Ellie Wood Keith Genealogy

John Rolfe

Male 1585 - 1621  (35 years)

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  • Name John Rolfe 
    Born 6 May, 1585  Heacham, Norfolk, England Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 





    [Since this account was prepared the compiler has been informed that
    Mr. Wilson Miles Cary of Baltimore, the distinguished genealogist,
    who spent sone time in England, thinks that he has discovered that
    John Rolfe, of Virginia, was not a son of John and Dorothea Rolfe, but
    belonged to another branch of the same family. The proof is not yet
    positive, but Mr. Cary is still having the matter investigated and has
    promised to give this Magazine the result of his researches]

    John Rolfe.

    John Rolfe the son of John and Dorothea Rolfe married in Eng-
    land and sailed for Virginia in May 1609. The ship in which he came
    was wrecked on the Bermudas and here a daughter was bom, who was
    named Bermuda and christened Feb .11, 1609-10. They reached Virginia
    in May 1610 and Rolfe\'s wife and child had either died at the Bermudas
    or only lived a short time after reaching Virginia.

    He became a prominent member of the Colony and is said to have
    been the first person to suggest the cultivation of tobacco. Early in
    ApHl 1614 his celebrated marriage with Pocahontas took place. Though
    evidently greatly attached to her, he had wrestling in spirit (he had
    much of the Pi^ritanism so prevalent in the eastern counties of England)
    before he could make up his mind to marry one of heathen birth.

    He wrote to Governor Dale: \"Nor am I out of hope but one day
    to see my cotmtrie, nor so void of friends, nor mean of birth, but there
    to obtain a match to my great content\"; but love was stronger than his
    fears. The curious and interesting letter referred to is most accessible
    in Meade\'s \"Old Churches & Families of Virginia\", I. 126-129.

    In 1616 Rolfe and Pocahontas went to England and her reception
    there and the interest she excited are well known.

    They were about to set sail for Virginia, on their return, when
    Pocahontas died at Gravesend and was buried in the Church there
    March 21, 1616-17. Some confusion has been caused by John Rolfe\'s

    From a photograph of the original portrait

    Negative, property of

    Cook, Fhotographer, Richmond

    GENEALOGY. 209

    name appearing on the register as \"Thomas Wrolfe;\" but this is no
    doubt to be accounted for by the fact that he was a stranger only at
    Gravesend to embark, and that the clerk or rector made a mistake in
    the name. The Virginia Society of Colonial Dames will at an early date
    erect a memorial to Pocahontas in Gravesend Church.

    He tried to bring his infant son Thomas with him to Virginia;
    but when the ship touched at Plymouth it was obvious that the child
    could not stand the voyage, and he was left there with Sir Lewis Stukeley,
    until he could be transferred to the care of his uncle Henry Rolfe of Lon-

    On his return to Virginia Rolfe wrote a letter to Sir Edwin Sandys
    dated Jamestown, June 8, 1617 in which he speaks of his grief at the
    death of Pocahontas and explains why he had to leave his son. This
    letter was printed in this Magazine X 134-1 ?S.

    In the year 1617 Rolfe was appointed Recorder and Secretary
    General of the Colony, and in 1619 was a member of the Council. As a
    member of this body he sat in the first American legislature, the Virginia
    Assembly of 1619, and is the only member of that Assembly who is known
    to have descendants living at the present day. He married in or before
    1620 Jane, daughter of Captain William Pierce (also of the Virginia Coun-
    cil) and had a daughter Elizabeth bom 1620. John Rolfe died in 1622
    and it is probable that he was killed in the great Indian Massacre of that
    year. In addition to the letters referred to Rolfe was the author of a
    \"relation\" of events in Virginia. Smith, Hamor and all of the early
    writers speak of him as an honest and worthy gentleman.

    His will has been published (in abstract) in Waters\' \"Gleanings\"
    and is as follows:

    John Rolfe, of James City in Virginia, Esq., dated 10 March 1621,
    proved May 21, 1630 [in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury] by William
    Pyers [Pierce], Father-in-law William Pyers, gentleman, to have charge
    of the two small children of very tender age. A parcel of land in the
    Country of Tappahannah between two creeks over against James City
    in the Country or Continent of Virginia, to son Thomas Rolfe and his
    heirs, failing his issue to my daughter Elizabeth; [The land here be-
    queathed was no doubt the \"Smiths Fort\" tract], next to my right heirs.
    Land on Mulberry Island Virginia, to my wife Jane, during her natural
    life then to daughter Elizabeth. To my servant Robert Davies twent_
    pounds. Witnesses: Temperance Yeardley, Richard Buck, John Cart-
    wright, Robert Davys and John Milwarde.

    Thomas Rolfe.

    Thomas Rolfe, the son of John Rolfe and Pocahontas was bom in
    Virginia in 1615 and was taken to England by his parents. When his
    mother died and his father returned to Virginia, im March 1616-17 he
    was left at Plymouth under the care of Sir Lewis Stukeley, who became


    SO notorious and generally detested for his treachery to Sir Walter
    Raleigh. Thomas Rolfe was afterwards removed to the care of his
    uncle Henry Rolfe, of London, who was a member of the Virginia Com-
    pany. The boy remained with him for a number of years. On August
    23rd 1618 the Virginia Company wrote to Governor Argall in Virginia.
    \"We cannot imagine why you should give us warning that Opechankano
    and the natives have given the country to Mr. Rolfe\'s child and that
    they reseve it from all others tmtil he comes of years.\" It would ap-
    pear from this that the Indians were supposed to have intended that
    Thomas Rolfe should succeed to the chieftanship of the Powhatans.

