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Virginia planter and colonial official John Rolfe was the husband of Pocahontas, daughter of the Indian chief Powhatan. He sold Virginia tobacco to England.
Pocahontas - Mini Biography (2:14)
Pocahontas was a Native American Princess, ambassador, and peacemaker to the first American settlers. She eventually was taken hostage by the British. She married John Rolfe and was renamed Rebecca.
Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, married English colonist John Rolfe. At the time of their marriage, it was considered outrageously scandalous.
Pocahontas was suffering from tuberculosis in London when John Smith came to visit her for the last time. She was so moved that Smith had come to visit that she called him father.
When Pocahontas arrived in England with her husband and infant son, John Smith called her The Lady Rebecca and arranged for her to visit with Queen Anne.
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John Rolfe was baptized May 6, 1585 in Norfolk, England. In about 1612 he began to experiment with growing tobacco in Virginia. He began cultivating seeds that he brought from the West Indies. In June 1613 he sent some of the West Indian tobacco to England. Its widespread acceptance there provided needed economic stability for Virginia. Rolfe, a widower, obtained permission to marry Pocahontas.
Not much is known about Rolfe's early life except that he was born around 1585 and was probably the son of a small landholder in Norfolk, England.
In June 1609, Rolfe and his wife sailed for North America aboard the Sea Venture, as part of a new charter organized by the Virginia Company. The ship was caught in a hurricane in the Caribbean and wrecked on one of the Bermuda islands. The group finally arrived in Virginia, near the Jamestown settlement, in May 1610, and Rolfe's wife died soon after their arrival.
Before 1611, Rolfe began cultivating tobacco seeds grown in the West Indies; he probably obtained them from Trinidad or some other Caribbean location. When the new tobacco was sent to England, it proved immensely popular, helping to break the Spanish monopoly on tobacco and create a stable economy for Virginia. By 1617, the colony was exporting 20,000 pounds of tobacco annually; that figure doubled the following year.
The Native Americans living in the region around Jamestown spoke the Algonquin language, and were organized into a network of different tribes led by Chief Powhatan. One of the chief's daughters was Matoaka, who as a child was nicknamed Pocahontas ("Little Mischief").
The English settlers at Jamestown had known of Pocahontas since 1607, when she was only around 10 years old. Captain John Smith later wrote that the young princess rescued him from death when Powhatan held him captive in December 1607. In 1613, the English captured Pocahontas and held her for ransom. While in captivity, she studied English, converted to Christianity and was baptized with the name Rebecca.
Rolfe obtained permission from Powhatan as well as the military governor of Virginia, Sir Thomas Dale, to marry Pocahontas. Their marriage on April 5, 1614, would ensure a shaky peace between the English settlers and local Native Americans for the next eight years. The couple had one son, Thomas, born in 1615.
The following year, the Virginia Company sponsored a trip for the family to England, where they were welcomed enthusiastically and had a formal audience with King James I. Pocahontas (or the Lady Rebecca, as she was known) was seen as a shining example of a Native American who had been "civilized" and successfully adapted to English ways.
Tragically, Pocahontas became ill during preparations for the voyage back to Virginia, probably from unfamiliar diseases that didn't exist in America. She died in March 1617 in an inn in the town of Gravesend, and was buried there. Young Thomas also took ill but later recovered.
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