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.
Two Indians, Namontack and Matchumps, who earlier were sent to England by John Smith, are returning to Virginia. Reverend Richard Bucke, an Anglican minister, age 27, is on board. Also on board are Captain George Yeardley whose wife Temperance sails on the Falcon; William Pierce whose wife Joan and 10 year old daughter Jane sail on the Blessing; Mistress Horton and her maid Elizabeth Persons; William Strachey, the gentleman poet who knows Ben Jonson and other literary types and who will become Secretary of the colony and who writes a detailed account of his adventures; Ralph Hamor, who will become Secretary of the colony after Strachey; Stephen Hopkins, a preachy Puritan layman who will later go to the Plymouth Colony with his wife and children but who leaves them behind in England for his Virginia adventure; and Silvester Jourdain, who writes an account of his adventures.
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 facing what is expected to be a 16 week journey aboard a crowded, sailing ship. At about 100 feet long overall from the bowsprit to the aft of the main deck, or slightly less than the length of six Chrysler 300 sedans, the Sea Venture is the largest ship in the fleet. It carries 153 people, 118 passengers and 35 crew, plus supplies for 16 weeks of sailing and for many months of living in Virginia. Of course, there is no dining room, no bathroom, and no entertainment. It is nothing like a modern cruise ship. There is little to do, and passengers usually have to stay below deck so the sailors have room for their sailing duties.
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 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.
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.
Notably, the wedding of John Rolfe and Pocahontas was the first interracial church marriage in the New World. John Rolfe’s initiative in his personal life as well as his business life set an enduring precedent for American life.
Pocahontas’ marriage to Rolfe led to a period of peace, known as The Peace of Pocahontas, which allowed the English foothold in Jamestown to expand until there were too many English for the natives to kill or expel. This period of peace was directly responsible for the success of the Virginia colony, and John Rolfe was responsible for it.
Second, John Rolfe fell in love with Princess Pocahontas. He asked for and received permission from the Governor of Virginia to marry Pocahontas, recognizing that interracial marriage was at least discouraged if not prohibited. No white man had ever married a Native American. He also asked for and received permission from Pocahontas’ father, Chief Powhatan, the paramount chief of 31 Algonquin tribes. John Rolfe and Princess Pocahontas were married on April 5, 1614.
John Rolfe’s first accomplishment was his sole responsibility for the economic success of the Virginia colony. For years the colony could find no gold, silver, pearls, or cash crop. John Rolfe developed the first and only cash crop, which assured the success of the colony and made it not only viable but wildly successful financially. The History Channel’s 2010 production America: The Story of Us called Jamestown after the success of John Rolfe’s tobacco America’s first boomtown. Without the entrepreneurship of John Rolfe, Jamestown would have been a ghost town.
I’m sure you’ve already read all the dire statistics about how the odds are stacked against you in starting a business and how few new businesses succeed. Yet you are right to have confidence that your business will beat the odds and succeed. Without that belief you and your business will fail.
This book will help you avoid the mistakes that may not be obvious to many of the entrepreneurs who start businesses. I certainly hope your challenges won’t be nearly as tough as those actually faced and overcome by America’s first entrepreneur. But the dramatic events of his life graphically illustrate the kinds of challenges every entrepreneur faces. And it’s a great story even if you’re not an entrepreneur.
In each chapter you will find the inspiring true and epic story of the challenges faced by America’s first entrepreneur. As you enjoy the historical narrative, think about your own entrepreneurial venture and consider whether you have met your similar business challenges. It was an amazing time in history, and the end of each chapter highlights some key events going on elsewhere in the world at the same time.
Once you have absorbed the wisdom presented by the story of America’s first entrepreneur, you can be sure your belief that your business is going to succeed is rooted in sound entrepreneurial principles, not in la-la land like your relatives probably think and say.