of the time.

Pocahontas grew up to be a clever and brave young woman, who served as a translator, ambassador and leader facing down European power. Pocahontas’ people could not possibly have defeated or even held off the power of Renaissance Europe. The Indians were facing extraordinarily daunting circumstances. Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom by the Colonists during hostilities in 1613. During her captivity, she was encouraged to convert to Christianity and was baptized under the name Rebecca.

It was during her captivity in the settlement called Henricus, that Pocahontas met John Rolfe. She married the tobacco planter in April 1614 at about the age of 17 or 18 and she bore him a son, Thomas Rolfe in January 1615. Their marriage created a climate of peace between the Jamestown colonists and Powhatan’s tribes that endured for eight years and was known as the “Peace of Pocahontas.” The birth of Thomas Rolfe, as he was both of European and Native American descent, reinstated peace between the Powhatans and the European settlements. Early in his career as deputy governor, Samuel Argall reported in a letter published within the Virginia Company Records that Powhatan “goes from place to place visiting his country taking his pleasure in good friendship with us laments his daughter’s death but glad her child is living so doth opachank”.

The marriage was controversial in the British court at the time because “a commoner” had “the audacity” to marry a “princess”. According to Rolfe, when she was dying, she said, “all must die, but tis enough that her child liveth”. In the movie, Rolfe is depicted carrying Thomas, their two year old son in his arms, as he was going back to Virginia but that is the most inaccurate part I am aware of. Here is where the story merits mention in this blog about adoption. At the time Pocahontas died, Thomas was sick as well. His father, fearing his young son would not survive the sea voyage, appointed Sir Lewis Stukley as his guardian March 21, 1617. Stuckley later transferred custody and care of Thomas Rolfe to his uncle, Henry Rolfe.

This likely saved his life as his father, John Rolfe died in the Indian massacre of 1622. Also known as the Jamestown Massacre. A contemporary account claims the Powhatan had come “unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us”. The Powhatan then grabbed any tools or weapons available and killed all the English settlers they found, including men, women, and children of all ages. Chief Opechancanough led the Powhatan Confederacy in a coordinated series of surprise attacks; they killed a total of 347 people, a quarter of the population of the Virginia colony.

In his will, John Rolfe had appointed his father in law, William Pierce, as executor of his estate and guardian of his 2 children, Thomas and Elizabeth (by a subsequent marriage). Thomas remained in his uncle’s care until he reached roughly 21 years of age. Sometime before June 1635, Thomas returned to Virginia, his transportation paid for by his Virginia guardian and grandfather by marriage, William Pierce. Once established in Virginia, Thomas Rolfe fostered both his reputation as a plantation owner and as a member of his mother’s lineage. He expressed interest in rekindling relations with his Native American relatives, despite societal ridicule and laws that forbade such contact. In 1641, Rolfe petitioned the governor for permission to visit his “aunt, Cleopatra, and his kinsman, Opecanaugh”.

The date of his death after a life filled with service to the crown and land acquisition is not totally known but has been thought to be around 1685.

As an aside, my mom was born in the Richmond Virginia general area in 1937. It is known that her mother’s family, the Starks, immigrated from Scotland arriving at Stafford County Virginia. As her husband seems to have taken leave of her to return to his mother and other children in Arkansas, it appears my grandmother’s father may have thought her husband had abandoned her. Embarrassed that she was obviously with child and no husband to be seen, I suspect there were still members of the Stark family in Virginia and that is why she was sent there to give birth (and I assume, he hoped she would relinquish her baby there but she did not and brought her back to Memphis, where the two of them fell into the clutches of Georgia Tann). Therefore, I do feel genetic familial roots in Virginia and know that one of my Stark ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War because they arrived here before that began. Later some Starks migrated to Tennessee where my maternal grandmother was born.

They Always DO Grow Up

A question was asked – when adopting a child, particularly a baby, do the adoptive parents ever think about what will happen when that child is an adult ? And by that I mean after the parents are dead. Will that child have a legacy or a family or a tribe (other than their friends if they are lucky enough to have friends) or partners to last a lifetime ?

The person posing the question goes on to wonder – did you ever think, will your child when they are an adult, get what they need or deserve from family property ? Do you really think that your adult will hold onto a claim to your family ? When everyone is sitting around talking about Aunt Jenny, how will that make your adult child feel ?

One response was this –  you adopted a child to love, that does not automatically extend to other people, who may not feel the same way as you, the adoptive parent, when it comes to sharing an inheritance or even in how they actually feel about the adopted kid. Lots of families and other people “play along” with the game of pretending the adopted child is the same as if you had given birth to them for the adoptive parents sake. Sadly, there have been cases of adoptees who have been denied family keepsakes, etc after the adoptive parents’ death specifically because of the adoption. Adoptees told they are not worthy because the charade is over.

