Land of the Brave

John Rolfe and Pocahontas

Colonial America - Land of the Brave

Short Biography about John Rolfe
John Rolfe (c. 1585 - 1622) was one of the early English colonists and farmers of North America. He is credited with the first successful cultivation of tobacco as an export crop in the Colony of Virginia.

John Rolfe is also famous as the husband of Pocahontas (1580-1631), the daughter of Chief Powhatan (his Native Indian name Wahunsonacock) of the Powhatan Confederacy. This article contains a short biography and fast facts and information about John Rolfe. Who was John Rolfe and why was he famous?

Fact 1: John Rolfe was baptized May 6, 1585 in Heacham, Norfolk, England. Baptism usually occurred 3 days after birth, but no birth records were kept, unlike Baptism records.

Fact 2: John Rolfe was the son of a farmer and small landholder in Norfolk, England.

Fact 3: The parents of John Rolfe were John Rolfe and Dorothea Mason.

Fact 4: John Rolfe was a farmer and a businessman

Fact 5: In 1606 King James I of England granted a charter to the Virginia Company to establish colonies in Virginia - refer to Charter of Virginia. In view of the massive land potential in America King James 1 issued a Second Charter of Virginia in 1609 which covered lands from Jamestown, extending all the way west to the Pacific Ocean

Fact 6: John Rolfe decided to try his luck in the New World and in June 1609 and his wife sailed for America aboard a ship called the Sea Venture. The Virginia Company expected the colonists to start industrial enterprises in Virginia that would return profits to the Company.

Fact 7: John Rolfe had managed to obtain tobacco seeds to take with him from a special popular tobacco strain being grown in Trinidad and South America. These tobacco seeds were so valuable that Spain had declared a penalty of death to anyone selling such seeds to a non-Spaniard. If he was successful in raising tobacco he would obtain wealth from the export of tobacco as a cash crop.

Fact 8: The Sea Venture was the flagship of a seven ship convoy of 500 - 600 new settlers. The purpose of the convoy was to re-supply and revive the failing colony at Jamestown, Virginia. The convoy carried livestock and provisions to last a year. The convoy is known as the Third Supply Mission from England.

Fact 9: The earlier colonists were badly prepared and equipped for a self-sufficient lifestyle, many of them were out-of-work "gentlemen" with little knowledge of farming. One of the early colonists was one of the few capable men, John Smith. Unlike the previous colonists this fleet of ships carried skilled workers: shipwrights, carpenters, fishermen, masons, and farmers, like John Rolfe who were capable of sustaining a self-sufficient community.

Fact 10: On July 24, 1609 the convoy was within seven days of landfall when they were hit by a hurricane. The badly damaged Sea Venture reached land and the passengers were cast away on the uninhabited island chain Bermuda.

Fact 11: The colonists, including John Rolfe, worked hard and built two new ships from Bermuda cedar and the scavenged remains of the Sea Venture to continue the voyage to Jamestown. The new ships were called the Patience and the Deliverance.

Fact 12: The colonists stayed in Bermuda for 10 months but there were casualties. Among those left buried in Bermuda were John Rolfe's wife and his infant daughter, Bermuda Rolfe. Some people stayed in Bermuda and founded the British colony there but John Rolfe decided to travel to Virginia as he had originally intended and set sail on 10 May 1610.

Fact 13: May 1610: The two ships, the Patience and the Deliverance, arrived at Jamestown. They found only 50 survivors of the 'Starving Time'. These were the only colonists who are left out of more than 500. The Powhatan Native Indians were hostile and had stopped trading with the colonists in an attempt to starve them out. The colony was engaged in the Powhatan War with the Powhatan Confederacy of Algonquin tribes.

Fact 14: Very few supplies from the Third Supply had arrived because the same hurricane that caught the Sea Venture badly affected the rest of the fleet.

Fact 15: On June 7, 1610 the decision was made to abandon the colony and everyone boarded the ships.

