An 1850s painting of John Rolfe and Pocahontas
|Died||1622 (aged 37)|
Varina Farms, Virginia
|Occupation||agriculturalist and colonist|
|Known for||first successful cultivation of tobacco as an export crop in the Colony of Virginia|
|Spouse(s)||Sarah Hacker (m. 1608–1610, her death)|
Pocahontas (m. 1614–1617, her death)
Jane Pierce (m. 1619–1622, Rolfe's death)
|Children||Bermuda Rolfe (1609–1610)|
Thomas Rolfe (1615–1680)
Elizabeth Rolfe (1620–1635)
|Parent(s)||John Rolfe, Sr. (father)|
Dorothea Mason (mother)
John Rolfe (1585–1622) was one of the early English settlers of North America. He is credited with the first successful cultivation of tobacco as an export crop in the Colony of Virginia and is known as the husband of Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan.Rolfe was born in Heacham, Norfolk, England, as the son of John Rolfe and Dorothea Mason, and was baptised on 6 May 1585. At the time, Spain held a virtual monopoly on the lucrative tobacco trade. Most Spanish colonies in the New World were located in southern climates more favourable to tobacco growth than the English settlements, notably Jamestown. As the consumption of tobacco had increased, the balance of trade between England and Spain began to be seriously affected. Rolfe was one of a number of businessmen who saw the opportunity to undercut Spanish imports by growing tobacco in England's new colony in Virginia. Rolfe had somehow obtained seeds to take with him from a special popular strain then being grown in Trinidad and South America, even though Spain had declared a penalty of death to anyone selling such seeds to a non-Spaniard.
Sailing with Third Supply to Virginia
A project of the proprietary Virginia Company of London, Jamestown had been established by an initial group of settlers on 14 May 1607. This colony proved as troubled as earlier English settlements, and after two return trips with supplies by Christopher Newport arrived in 1608, another larger than ever relief fleet was dispatched in 1609, carrying hundreds of new settlers and supplies across the Atlantic. Heading the Third Supply fleet was the new flagship of the Virginia Company, the Sea Venture, carrying Rolfe and his wife, Sarah Hacker.
The Third Supply fleet left England in May 1609 destined for Jamestown with seven large ships, towing two smaller pinnaces. In the southern region of the North Atlantic, they encountered a three-day-long storm, thought to have been a severe hurricane. The ships of the fleet became separated. The new Sea Venture, whose caulking had not cured, was taking on water faster than it could be bailed. The Admiral of the Company, Sir George Somers, took the helm and the ship was deliberately driven onto the reefs of Bermuda to prevent its foundering. All aboard, 150 passengers and crew, and 1 dog, survived. Most remained for ten months in Bermuda, subsequently also known as The Somers Isles, while they built two small ships to continue the voyage to Jamestown. A number of passengers and crew, however, did not complete this journey. Some had died or been killed, lost at sea (the Sea Venture's long boat had been fitted with a sail, and several men sent to take word to Jamestown, and they were never heard from again), or left behind to maintain England's claim to Bermuda. Because of this, although the Virginia Company's charter was not extended to Bermuda until 1612, the Colony at Bermuda dates its settlement from 1609. Among those left buried in Bermuda were Rolfe's wife and his infant daughter, Bermuda Rolfe.
In May 1610, the two newly constructed ships set sail from Bermuda, with 142 castaways on board, including Rolfe, Admiral Somers, Stephen Hopkins, and Sir Thomas Gates. On arrival at Jamestown, they found the Virginia Colony almost destroyed by famine and disease during what has become known as the Starving Time. Very few supplies from the Third Supply had arrived because the same hurricane that caught the Sea Venture badly affected the rest of the fleet. Only 60 settlers remained alive. It was only through the arrival of the two small ships from Bermuda, and the arrival of another relief fleet commanded by Lord De La Warr on 10 June 1610 that the abandonment of Jamestown was avoided and the colony survived. After finally settling in—although his first wife, the English-born Sarah Hacker and their child had died prior to his journey to Virginia—Rolfe began his long-delayed work with tobacco.