Common Ancestors

Edith Wilson

Richard Byrd

Edward Norton


White Bollings


Family Trees



Modern Descendants of Pocohontas

This article was written to support the main story of our visit to Virginia in 2007.

Pocahontas is a bit of a problem for Virginia bluebloods. High society in the Commonwealth of Virginia has always been deeply concerned with bloodline and racial purity. The Racial Integrity Act, which prohibited interracial marriage, remained in force until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it in 1967, over a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in rebel states.

But Pocahontas was the daughter of a powerful chief, and she had been received in London at the Court of St. James. Her son Thomas grew up in England, and became a wealthy landholder when he emigrated to the United States. Therefore, his descendants have always been considered as a form of royalty — his mother was, after all, an American princess. (Never mind that American Indians reject this concept.)

The Racial Integrity Act defined a white person as one "who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian," known as the one-drop rule. In the mood of the time, society was only interested in white people. What, then, should they do with those who were proud of their descent from the "American princess," who obviously had non-white blood in their veins? These people were proud of their heritage; they were counted among many prominent Virginia families with names like Randolph, Harrison, Custis, and Jefferson. The Racial Integrity Act handled this with a clause known as the Pocahontas Exception. People with 1/16 or less American Indian blood could be considered white. This conveniently includes all descendants of Pocahontas from John Fairfax Bolling (1676–1729) onward.

So modern people can claim Pocahontas as a great grandmother, and Virginia would still consider them white. This mattered, because Virginia recorded every child's race on their birth certificate. Many people recorded as white would like to also claim they were related to Pocahontas, in the same fashion as others who like to boast that their family "arrived on the Mayflower." It would be harder to prove such a claim, if not for a rather thin line of descent at the beginning. Pocahontas and John Rolfe had only one child, Thomas Rolfe. In turn, he had only one daughter, who had only one son. That son also had only one child, the aforementioned Col. John Fairfax Bolling. If you're related to Pocahontas, you're also related to John Bolling. Simple as that. Three hundred years later, there are thousands of these people, but tracing their roots is at least a little bit simpler because of a hundred years' worth of only children.

Jane Rolfe (second generation) died from complications of childbirth. Her young widower, Robert Bolling, remarried a few years later, having nine more children with his second wife Ann Stith. Because they are descended from a Pocahontas in-law, people in this line are often counted as her descendants, too. This swells the number enormously, and incorrectly. To keep things clearer, Robert Bolling's descendants by Jane Rolfe are called Red Bollings because they have Indian blood. His descendants by Ann Stith are called White Bollings because they do not, at least not at this point in their family tree.

Other claims have arisen over the years, based on supposedly lost children or undocumented relationships. Because these people showed up "out of the blue," they are often called Blue Bollings. So together, they are all Red, White, and Blue Americans, just like the flag. In the social pecking order, the Red Bollings rank highest; they are the only ones who have "royal blood."

Pocahontas was not her given name; that was Matoaka. Pocahontas is a nickname that means, among other things, playful. If she were here today, it seems likely that Matoaka would be amused by all the fuss.

Edith Wilson, Harry and Richard Byrd, and Edward Norton, have already been presented as Red-Bolling descendants of Pocahontas. Their bloodlines are shown here. Since all direct descendants have the first four generations in common, that part of the family tree is only shown once. People in the direct line of descent are in the left column; the right column is for their husbands and wives.

Four Generations in Common



John Rolfe
m. 1614



Thomas Rolfe

There are claims he had a first wife in England and left descendants there. Though not the primary group, people who claim this line are also called Blue Bollings.

Jane Poythress
m. 1640



Jane Rolfe

Died shortly after giving birth to John. Her descendants are called Red Bollings.

Robert Bolling
m. 1675

Descendants by his second wife Ann Stith are called White Bollings because they don't share Pocahontas' DNA.



Col. John Fairfax Bolling

Member Va. House of Burgesses


Bloodline to Edith Wilson


Col. John Fairfax Bolling

Mary Elizabeth Kennon



Maj. John Kennon Bolling

Possible progenitor of Blue Bollings through children not mentioned in his will.

