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.

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.

Financial Success and Political Peace in Which to Thrive

Financial Success and Expansion

John Rolfe’s two important contributions, the financial success and the period of peace for the first permanent English colony in the Americas, led to the establishment of the English common law and the English cultural heritage of representative government and religious freedom on which the United States of America was founded. If John Rolfe hadn’t created a financially successful industry and fallen in love with Pocahontas, we could have a French, Spanish, or even Dutch heritage.