    In October 1622 Mr. Henry Rolfe petitioned the Virginia Com-
    pany requesting that he be paid out of the estate of his brother John
    Rolfe for having brought up the son of his brother and Pocahontas. In a
    grant of land in 1635 to Captain William Pierce the name of Thomas
    Rolfe appears among the head rights. This probably indicates the time
    that he came to Virginia. He was then about twenty years old.

    \"He afterwards,\" says Stith, \"became a person of fortune and
    distinction in the Colony.\" In 1641 he petitioned the Governor for per-
    mission to visit his aunt \"Cleopatre and his Kinsman Opecancanough.\"
    In 1646 as \"Lieutenant Thomas Rolfe\" he was granted Fort Chicka-
    hominy and 600 acres adjoining on condition of keeping a guard there.
    Between that date and 1663 he patented a number of other tracts of land.
    There is recorded in Surry County, in 1673, a deed dated Jime 20, 1654,
    from Thomas Rolfe to William Corker, conveying 120 acres in Surry,
    lying between \"Smiths fort old field\" and \"the Devils\' Woodyard,\"
    which was the property of Thomas Rolfe \"by gift from the Indian King.\"
    It also appears from various depositions recorded in Surry that he at one
    time owned the plantation called \"Smiths Fort,\" 1200 acres, at the
    mouth of Gray\'s Creek which he sold to Thomas Warren. One of the
    deponents states- that he was present in 1654 with Mr. Thomas Rolfe in
    Mr. Warren\'s \"fifty foot brick house\" on \"Smiths Fort\" plantation soon
    after it was completed.

    Warren\'s \"Fifty foot brick house\" is still standing, the oldest
    brick dwelling in Virginia to which a date can be assigned. The farm
    still called \"Smiths Fort\" now belongs to a prosperous negro farmer. In
    addition to the old house there is much of interest in the neighborhood.
    On John Smith\'s map of Virginia may be seen at the mouth of Gray\'s
    Creek opposite Jamestown, the inscription \"The New Fort\". Smith
    states that on 1608 or 1609 he built a fort as a place of refuge in case of
    being compelled to retreat from Jamestown \"on a convenient river upon
    a high commanding eminence.\" It has been suggested foolishly, that
    this fort was the \"Old Stone House\" on Ware Creek in the upper part of
    James City County; but any retreat to this place would have been through
    dense forests which afforded ample cover for the Indians. It seems
    there can be no doubt that the fort Smith refers to was the \"New Fort\"
    on Gray\'s Creek, and that this was on the \"Smith\'s Fort\" tract. About



    GENEALOGY. 211

    a half mile from the brick house referred to is a high bluff, about the
    middle of a long bend in Gray\'s Creek. On the opposite side are wide
    marshes, and ravines at the sides of the bluff make it something of a
    promontory. Across the rear of the bluff traces of trenches can be dis-
    tinctly seen, though the covering of leaves makes them, in the photo-
    graph, less distinct than they really are. There can be little doubt that
    we have here the remains of Smiths \"New Fort.\"

    Thomas Rolfe\'s wife is said (though there is no proof of the correct-
    ness of the statement) to have been a Miss Poythress, and he had an only
    child, Jane, who married in 1675 Col. Robert Boiling and died in 1676.
    Among the James City records (now destroyed) was the following deed,
    communicated to the \"Southern Literary Messenger\" by the once well-
    known Virginia antiquary, Richard Randolph: \"This Indenture made
    1st October 1698 between John Boiling of the County of Henrico and
    parish of Varina, Gent, son and heir of Jane late wife of Robert Boiling,
    of Charles City County, Gent, which Jane was the only child of Thomas
    Rolfe, dec\'d, conveying to William Brown, of the parish of Wilmington,
    in the County of James City, one thousand acres of land commonly called
    the Fort on Chickahonimy River, as per patent granted to Thomas
    Rolfe (this was Fort Chickahominy granted him in 1646).

    Thomas Rolfe probably died in James City County, so the records
    in regard to his will death &c. have been destroyed along with all the
    records of that County.

    (To BE CONTINtmD.)   [1
    Died 22 Mar, 1621  Henrico County, VA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I670  Ellie Wood Keith
    Last Modified 4 Jan 2018 

    Family Pocahontas,   b. 17 Sept, 1595, Powhatan\'s Village, Pamunkey River, VA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 21 Mar 1615, Gravesend, Kent County, England Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 19 years) 
    +1. Thomas Rolfe,   b. 30 Jan, 1614, Smith\'s Fort Plantation, Bermuda Hundred, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  [putative]
    Last Modified 23 Dec 2017 
    Family ID F363  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Sources 
    1. [S57] Virginia Historical Magazine, https://archive.org/stream/virginiamagazine21virg/virginiamagazine21virg_djvu.txt.