Elizabeth Blair

Niece of James Blair, first president of College of William & Mary



John William Bolling

Alcoholic, which caused much trouble in the family. Drank himself to death.

Mary Jefferson
m. 1760

Thomas Jefferson's sister



Archibald Bolling, Sr.

Catherine Payne

Distant relative of Martha Washington



Dr. Archibald Bolling

Anne Elizabeth Wigginton
m. 1835

Although crippled and bedridden, she homeschooled Edith because of her shyness.



William Holcomb Bolling

Riches to rags, lost plantation after the Civil War. Second career as a lawyer and judge in Wytheville, Va.

Sallie White



Edith White Bolling

Woodrow Wilson
m. 1915

28th president of US


Bloodline to Richard E. Byrd, Jr.


Col. John Fairfax Bolling

Mary Elizabeth Kennon



Maj. John Kennon Bolling

Possible progenitor of Blue Bollings

Elizabeth Blair

Niece of James Blair, first president of College of William & Mary



Col. Robert Bolling

Member Va. House of Burgesses
Poet, planter

Susanna Watson

Second wife; Robert Bolling also has a line of descent through his first wife Mary Burton.



Elizabeth Blair Bolling

Maj. Thomas West

Captain, American Revolutionary War



Eliza Bolling West

Dr. Joel Walker Flood



Col. Henry De La Warr Flood

Confederate army colonel

Mary Elizabeth Trent

Died 17 days after giving birth to Joel Walker Flood



Maj. Joel Walker Flood

Major in Confederate army
Picture hangs in Appomattox Co. Court House

Ella William Faulkner



Eleanor Bolling Flood

Richard Evelyn Byrd
m. 1886



RAdm. Richard E. Byrd, Jr.

Mary Donaldson Ames
m. 1915


Bloodline to Edward Norton


Col. John Fairfax Bolling

Mary Elizabeth Kennon



Jane Kennon Bolling

Richard Randolph
m. 1724

Great-uncle of Thomas Jefferson



Mary Randolph

Col. Archibald Cary



Jane Rogers Cary

Capt. Thomas Isham Randolph, Sr.

Uncle of Thomas Jefferson



Mary Isham Randolph

This marriage joined two notable Virginia families.

Randolph Harrison

This marriage joined two notable Virginia families.



Carter Henry Harrison

Janetta Ravenscroft Fisher



Henry Harrison

Jane St. Clair Cochran



George Moffett Harrison

Bettie Montgomery Kent

Born in Wythe County, Va., same as Edith Wilson



Joseph Kent Harrison

Cornelia Long Somerville



Betty Kent Harrison

Edward Mower Norton



Edward Mower Norton, Jr.

Environmental lawyer

Lydia Robinson Rouse
m. 1966

Cremated, disposition of ashes unknown



Edward Harrison Norton
b. 1969

Oscar nomination: best supporting actor "Primal Fear"
Private pilot

Shauna Robertson
b. 1975
m. 2012

Film producer



Robert Rolfe I
Robert Rolfe, of Sporle Eustace Rolfe, of Heachem
Thomas Rolfe John Rolfe, of Heachem
Clement Rolfe John Rolfe, Ancient Planter
m. Pocahontas and two others
Anthony Rolfe
3d cousin of Thomas Rolfe opposite
Thomas Rolfe 1615–1680
m. Eliz. Washington 1632, Jane Poythress 1640
Anna Rolfe Elwyn 1633–1678
m. Peter Elwyn III
Jane Rolfe Bolling 1650–1676

Someone named Thomas Rolfe married Elizabeth Washington in London in 1632. They had a daughter Anna, who married Peter Elwyn III and gave him several children. There are claims that this is the same Thomas Rolfe who was the son of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Elizabeth died in 1633, before Pocahontas' son returned to Virginia, where he married Jane Poythress in 1640.

If these claims are correct, the descendants of Peter Elwyn are also in Pocahontas' bloodline. Their story has it that Thomas Rolfe left his daughter Anna in the care of his cousin Anthony Rolfe, who adopted her. There are counter-claims that say the Thomas Rolfe in question was a different man, and the Elwyns are not in the bloodline of interest. Both sets of claims are based on family stories, with nothing substantial to back them up. The revised edition of Pocahontas' Descendants (see below) includes these people with the Red Bollings, but with a strong caveat and with an identifying mark for their entries in the family tree.

