Captain John Rolfe, Ancient Planter

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Captain John Rolfe

Also Known As: "John Rolfe", "John Thomas Rolfe", "Rolf"
Birthplace: Norfolk, England
Death: between March 10, 1621 and October 07, 1622
Varina Plantation, James City County, Virginia Colony, British Colonial America (possibly murdered by Powhatan's successor, Opechancanough, the uncle of Pocahontas, in the massacre of 1622.)
Place of Burial: Jamestown, James City, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Husband of Sarah Rolfe; Pocahontas and Jane Smith
Father of Bermuda Rolfe; Lieutenant Thomas Rolfe and Elizabeth Milner
Brother of Henry Rolfe, of London

Occupation: Secretary and Recorder-General for Virginia, Captin, Ancient Planter, planter, tobacco, member of the first Council of State, and first tobacco cultivator in colonies, Tobacco Planter, Captain, Explorer, pioneer, Tobacco Entrepreneur, Landowner
Marriage: 04/05/1614
Place: Jamestown, Virginia (British Colonial America)
Managed by: Noah Tutak
Last Updated:

About Captain John Rolfe, Ancient Planter

John Rolfe, born in 1585 in England and died in 1622 in Jamestown Settlement, Virginia. Married (1) Sarah Hacker, died in Bermuda; (2) Pocahontas, died in England; (3) Jane Pierce, who survived him. One child with each wife.View any additional children with suspicion until proven.

He was the brother of Henry Rolfe, of London. Their parents are not yet identified with certainty.

Disputed Origins

In the past John Rolfe was believed to have been the son of Dorothea Redmayne and her 1st husband John Rolfe of Heacham, who died in 1595. Historians no longer believe this relationship to be accurate. While Dorothy Mason Rolfe is known to have had a son named John Rolfe, it is no longer believed he was the same John Rolfe who married Pocahontas. Dorothy Mason Rolfe is also NOT KNOWN TO HAVE HAD A SON NAMED HENRY. While records of Heacham parish, in England, do confirm that she had sons John, Eustace and Edward, there is NO RECORD OF HENRY. After the death of her 1st husband Dorothy Mason Rolfe remarried and had a daughter. Records and wills of her 2nd family, the Redmaynes, make no mention of John Rolfe, Henry Rolfe, Thomas Rolfe, or Pocahontas.

John Rolfe and Dorothy Mason had no daughters. Henry is listed as an additional son in the book Old Sandringham, by Mrs. Herbert Jones, however, there is no Dorothy or Henry recorded in the Parish records. Wilson Miles Cary of Baltimore, the distinguished genealogist, proposes that John Rolfe, of Virginia, was not a son of John and Dorothea Rolfe, but belonged to another branch of the same family.

Same as John Rolfe?


Child with Sarah Hacker:

  • Bermuda Rolfe, born on Bermuda in 1609 and died soon after. She and her mother are buried together in Bermuda

Child with Pocahontas:

  • Thomas Rolfe, born in 1615 in Virginia, raised in England, and returned to Virginia as a young man.

Child with Jane Pierce:

  • Elizabeth Pierce Rolfe, born 1621 in Virginia, married John Milner.


Below is a timeline for the life of John Rolfe

1585 – He was born this year in Norfolk, England. At the time, Spain held a virtual monopoly on the lucrative tobacco trade within Europe. Most Spanish colonies in the New World were located in southern climates more favorable to tobacco growth than the English settlements.

1607 - Jamestown had been established by an initial group of settlers in this year.

1608 – After two return trips with supplies by Christopher Newport arrived in this year.

1609 - Another relief fleet was dispatched in 1609, carrying new settlers, including John Rolfe and his wife, and supplies across the Atlantic. This "Third Supply" fleet was broken apart by a severe hurricane.

1609 – The Sea Venture, flagship of the 3rd supply, was shipwrecked on the island of Bermuda. All passengers, including the Rolfes, made it to shore.

1609 - Sarah Hacker Rolfe gave birth to a daughter they named Bermuda, after the island they were stranded on. Both Sarah and the child died and were buried in Bermuda.

