Back From the Future – Part 2


 A Quote from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, June 2014:

Christopher Columbus never reached the shores of the North American Continent, but European explorers learned three things from him: there was someplace to go, there was a way to get there, and most importantly, there was a way to get back. Thus began the European exploration of what they referred to as the “New World”.

A Quick Recap

  • So, we left 21st Century Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America (1607). Today, it is a living history of the 17th Century Jamestown Colony.
  • We resurrected and boarded the massive customized 300-ton English merchant sailing vessel, The Sea Venture–the same Virginia Company-owned ship that had 153 travelers and crew aboard and was to deliver the third supply to the Jamestown Colony in 1609.
  • We paused for a time to look back upon my 11th great grandfather, John Rolfe and others devastation, about 661 nautical miles short of their intended Jamestown destination.  This “tempest,” or hurricane, as we might call it today, was nearly the end of all of them.  But, they prevailed over the course of 4-days through their never-ending and tireless fight for their lives and the rescue of their ocean water-hemorrhaging ship. They finally steered the ship onto the surrounding reef to prevent its sinking then landed ashore on “Devil’s Isle.”  Bermuda, with its subtropical temperatures soon became a paradise to them and they replenished their souls and spirits.  The food, in fact, was plentiful because the island had an abundance of wild pigs, birds, and fish, tropical fruits, and even a freshwater lagoon.
  • When we last left our castaways, a year had nearly elapsed and it was springtime. Twenty-four-year-old John Rolfe’s wife, Sarah Hacker, had recently passed; his infant daughter, Bermuda, passed shortly thereafter.  Bermuda had been the first baby born there and Reverend Bucke performed the first marriage there, too. Today many go to Bermuda to marry or honeymoon.
  • I also learned that at some point before leaving Bermuda, John Rolfe may have grabbed up and secretly pocketed some tobacco seeds; possibly from an area today called Tobacco Bay on St. George’s Island, Bermuda.
  • The castaways are once again setting out to complete their voyage to Jamestown, but not before there are five separate mutiny attempts.  In general, some of the castaways questioned authority of their leaders in Bermuda and had fallen in love with the islands.  They weren’t willing to risk unknown hardships in little known Jamestown.   This time the remaining Jamestown-bound passengers and crew numbered only 138.  Eight had already left in a small boat never to be seen again; three died of natural causes; one sailor was murdered; one Indian was murdered; and one castaway, Henry Paine, was executed for sedition.  That left 138 to board the two ships they had built from salvaged steel and wood from the Sea Venture. And, these ships were named: Patience and Deliverance–How very understated yet so very appropo!
  • May 24, 1610 – Our English seafaring ancestors, headed by Sir Thomas Gates, now aboard the Patience and Deliverance, arrive at Jamestown–They find only sixty survivors of a winter famine, known as “the starving time”.

Onward to Heacham

We are journeying on, as well.  We are headed ENE, crossing further up the North Atlantic Ocean from our Bermuda latitude and longitude coordinates: 32.299507, -64.790337. Our destination once again: the time when John Rolfe’s family lived in Heacham, Norfolk, England (Latitude: 52.92 Longitude: 0.48), and where John and his father, Johannes Eustacius Rolfe, both were born–another 3,244 nautical miles.

The year is now 1585.  We have come to Heacham to learn more about John Rolfe’s family life and his early beginnings to better understand his quests.

But first, we need to learn more about the Heacham Village from which John Rolfe emerged.  Our 21st Century Heacham is a thriving village community and popular Norfolk coastal holiday resort situated three miles from Hunstanton and eight miles from Sandringham Village in Norfolk, England.  It is lit by breathtaking east coast sunsets and surrounded by glowing and aromatic purple lavender and scarlet poppy fields. Residents and visitors alike relish in Heacham’s sloping beaches and the soft rolling West Norfolk countryside, which has remained unchanged over time.  In fact, archeologists have discovered that Heacham has existed as far back as the stone age.  And that running water with fertile surrounding lands made Heacham an ideal location for early man to settle. What we know for sure is that there were inhabitants in Heacham around the 5th century when the Anglo-Saxon invaded present-day East Anglia.

lavender-and-poppy-fieldsHeacham–the home to the Rolfe family–History tells us that John Rolfe came from a farming family. For generations they farmed the land and traded on the nearby shores of the Wash.   Quite possibly, it was fields of lavender or poppies that they farmed.  Interestingly enough, Lavender is a plant rich in its own history and myth. With its roots going back to ancient herbalists, it’s properties as a disinfectant and antiseptic, lavender’s reputation grew throughout the centuries.  Lavender became known for its ability to even ward off the plague. And it’s popularity with English royalty also helped anchor it as a cosmetic herb. Queen Victoria had used it as a tonic for her nerves.

Heacham Hall before it burned down in 1941

Heacham Hall before it burned down in 1941

Sadly, Heacham Hall (the family home of the Rolfes) burned down in 1941.  My genealogical research traces the Rolfe family line back as far as 1455 when my 14th great grandfather, Robert Rolfe, also was born at Heacham Hall. But, it was October 17, 1562, when Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe, father of John Thomas Rolfe, our subject, was born there.  John Eustacius at the age of 20 married local Heacham, Dorothea (Dorothea/Dorothy) Mason on her 20th birthday, on Friday, September 24, 1582. Together they had five children in 10 years. Unfortunately, John Eustacius died two months after his 12th wedding anniversary. He was 32 at the time of his death, leaving John, age 8, and his other four siblings, with a 32 year-old widowed mother.

It is disappointing, to learn that not much more is known about John Thomas Rolfe’s childhood or education.  We do know, however, that his mother Dorothy Mason Rolfe, married a Dr. Robert Redmayne, LL.D. (Doctor of Law), on March 9, 1595, just a little over three months after John’s father’s death! Despite Robert’s preferred spelling of his last name “Redmayne,” he descends from Bishop Redman, whose family first settled in Cumberland, and then in Lancashire.  John Rolfe’s mother Dorothy, his stepfather, Robert Redmayne, and his father, John Eustacius Rolfe, are all buried in Heacham at Saint Mary the Virgin’s Church.

So, we can safely assume that John Rolfe’s skill, farming interests, and former family status in Heacham are likely the bases for his drive and desire to create a marketable crop in Jamestown.

We also know that John Rolfe and his second wife, Pocahontas, in April 1616 return from Jamestown to visit his family.

Much more history in John Rolfe’s life continues . . .

 

 

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).