John Rolfe's Legacy

Who is John Rolfe? Why was he important to Jamestown? Was it because he married Pocahontas?
John Rolfe as many believed he looked

That was partly the reason, but mostly he is credited with the production of tobacco in the colonies. The tobacco he produced was much sweeter and more fragrant than the type the Native Americans grew.  This tobacco proved to be so popular it challenged the Spanish monopoly on tobacco.
Tobacco - the cash crop that saved Jamestown

Rolfe was born in Norfolk, England in 1585. His parents were John and Dorothea.  His exact birthdate is unknown, but he was baptized on May 6, 1585.

John Rolfe arrived in Jamestown from the ship Sea Venture.  The Sea Venture was actually the flagship for a nine ship convoy headed for the colonies.  It stopped in the Caribbean where John Rolfe learned more about tobacco.  Some people credit Rolfe with the planting of tobacco in the colonies, but records show the Native Americans already had tobacco plants.  Unfortunately, the English did not like this type of tobacco,  but the kind planted by the Spaniards.

His ship was wrecked just off the coast of Bermuda.  While there, his wife gave birth to a daughter.  Both his wife and daughter would die on the Caribbean island.  When Rolfe arrived in Jamestown, he planted some of the seeds he got in Bermuda, teaching the Native Americans how to plant the different brand of tobacco. 
Pocahontas statue

Around the time Rolfe was in Jamestown, the colony had been almost completely wiped out during the Starving Time.  Pocahontas was captured and held prisoner.  She learned to speak English and even converted to Christianity.  It was not long after this that she met John Rolfe.  She took on the Christian name of Rebecca.  Rolfe fell in love with Pocahontas, now called Rebecca, and asked permission to marry her.  In the spring of 1614, they married.  Their marriage marked a period of peace between the colonists and the Native Americans.
Pocahontas - Lady Rebecca Rolfe

Not long afterwards, Rebecca gave John a son named Thomas.  The young family returned to England.  While in England, Rolfe and his new wife, Rebecca met King James I and Sir Walter Raleign.  Rebecca was a novelty to the English and was invited to many parties and gatherings.  Unfortunately, Rebecca contracted smallpox (a disease she had no immunity against) and died only 7 months later.  Rolfe was so devastated that he left his son in the care of family, in hopes of attaining a proper British education. 
inside Jamestown settlement

Rolfe then returned to Virginia.  He became involved in politics.  He served as a secretary and recorder, then later served on the council.  He married Jane Pierce.  He continued to work on refining the growing of tobacco in the young colony.  By the year 1617, nearly 20,000 pounds of tobacco were being exported to England every year.  By 1618, the amount had doubled to nearly 40,000 pounds. 
monument at Jamestown

John Rolfe died in 1622.  Many felt he perished when his home was attacked during Indian raids, one of which destroyed his home. His remains were never found.  His son with Pocahontas (Rebecca), Thomas came to reside in Virginia.  Rolfe’s family line extends into the Bollings, Randolphs, and Wilson families of Virginia. His son, Thomas, returned to Virginia after his father died and settled on land given to him by his uncle who was the Powhatan chief.
grave marker - but no body was ever found

John Rolfe’s two main legacies are turning tobacco into a cash crop for the dying Jamestown settlement, thus securing its survival and his son from his marriage to Pocahontas – Thomas Rolfe, who returned to Virginia and started a family there.
The James River from the Jamestown settlement

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