SUCCESS SECRETS – A humble and astute English farmer has a vision of entrepreneurial success across the ocean in Virginia, embarks on an epic adventure, tastes entrepreneurial success, saves Virginia financially, marries a Princess, saves Virginia politically, and changes the world in seven years.
For seven weeks the voyage from London, England, to Virginia on the Sea Venture is relatively smooth. John and Sarah Rolfe have now been on board for 10 weeks including the time in English coastal waters and English ports.
Sarah Rolfe is probably experiencing morning sickness from her pregnancy. There is little or no privacy. And the food gets worse as they run out of fresh produce. Still, seven weeks of calm seas and good weather is wonderful.
Admiral Sir George Somers who commands the fleet of the Third Supply, General Sir Thomas Gates the new Governor of Virginia, and Captain Newport of the Sea Venture decide to try to avoid the Spanish controlled waters and cut across the Atlantic Ocean farther north than usual, but not quite as far north as Captain Samuel Argall is exploring at the same time.
Shortly after leaving Plymouth, England, the winds change and the nine vessels of the Third Supply fleet, including the Sea Venture, have to put in at Falmouth, farther along the south coast of England. Six days later, on June 8, 1609, the winds are favorable and the fleet sails again.
Because of the distance from London to the south England ports, the loading of final provisions, and the need to wait for favorable winds to sail south along the European coast, the journey has now been more than three weeks and they are just leaving English waters.
On May 20, 1609, the Third Supply fleet, including the Sea Venture, arrives in Plymouth on the southern coast of England, a port protected by the Isle of Wight. It has taken five days to sail down the Thames River to the English Channel, then south and west along the Channel to Plymouth. In Plymouth the fleet of seven ships from London meets up with its other two members so that all nine ships are together. Now the final provisions are put on board. The main food supplies are hogsheads, or large casks, of five tons of salt beef, casks of salt pork and salt cod, tons of hard biscuits, beans, oatmeal, flour, butter, cheese, and beer. The water of the time isn’t usually clean and pure, so people drink weak beer or some other drink with a little alcohol in it to kill the germs and parasites.
All is in readiness and on the evening of June 2, 1609, the winds and tides are favorable and the fleet sails from Plymouth.
The second largest ship of the fleet is the Diamond. It is the vice admiral and is commanded by Captain John Ratcliffe who was captain of the Discovery, one of the three ships that arrived in Jamestown in 1607. The Falcon is the rear admiral or third largest ship of the fleet. It is commanded by Captain John Martin, one of the original Virginia settlers who returned to England in 1608 and is on his way back to Jamestown. The Falcon’s sailing master is Francis Nelson, who went to Jamestown in 1608 as captain of the Phoenix, a pinnace that took 40 settlers to Jamestown as part of the First Supply.
The fourth ship in the fleet is the Blessing captained by Gabriel Archer. The fifth ship is the Unity. The sixth ship is the Lion. The seventh ship of the fleet is the Swallow. On the Swallow as sailing master is the nephew of Admiral George Somers, Matthew Somers. The eighth ship is the pinnace Virginia which was the first ship built in North America in the failed Popham colony at Sagadahoc, Maine. It is commanded by Captain James Davies who was on the expedition to Maine. The ninth ship is a small unnamed ketch.
On May 15, 1609, John Rolfe and his wife Sarah board the Sea Venture. After all have boarded the Sea Venture and six other ships at the wharf in London’s Woolwich docks, the seven ships sail down the Thames River toward the English Channel. It takes several days. Then the ships sail west along the English Channel to the port of Plymouth to meet the other two ships, the small pinnace Virginia and the even smaller unnamed ketch, to bring the fleet to a total of nine ships.
The flagship, admiral, and largest ship in the fleet is the Sea Venture, commanded by Captain Christopher Newport. Newport also captained the Susan Constant, the flagship of the first fleet of three ships to arrive in Jamestown in 1607. He also captained the First Supply and the Second Supply. This, the Third Supply, is Captain Newport’s fourth crossing to Virginia. Other leaders on board are the Admiral of the fleet and fleet commander, Sir George Somers, and the new Governor of Virginia, General Sir Thomas Gates.
John Rolfe’s ambition, bravery, and commitment all show in his decision to bring his wife along with him. Most of the men consider themselves adventurers, not settlers, and leave their wives in England. Since Sarah Rolfe is recently pregnant, she would be especially uncomfortable on the journey. Sarah Rolfe is, perhaps, even braver than John Rolfe, as she is one of very few women to go to Virginia.