Adoption in most cases is very much about the baby. The savior/hero thought process of most adoptive parents focuses on the baby/child. It’s such a short term view of a real person and their entire life.

I found this story very interesting – So I’m adopted: my grandfather left me a trust fund and none of the biological grandchildren have one. They all contested his will. They didn’t understand why I received a trust fund. However, they did all receive some money from his estate. I was the one who saw my grandfather weekly and never asked for money or anything. He would take me out for dinner and always slip me a $20.00 for gas. I was always grateful. I loved my grandfather best because he was like me – his parents died and he was abandoned with his brother. So we both had that hole in our souls. When he was dying, I made sure I was there with him. I was the product of a forced adoption and I have an adopted son (from foster care). He will receive a portion of the trust from my grandfather and the trust will be split with my husband. I made certain to set it up for everyone five ways. My adoptive parents are still alive and the will they have created is so stupid that I just cannot. However, I will get some amount monthly until I die, then my remaining money goes to their own blood relatives and is divided up among them. My kids will receive nothing. When I’ve shared the will with a few close friends, they are all like WTF ! The way my adoptive parents hold money over my head, even at this stage and age, is so annoying and uncalled for ! I wish people realized you cannot be buried with your money.

This really spoke to me on more than one level. I don’t know what the laws are now but when my mom’s adoptive parents created a generation skipping trust, my mom told me that it was against the law for adoptive parents to disinherit adopted children. So, my mom and her also adopted brother, received income from the trust but cannot cash it out. However, my mom also struggled with the way her wealthy adoptive mother held money over her head. I also experienced that when I went to England with my adoptive grandmother. I had very little in the way of spending money. She was like – I paid for this trip, be grateful (as I watched her spend freely on her self). It’s not like she had to directly earn that money with hard work. My grandparents got in on the ground floor of Circle K when it first started. It made them wealthy as the stock appreciated. My grandfather retired as a vice president of a bank. He died at a relatively young age – in his 60s. My grandmother lived 3 decades longer on those funds and traveled the world and was always giving money away in philanthropy. I think she did it to earn respect. She actually grew up poor.

One more story and I have to end this for today – my son was placed at 4 days with his adoptive family. He is now 33. Typical closed domestic infant adoption. He lived with and cared for his maternal adoptive grandparents for the last five years. They both passed on either side of Christmas. His grandmother’s literal last words were “don’t kick him to the curb”. She must have sensed what was coming. The family gave him to the end of March (about 3 months) to move out. Once he was out of his grandparents house, he will continue to get paid $500/month but only for a year. They want to basically be done with him. That’s how his adoption ended. Thankfully, he has moved “home” with me and I am happy to have all of my kids back. We’re planting fruit trees now. I changed my own final documents years ago to provide for all four of my children equally.

How Poverty Affects Adoptions

I don’t know if anyone has done a study on the percentage of children given up for adoption due to simple poverty (and poverty is not simple, I realize this).  I know it was a factor in both of my grandmothers losing custody of my parents and it was certainly a factor in my losing custody of my daughter.  Divorce and lack of child support left me desperate enough to temporarily leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother.  That ended up with her staying with her dad and a step-mother for the remainder of her childhood.  It was a factor in my sister losing custody of her daughter – she was denied government assistance because she was living with my parents during her pregnancy.  Therefore, because they didn’t want financial responsibility for my sister and her child, they pressured her to surrender her daughter to adoption.  This is all in only my own family of birth.

Someone asked – Do you believe that financial illiteracy is the reason people are poor and that programs teaching life skills like checking, bank accounts, and savings would work to eliminate poverty ?  While these skills are useful for any maturing adult, I don’t think they would eliminate poverty. Rich people have bigger safety nets. Financial illiteracy is not the reason people are poor and there are rich people who don’t know how to manage their money as well.

Someone answered the question – why are people poor ? With this – Capitalism. Rich people exploit others to gain wealth, keep money/land/resources for themselves, create systems that work to their advantage (and poor people’s disadvantage), pass it on to their kids who in turn use their wealth to get richer. Scarcity mindset is real and in my experience rich people are the most paranoid about losing any wealth. There is more than enough to take care of each other but our system doesn’t by choice. Some people think “if only poor people managed their money, they could accumulate wealth.” This completely misunderstands how wealth is acquired and horded in this country.

Generational and systemic poverty plague the poor. How can you climb a ladder in a system built to make the rich richer and keep the poor poor ? Our economic system is built upon the 1% wanting to make that difference bigger every day.  How can anyone achieve socioeconomic upward mobility when your grandparents were poor.  Therefore, your parents had to sacrifice an education and instead find work to support themselves and their families.  Then their children end up in the exact same situation. The deck is simply stacked against the impoverished.  This tends to become a *major* generational trend.  Even assistance is created in such a way that it keeps the poor poor.

