Ye Olde Powhatan Oak

Published:October 18, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Our friends at the Library of Virginia call our attention to this day in 1937, when New Deal–era government workers wrote a report on the Old Powhatan Oak as part of something called the Historical Inventory Project. The project focused on listing buildings built before 1860 but workers “also wrote reports on cemeteries, antiques, historical events, and people and included transcriptions of historic documents.”

I don’t imagine too many trees made it in, but the Old Powhatan Oak, located at the naval base in Norfolk, did. Why? The locals believed that the oak—estimated to be as much as 350 years old—was the site where Pocahontas famously saved the life of John Smith. A few obvious problems with that: Powhatan, who allegedly ordered Smith’s death, didn’t live near present-day Norfolk. And, as our entry on Pocahontas asserts, whatever happened, it likely happened inside Powhatan’s house. Not that this has stopped artists from placing the scene in the open air, inserting an oak tree, and—why not?—even mountains!

Anyway, according to the Library, “the tree was alive and often photographed during the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition in 1907, but it was dead by the time of this report [i.e., 1937]. The tree no longer stands.”

The image above is a postcard from the Jamestown exposition. After the jump find the photograph taken by the Historical Inventory Project, as well as some other postcards.

PS: I’m dating myself: Doin’ the oak tree.