‘Pocoson’ more traceable than history of Point

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‘Pocoson’ more traceable than history of Point

May 9, 1996 
by Pamela Cressey

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The 1798 George Gilpin map portrays the prominence of Jones Point and the wide pocosin and gut to its west. Notice that no road or bridge spans Great Hunting Creek, which is barely noticeable today on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

I left you with two questions last week related to an 18th century court transcription about Jones Point’s topography: What is a pocoson? What is a gut?

I am happy to say that one of the literate readers of the Alexandria Gazette Packet rose to the bait, as he put it, and provided the answers. Mr. Bob Tracy defines a pocoson (also spelled pocosin and poquosin) as a swamp, or dismal. A gut is a narrow passageway, or strait. He also points out that the town of Poquoson, Virginia is situated in a watery area near Hampton.

I always pull out my trusty Compact Oxford English Dictionary when I want to understand the development of a word (or test my eyesight). The OED states that pocosin is an Algonquin word which refers to low ground near the opening of a waterway which is usually wooded. The first reference to the use of the word in English writing dates to 1635 in Virginia. A gut is a branch of stream, or channel, which forms the base of the word "gutter"--that channel that runs along the eaves of your house.

Rev. Lee Massey, a rector at Christ Church, provided his court testimony in the 1780s regarding Jones Point, also called Pipers Island. A pocoson to the west of Jones Point cut off the land and formed an island. The marshy area flooded at high tides and had yellow, small ash. Massey estimated that " The main land is about forty yards from the dry part of the Point." He stated that people probably crossed the pocoson on horseback, rather than in carriages. The main land had been cleared and used for crops before Massey first saw the area in 1743 at about 11 years of age.

The gut which emptied into Great Hunting Creek west of the point was "a deep one, and they used to catch fish there by making a hedge across at the mouth of it to catch herrings at the time."

The names for this peninsula at the mount of Great Hunting Creek and the Potomac River, are still somewhat conjectural. T. Michael Miller’s 1984 manuscript entitled "Jones Point Haven of History" provides historic data that a person named Piper did occupy the southern portion of the Alexander patent. Since Philip Alexander’s quarters were near there, it is possible that Piper was a tenant on Jones Point, hence the name Piper Island.

We know a bit more about the history of the Jones name for the point. Miller writes, "Cadwallder Jones "supposedly established an Indian trading Post on the peninsula circa 1699." He was a mapmaker and trader, who lived a high life with various boom and bust periods. At one time, he even was appointed as governor of the Bahamas, until he was forced out due to "arbitrary-tyrinical [sic] exercise of power and particularly his intimate association with pirates."

Alas, there is no hard evidence to link Cadwallder with our Jones Point. However, a Charles Jones was a tenant of John Alexander in the 1760s and raised corn, oats, flax and tobacco. On Beth Mitchell’s oversize map which outlines the Fairfax County lands owned and occupied in the 1760s, Charles Jones’ name appears near the point. We know little about Charles Jones, except that he also gave two depositions regarding a long-standing property suit, Alexander vs. Birch. Wes Pippenger’s book "John Alexander" records that Jones was about 54 years old in 1785-86. How fascinating that the name continues to be used for this piece of land 210 years later, yet we know so little about Charles Jones.