Master John Rolfe of the Virginia Colony has a robust, controversial, and mysterious history from 1610 through 1622. He was from a prosperous farm and merchant family in Heacham (pronounced hitch-im) near Norfolk, England, north and east of London. He was baptized at St. Mary’s Church on May 3, 1585, and went on to all the upbringings of a young man in a middling English family. In 1609 he would be enticed to come to the New World and did so with a pregnant wife. His wife and baby daughter would die while the colonists were shipwrecked on the island of Bermuda. Eventually making it to Virginia, Rolfe would make himself known to history in many iconic ways. First, in 1612 he started growing Spanish seed tobacco which flourished and gave motivation for the Virginia colonists to hang on to their tiny gains. Secondly, his marriage to Pocahontas in 1614 ushered in an Anglo-Powhatan alliance. This alliance stopped the warfare and settled the colonists into permanence. Thirdly, he became the secretary of the colony for a while and prominent supervisory port official for all goods coming and going. He was also a witness in 1619 to the arrival of Spanish-owned African slaves, passengers on a ship hijacked by English-Dutch privateers and brought to Virginia in exchange for provisions. Lastly, and the part that brings us to our mystery, after his will is signed on March 1o, 1622, John Rolfe vanishes from all public record. No record of his death, his burial, or any communications to family in England. John Rolfe was one of the top five most influential men in Virginia. How is this possible?
There’s much to consider:
- Did his death – the last living participant in the Anglo-Powhatan alliance – allow for Opechancanough to order his famous military offensive of March 22, 1622?
- Did John Rolfe know that his death could upset the peace so every effort was made to keep it hidden?
- Was he killed in the attacks of March 22, 1622, and his body never found? Why isn't there any documentation on his death yet every dead Virginian was found and recorded?
- What do you think?
- Incidentally, of all the prominent people involved in the Anglo-Powhatan alliance - Reverend Alexander Whitaker, Chief Powhatan, Sir Thomas Dale, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe - only Pocahontas who died in March 1617 has a verifiable burial location in Gravesend, England. Reverend Whitaker drowned on the James River about the same date as Pocahontas with a undocumented burial; Chief Powhatan died in 1618 and with his finally resting place unknown; Sir Thomas Dale died off the coast of India in August 1619 and might be buried in a colonial cemetery there. As discussed, John Rolfe also remains a mystery.