John Rolfe: Marriage to Pocahontas & Timeline

Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

John Rolfe is best known as the husband of Pocahontas, but he is also an interesting historical character in his own right. This lesson will discuss Rolfe's marriage to Pocahontas but also offer a timeline that will highlight other aspects of Rolfe's life.

John Rolfe and Pocahontas

Pocahontas was the daughter of Indian chief Powhatan. She had been instrumental in helping the Jamestown colony survive its early years (1607-1609) by bringing food and smoothing relations between the colonists and Indians. By 1613, however, relations had deteriorated significantly. Powhatan was holding English captives, and the colonists were demanding their return. They also accused Powhatan's people of stealing tools and weapons and clamored for restitution and a tribute in food. Powhatan wasn't at all interested in meeting their demands.

A colonist by the name of Captain Samuel Argall reasoned that the chief might be a bit more cooperative if the colonists took a captive of their own, especially if that prisoner was his daughter Pocahontas. The English lured Pocahontas on board one of their ships in March of 1613 and held her for ransom.

Tobacco farmer John Rolfe had been living in the Jamestown colony for about three years when he met the captive Pocahontas. He was apparently impressed by the young woman, who was readily adapting to English life and even learning Christianity. Rolfe's admiration soon turned to love, and he discovered that he wanted to marry Pocahontas.

Rolfe faced a difficult dilemma in choosing whether or not to marry an American Indian woman. He outlined his predicament in a letter to Governor Thomas Dale. On the one hand, Rolfe was concerned that marrying Pocahontas would be a sin. He remembered a Biblical prohibition against taking 'strange wives,' and he was concerned that his interest in Pocahontas stemmed from human weakness and wickedness. In addition, the colonists tended to view the native peoples as inferior at best and more often as savage heathens. Could Rolfe really establish a family with a native woman?

On the other hand, Rolfe loved Pocahontas and sincerely believed that she returned his affection. He reasoned that marrying her would smooth her conversion to Christianity and thereby save her soul. That was a Christian's duty, after all, to save souls. Plus, a link between Rolfe and Pocahontas might improve relations between their peoples.

In the end, Rolfe's heart won. He wrote to the Governor of his decision to take Pocahontas as his wife: 'but for the good of this plantation, for the honour of our countrie, for the glory of God, for my owne salvation, and for the converting to the true knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, an unbeleeving creature, namely Pokahuntas.' The couple married on April 5, 1614.

The wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe
The wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe

Timeline

John Rolfe's life was not, however, centered around the few years he spent as the husband of Pocahontas. The following timeline will outline other important events that help us fill out the portrait of this complex and interesting man.

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