Thomas Rolfe

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Thomas Rolfe
BornJanuary 30, 1615 (1615-01-30)
SpouseJane Poythress
Children Jane Rolfe (1650–1676)
Parent(s) John Rolfe

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


Early life

Thomas Rolfe was born in the English colony of Virginia to John Rolfe and his wife, Pocahontas, in January 1615. [1] It is believed he was born at the Rolfe family plantation, Varina, in what was then the corporation of James Cittie. Rolfe's birth was recorded as the first time a child was born to a Native American woman and a European man in the history of Virginia. [2] In 1616 John Rolfe and Pocahontas accompanied Governor Sir Thomas Dale on a trip to England to promote the Colony of Virginia, they sailed aboard the Treasurer captained by Samuel Argall, arriving at Plymouth, England on 12 June 1616. [3] Less than two years of age, Thomas Rolfe accompanied his parents on this voyage.

In March 1617, the Rolfe family had boarded ship, preparing to set sail back to Virginia, when Pocahontas was taken seriously ill and died. They disembarked at Gravesend in Kent, where Pocahontas was buried. Thomas was sick as well, and fearing he would not survive the sea journey home, John Rolfe appointed Sir Lewis Stukley as his guardian on 21 March 1617. [4] Grieving for his wife and worried for the life of his son, John Rolfe was persuaded by Admiral Argall and other members of the party to continue the voyage. Father and son would never see each other again. John Rolfe, Tomocomo, the governor and other surviving Native Americans returned to Virginia. [5] Stuckley later transferred custody and care of Thomas Rolfe to his uncle, Henry Rolfe. [6]

After returning to Virginia, John Rolfe married a third time, to Jane Pierce, and gave Thomas a younger half-sister, Elizabeth.

John Rolfe wrote his will on March 10, 1622 and died not long after that. In his will John appointed his father in law, William Pierce, as executor of his estate and guardian of his 2 children, Thomas and Elizabeth. [7]

In October 1622, Henry Rolfe petitioned the Council of Virginia, claiming entitlement to a portion of John Rolfe's land for maintenance of Thomas Rolfe. [8] Thomas remained in his uncle's care until he reached roughly 21 years of age. [9] Sometime before June 1635 Thomas returned to Virginia, his transportation paid for by his Virginia guardian and grandfather by marriage, William Pierce. This is known with certainty because Pierce patented land on June 22, 1635, claiming headright for the transportation of 40 individuals, including Thomas Rolfe. [10] There is no further mention of his whereabouts or doings until 1641. [11]

Once established in Virginia again, Thomas Rolfe fostered both his reputation as a plantation owner and member of his mother's lineage. [9]


As Rolfe was a child of a white settler 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 colonial laws that forbade such contact. In 1641, Rolfe petitioned the governor for permission to visit his "aunt, Cleopatra, and his kinsman Opecanaugh". [8]

Rolfe married Jane Poythress, the daughter of Captain Francis Poythress, a prosperous landowner in Virginia. [11] [12] [13] [14] Their daughter, Jane Rolfe, was born at Varina Plantation, Charles City County, Virginia, on October 10, 1650. [15] There is no record of any other children, and no record of any other marriages for Thomas Rolfe.


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 have the same concept of land ownership as the white settlers. There is no mention of former Native American 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. [16] 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. [17]

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". [8] 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. [18]

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". [8]

The year after the 1644 Native American 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; [6]

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. [19]

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. [18]

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. [20] This James Fort land was re patented by William Browne on April 23, 1681. [21] 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.[ citation needed ]


The last recorded mention of Thomas Rolfe exists in a land patent from September 16, 1658. [11] 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. [22]


The Sedgeford Hall Portrait, once believed to represent Matoaka 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 Matoaka 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. [15] John Bolling married Mary Kennon, daughter of Richard Kennon and Elizabeth Worsham of Conjurer's Neck. [15] John and Mary Bolling had six surviving children, each of whom married and had surviving children. [23]

The Sedgeford Hall Portrait, now in King's Lynn Town Hall, 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. [24]

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]

Thomas Rolfe is the eleventh-great-grandfather of actor, Edward Norton. [25]

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  1. "John Rolfe". HISTORY. 28 October 2019.
  2. "Thomas Rolfe - Historic Jamestowne Part of Colonial National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)". National Park Service . Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  3. Robert S. Tilton (2004). "Rolfe, John (1585–1622)" . Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24018.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. "Stucley, Lewis"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  5. 1 2 Price, David A. (2003). Love And Hate in Jamestown. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing. p. 183. Print.
  6. 1 2 Mossiker, Frances (1976). Matoaka: The Life and Legend. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996. pp. 213–313.
  7. Salmon, Emily. Rolfe, John (d. 1622). (2021, February 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Boddie, John Bennett (1974). Colonial Surry. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. ISBN   9780806300269 via Google Books.
  9. 1 2 Clausen, Christopher (June 1, 2007). "Between Two Worlds". The American Scholar . Vol. 76, no. 3. 80–90. Retrieved November 25, 2020 via ProQuest.
  10. Cavaliers and pioneers; abstracts of Virginia land patents and grants, 1623-1800 by Nugent, Nell Marion, p 29
  11. 1 2 3 Barbour, Philip L. (1969). Matoaka and Her World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 184, 214. Print.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  12. Snow, Megan (May 2003). "Thomas Rolfe". Historic Jamestowne. National Park Service . Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  13. Pecquet du Bellet, Louise (1907). "Bolling Family". Some prominent Virginia families. Lynchburg, VA: J.P. Bell Co. p. 304. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  14. Elizabeth Vann Moore; Richard Slatten. "The Descendants of Matoaka: An Unclosed Case". Magazine of Virginia Genealogy. Vol. XXIII, no. 3. pp. 3–16., cited by John Frederick Dorman. Adventurers of Purse and Person. Vol. 3 (4th ed.). 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."
  15. 1 2 3 John Frederick Dorman, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 4th ed., Vol. 3, pp. 23–36.
  16. Carson, Jane (January 1950). "The Will of John Rolfe". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 58 (1): 58–65. JSTOR   4245674.
  17. 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.
  18. 1 2 McCartney, Martha W. "Thomas Rolfe". Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers, 1607–1635: A Biographical Dictionary. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007. p. 608. Print.
  19. 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
  20. Land Office Patent Bk 3, p. 13.
  21. Land Office Patent Bk 7, p. 96
  22. "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.
  23. Henrico County Deeds & Wills 1697–1704, p. 96
  24. Navab, Valorie. American Indian Summer 2013. Smithsonian Institution.
  25. "Edward Norton Discovers He's Actually Related to Pocahontas". The Daily Beast . 3 January 2023.