Frequently Asked Questions
Q – Who was America’s first entrepreneur?
A – John Rolfe. In 1609, John Rolfe was a 24 year old English farmer with an entrepreneurial idea who took action and boarded the Sea Venture in London with his pregnant wife bound for Jamestown in England’s colony of Virginia. Going to Virginia with a plan to stay and execute his entrepreneurial idea was unique. Most of Rolfe’s shipmates intended to raid and plunder and return home to England rich with gold and silver.
John Rolfe’s story is the original American odyssey with many extraordinary obstacles which seriously threatened his entrepreneurial venture. Surviving the storm of the century, shipwreck, and being marooned on an uninhabited island for more than nine months, the tale of which inspired William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Rolfe arrived in Jamestown on May 23, 1610, on the Deliverance, a ship built by the shipwreck survivors to get them off the island and to Virginia. It had taken Rolfe one year and eight days from London to Jamestown. Because of additional setbacks, Rolfe had to wait until 1611 to plant the Caribbean tobacco seeds he brought with him. He planned to and did develop a commercially viable mild tobacco for the London market to compete with the Spanish monopoly on mild tobacco. The History Channel described Rolfe’s first large tobacco crop as worth over one million dollars in today’s money.
Q – Is AMERICA’S FIRST ENTREPRENEUR a biography, a history, or a business book?
A – It’s all three, with an emphasis on the often neglected business side of Rolfe’s story. Readers all seem to agree, the book is a fast and fascinating read that shows Rolfe’s entrepreneurial spirit, initiative, innovation, persistence, promotion, and people skills, among others.
Q – Why is John Rolfe important?
A – John Rolfe is the archetype of the American entrepreneur. It’s our legacy of entrepreneurship that has made America a beacon to the world and attracted huge numbers of immigrants for over 400 years. The archetype includes having an idea for a marketable product or service that people will pay for, initiative, making a committed decision, developing a plan of action, getting the required money, taking action, working with people, overcoming obstacles and setbacks, focusing on a goal, persisting when others would throw in the towel, trial and error, innovation including radical new ideas, getting and listening to feedback, finding a mentor, leading a team, ceaseless promotion, and unswerving stick-to-itiveness.
From a historical perspective, John Rolfe saved the English colonial efforts in America, not once, but twice. Without Rolfe, England in America would have failed and the United States of America would not be. The French were in Canada and coming south, the Spanish were in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Florida and coming north, and the Dutch were in the Hudson River in what is now New York. America could easily have been French, Spanish, or Dutch, or split into several countries.
When the London investors were about to pull the plug because their Virginia colony had produced no return, John Rolfe’s cash crop saved England in America economically.
John Rolfe’s marriage to the Indian Princess Pocahontas on April 5, 1614, resulted in the Peace of Pocahontas, which saved England in America politically. At the time of their marriage, the Indians and the colonists were at war and there were only about 100 colonists in Virginia. A concerted Indian attack could have wiped out the English colonists. Chief Powhatan, father of Pocahontas, consented to John Rolfe’s request to marry his daughter. Chief Powhatan established a period of peace because of the marriage during which the tobacco growing colony became strong enough to survive Indian attack. Because of John Rolfe, Pocahontas was a celebrity in England when she and Rolfe went to London on a promotional tour in 1616-1617 to promote tobacco sales and attract more English settlers to America. Pocahontas had become the most important woman in colonial America.
Q – What else did John Rolfe do?
A – Rolfe was very important in a number of ways in England’s first permanent colony in America, long before the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts in 1620:
John Rolfe was America’s first self-made millionaire.
The marriage of John Rolfe and Princess Pocahontas in the Jamestown church was the first interracial church marriage in the Americas.
Pocahontas was the first Indian baptized by the English in America. Before their marriage, at the request of John Rolfe who had helped teach her about Christianity, Pocahontas agreed to and was baptized a Christian. This event is commemorated by a huge painting, 18 feet by 12 feet, hanging in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building since 1840.
John Rolfe was appointed Secretary of the Virginia colony in June 1614 and was a founding member of the first representative legislative body in the Americas, the House of Burgesses, on July 30, 1619.