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.

William Strachey’s Account of the Tempest

William Strachey writes a long letter describing the voyage to Virginia on the Sea Venture to a lady in London, thought to be Lady Sara Smythe, wife of Sir Thomas Smythe, Treasurer of the Virginia Company of London and organizer of the details of the expeditions to Virginia. He starts by describing sailing from Plymouth Sound on June 2, 1609, and the ships keeping in sight of each other until St. James Day, Monday, July 24, 1609. He says that Captain Newport reckons they are only seven or eight days from Cape Henry on the Virginia coast at the time. Strachey relates that, starting the night before, Sunday night, “the clouds gathered thick upon us, and the winds singing and whistling most unusually” cause them to cast off the small unnamed ketch they are towing.

Smooth Sailing for Seven Weeks Before The Tempest

Calm Seas Before The Tempest

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.

Then the winds come up ….

Second Charter of the Virginia Company of London

On May 23, 1609, King James I signs the second charter of the Virginia Company of London, updating it. Among other changes, the territory of the Virginia Company of London is now 200 miles north and south of Point Comfort on the Chesapeake Bay.

Other Ships of the Fleet

John Ratcliffe

The second largest ship of the fleet is the Diamond. It is the vice admiral and is commanded by Captain John Ratcliffe who was captain of the Discovery, one of the three ships that arrived in Jamestown in 1607. The Falcon is the rear admiral or third largest ship of the fleet. It is commanded by Captain John Martin, one of the original Virginia settlers who returned to England in 1608 and is on his way back to Jamestown. The Falcon’s sailing master is Francis Nelson, who went to Jamestown in 1608 as captain of the Phoenix, a pinnace that took 40 settlers to Jamestown as part of the First Supply.

The fourth ship in the fleet is the Blessing captained by Gabriel Archer. The fifth ship is the Unity. The sixth ship is the Lion. The seventh ship of the fleet is the Swallow. On the Swallow as sailing master is the nephew of Admiral George Somers, Matthew Somers. The eighth ship is the pinnace Virginia which was the first ship built in North America in the failed Popham colony at Sagadahoc, Maine. It is commanded by Captain James Davies who was on the expedition to Maine. The ninth ship is a small unnamed ketch.

Sailing Aboard the Flagship, the Sea Venture

A sailing ship

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.

The Gulf Stream and Other Ocean Currents and Winds

You’ve heard of the Gulf Stream I’m sure. It’s a warm current that flows from the Caribbean north along the eastern seaboard of the United States and then turns east across the North Atlantic Ocean to England. The clockwise rotation of the current continues south along the west coast of Europe and North Africa, and then turns west across the Atlantic towards the Caribbean to complete a circle of the Atlantic Ocean north of the equator. The prevailing winds follow the current and rotate clockwise as well.

In good weather, the journey from England to Virginia takes approximately 16 weeks, or four months, almost one-third of a year, going with the currents and prevailing winds. The journey is uncomfortable at best.

Shipboard Accommodations Aboard the Sea Venture

Shipboard accommodations

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.

The Third Supply Is Coming Soon

Captain Samuel Argall

Captain Samuel Argall, who looms large later in the history of Jamestown, reaches Jamestown on July 13, 1609, in only nine weeks instead of the usual 16 weeks. But the Sea Venture fleet doesn’t know this, as it departs only ten days after Argall. Captain Argall tells the colonists in Jamestown that the Third Supply fleet will be arriving soon.

The Long Ocean Voyage to Virginia

1609 Era English Sailing Ship

On May 5, 1609, the Virginia Company of London sends Captain Samuel Argall to Virginia to explore a more direct route to Virginia instead of going south along the coasts of Europe and Africa and then sailing west to the Caribbean and then north up the Gulf Stream along the Atlantic coast of America. The traditional southern route is the one John Rolfe and the Sea Venture will take ten days later.

The rationale for trying a more northern route is twofold. First, despite the peace treaty of 1604 between England and Spain, the Spanish are attacking English ships in the Caribbean. For example, in 1606, the Richard, a ship of the Virginia Company of Plymouth which holds the royal charter for more northern lands, sails the traditional route to the Americas and is then to head up to Pemaquid on the Maine coast north of the Kennebec River, but it is captured by a Spanish ship and all hands are sent to Spain and imprisoned. The second reason is to see if they can find a faster route to Virginia.

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.

Seeking His Fortune Across the Sea in Virginia

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.