The Most Important Wedding In American History Was 400 Years Ago Today

That’s right. 400 years ago, April 5, 1614. Native American Indian Princess Pocahontas, daughter of the paramount Chief of the Powhatan confederacy, had recently been baptized and given an English name, Rebecca. Pocahontas or Rebecca married Jamestown, Virginia, colonist John Rolfe. They were married in Jamestown, Virginia, in the 1608 wooden church by the Anglican minister Reverend Richard Bucke who had left England for Virginia with John Rolfe on the Sea Venture in 1609. At the time of their marriage, Pocahontas was a 16 year old widow and John Rolfe a 28 year old widower. Pocahontas’ first husband, Kocoum, was killed by her kidnappers led by Captain Samuel Argall in April 1613. John Rolfe’s first wife Sara died shortly after arriving in Jamestown in May 1610.

This was the most important wedding in American history for several reasons. The English were losing the war with the Native Americans, and may have been killed or forced to leave America. The marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas led to a period of peace, suggested by Chief Powhatan, called the Peace of Pocahontas. During this peaceful time, the English were able to get enough settlers to Virginia to withstand later Indian attacks after the death of chief Powhatan. This assured the success of the Virginia colony in the years before the same Virginia Company later sent settlers to Massachusetts who landed at Plymouth.

The marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe was the first recorded interracial church marriage in what would become the United States. While common today, interracial church weddings were unheard of in America 400 years ago.

John Rolfe had been growing Caribbean tobacco for several years, and his tobacco crop would save the Jamestown colony financially. Yet he learned Native American methods of curing tobacco which improved the quality of the dried leaf and led to its financial success.

Without this wedding, the English may have been unsuccessful in their efforts to colonize America and it is quite possible the United States would not have been formed. So this was a very important wedding.

The wedding of John Rolfe and Pocahontas is being re-enacted today on the site of the Jamestown church where the actual ceremony took place 400 years ago.

Pocahontas and John Rolfe Marry in Church 399 Years Ago Today!

Today, April 5, 2013, is the 399th wedding anniversary of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. Rolfe and Pocahontas were married in the church in Jamestown, Virginia, by the Anglican Rev. Richard Bucke on April 5, 1614. This was the first interracial church marriage in America.

As a point of reference, in this year William Shakespeare was retiring to his home town of Stratford-on-Avon from his writing career in London. Also, King James I of England had commissioned the King James Version of the Bible which was started in 1604 and completed in 1611, three years before this marriage.

New Discovery About John Rolfe’s Birth Date

Baptism record of John Rolfe from Heacham parish church held at Norfolk Record Office

All the sources on the birth of John Rolfe have said he was baptized, along with his twin brother Eustacius, in the village church in Heacham, county of Norfolk, England, on May 6, 1585. Now the Norfolk Record Office, county of Norfolk, England, has reviewed the records and found an error in the previous information.

The Norfolk Record Office has now reviewed the original Heacham parish register which is in their custody and determined that the correct date is May 3, 1585. John Rolfe’s birth date is not separately recorded, but is generally assumed to be the day before or the date of his baptism.

It’s my understanding that in those days baptism was held as close to the time of birth as possible so that those infants who died shortly after birth would be able, in the belief of the time, to go to heaven. So the date of baptism may have been the date of birth or the day after birth.

The Norfolk Record Office has posted this information, as well as an image of the record which is difficult to read, on their Facebook page. Here’s a link. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=540297&l=54156aedd4&id=212070242221022

April 5, 1614 – The Marriage of Pocahontas And John Rolfe

Marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas on April 5, 1614, the First Interracial Church Marriage in America

The marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas was the first interracial church marriage in America. 

John Rolfe and Pocahontas were married 398 years ago today in the Jamestown Church in Jamestown, Virginia, by Reverend Richard Bucke, the Anglican minister.

The scene of the marriage, the Jamestown Church, was a wooden church built in 1608 (the second church, as the first one built in 1607 burned down on January 1, 1608). Archaeologists found part of the foundation in the summer of 2010, and excavated the entire foundation footprint in the summer of 2011. The church was large, 24′ by 64′, larger than the 20′ by 50′ brick church which eventually replaced it.

John Rolfe and Pocahontas were in love. Rolfe secured permission for his interracial marriage from Governor Thomas Dale and then from Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas’ father. Chief Powhatan not only assented to the marriage but offered peace to the English settlers. The ensuing Peace of Pocahontas, which lasted eight years, allowed the English to grow and prosper and get enough settlers into Virginia that the Indians couldn’t later kick them out.

The Peace of Pocahontas

The Peace of Pocahontas begins with the marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. It lasts for eight years until 1622. This Peace of Pocahontas is extremely important to the history of America. The colony now has a cash crop, tobacco, thanks to John Rolfe, to enable it to prosper financially. Yet, due to the effects of disease and Indian attack, the colony has been unable to keep enough settlers alive to assure the colony’s viability.