1609 – The castaways built two ships from the wreckage of the Sea Venture and set sail from Bermuda. In May 142 castaways, including Rolfe, Admiral Somers, Stephen Hopkins and Sir Thomas Gates, arrived in Jamestown to discover only 60 colonists still alive.

1609, Rolfe established Varina Farms, a plantation on the James River about 30 miles upstream from the Jamestown Settlement. Here he focused on growing tobacco.

1613- Pocahontas, daughter of the local Native American leader, Chief Powhatan, was taken captive by Samuel Argall, and held at Jamestown.

1614 – John Rolfe married Pocahontas. Chief Powhatan gave the newlyweds property that included a small brick house just across the James River from Jamestown which was used as a home or cottage by Pocahontas and John Rolfe when they were first married.

1615 - Birth of son Thomas in Virginia

1616 – Rolfe and his wife traveled to England in 1616 with their baby son, where Pocahontas/Rebecca was widely received as visiting royalty. However, just as they were preparing to return to Virginia, she became ill and died. John returned to Virginia, but baby Thomas was left behind in England due to his health.

1619 or 1620, Rolfe married for a third time, to Jane/Joane Peirce, daughter of William Peirce, with whom he had acquired the patent at Mulberry Island.

1621 John and Jane Rolfe became the parents of a daughter, Elizabeth.

1622, on March 10, while on his death bed in Jamestown, John Rolfe wrote his last will and testament. He died shortly thereafter. Contrary to some reports he did not die in the Indian Massacre of 1622.

He was the 1st gentleman to plant tobacco in Virginia & was respected by the colonists. He was the 1st Secretary & Recorder General of Virginia & a member of the Council.

SPOUSES Sarah Hacker (m. 1608–1610, her death in Bermuda) Pocahontas (m. 1614–1617, her death off Gravesend, Kent, where she is buried) Jane Pierce (m. 1619–1622, Rolfe's death)

CHILDREN Bermuda Rolfe (b and d 1610 in Bermuda) Thomas Rolfe Elizabeth Rolfe (1620–1635)


John Rolfe 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 [Heachqm, Norfolk, England, seen 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.

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.

In competing with Spain for European markets, there was another problem beside the warmer climates the Spanish settlements enjoyed. The native tobacco from Virginia was not liked by the English settlers, nor did it appeal to the market in England. However, Rolfe wanted to introduce sweeter strains from Trinidad, using the hard-to-obtain Spanish seeds he brought with him. In 1611, Rolfe was the first to commercially cultivate Nicotiana tabacum tobacco plants in North America; export of this sweeter tobacco beginning in 1612 helped turn the Virginia Colony into a profitable venture. Rolfe named his Virginia-grown strain of the tobacco "Orinoco", possibly in honour of tobacco popularizer Sir Walter Raleigh's expeditions in the 1580s up the Orinoco River in Guiana in search of the legendary City of Gold, El Dorado. The appeal of Orinoco tobacco was in its nicotine, and the conviviality of its use in social situations.

In 1612, Rolfe established Varina Farms, a plantation along the James River about 30 miles (50 km) upstream from Jamestown, and across the river from Sir Thomas Dale's progressive development at Henricus. The first harvest of four barrels of tobacco leaf was exported from Virginia to England in March 1614, and soon, Rolfe and others were exporting vast quantities of the new cash crop. New plantations began growing along the James River, where export shipments could use wharfs along the river.

Rolfe married Pocahontas, daughter of the local Native American leader Powhatan, on 5 April 1614. A year earlier, Alexander Whitaker had converted Pocahontas to Christianity and renamed her "Rebecca" when she had her baptism. Richard Buck officiated their wedding. Powhatan gave the newlyweds property just across the James River from Jamestown. They never lived on the land, which spanned thousands of acres, and instead lived for two years on Rolfe's plantation, Varina Farms, across the James River from the new community of Henricus.

Their marriage created a climate of peace between the Jamestown colonists and Powhatan's tribes for several years; in 1615, Ralph Hamor wrote that "Since the wedding we have had friendly commerce and trade not only with Powhatan but also with his subjects round about us." Their son Thomas was born on 30 January 1615.

