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.

After Chief Powhatan Agrees to the Ransom Demands, Captain Argall Keeps Pocahontas Prisoner

On April 13, 1613, after receiving a favorable answer to his ransom demands, Captain Samuel Argall leaves Potowomac, but sails to Jamestown rather than to meet Chief Powhatan and receive the ransom. After reaching Jamestown, Princess Pocahontas is sent to the new village of Henrico, 55 miles upriver from Jamestown. Sir Thomas Dale, the Marshal, is headquartered in Henrico.

Captain Argall Holds Pocahontas For Ransom

Knowing Pocahontas to be a princess, Captain Samuel Argall asks for ransom. He asks for the release of English prisoners held by paramount Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas’ father, and return of all English weapons that were acquired by the Indians over the years. Chief Japazaw sends messengers to Chief Powhatan. Two days later the messengers return and report that Chief Powhatan accepts the ransom terms and asks Captain Argall to sail his ship up the Pamunkey River to the village of Matchut to receive the ransom.

Captain Argall Goes to the Potowomac Indian Village and Discovers That Pocahontas Lives There

In early April 1613, Captain Samuel Argall goes on a trading mission to the Potowomac village. Unknown to him, this is the village where Princess Pocahontas, her husband Kocoum, and their child Little Kocoum, live. It has been at least four years since Princess Pocahontas has had any interaction with the English settlers. She is 15 years old, having been born September 17, 1597.

Chief Japazaw of the Potowomac village is Kocoum’s older brother. By chance, Captain Argall learns that Pocahontas lives in the village. He threatens Chief Japazaw and his wife and gets them to bring Pocahontas to lunch on his ship.

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.