On This Day: April 5, 1614 – Pocahontas Marries John Rolfe


Article Details:  POCAHONTAS MARRIES JOHN ROLFE
Author:  History.com Staff
Website Name:  History.com
Year Published:  2009
Title:  Pocahontas marries John Rolfe
URL:  http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pocahontas-marries-john-rolfe

On the 403rd Anniversary – The Story of the Marriage of My Paternal 11th Great Grandparents

Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indian confederacy, marries English tobacco planter John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. The marriage ensured peace between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan Indians for several years.

In May 1607, about 100 English colonists settled along the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. The settlers fared badly because of famine, disease, and Indian attacks, but were aided by 27-year-old English adventurer John Smith, who directed survival efforts and mapped the area. While exploring the Chickahominy River in December 1607, Smith and two colonists were captured by Powhatan warriors. At the time, the Powhatan confederacy consisted of around 30 Tidewater-area tribes led by Chief Wahunsonacock, known as Chief Powhatan to the English. Smith’s companions were killed, but he was spared and released, (according to a 1624 account by Smith) because of the dramatic intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan’s 13-year-old daughter. Her real name was Matoaka, and Pocahontas was a pet name that has been translated variously as “playful one” and “my favorite daughter.”

In 1608, Smith became president of the Jamestown colony, but the settlement continued to suffer. An accidental fire destroyed much of the town, and hunger, disease, and Indian attacks continued. During this time, Pocahontas often came to Jamestown as an emissary of her father, sometimes bearing gifts of food to help the hard-pressed settlers. She befriended the settlers and became acquainted with English ways. In 1609, Smith was injured from a fire in his gunpowder bag and was forced to return to England.

After Smith’s departure, relations with the Powhatan deteriorated and many settlers died from famine and disease in the winter of 1609-10. Jamestown was about to be abandoned by its inhabitants when Baron De La Warr (also known as Delaware) arrived in June 1610 with new supplies and rebuilt the settlement–the Delaware River and the colony of Delaware were later named after him. John Rolfe also arrived in Jamestown in 1610 and two years later cultivated the first tobacco there, introducing a successful source of livelihood that would have far-reaching importance for Virginia.

In the spring of 1613, English Captain Samuel Argall took Pocahontas hostage, hoping to use her to negotiate a permanent peace with her father. Brought to Jamestown, she was put under the custody of Sir Thomas Gates, the marshal of Virginia. Gates treated her as a guest rather than a prisoner and encouraged her to learn English customs. She converted to Christianity and was baptized Lady Rebecca. Powhatan eventually agreed to the terms for her release, but by then she had fallen in love with John Rolfe, who was about 10 years her senior. On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas and John Rolfe married with the blessing of Chief Powhatan and the governor of Virginia.

Their marriage brought a peace between the English colonists and the Powhatans, and in 1615 Pocahontas gave birth to their first child, Thomas. In 1616, the couple sailed to England. The so-called Indian Princess proved popular with the English gentry, and she was presented at the court of King James I. In March 1617, Pocahontas and Rolfe prepared to sail back to Virginia. However, the day before they were to leave, Pocahontas died, probably of smallpox, and was buried at the parish church of St. George in Gravesend, England.

John Rolfe returned to Virginia and was killed in an Indian massacre in 1622. After an education in England, their son Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia and became a prominent citizen. John Smith returned to the New World in 1614 to explore the New England coast. On another voyage of exploration in 1614, he was captured by pirates but escaped after three months of captivity. He then returned to England, where he died in 1631.

From The Future Back . . .


Destination: England’s 16th Century Rolfe Family

sea-venture-and-consorts

“Historic Voyage, Sea Venture and Consorts at Sea 1609,” a 1984 oil painting by Deryck Foster, was exhibited courtesy of the Bank of Bermuda Foundation in the Jamestown Settlement special exhibition, “Jamestown and Bermuda: Virginia Company Colonies.”

Absent any DeLorean or maverick scientist like Emmett Lathrop “Doc” Brown, we’re headed from the future back to a time before there was this great country known as the United States of America.  But, “Holy Scott!,” we’re crossing the Atlantic Ocean, departing from 21st Century Jamestown, Virginia, aboard a 300-ton merchant sailing vessel, known as the Sea Venture, (England’s first dedicated emigration ship), that we resurrected from her maiden voyage back in 1609. We are embarking on 16th Century Plymouth, a city on the south coast of Devon, England, about 37 miles (60 km) south-west of Exeter and 190 miles (310 km) west-south-west of London between the mouths of the rivers Plym and Tamar.  We are en route to Heacham, England–the home of John Eustacius Rolfe and his wife Lady Dorothea Mason, parents of John Thomas Rolfe.

The Day: June 2 

Our plans have us traveling about 3,800 nautical miles over a period of about two months.  While the average temperatures on land and at sea will be in the mid-50’s to 60’s over the next two months, we also know that the Atlantic Ocean and England will receive about 2-1/3″ of rain over the course of 12 days just during the month of June.  And, based upon weather history we know that we must be ever cautious and vigilant traveling by sea during these particular two months.  The period June 1 to November 30 is the time when others who traveled this route before us have nearly died or succumb to their deaths in the Northern Atlantic Ocean’s waters due to violent tropical winds and rain historically known as tempests!  In fact, a huge storm on July 24, 1609, that lasted four days, tossed the original Sea Venture ship about on the open ocean and she became separated from the rest of her fleet of nine vessels. The force of the hurricane battered this massive ship, causing multiple leaks to start flooding her hold. Most of her passengers and crew believed they were doomed. Still, all the men aboard worked hard to save her and themselves, by pumping out water and throwing traveler’s possessions and ship’s cargo overboard.  On the fourth day, it was Admiral Sir George Somers (founder of Bermuda) who spotted this island. Captain Christopher Newport (an English privateer {AKA sanctioned pirate}, ship captain, and adventurer), sailed the battered ship next to the island’s fringe and wedged her between two large rocks. Everyone (about 150 on board), survived the wreck and escaped to Bermuda’s land known back then to the English as “The Devil’s Islands.”

Also among those aboard the Virginia Company’s Sea Venture had been Sir Thomas Gates, my 11th maternal great uncle, who would serve as Governor of Virginia in 1610 and then as Lieutenant Governor from 1611 until 1614; William Strachey, future secretary of the Virginia Company in Jamestown; my then 24 year old and 11th paternal great grandfather, John Rolfe, with his wife Sarah Hacker, also 24, who was about two months pregnant at the time of their departure from England. Sarah gave birth in February 1610, while a castaway on the Bermuda Isle.  Hence, they named their little girl, Bermuda.  History says that Sarah passed away in the Spring of 1610, and sadly, that Bermuda also passed away on June 2, 1610–just 23 days after the 150 survivors set sail again for Jamestown aboard their two new ships, the Patience and Deliverance, constructed by them over the course of 10 months from the wood and materials they salvaged from the Sea Venture. I can only wonder if Sarah might have passed as a result of unsanitary living conditions or child-birthing practices which were common causes of infections that led to the deaths of so many women and infants in those days.  And little Bermuda, without her mother’s breast milk, would not have received antibodies that infants require to thrive.

If you are questioning signing on to this adventure across time and 3,800 nautical miles across the Atlantic from Virginia to England, I am leaving you with excerpts from TimeMaps™ History Atlas that I hope will help us all better acclimate ourselves to the two hundred year period 1453-1648 AD:

north-america-map-1453-1648-ad

europe-map-1453-1648-ad

—To Be Continued—