Fact 16: On June 8, 1610 Lord de la Warr, the first governor of Virginia arrived at the colony. De La Warr and his pilot, Samuel Argall, had brought with them a year's supply of food, so everyone was ordered to return to Jamestown.

Fact 17: John Rolfe was eager to start farming in the new colony. The conditions were difficult due to the hostile Native Indians. The number of colonists were depleted due to the troubles of the voyage and morale was not good. The arrival of Sir Thomas Dale would bring the colony into good order.

Fact 18: John Rolfe started to experiment with tobacco. He had the sweet Spanish tobacco seeds and John Rolfe was the first to commercially cultivate Nicotiana tabacum tobacco plants in North America.

Fact 19: John Rolfe named his Virginia grown strain of the tobacco "Orinoco", possibly in honor of Sir Walter Raleigh's expeditions in the 1580s up the Orinoco River.

Fact 20: By 1612 John Rolfe and others were exporting substantial quantities of the new cash crop to England.

Fact 21: John Rolfe knew there was profit to be made in the production of a cash crop. Cash crops (as opposed to subsistence crops) were specialized crops that were grown to be sold for profits and not used for personal use.

Fact 22: In 1612, John Rolfe established Varina Farms, a tobacco plantation on the James River about 30 miles (48 km) from the Jamestown Settlement and across the river from Sir Thomas Dale's settlement at Henricus.

Fact 23: Pocahontas: In 1613 Samuel Argall captured Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan, and she was held for ransom. Pocahontas was taken to Jamestown where she converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca.

Fact 24: Pocahontas: During her captivity Pocahontas became pregnant. There were rumors that Sir Thomas Dale might have been the father but she was to marry John Rolfe.

Fact 25: Pocahontas: Pocahontas was sent from Jamestown to live in Henricus.

Fact 26: Pocahontas could have met John Rolfe in either Jamestown or Henricus.

Fact 27: Pocahontas: The following dates appear to confound the rumor about Pocahontas and Sir Thomas Dale. Pocahontas married John Rolfe on April 5, 1614. The wedding ceremony was performed by Reverend Richard Buck. Her son, Thomas Rolfe, was said to have been born on January 30, 1615, although there were no written records kept to confirm this date.

Fact 28: Chief Powhatan gave his daughter Pocahontas, and her husband John Rolfe, thousands of acres of land.

Fact 29: John Rolfe was Pocahontas and John Rolfe traveled to England aboard the Treasurer, in 1616 with their baby son. Sir Thomas Dales also returned to England on the same ship.

Fact 30: Pocahontas became a celebrity and was widely received as visiting royalty and addressed by the title of Princess Pocahontas.

Fact 31: Pocahontas and John Rolfe visited with Queen Anne and were formally presented to King James I. Whilst she was in London she also met with John Smith which was a great shock to her as she thought he was dead.

Fact 32: Pocahontas and John Rolfe toured England for several months.

Fact 33: John Rolfe and Pocahontas prepared to return home to Virginia and boarded a ship at Gravesend in Kent. On board ship Pocahontas became gravely ill with pneumonia, or possibly tuberculosis.

Fact 34: Pocahontas was taken ashore and died on March 21, 1617, at Gravesend, England. She is buried at St. George's Parish Church in Gravesend.

Fact 35: John Rolfe returned to Virginia in 1617

Fact 36: Thomas Rolfe, the son of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, stayed in England when his father returned to Virginia.

Fact 37: In 1619, John Rolfe married Jane Pierce, the daughter of a colonist. They had a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1620.

Fact 38: His house, on his tobacco plantation Varina Farms, was destroyed during an attack by Native Indians.

Fact 39: John Rolfe died on March,22 1622. It is presumed that he died during the attack, although his body was never found.

Fact 40Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia in 1635 at twenty. married a Virginia wife, Jane Poythress, and became a tobacco planter, living as an Englishman. 

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