Jan 302014
 

rolfe1

Today is the birthday (1615) of Thomas Pepsironemeh Rolfe, the only child of Pocahontas by her English husband, John Rolfe. His maternal grandfather was Wahunsunacock, paramount chief of the Powhatan confederacy in Virginia, and, therefore, also known simply as Powhatan. Thomas Rolfe (and his two marriages) made it possible for following generations, both in North America and in England, to trace descent from Pocahontas (including Nancy Reagan and astronomer Percival Lowell).

rolfe2

Pocahontas (born Matoaka, known as Amonute, and later known as Rebecca Rolfe, c. 1595 – March 1617) was captured by the English during hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca. When the opportunity arose for her to return to her people, she chose to remain with the English. In April 1614, she married tobacco planter John Rolfe.

Thomas Rolfe was born in Virginia and named after Governor Sir Thomas Dale, who accompanied Thomas Rolfe and his parents on their trip to England aboard the Treasurer in 1616. He was a year old during this voyage, and (being half Native American) was not necessarily immune to the diseases and hardships of the voyage. Thomas survived, but a year later in spring 1617 was stricken with a severe fever, as was his mother. Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of the civilized “savage” in hopes of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She became something of a celebrity, was elegantly fêted, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace.

rolfe4

Just as the family was preparing to re-embark on the George for Virginia (while still in Gravesend in Kent), Pocahontas died of a fever (possibly tuberculosis). Thomas was left in Plymouth in England with Sir Lewis Stukley, and was later transferred into the care of his uncle, Henry Rolfe. His father, however, sailed without him to Virginia (after being persuaded by Admiral Argall and other members of the journey that his son was too sick to continue the voyage) and this was the last time that the father and son saw one another. Thomas remained in his uncle’s care in England until he reached roughly 20 years of age, by which time his father had already died. As Henry had raised Thomas, he felt he deserved compensation from his brother, and therefore petitioned the Virginia Council in October 1622, claiming entitlement to a portion of John Rolfe’s land. It is assumed that Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia in 1635, and there is no further mention of Rolfe’s whereabouts or doings until 1641.

Once established in Virginia again, Thomas Rolfe fostered both his reputation as a plantation owner, and as a member of his mother’s lineage. As Thomas Rolfe was a child of a European man and a Native American woman, some aspects of his life were particularly controversial. Thomas 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.”

Thomas married Elizabeth Washington in September 1632 at St James’s Church, Clerkenwell and they had a daughter named Anne Rolfe in 1633. Elizabeth died shortly after Anne’s birth. Anne Rolfe married Peter Elwin (or Elwyn) and through that line many people claim descent from Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Thomas later married a woman named Jane Poythress, who was the daughter of Captain Francis Poythress, a prosperous landowner in Virginia. They had a daughter together (who was named Jane after her mother). Thomas left his daughter with his cousin Anthony Rolfe to claim his inheritance. In 1698, Thomas Rolfe’s grandson John Bolling (Jane’s son) released to William Browne his rights in the land, in a deed in which Bolling is identified as “…son and heir of Jane, late wife of Robert Bolling of Charles City County, Gent., which Jane was the only daughter of Thomas Rolf, dec’d…” As confirmed by the 1698 deed quoted above, his daughter Jane married Robert Bolling. Robert Bolling and Jane Rolfe Bolling had one child; their son John was born January 26, 1676.

While Thomas did receive land from his father, it is believed that a fair percentage of his land came from the Native Americans, as well. 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….” 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.” 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.

rolfe5

Thomas also inherited a tract of around 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.”

The year after the 1644 attack on the colony by Native Americans, 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 Powhatan — his own people:

And it is further enacted and granted, That left.[Lieutenant] Thomas Rolfe shall have and enjoy for himselfe and his heires for ever ffort 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 amunition at present belonging to the said ffort; 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.

rolfe6

Then, on October 6, 1646, Thomas was put in charge of building a fort at Moysenac, for which he received 400 acres of land. This fort was located on the west side of Diascund Creek. 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. This Fort James land was repatented by William Browne on April 23, 1681. 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 exact year and place of his death are unknown.

