Thomas Rolfe

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Thomas Rolfe
Born(1615-01-30)January 30, 1615[ citation needed ]
Died16 April 1680(1680-04-16) (aged 65)
Known forPepsironemeh, Prince of Powhatan
Spouse(s)Jane Poythress
Children Jane Rolfe (1650–1676)
Parent(s) John Rolfe

Thomas Rolfe (January 30, 1615 – April 16, 1680) was the only child of Pocahontas and her English husband, John Rolfe. His maternal grandfather was Chief Wahunsenacah, the leader of the Powhatan tribe in Virginia.


Early life

Thomas Rolfe was born in Virginia to John Rolfe and his wife, Pocahontas, in January of 1615. [1] Rolfe's birth was recorded as the first time a child was born to a Virginian Native American woman and an English man in Virginia's history. [2] Governor Sir Thomas Dale was accompanied by Thomas Rolfe and his parents on their trip to England aboard the Treasurer in 1616. [3] Thomas Rolfe was less than two years of age during this voyage. In March 1617, the Rolfe family were preparing to re-embark on the George ship commanded by Samuel Argall when Rebecca (Pocahontas) was taken ill and died, at Gravesend in Kent. Thomas was not well enough to survive the long voyage back to Jamestown and Thomas was left in Plymouth, England, with Sir Lewis Stukley and later transferred into the care of his uncle, Henry Rolfe. [4] His father, however, sailed to Virginia without him after being persuaded by Admiral Argall and other members of the journey that Thomas was too sick to continue the voyage; this was the last time the two ever saw each other. [5] Thomas remained in his uncle's care until he reached roughly 21 years of age, by which time his father had already died. [6] As Henry raised Thomas, he felt he deserved compensation from his brother's estate and, therefore, petitioned the Virginia Council in October 1622, claiming entitlement to a portion of John Rolfe's land. [7] It is assumed that Thomas returned to Virginia in 1635, and there is no further mention of his whereabouts or doings until 1641. [8]

Once established in Virginia again, Thomas Rolfe fostered both his reputation as a plantation owner and member of his mother's lineage. [6]


As Rolfe was a child of an Englishman and a Native American woman, some aspects of his life were particularly controversial. He expressed interest in rekindling relations with his Native American relatives, despite societal ridicule and laws that forbade such contact. In 1641, Rolfe petitioned the governor for permission to visit his "aunt, Cleopatra, and his kinsman Opecanaugh". [7]

Rolfe married Jane Poythress, the daughter of Captain Francis Poythress, a prosperous landowner in Virginia. [8] [9] [10] [11] Their daughter, Jane Rolfe, was born at Varina plantation, Henrico County, Virginia on October 10, 1650. [12]


According to his father's will, both Thomas and Elizabeth, his half-sister, received named land. There is no extant proof that some land came from the Native Americans. However Native Americans did not 'hold' land in the English way. There is no mention of former Indian land in John Rolfe's will, however, John Rolfe names Thomas as the rightful heir of all his land, profits and any royalties pertaining to such land. [13] There were rumors in 1618 that when Thomas came of age, he would inherit a sizable portion of Powhatan territory; this information was transmitted through Argall to London, stating, "'Opechanano and the Natives have given their Country to Rolfe's Child and that they will reserve it from all others till he comes of yeares...." (Mossiker). There is no extant documentation that when Thomas arrived in Virginia in 1640, the land was recorded as "Varina," his patrimonial property sixteen miles below Richmond. [14]

Thomas's step-grandfather, named Captain William Peirce, received a grant of 2000 acres of land on June 22, 1635, for the "transportation of 40 persons among whom was Thomas Rolfe". [7] He then listed Thomas as heir to his father's land. Prior to March 1640, Thomas took possession of this land which was located on the lower side of the James River. [15]

Thomas also inherited a tract of some 150 acres on June 10, 1654, in Surry County, across from Jamestown; the land was described in a later deed as "Smith's Fort old field and the Devil's Woodyard swamp being due unto the said Rolfe by Gift from the Indian King". [7]

The year after the 1644 Indian attack on the colony, four forts were established to defend the frontier: Fort Henry, Fort Royal, Fort James, and Fort Charles. Fort James was to be under the command of Thomas Rolfe as lieutenant as of October 5, 1646. He was given six men, and was instructed to fight against the Native Americans—his own people; [4]

And it is further enacted and granted, That left.[Lieutenant] Thomas Rolfe shall have and enjoy for himselfe and his heires for ever fort James alias Chickahominy fort with fowre hundred acres of land adjoyning to the same, with all houses and edifices belonging to the said forte and all boats and ammunition at present belonging to the said fort; Provided that he the said Leift. Rolfe doe keepe and maintaine sixe men vpon the place duringe the terme and time of three yeares, for which tyme he the said Leift. Rolfe for himselfe and the said sixe men are exempted from publique taxes. [16]

Site of the fort on Diascund Creek MOYSONEC NEW KENT COUNTY, VA.jpg
Site of the fort on Diascund Creek

Then, on October 6, 1646, Thomas was put in charge of building a fort at Moysonec, for which he received 400 acres (160 ha) of land. This fort was located on the west side of Diascund Creek. [15]

Several years later, Rolfe patented 525 acres on August 8, 1653, "...lying upon the North side of Chickahominy river commonly called and known by the name of James fort...", apparently including the 400 acres he had received in 1646. [17] This James Fort land was re patented by William Browne on April 23, 1681. [18] The tract was described in the patent as "formerly belonging to Mr Thomas Rolfe, dec'd", thus establishing that Rolfe had died before that date.