Case in point – Medicaid and Food Stamps. As soon as a person gets a non-minimum wage job, they lose  their benefits.  Without these, health care and groceries are significantly more expensive than slightly above minimum wage will cover. The result ?  You’ve either got a person making $20/hour, but barely making ends meet if at all.  Or a person without resources and access to food and healthcare, simply because they would rather be self-supporting.

One mother wrote – I gave up my first two kids to adoption because I was broke.  I didn’t know how much help shelters could be.  I kept my third child thanks to a shelter and I got on my feet.  I now have a place of my own for us to live in.  I wish I would have known how to keep my children before.

I do believe as a society we can do better than we have been doing.  I don’t know how we get there.  If we supported families adequately, children could remain where they want to be – in the family they were born into.

 

 

The Sin Of Being Poor

Georgia Tann felt disdain toward poor, white, single mothers directly related to their class difference.  She divided people into two types –

Poor people, including single “cow” mothers, were BAD.
Wealthy people “of a higher type” were GOOD.

Georgia believed that poor people were incapable of proper parenting. Their children needed to be rescued.  Tann could “save” them.  She did it by seizing them and placing
them for adoption.

It would appear that was her perspective regarding my maternal grandmother and the cause of my mom’s adoption.  My mom was not unwanted and her parents were married.  It was the Great Depression and there was a superflood affecting Memphis at the time my mom was born.  Her father, WPA, was out shoring up levees in Arkansas and couldn’t be reached quickly enough to save my mom from the inevitable.  Her mother never got over losing my mom.

In a 1935 article in the Memphis Press-Scimitar, Georgia Tann described the first time she placed children for adoption.  She was only 15 years old.  She had found two children in the corner of her father’s courtroom.

Rather than send them over to the Mississippi Children’s Home Society, she convinced a respectable Mississippi couple to adopt the 5 yr old boy and 3 yr old girl. In the newspaper article, Georgia didn’t reveal the process by which she separated the children from their birth parents.

Yet, her description of the family was indicative of her attitude –

“The father was a man of intelligence but of a mean disposition, who was always getting into trouble. The mother was an ‘ordinary’ woman, from a poor family.”  That was certainly true of both of my maternal grandparents.  Their only sin was poverty.

The children placed for adoption were sweet and attractive in appearance. The girl eventually received a degree in music.  Thanks to the financial resources of my mom’s adoptive parents, she also eventually received a degree in music from the University of Texas at El Paso and that began the profession she practiced for the remainder of her life, right up until her death.

The boy in Georgia Tann’s story received a law degree and practiced his profession as a lawyer.  My mom’s “brother” was also a Georgia Tann adoptee.  He didn’t become a lawyer but still leads the life he has chosen with financial support from his inheritance.

These early placements by Tann, including both my mom and her brother, were given opportunities of wealth and all of them made the most of it.  Some of her later efforts produced some horrific outcomes.  My mom and her brother were very lucky regarding the adoptive parents they received.  In no way would I say that the wounds of separation from their original mothers were not deep within each of them.

DNA & Paternity

It’s becoming very common for people who do the inexpensive DNA testing available today, utilizing the matching sites Ancestry or 23 and Me, to discover they are somehow a “surprise”, as in their father is not who they thought he was.

During my study into all things related to my own family origins I have read two books related to this kind of discovery – one by a man and one by a woman.  In the book by the man – The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir by Bill Griffeth – he is totally into genealogy, only to discover that he is the product of an affair (or in the age of #MeToo maybe it wasn’t totally a complicit situation) between his mother and her boss.

The other book by a woman – Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro – describes her discovery that the legendary Jewish heritage that she believed was hers – isn’t, when the percentage of Jewish genes she carries isn’t what it ought to be.

My dad’s mother was unwed and I thought it would be nearly impossible to determine who his father was.  A series of fortunate events uncovered him for me (after two suspects who turned out not to be him).  First a cousin tested at 23 and Me and wrote me that we had the same grandmother.  Then, another cousin through her had my grandmother’s photo albums in which she left us breadcrumbs.  Both in the headshot (shown above) with a name attached and in how she named my dad with the same name.

Interestingly, 8 month before that, Ancestry told me someone was my cousin.  He finally replied to my inquiry – “I have no idea how we could be related, none of those surnames are familiar to me”.  I gave him the “new” one and he came back – my grandmother and your grandfather were brother and sister.

My paternal grandfather was a Danish immigrant.  That made my dad half Danish.  And it explained why my strongest genetic contribution was Dane.