The Marriage of
Pocahontas and John Rolfe, 1614
he 17th century Powhatan Princess Matoaka — today better known as Pocahontas — has become an iconic romantic figure to the current generation of young girls, thanks to Walt Disney studios’ cartoon epic, or she serves as the prototype feminist who took charge of her life, defied convention, and overcame the patriarchal tyrants of her day. Regardless of modern revisionist caricatures of the life of Pocahontas, she has always held a privileged place in the Jamestown story, whether she really did save John Smith from execution — as he asserted — or not. That she learned enough English to serve as a liaison for her father and tribe, helped John Smith, was held captive by the settlers, married tobacco businessman John Rolfe and met the King of England, seem beyond debate. Her marriage on the 5th of April, 1614, only seven years after the Jamestown settlers arrived, marked both an affirmation of ancient biblical precedent and the symbolic beginning of a new, though short-lived, period of peace and harmony in Virginia.
The Marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas
The English settlers landed in 1607 in a marshy area along the river they named after the King. Running through their stores too quickly, lack of knowledge how to fish, contention with the native tribes, and the presence of disease and starvation almost put an end to the gentlemen adventurers. Seeking to establish good relations with the natives and setting up effective trade arrangements taxed the settlers who did survive that first year. Pocahontas came into the picture, according to John Smith, when he was seized and threatened with execution, and she intervened to rescue him. In 1609 she was captured by the settlers and held in the fort during the first “Anglo-Powhatan” War.
Recreation of Jamestown Settlement
The Rescue of John Smith by Pocahontas
John Rolfe came to Jamestown on the third relief ship in 1609 with tobacco seeds for planting in the New World. If successful, Spain’s dominance of the tobacco trade could be challenged, and the profits looked for by the London Company might be recouped. The first four barrels of Virginia tobacco left the wharf of Varina Plantation, Rolfe’s home, in 1614. Wanting to marry the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas, threw Rolfe into a quandary. As a Christian man determined to follow biblical law, he knew he could not marry a pagan — unequal yoking. The Indian princess was willing to undergo teaching by the Rev. Alexander Whitaker, the local pastor, and thus heard the Gospel, learned the Catechism, and made a profession of her faith in Christ. Thus the major obstacle to their union disappeared and the first inter-cultural Christian marriage of the English colony ensued. The resulting peace between the natives and the English enabled the colony to expand and prosper.
The Baptism of Pocahontas
Portrait of Lady Rebecca Rolfe
The event is memorialized on the wall of the United States Capitol in a magnificent painting. How few realize the importance and solemnity of that Christian marriage, without “interracial” barriers. The King of England is said to have been displeased because Rolfe had married above his social station! Pocahontas took on the Christian name of Lady Rebecca, an action that horrifies modern pagan sensibilities. They had a son Thomas who has many descendants today. Pocahontas died in England at Gravesend and is buried there. Rolfe was murdered in the Powhatan uprising in 1622 in Virginia.
John Rolfe’s letter to Governor Sir Thomas Dale expressed his desire to follow God’s prescriptions for marriage.