White Bollings

Ann Stith

In the second generation, Jane Rolfe Bolling died from complications of childbirth, leaving John Fairfax Bolling as her only child. Five years later, her husband Robert Bolling married Ann Stith, who gave him nine more children. Eight of them lived to adulthood; six of those had children.

People who are descended from this line are called White Bollings because their common ancestors were both white. If there is any American Indian DNA in them, it did not come from Pocahantas, but they are often said to be her descendants because they are descended from her grand-daughter's husband.

Notable White Bollings include these people. Hover on their names to see the bloodline to Robert and Ann Stith Bolling.

Mary Anna Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee

George H.W. and George W. Bush, 41st and 43d U.S. presidents


Blue Bollings and Others

In 1887, Virginia politician and historian Wyndham Robertson published a book about Pocahontas and her descendants, naturally including himself. This book has been revised a few times and is considered the definitive source on Pocahontas' genealogy. Shortly after this book appeared, some people complained that they had been left out. Supposedly, they were descendants of John Bolling and Elizabeth Blair (fourth generation), which would make them Red Bollings. Their claim was based on the premise that John and Elizabeth had about a dozen children who were lost from Robertson's records, and they were the descendants of this line. If true, this would make that one couple the parents of about thirty children! None of these people are mentioned in John Bolling's will, nor in any writings of him or his known children.

Since this group materialized "out of the blue," they have been called Blue Bollings. Another group claim that Robert Bolling and Jane Rolfe (second generation) had a daughter Rebecca, who married Michael Pendergrass and produced a line who should be credited as Red Bollings. While there was a person named Rebecca Pendergrass, there is no record connecting her to Jane Rolfe, who was only fourteen years older. Another group claims that Thomas Rolfe (Pocahontas' son) had a first wife in England and left descendants there. Finally, there are claims that Pocahontas had a husband, Kocoum, before she married John Rolfe, and that union produced a daughter, starting a new line. Of course, all the evidence is oral. These latter groups are also included with the Blue Bollings.

If all the Red, White, and Blue Bollings are counted, Pocahontas has had over 100,000 descendants so far. Not bad for a woman who lived only 21 years and had one child of her own.

These are just a handful of notable people who have been presented as descendants of Pocahontas.

Amelia Earhart, record-breaking female pilot. She was descended from Richard Warren, the same Mayflower passenger who is ancestor to Thoreau and others. It is not clear how this connects her to Pocahontas. There is a person named Elizabeth Walker among Earhart's ancestors, and another among Robert Bolling's descendants; but they are two different people. The White-Bolling Elizabeth was born in the 19th century. The one related to Earhart and Henry David Thoreau was married to Richard Warren, but she didn't accompany him on the Mayflower. His family followed him three years later, aboard the Anne.

Percival Lowell, astronomer who laid the groundwork to find the the dwarf planet Pluto. Lowell had a namesake ancestor nine generations back, who is also the progenitor of Herman Mellville, Dick Cheney, Tuesday Weld, Tennessee Williams, and others. But there is no discernible connection between any of these people and Pocahontas. This myth is examined in detail in a companion article.

John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona, presidential candidate. McCain and Edith Wilson have a common ancestor, but it is not Pocahontas.

Nancy Davis Reagan, wife of President Ronald Reagan. In his book The Great Polar Fraud, Anthony Galvin says that Nancy Reagan and John McCain are both descended from Robert Bolling. There are no grounds for this claim.

Henry David Thoreau, 19th-century American philosopher and author. Like Lowell, Thoreau has several well-known distant cousins who share a common ancestor from the Mayflower Compact. Also like Lowell, no visible tie to Pocahontas.

Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute (now University). This claim might be based on the premise that he had ancestors who were slaves to people in one of the Bolling lines.

There are other families with claims to Pocahontas' bloodline, some with very tortuous explanations. The reader may find a more thorough exposition, including some additional dubious claims, on David Morenus' website. Mr. Morenus is Pocahontas' ninth great-grandson, and has a strong interest in the topic. He also has a strong interest in getting the story right, with references to back it up.