John Rolfe is fortunate that his wife accompanies him on the same ship, the Sea Venture. Edward Eason and his wife also sail together on the Sea Venture. But several other adventures on the Sea Venture, William Pierce and Captain George Yeardley, bring their wives along to Virginia, but their wives sail on different ships. William Pierce’s wife Joan and his 10-year-old daughter Jane sail on the Blessing. Some years later, the daughter Jane Pierce will become very important to John Rolfe. Captain Yeardley’s wife Temperance sails on the Falcon.
Perhaps having his wife with him on the flagship of the fleet is an indication of John Rolfe’s people skills which would later show themselves in his political and marketing astuteness.
John Rolfe is ambitious, brave, and committed to his goal and his enterprise. He has to be, as he is facing a dangerous voyage and dicey conditions in Virginia where so many have already died in the previous two years. Rolfe would have known about the large proportion of deaths among the adventurers from disease and Indian attack, as returning ships told the news. Rolfe is also the only person going to Virginia with the intent to grow tobacco and make it into a profitable export crop.
Rolfe is almost certainly carrying some of the difficult to obtain seeds of Spanish tobacco with him on the Sea Venture. Tobacco seeds are very tiny, so it would be easy to carry a large quantity of them, and many historians believe he did carry them. The seeds are difficult to obtain because the Spanish have a monopoly on the mild sweet tobacco (a much harsher variety is native to Virginia) and forbid anyone to sell tobacco seeds to a non-Spaniard under penalty of death.
Since these tobacco seeds of Caribbean tobacco were central to John Rolfe’s entrepreneurial vision and plan, I can’t imagine he would have left everything he knew and traveled to Virginia with his wife unless he had a supply of tobacco seeds with him.
The Virginia Company of London proclaims that Protestant English colonization of America is God’s will. They get ministers to preach that God wants a Protestant English colony in Virginia rather than a Catholic Spanish colony like Mexico, most of South America and Central America, and St. Augustine in what is now Florida. The Virginia Company of London also preaches that it is God’s will to evangelize and convert the native savages of Virginia to the Protestant religion. So Rolfe’s goals are in line with what today are called the three G’s of colonization, Gold (literally or figuratively), Glory (of self and/or King and country), and God.
Rolfe takes care of the money or investment needed for every entrepreneurial venture by buying shares in the Virginia Company of London. He thereby secures passage to Virginia for himself and his wife, and land for planting in Virginia.
John Rolfe sees an opportunity, he identifies a market need that people will pay for, to break the Spanish monopoly of the mild tobacco the English prefer. Rolfe’s goal in traveling to Virginia is to grow the mild Spanish tobacco in Virginia, cure it, and export it to England at great profit, thereby bettering himself.
As a young adult, John Rolfe likes to smoke a pipe of tobacco. A gentleman typically smokes only one bowl of a pipe in an evening. So the quantity of tobacco smoked is nothing like the quantity of cigarettes, which were developed 200 years later, smoked by a typical smoker today.
In Rolfe’s time in the early 1600’s, clay pipes for smoking tobacco are very small. The tiny bowl of the pipe holds only about one twenty-fifth of an ounce of tobacco. You can see an historic pipe in the museum at Jamestown. The entire bowl of the clay pipe is about the size of the tip of my little finger from the bottom of the fingernail to the end, and I have small hands.
The Sea Venture is the flagship of the nine vessel fleet assembled to rescue the so-far disastrous two year old attempt to establish an English colony in Jamestown, Virginia. John Rolfe had his 24th birthday just nine days before, on May 6, 1609. He is a gentleman farmer, not an adventurer, soldier, or craftsman like most of the passengers. And to underscore the fact he is a settler not an adventurer, he is accompanied by his wife, Sarah Hacker, whom he married the previous year. Although she probably doesn’t realize it yet, Sarah is likely pregnant with their first child when she boards the Sea Venture.
As John Rolfe boards the Sea Venture in London, England on May 15, 1609, for his epic adventure, who would have thought that he, John Rolfe, a 24 year old gentleman farmer, would in a period of only seven years assure the success of English colonial efforts in America, marry the most important woman in Colonial America, succeed as America’s first entrepreneur becoming the father of American capitalism, create America’s largest export for the next 150 years, and create a billion dollar industry that still thrives after 400 years. In addition, who would have thought he would become a member of the first representative legislative body in the Americas, a fundamental institution that would lead to our uniquely American form of government. Certainly not John Rolfe, and most certainly not anyone else.