A Brief Biography of John Rolfe

John Rolfe was one of the earliest English settlers in North America. He successfully cultivated tobacco in the Colony of Virginia, aiding the profit of this area. He was also the man to become husband to the Native American princess, Pocahontas.

Rolfe was born and baptized in Norfolk, England, during the year of 1585. At this time, Spain held the monopoly on the highly lucrative tobacco trade. However, John Rolfe was one of the first to see an opportunity to pull some of Spain’s control over tobacco out from under them. Jamestown, the capital of the Colony of Virginia at the time, became the perfect place to do just that. Despite Spain’s penalty of death on any individual selling tobacco seeds to a non-Spaniard, John Rolfe was somehow able to acquire a portion of these seeds, which he brought with him when he arrived at Jamestown escaping personal injury.

There was a problem with the tobacco that was being produced in Jamestown. Not only did Spain enjoy settlements in the Americas that had climates better suited for the cultivation of the crop, the tobacco being produced natively in Virginia was not well liked by the English. However, John Rolfe was able to help Virginia produce sweeter tobacco using the seeds he brought with him that quickly gained popularity. He called the tobacco that his seeds produced “Orinoco” tobacco. This tobacco strain helped bring significant profit to the Colony of Virginia.

But aiding Jamestown’s revenue was not the only beneficial thing Rolfe did for Virginia’s capital. In the year of 1614, he married the daughter of the Native American chief Powhatan, Pocahontas. Pocahontas had previously converted to Christianity, changing her name to “Rebecca” at the time of her baptism. This marriage brought peace between the English settlers of Jamestown and the Native Americans they shared the land with for several years. In fact, a man by the name of Ralph Hamor wrote that trade and commerce were friendly not only with Chief Powhatan but his subjects as a whole.

After his wife Rebecca’s death in 1617, John Rolfe remarried. However, land that had been given to Rebecca and himself by Chief Powhatan was willed to his young son, Thomas, who had been produced during his brief marriage to the Native American princess. He died in the year of 1622, at the age of 37. But even though he only lived for a short time, he passed away leaving behind a legacy as a man who had provided invaluable help to Jamestown and the Colony of Virginia.