John and Rebecca Rolfe travelled to England on the Treasurer, commanded by Samuel Argall, in 1615 with their young son. They arrived at the port of Plymouth on 12 June and Rebecca was widely received as visiting royalty, but settled in Brentford. However, as they were preparing to return to Virginia in March 1617, Rebecca became ill and died. Her body was interred in St George's Church, Gravesend. Their two-year-old son Thomas survived, but was adopted by Sir Lewis Stukley and later by John's brother, Henry Rolfe. John and Tomocomo returned to Virginia.

In 1619, Rolfe married Jane Pierce, daughter of the English colonist Captain William Pierce. They had a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1620, who married John Milner of Nansemond, Virginia, and died in 1635. Rolfe died in 1622 and his widow Jane married Englishman Captain Roger Smith three years later. He was the son of John Smith (no relation to Captain John Smith) and Thomasine Manning.

The land given by Powhatan (now known as Smith's Fort Plantation, located in Surry County) was willed to Rolfe's son with Pocahontas, Thomas, who in 1640 sold at least a portion of it to Thomas Warren. Smith's Fort was a secondary Fort to Jamestown, begun in 1609 by John Smith. Thomas, who had grown up in England, married Jane Poythress. Her English parents were Francis Poythress and Alice Payton. They had one child, Jane, who married Robert Bolling in 1675 and had a son, John, in 1676. She died later that same year.

Rolfe’s plantation used African slave labor mainly to cultivate tobacco. Here is his first-hand account of this practice: “About the last of August [1619] came in a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty Negars [this was the first introduction of Negro slavery into Virginia]: and Jealous King of Patawomeck, came to James town, to desire two ships to come trade-in his River, for a more plentiful years of Corne, had not been in a long time, yet very contagious, and by the treachery of one Poule, in a manner turned heathen, we were very jealous the Salvages would surprise us. The Governors have bounded four Corporations, which is the Companies, the University, the Governors and Gleabe land: Ensigned Wil. Spencer, and Thomas Barret a Sergeant, with some others of the ancient Planters being set free, were the first farmers that went forth; and have chosen places to their content: so that now knowing their own land, they strive who should exceed in building and planting.”

Varina Farms, also known as Varina Plantation or Varina Farms Plantation or "Varina on the James", is a plantation established by John Rolfe on the James River about 40 miles upstream from the first settlement at Jamestown in the Virginia Colony, and across the river from Sir Thomas Dale's 1611 settlement at Henricus.


John Rolfe
Birth: 1585 Heacham Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Norfolk, England
Death: Mar. 20, 1622 Jamestown James City County Virginia, USA

John Rolfe survived a shipwreck, overcame the death of two wives and persevered. Without John Rolfe the infant colony of Virginia would not have succeeded.

Colonial Figure. He was an English businessman and expert at cultivation of tobacco, he arrived at the colonial settlement of Jamestown Virgina in 1610. In 1614 he married the Indian princess Pocahontas. They returned to Englan where she died in 1616. Rolfe returned to Virgina where he was killed in the Jamestown Indian massacre of 1622. The location of his remains are unknown. (bio by: Erik Lander)


  • Sarah Hacker Rolfe (1590 - 1609) (m. 1609)
  • Pocahontas (1595 - 1617) (m. 1614)
  • Jane Pierce Rolfe (1595 - 1635) (m. 1620)


  • Bermuda Rolfe (1609 - 1609)*
  • Thomas Rolfe (1615 - 1680)*
  • Elizabeth Pierce Rolfe Milner (1620 - 1635)*
  • Calculated relationship

Burial: Body lost or destroyed Plot: Kippax Plantation GPS (lat/lon): 37.38167, -77.33583

Maintained by: Find A Grave Originally Created by: Erik Lander Record added: Jun 11, 2006 Find A Grave Memorial# 14575730


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Captain John Rolfe, Ancient Planter's Timeline

May 6, 1585
May 6, 1585
Heacham, Norfolk, England
May 6, 1585
Heacham, Norfolk, England
Norfolk, England
February 11, 1609
Age 24
Somers Isles, Bermudas, Bermuda