This period of peace allows many more settlers to survive, and allows many more settlers to arrive from England, to establish a critical mass of colonists in Virginia so that the Indians can’t force them out if the peace ends.

John Rolfe has yet to learn the value to his tobacco crop of his marriage to Pocahontas. For Rolfe it is a love match. It is also an extremely important strategic alliance for the Virginia colony since it was the reason for the Peace of Pocahontas. And Rolfe’s marriage alliance would prove extremely important for his tobacco.

The Jamestown Church John Rolfe and Pocahontas Were Married In

In the summer of 2010, almost 400 years later, archeologists have finally located the foundation of the Jamestown church John Rolfe and Pocahontas were married in, which was built in 1608. It was the second church built in Jamestown, as the first church had burned down along with everything else on January 7, 1608. Then in the summer of 2011, archeologists finished excavating the entire footprint of the 1608 church and were surprised at how large it was, 64 feet by 24 feet. This is larger than the later 20 feet by 50 feet brick church which has now been reconstructed. It was much larger than any other building, and would have dominated the 1.1 acre fort.

The Marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas

Marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas

Shortly after her baptism, on April 5, 1614, Reverend Richard Bucke marries Princess Pocahontas and John Rolfe in the Anglican Church in Jamestown. John Rolfe is a 28 year old widower, and Pocahontas a 16 year old widow. Pocahontas’ sister, Mattachanna, her husband the priest Uttamattamakin, and other Indians attend and witness the marriage.

The Baptism of Pocahontas

Baptism of Pocahontas Painting in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda

Pocahontas is baptized as a Christian in early April 1614, by Reverend Alexander Whitaker who, along with John Rolfe, has instructed her in Christian teachings. The baptism probably took place in Whitaker’s Henrico Puritan church, but perhaps in the Jamestown Anglican Church. The baptism is attended by John Rolfe, Governor Dale, and some of Pocahontas’ Indian relatives. Princess Pocahontas, who already has adopted English attire, is given the English name of Rebecca.

The Baptism of Pocahontas is commemorated in the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. A large painting, 18 feet wide by 12 feet high, of the imagined scene hangs in the rotunda of the building, one of eight similarly sized paintings of the history of the United States. It was commissioned in 1836 and installed in 1840. The painting is a testament to how important the period of peace that followed was to the survival of the colony and the establishment of the United States.

Also, in the 1800’s, American settlers on the frontier had a lot of conflict with Indians. In addition, few Indians had been converted to Christianity in over 200 years of trying. Princess Pocahontas’ baptism represented the ideal that American government officials had for the way they wanted Indians to behave.

The event was further commemorated in 1870 when an engraving of the Baptism of Pocahontas painting appeared on the back of a $20 bill.

John Rolfe Seeks Chief Powhatan’s Consent to Marry Pocahontas

Christian Bale as John Rolfe

Governor Dale sends Captain Samuel Argall and 150 men aboard the Treasurer up the York River seeking the Indians. In order to show a peaceful intent, John Rolfe and Pocahontas are on board. Captain Samuel Argall is again part of the Pocahontas and John Rolfe story. Captain Argall and his men meet some resistance at the first Indian village they encounter, so they sack and burn the village and kill five or six Indian men.

Farther upriver, at Werowocomoco, which in the early days of Jamestown had been paramount Chief Powhatan’s village, the English go ashore with Pocahontas. She refuses to speak to any Indians other than royalty, and two of her brothers come to speak with her. Pocahontas’ brothers agree to remain as hostages while John Rolfe and young Rob Sparkes seek Powhatan’s permission for Rolfe to wed Pocahontas.

Powhatan is three days journey away, so Rolfe meets with Powhatan’s younger brother Opechancanough (sometimes Opechankeno). A message is received from Powhatan. Chief Powhatan gives permission for the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, and Chief Powhatan further suggests a general peace between the natives and the settlers.

Ralph Hamor’s View of John Rolfe’s Letter to Governor Dale

Ralph Hamor, then Secretary of the colony, summarizes Rolfe’s situation in a simpler style:

Long before this time, a gentleman of approved behavior and honest carriage, Master John Rolfe, had been in love with Pocahontas and she with him … made known to Sir Thomas Dale by a letter from him [Rolfe], whereby he entreated his advice and furtherance in his life, if so it seemed fit to him [Dale] for the good of the plantation. And Pocahontas herself acquainted her brethren [her brothers] therewith.

In spring 1614, Governor Dale consents to the marriage. Now Rolfe seeks Chief Powhatan’s consent to Rolfe’s marriage to Powhatan’s daughter.

