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, his wife Pocahontas and two-month-old son, Thomas departed Jamestown in the spring 1615 for Heacham, Norwich, England, to visit his mother now Lady Dorothea (Dorothea/Dorothy) Mason Rolfe Redmayne.

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



Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe…My 11th Great Grandfather

Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe, Father of John Rolfe, Jr. Who Married Pocahontas

Birth: Oct. 17, 1562, Heachum, Norfolk, England
Death: Nov. 29, 1594, Heachum,  Norfolk, England (Age 32)
Buried:  Dec. 1, 1594 Heacham Church, Heachum, Norfolk, England

Norfolk County in which Heachum resides is known for its industry in Lavendar.NorfolkEnglandLavendar

It is thought that settlers first came to Heacham as early as 3000 BC, drawn to the region to support the daily needs of the people. The river for fresh water, the sea for fish and shellfish, deer and other creatures from the deeply wooded area around. The name of Heacham arises from its l2th century overlord Geoffrey de Hecham, and its river, the Hitch. Over the years speaking and spelling have become Heacham – meaning “The Home in the Thicket”. The settlement lay in a hollow, with the fall into it from north, south, and east. Here again, is evidence of passing historic ages, stone age, bronze age, including the romans and the normans.

The story of the Red Indian Princess, Pocahontas, and her romantic marriage to the son of the Lord of the Manor, John Rolfe, shined like a beacon in the early 1600s.

The earliest record of the Rolfe family direct line is two brothers, Robert and Eustace Rolfe, who were born at Heacham about 1539. Robert married Margaret Crowe and was ancestor of a prominent family at Lynn, and Eustace Rolfe married at Heacham, May 27, 1560, Joanna Jenner. Eustace and Joanna had a son Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe, of Heacham, who was born October 17, 1562, married Dorothea Mason, Sept. 24, 1582, died in 1594, and was buried at Heacham Church, December 1st of that year.


The “First Common Market”

Heacham is a little known coastal village in the County of Norfolk between King Lynn’s–a Hanseatic town (engaged in an alliance of trading cities in the later Middle Ages and the Early Modern period maintained a trade monopoly over most of Northern Europe and the Baltic) dating back to the 12th century and beyond when it was one of England’s most important ports–and Hunstanton.

Hunstanton Cliffs, Norfolk, England

Hunstanton Cliffs, Norfolk, England

Old Hunstanton village is of prehistoric origin and is situated near to the head of Peddars Way. In 1970, evidence of Neolithic settlement was found. The quiet character of Old Hunstanton remains distinct from and complements that of its busy sibling, with clifftop walks past a privately owned redundant lighthouse and the ruins of St. Edmund’s Chapel, built in 1272.  Heacham’s rich past has left a magnificent heritage of buildings and stories to be discovered. 

St. Mary's Church, Heacham, England

St. Mary’s Church, Heacham, England

The much loved church of St Mary the Virgin was built in the 13th century, making the church the oldest building in the village.  It is a true reflection of the village’s history since it stands very much at the heart of the village.  The church is surrounded by many buildings made from local chalk, carrstone and a terracotta brick once manufactured in the village. Churches designed like St Mary the Virgin of Heacham, with a central tower built on the crossing, are a rarity in Norfolk as buildings designed in this manner required a strong foundation base using good strong building stone.  Buildings of this design often collapsed because of poor quality local stone.  Others were reduced in height, but St Mary’s has survived more than 800 years. The church belfry has circular openings on each side which appear small in proportion to the massive tower.  This particular feature of the church indicates its great age as belfry openings grew in size over time.  A cupola crowns the top and contains the original 12th century bell – regarded as the oldest in East Anglia.  Glorious Byzantine style brass lanterns hang from the ceiling identical in design to those of the Basilica in  St Marks Square, Venice. Local legend has it that the Indian Princess, Pocahontas, worshiped at the church  when  she and John Rolfe returned  with their young son, Thomas from Virginia to England.  Sadly, Pocahontas became ill and died in Gravesend, Kent  aged 22. There is legend that the very ancient Mulberry tree in the gardens of Heacham Hall – always known as the Pocahontas Mulberry tree – was planted at the time of the visit which John Rolfe and his wife paid to Heacham.

Following Pocahontas death, John Rolfe returned to his land in Virginia leaving their son Thomas in England for his formative years.  Thomas returned to Virginia in 1640 when he was about 25 years old. It is significant that a village in Virginia named Heacham dates from that time. Thomas Rolfe remained in America and married Jane, daughter of Francis Pothyress, leaving issue an only daughter, Jane, from whose marriage to Colonel Robert Bolling, many eminent American families are descended. The forefathers of John Rolfe rest in Heacham Church and it is fitting that the tablet in memory of his wife Pocahontas should be placed just above those of his father John Rolfe and his mother Dorothy Rolfe. Coats of arms of  prominent members of the Rolfe family are located inside the church. A sculpture of Pocahontas in Jacobean dress by Otillea Wallace, a pupil of Rodin hangs on the wall above a plaque dedicated to Johannes Eustacius Rolfe. The following is a translation from the original Latin inscription:

John Rolfe, gentleman, of Hitcham died on the twenty-nineth day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1594, in the thirty-second year of his age. While he lived he was of much service to his fellows; his wish to enrich all his neighbors and kinsfolk by assisting the poor with his wealth; nothing could be kinder than he was; he bore the insults of many men quietly without offence; by exporting and importing such things as England abounded in or needed, he was of the greatest service, inasmuch as he spent both pains and labor upon it. Thus he seemed to die as the force of fire is quenched by excess of water. For his strength was unimpaired, nor had he completed many years when he died. His death brought grief to many, but he had done nobly upon the consciousness of a well spent life, and the record of many benefits not allowed to die utterly: John Rolfe had, no doubt, been a successful merchant at Lynn. Rolfe had, with other issue, 1. Eustace, and 2. John (twins) baptized May 6, 1585; 3. Edward, baptized Feb, 22, 1591. There was another son, Henry, afterwards a merchant in London and a member of the Virginia Company, who is included in a manuscript pedigree mentioned by Mrs. Jones in her Old Sandringham.

While there isn’t much more to write about Johannes Eustacius Rolfe, we still can see the staying power of the Rolfe name on Heacham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk County, and England, as the map below shows several of the landmarks the Rolfe’s family timesHeachamMapToday