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.

John Rolfe’s Committed Decision

John Rolfe planting tobacco

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.

Tobacco Seeds

Rolfe is almost certainly carrying some of the difficult to obtain seeds of Spanish tobacco with him on the Sea Venture. Tobacco seeds are very tiny, so it would be easy to carry a large quantity of them, and many historians believe he did carry them. The seeds are difficult to obtain because the Spanish have a monopoly on the mild sweet tobacco (a much harsher variety is native to Virginia) and forbid anyone to sell tobacco seeds to a non-Spaniard under penalty of death.

Since these tobacco seeds of Caribbean tobacco were central to John Rolfe’s entrepreneurial vision and plan, I can’t imagine he would have left everything he knew and traveled to Virginia with his wife unless he had a supply of tobacco seeds with him.

Finding a Market Need

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.


In the early 1600’s, tobacco wasn’t the demon that many of us see it as today. In the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, tobacco was used both by the Virginia Indians and by the English for medicinal purposes. The Indians also used it for ceremonial purposes.

Tobacco is introduced into England in 1556 by a sailor, and it is a mild tobacco from the Spanish controlled Caribbean. Tobacco becomes popular in England for recreational purposes sometime between 1565 and 1590. On June 18, 1586, Francis Drake takes the remaining settlers from Roanoke Island back to England, arriving on July 28, 1586. They bring with them tobacco pipes, tobacco seeds, and tobacco plants.

In the early 1600’s, all farming is organic. Chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers would not be developed for centuries. And mineral fertilizers were not used, unlike today when mineral fertilizers are mined from areas high in radon. Thus, there were no toxic chemicals emanating from the tobacco smoke. Also, tobacco hadn’t yet been bred to maximize the concentration of nicotine. So tobacco didn’t have all the disadvantages it has today.

Tobacco smoking did produce smoke, which could be annoying to others, as King James I noted in his diatribe against tobacco. And it could be bad for one’s lungs, although in the London air thick with coal smoke, one might hardly notice.

Enjoying a Pipe


Colonial Clay Pipe

As a young adult, John Rolfe likes to smoke a pipe of tobacco. A gentleman typically smokes only one bowl of a pipe in an evening. So the quantity of tobacco smoked is nothing like the quantity of cigarettes, which were developed 200 years later, smoked by a typical smoker today.

In Rolfe’s time in the early 1600’s, clay pipes for smoking tobacco are very small. The tiny bowl of the pipe holds only about one twenty-fifth of an ounce of tobacco. You can see an historic pipe in the museum at Jamestown. The entire bowl of the clay pipe is about the size of the tip of my little finger from the bottom of the fingernail to the end, and I have small hands.