John Rolfe Seeks to Marry Pocahontas and Asks for Governor Dale’s Consent to the Interracial Marriage

John Rolfe Planting Tobacco

John Rolfe writes a very long letter to the colony’s Governor, Sir Thomas Dale. He professes his love, not lust, for Pocahontas, and asks for permission to marry her. The text of his long and flowery prose letter, full of Christian fervor and much soul searching, survives. Rolfe recognizes the impediment of interracial marriage and argues that it would be good for all. Pocahontas would become a Christian and live in English society, while the colony would benefit by converting a pagan and having better relations with the natives. Plus he loves her very much.

John Rolfe Falls In Love With Pocahontas!

John Rolfe and Pocahontas

Over time, during the time they spend together on Christianity lessons, John Rolfe falls in love with Pocahontas and she with him. Rolfe would like to marry Pocahontas, but there is a big problem. At that time, interracial marriage is, at the very least, frowned upon and, as a practical matter, prohibited. Of course there are many colonists living with native women, but they are not married. What is an English gentleman to do?

Converting Pocahontas to Christianity

Pocahontas is sent to the home of Reverend Alexander Whitaker, who along with Governor Dale is a devout Calvinist or Puritan, not an Anglican, to be instructed in Christianity. Reverend Whitaker has a church and about 100 acres fenced off with a parsonage called Rock Hall in Henrico. He serves the churches in both Henrico and another settlement called Bermuda Hundred.

John Rolfe, a widower since his wife died two years earlier in 1611, assists Reverend Whitaker with Pocahontas’ Christianity lessons.

The First Marriage of Pocahontas

Pocahontas Statue at Jamestown, Virginia

In 1610, Princess Pocahontas, daughter of Wahunsenaca, Chief Powhatan, marries a warrior named Kocoum, the younger brother of Chief Japazaw of the Potowomac tribe on the Potomac River. Princess Pocahontas and Kocoum live in the Potowomac village.

Pocahontas was born on September 17, 1597, so she was 12 or 13 when she married Kocoum.

John Smith Meets 10 Year Old Pocahontas

Title Page of John Smith's 1608 Book A True Relation ...

On June 2, 1608, John Smith writes a letter about Jamestown that is published in part, A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Have Happened in Virginia Since the First Planting of That Colony Which Is Now Resident in the South Part Thereof, Till the Last Return. Smith tells of his December 1607 capture by the Indians and being taken to Chief Powhatan. He makes no mention of being attacked with clubs or of the presence of Pocahontas during his captivity. There is also no mention of being threatened with clubs and saved by Pocahontas in his 1612 book about his Virginia adventure.

In April 1608, Smith captures seven Paspaheghans Indians as a result of a trade disagreement. The Paspaheghans are one of about 31 tribes in the Powhatan confederacy. Smith first mentions Pocahontas in his June 1608 letter as part of Powhatan’s response to his capture of the seven Paspaheghans in April 1608. Smith relates that in May 1608, Chief Powhatan sends a messenger Rawhunt, and his daughter, to secure the release of the Paspaheghans held by the colonists. He describes Pocahontas:

Powhatan … sent his daughter, a child of ten years old, which not only for feature, countenance, and proportion much exceedeth any of the rest of his people, but for wit and spirit the only nonpareil of his country. This he sent by his most trusty messenger, called Rawhunt …

May 1608 is Pocahontas’ first visit to the fort at Jamestown. She is still ten years old.

John Smith Captured by Powhatan Indians

John Smith 1616

In December 1607, on his fourth trip up the Chickahominy River, John Smith goes past the Chickahominy territory and into joint hunting territory shared with the Powhatan and is captured by Opechancanough, werowance or chief of the Pamunkey tribe and brother to the paramount chief of the Powhatan Empire, Wahunsenaca, known as Chief Powhatan. Two of Smith’s men are killed.

Some weeks later, Smith is taken to Werowocomoco on the York River and received by the paramount Chief Powhatan. Pocahontas had just turned 10 years old on September 17, 1607, and was not present. Indian sources are adamant and historians agree, that John Smith was not about to be beaten to death by the Powhatan and was not saved by Pocahontas. As a child, even the child of the chief, she would not have been at the audience of the prisoner. A popular animated film with a disclaimer at the end of the credits (that very few people see) says it is not historically accurate but for entertainment, has given many people a quite different impression of the facts.

Meanwhile in Jamestown

In Jamestown, between August 11 and August 14, 1609, the other seven ships of the Third Supply arrive. Captain Gabriel Archer on the Blessing reports that they were in high winds and seas for about 44 hours, less than half of the more than 96 hours that the Sea Venture endured. The Sea Venture doesn’t arrive and is thought lost.

The other seven ships of the Third Supply add about 400 settlers to Jamestown.