Mystery Over Defacement of Pocahontas Plaque

Unclear whether daubing of black paint on a memorial was a protest

The figure of Pocahontas has been painted over. Picture: Chris Longhurst

March 28, 2024

The memorial plaque to Pocahontas on London Road has been daubed with black paint although it remains unclear if this was done as an act of straightforward vandalism or a protest.

The damage was done at some point on or around 23 March which is generally believed to have been the date of her death in 1617. The plaque was unveiled on this day in 2017 on the 400th anniversary.

The black paint covers the head and head-dress of Pocahontas as well as the arch of flying feathers that rise up from the plaque that was originally designed by local ceramicist Claire Ireland.

The plaque is on the wall around Syon Park on the property of Northumberland Estates which says the police have been informed and that it will employ a specialist stonemason to investigate how it might be repaired. It will be working with the council to arrange the restoration of the memorial.

The paint appears to have been applied quite meticulously rather than in a haphazard fashion leading to suggestions that the act was carried out as some sort of protest although, at this stage, nobody has come forward to claim responsibility or explain their reasoning.

The plaque unveiling was carried out by HRH The Duke of Gloucester in the presence of members of the Indian tribes from Richmond Virginia where Pocahontas was born. Recently deceased council leader Steve Curran also made a speech at the unveiling at the spot which is believed to be across the road from a villa where Pocahontas stayed. He said, “She was an early role model for many because of her stand against racism, sexism and ageism in her time and I’m delighted that together with the Thames Landscape Strategy, we now have a lasting memorial to commemorate the links between Pocahontas and our borough.”

Schools in Isleworth were invited to take part in a special art competition to mark the event.

The plaque before it was defaced (left). Picture: Jim Linwood. The plaque afterwards (right). Picture: Chris Longhurst

A spokesperson for Northumberland Estates and Syon Park said, “It is very disappointing to see that the commemorative plaque dedicated to Pocahontas has been vandalised. She lived opposite the grounds of Syon House and is a part of Hounslow's rich history. It is our hope that the plaque can be restored as soon as possible, and we are supportive of any measures taken to do so.”

Local resident Chris Longhurst said, "My wife was present when the plaque was unveiled and remembers what a positive and happy event it was - especially getting to see members of the Richmond Virginia Indian tribes in person.

"The plaque has stood as a fitting tribute to commemorate the area's links to such a famous historical figure for many years without incident and for someone to suddenly decide now to deface it in this way is completely nonsensical and deeply upsetting.

"There is no justification for such wanton vandalism and I really hope the damage can be repaired swiftly and that those responsible are made to pay for their actions."

The Duke of Gloucester, representatives of the Richmond Virginia Indian Tribes and Councillor Ajmer Grewal, Mayor of Hounslow
The Duke of Gloucester, representatives of the Richmond Virginia Indian Tribes and Councillor Ajmer Grewal, Mayor of Hounslow

Pocahontas, whose real name Matoaka, is best known today for her association with Captain John Smith although the nature of their relationship as portrayed in the Disney film is disputed by historians. Some Indian traditions suggest that, rather than being a friend to the settlers, she was victimised and exploited by them. However, her mediation does seem to have led to better relations between the immigrants and native peoples.

She married a tobacco merchant called John Rolfe in 1614 and came to England with her son Thomas to promote the colony in Jamestown. It was during this time she lived in Brentford as well as meeting King James I. She fell ill and died on her way back to her homeland.

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