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.

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.