John Rolfe – Just One of My Family’s Immigrants . . .


The Early Modern Period

John Rolfe Painting 1850Over the next twenty-eight days, we will be revisiting my 11th paternal great grandfather’s story once again.  It is a story that dates back to 1585–the 585th year of the 2nd millennium, the 85th year of the 16th century, and the 6th year of the 1580s decade.  Although much has been written about John Thomas Rolfe and especially his third wife, Powhatan Princess Pocahontas, there’s still new stories and insights unfolding in our 21st century–some 400+ years later.  And, yes, he was probably among a handful of my ancestors who were among America’s first immigrants!

To put his story into greater context, Great grandfather Rolfe, in the 16th century would probably have stood only about 5’ 7” and the women of his day, just 5 feet.  From a worldwide perspective, historians say “The Early Modern Period” (in which John Rolfe was born and lived for 37 years), can best be defined by its globalizing character; i.e., the new explorations and colonizations of the Americas and the rise of new and enduring commerce between previously isolated parts of the world.  To have become a prominent figure of the times, most likely required more drive and early maturity than our 21st century youth could possibly fathom.  After all, man’s average lifespan in the 16th century was a mere 47 years–compared to today’s 74-80 years.  Many people were stricken with smallpox, measles, malaria, scarlet fever, and chickenpox due to poor sanitation and died even younger than 47.  

Greater Understanding and Appreciation

Quite honestly, until my more recent research with a fellow history enthusiast (who just happens to live in John Rolfe’s family’s hometown of Heacham, England), I really didn’t truly understand or appreciate his life in the early modern period or the extensive role this small statured young man played in England’s colonizing America and saving the people of Jamestown with his entrepreneurship and his marriage to Native American Princess Pocahontas.

This is just day one of the next 27 where we will delve more deeply into the adventure and entrepreneurship of John Rolfe (1585-1622).

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