Pocahontas Island Community

Historical Significance

Pocahontas Island, named after the daughter of a Powhatan chief, is probably Petersburg's earliest predominantly black neighborhood. Some of Petersburg's first enslaved African Americans were brought here in 1732 to work in Robert Bolling's tobacco warehouses. In 1750, the land was subdivided and named Wittontown. It was renamed Pocahontas when it became a town in 1752 and was incorporated into Petersburg in 1784. In 1797, free blacks and enslaved individuals from the Davenport parish in Prince George County established the Sandy Beach Baptist Church in Pocahontas. They worshiped there until 1818 when the congregation moved to Gillfield (in Petersburg). After the Civil War, the Pocahontas community became almost exclusively African American as freedmen streamed into the area from the surrounding countryside. Many of these individuals were watermen and merchants.

The focal point of the Pocahontas community is the Pocahontas Chapel which serves as the civic, social, and political center. The 1997 chapel (143 Witton Street) replaced a 19th century building which was destroyed by a tornado in 1993. The original structure is thought to have been transported by barge to Pocahontas in 1868, where it stood at City Point and was used as a Freedman's Bureau School.

Pocahontas lost its prominence as a thriving commercial waterfront in the 20th century when railroad shipping became more dominant. 

Physical Description

Pocahontas Island is a peninsula located on the north side of the Appomattox River, within the limits of what is now Petersburg, Virginia. In 1757 Petersburg built a bridge to link the peninsula to the city. The Pocahontas Island National Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places because of its abundance of archaeological sites from prehistory through historic times, and of numerous antebellum buildings marking its history as a free black community.

Geographical and Contact Information

Located off of the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge that links Colonial Heights in Petersburg
Petersburg, Virginia
23803
Phone: 804-733-2400

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Pocahontas Island Community,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed October 17, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/344.
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