Powhatans of the University of Virginia

Powhatan Bolling (1767-21 Mar. 1803) was the son of Col. Robert Bolling (1738-1775), a descendant of Pocahontas through her son Thomas Rolfe, and his second wife, Susan Watson. Powhatan Bolling, named after Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas’s father, was educated at the College of William and Mary. He was a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly for several years, and in 1799, ran for the U.S. House of Representatives against John Randolph of Roanoke, who was then running for his first term in Congress. Randolph won.

“[Bolling] was a man rather of action than speculation, of trim physique and of strong passions, fearless and honorable and somewhat eccentric, both in dress and conduct. His dress was uniform for years, ‘a scarlet coat, white waistcoat, blue pantaloons, and a three-cornered cocked hat.’ It was not safe to remark on this fanciful getup. His hasty temper involved him in several duels; he was a skilled and ardent musician, the violin on which he played was made [in] Germany in 1646. He was an opponent of John Randolph for a seat in Congress, waging no mean or unequal contest even with that redoubtable champion, having been beaten by but five votes.” (S. Bassett French Biographical Sketches)

He died at his home in Buckingham County, Virginia. He never married.

He also never attended the University of Virginia. So, why do I write about him? From session 16 (1839-1840) through session 33 (1856-1857), eight men named Powhatan attended the University of Virginia. Three of the eight attended in sessions 25-26 (1848-1850). Now, this is an unusual name, so I wondered, why so many Powhatans?

First, three of the Powhatans were named after Powhatan Bolling. I believe that these three were also related to the Bolling family, if only distantly. Second, it could be that Powhatan became a popular boy’s name for a short period, because in 1821, an “epic” poem was published, entitled “The Land of Powhatan” by “A Virginian.” (This “Virginian” was later identified as St. Leger Landon Carter.) Now the poem wasn’t very good, as most critics later agreed, but it was quite popular. And a child born in the five years after 1821 (that is, between 1821 and 1826) would probably enter U.Va. in the classes of 1837-1842.

I’ve already discussed the life of Powhatan Spencer Dance of session 30 in a blog entry on the Dance family. The next few bios will be of the rest of University of Virginia’s Powhatans.


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