POCAHONTAS AND HER TWO HUSBANDS – March 21, 2017 Is the 400th Anniversary of Her Death

Pocahontas, the Native American woman from Jamestown, Virginia, died 400 years ago today. She was only 19 years old and was the most important woman in colonial America.

My new book is being released today. POCAHONTAS AND HER TWO HUSBANDS: The TRUTH, Not Animated Fiction, About Kocoum and John Rolfe (Not John Smith). It’s available as a physical book and as a Kindle ebook from Amazon.

Please share this post.

#Pocahontas

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.

Risk

John Rolfe knew there was risk involved in his first ocean crossing and also in the colony of Virginia from disease and Indian attack. He accepted and embraced that risk and took his wife along. He probably didn’t think much about the risk of a tempest, a storm yes, but a tempest, no. I imagine shipwreck was far from an expected risk. And castaway on a deserted island for nearly 10 months, he probably didn’t imagine. Yet John Rolfe accepted all the risks, both expected and unexpected, and continued on after disaster.

Castaway on a Deserted Island

At least the storm has abated and John Rolfe and all the others have survived due to courageous leadership and hard work against all odds. But now they are shipwrecked and castaway on an uninhabited, deserted island, the Devil’s Isles, that all mariners fear in the Bermuda Triangle.

Ironically, the day they become castaways, July 28, 1609, goes down in history as the date of the first settlement of Bermuda. But for the castaways, it’s still the Devil’s Isles.

Shipwrecked

The Sea Venture Shipwrecked

The Sea Venture tries to get through the reef around the Devil’s Isles to safe anchorage, but fails. One-half mile off shore, the Sea Venture hits the reef, hard. Fortunately in unfortunate circumstances, she becomes wedged between two large rocks on the reef and will not budge. Luckily, the Sea Venture is upright and held fast in place, and not banging or breaking apart against the rocks. This allows use of the longboats to get all 153 people, including John Rolfe and Sarah Rolfe, safely ashore, and the ship’s dog and their pigs too. Since the ship is still sitting there, they go back for all the remaining provisions which haven’t been thrown overboard, then the rigging, then all the iron used to build the ship, then the masts, and finally some planking.

Now Ten Feet of Water in the Hold of the Sea Venture

They throw overboard much luggage, beer, oil, cider, wine, vinegar, and all the cannon on the starboard side of the Sea Venture. The men are very tired, having worked from Tuesday until Friday morning without sleep or food. And at Friday noon there is now ten feet of water above the ballast, twice the depth on Tuesday. William Strachey says there is a “general determination” to shut the hatches, commend their souls to God, and commit the ship to the mercy of the seas.

St. Elmo’s Fire

St. Elmo's Fire

On Thursday night, July 27, 1609, the fourth night of the tempest on the Sea Venture, Admiral Sir George Somers is on watch. He sees “a little round light like a faint star, trembling and streaming along with a sparkling blaze half the height upon the mainmast, and shooting sometimes from shroud to shroud ….”

For half the night it keeps up, “running sometimes along the main yard to the very end, and then returning…” Admiral Somers calls many people to observe with him what is called St. Elmo’s fire. They take it as a good omen. In the morning, Friday morning, it disappears.