The last recorded mention of Thomas Rolfe exists in a land patent from September 16, 1658. [8] While some sources claim that Thomas died in 1680, others claim that the exact year is unknown. Some evidence purports that Thomas Rolfe died in James City County, Virginia, however the records of the county were destroyed in 1685 during a fire. [19]


The Sedgeford Hall Portrait, once believed to represent Pocahontas and her son, has been re-identified as being Pe-o-ka (wife of Osceola) and their son. Sedgeford portrait.jpg
The Sedgeford Hall Portrait, once believed to represent Pocahontas and her son, has been re-identified as being Pe-o-ka (wife of Osceola) and their son.

Rolfe's daughter, Jane Rolfe, married Robert Bolling of Prince George County, Virginia; the couple's son, John Bolling, was born on January 27, 1676. Jane Rolfe is said to have died shortly after giving birth. [12] John Bolling married Mary Kennon, daughter of Richard Kennon and Elizabeth Worsham of Conjurer's Neck. [12] John and Mary Bolling had six surviving children, each of whom married and had surviving children. [20]

The Sedgeford Hall Portrait, once believed to represent Pocahontas and her son Thomas Rolfe, has been re-identified as being Pe-o-ka, wife of the Seminole leader Osceola, and their son. [21]

The birth of Thomas Rolfe, as he was both of European and Native American descent, reinstated peace between the Powhatans and the European settlements. Early in his career as deputy governor, Argall reported in a letter published within the Virginia Company Records that Powhatan "goes from place to place visiting his country taking his pleasure in good friendship with us laments his daughter's death but glad her child is living so doth opachank". [5]

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  1. Editors, History com. "John Rolfe". HISTORY.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. "Thomas Rolfe - Historic Jamestowne Part of Colonial National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  3. Robert S. Tilton, "Rolfe, John (1585–1622)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., September 2012
  4. 1 2 Mossiker, Frances. Pocahontas: The Life and Legend. 1976. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996. pp. 213–313.
  5. 1 2 Price, David A. Love And Hate in Jamestown. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2003. p. 183. Print.
  6. 1 2 Clausen, Christopher. "Between Two Worlds". The American Scholar 76.3 (2007): 80–90. ProQuest.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Boddie, John Bennett. Colonial Surry. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1974. Web., March 12, 2013.
  8. 1 2 3 Barbour, Philip L. Pocahontas and Her World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969. pp. 184, 214. Print.
  9. Snow, Megan (May 2003). "Thomas Rolfe". Historic Jamestowne. National Park Service . Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  10. Pecquet du Bellet, Louise (1907). "Bolling Family". Some prominent Virginia families. Lynchburg, VA: J.P. Bell Co. p. 304. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  11. "The Descendants of Pocahontas: An Unclosed Case", by Elizabeth Vann Moore and Richard Slatten, Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, XXIII, no.3, pp. 3–16, cited by John Frederick Dorman, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 4th ed., Vol. 3, p. 26, fn23–24. Moore and Slatten traced the suggestion that his wife was a Poythress back to a comment by W. G. Stanard in "Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents", Virginia Historical Magazine(I, 1894, 446–447): "His wife is said to have been a Miss Poythress (if so, doubtless a daughter of Francis Poythress." According to Moore and Slatten, Stanard cited as evidence handwritten notes on the flyleaf of a copy of A Complete Collection of All the Laws of Virginia Now in Force Carefully Copied from the Assembled Records (London, 168[?], now in the Library of Virginia. Moore and Slatten state: "Interestingly, Thomas Rolfe here is recorded as married to a 'Miss Payers'. We recall that in John Rolfe's will the name of his third wife is spelt Pyers (Peirce) and that it was John who married a "Jane". Here again a Bolling descendant confused the son with his father. Not recognizing the name 'Payers' as another variant of Peirce, someone searched the records for a name beginning with 'P' and having a 'y' in the first syllable. Francis Poythress lived in adjacent Charles City County and his name ended in s! Stanard wrote, 'His wife is said to have been a Miss Poythress (if so, doubtless a daughter of Francis Poythress).' (VMHB I, 446) Wyndham Robertson, a Bolling descendant, wrote in Pocahontas Alias Mataoke and Her Descendants (Richmond, 1887), 'I adopt "Jane Poythress" (not "Poyers") whom he is stated in the Bolling Memoirs to have married in England.' He added in justification of his charming adoption of an ancestress, ' such name as "Poyers" is anywhere known ... the family of Poythress was already settled in Virginia.' ... The result has been the acceptance of a non-existent personage, 'Jane Poythress', in the Bibles of Virginia genealogy, as the bona fide ancestress of many illustrious Virginians. Who the wife (or wives) of Thomas Rolfe may have been remains an unanswered question."
  12. 1 2 3 John Frederick Dorman, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 4th ed., Vol. 3, pp. 23–36.
  13. Carson, Jane (January 1950). "The Will of John Rolfe". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 58 (1): 58–65. JSTOR   4245674.
  14. Roberston, Wyndham (1887). Pocahontas, Alias Matoaka, and Her Descendants Through Her Marriage at Jamestown, Virginia, in April, 1614, with John Rolfe, Gentleman. J. W. Randolph & English. p. 29.
  15. 1 2 McCartney, Martha W. "Thomas Rolfe". Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers, 1607–1635: A Biographical Dictionary. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007. p. 608. Print.
  16. Hening, William Waller, Hening's Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the first session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619
  17. Land Office Patent Bk 3, p. 13.
  18. Land Office Patent Bk 7, p. 96
  19. "The Ancestors and Descendants of John Rolfe with Notices of Some Connected Families". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 21 (2): 208–211. April 1913. JSTOR   4243266.
  20. Henrico County Deeds & Wills 1697–1704, p. 96
  21. Navab, Valorie. American Indian Summer 2013. Smithsonian Institution.