Pocahontas did not leave any fully Native American descendants. However, many non-Native people in the United States claim descent from her through her son, Thomas Rolfe, and Thomas’s daughter, Jane. Moreover, many people in Great Britain also claim descent from Pocahontas through Thomas’s daughter, Anne, by his wife Elizabeth Washington.

The birth of Thomas Rolfe, as he was both European and Native American, 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.”

I think it is rather a shame that fictionalized accounts of Pocahontas, which usually play fast and loose with the historic facts (especially Disney), do not say much, if anything, about her son.  To my mind he represents a hope that never materialized of unity and accord between indigenous peoples and European colonists in North America.

As I have mentioned several times before, the settlement of the Americas led to the importation of myriad fruits and vegetables into Europe.  In Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor Falstaff shouts deliriously, “Let the sky rain potatoes” as a sign of the joy at these new arrivals. Potatoes were initially aristocratic food only, and the potato flower was used as an ornament on high quality china.  The pumpkin was also apparently very popular quite early on among the nobility, and also appears in Shakespeare:  “It pleased them to think me worthy of pompion” (Love’s Labour’s Lost: V, ii).  The word “pumpkin” originates from the word “pepon” which is Greek for “large melon,” or, more generally, something round and large. The French adapted this word to “pompon,” which the English changed to “pompion” or “pumpion,” and later American colonists changed that to the word that is used today, “pumpkin.”

rolfe7

Related recipes for pumpion pye (i.e. pumpkin pie) start showing up in various editions of two cookbooks in the 1650’s onward, The Compleat Cook by Nathaniel Brook, and The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May, such as this one from Brook in 1671:

To make a Pumpion Pye.

Take about halfe a pound of Pumpion and slice it, a handfull of Tyme, a little Rosemary, Parsley and sweet Marjoram slipped off the stalks, and chop them smal, then take Cinamon, Nutmeg, Pepper, and six Cloves, and beat them; take ten Eggs and beat them; then mix them, and beat them altogether, and put in as much Sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froiz; after it is fryed, let it stand till it be cold, then fill your Pye, take sliced Apples thinne round wayes, and lay a row of the Froiz, and a layer of Apples with Currans betwixt the layer while your Pye is fitted, and put in a good deal of sweet butter before you close it; when the Pye is baked, take six yolks of Eggs, some white-wine or Verjuyce, & make a Caudle of this, but not too thick; cut up the Lid and put it in, stir them well together whilst the Eggs and Pumpions be not perceived, and so serve it up.

It is a fascinating dish, and because it combines English apples and North American pumpkin, is a worthy dish to celebrate Thomas Rolfe.  The pie has three layers, apples on the bottom, a sort of thick pancake (froiz) of mashed pumpkin and eggs, and then another layer of apples and currants, bathed in a sweet and sour syrup (caudle) of verjuice and egg yolks.  Very complex.  Deana Sidney in her excellent blog, Lost Past Remembered, recreated this pie and it looks wonderful.  The image here is hers.

rolfe9

A full account of her recreation of the pie can be found here, and is well worth a visit:

http://lostpastremembered.blogspot.com.ar/2009/11/i-cant-be-only-person-who-is-haunted-by.html

This pie would certainly make a talking point at Thanksgiving dinner, or at any dinner for that matter. Sidney does note that 10 eggs seems like a lot for ½ pound of pumpkin, and, in fact, May’s recipe, quite similar to Brook’s, calls for 1 pound.  You’d need to experiment. The flavorings are also interesting: thyme, rosemary, parsley, marjoram, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and cloves.  Without the sugar this would make a superb gravy for beef, and, in fact, I have frequently experimented with similar combinations. The herbs and spices marry well together.

  8 Responses to “Thomas Rolfe (Son of Pocahontas)”

  1. Our Limehouse STOUTs from Norfolk may be descendants of Anne Rolfe who married Peter Elwyn. Their great, great grand-daughter Mary Anguish 1764-1827 married Joseph Stout 1763-1831 and we photographed their head stones in St Margaret’s churchyard, Cantley, Norfolk. They were the great, great, grandparents of our grandad Fred. Stout 1884-1952!

  2. The son of John Rolfe and Pocahontas is my grand father and I descend parent to child, to my, if he were alive 148 year old grandfather and his son my Dad. There were 14 kids here, but now there are nine of us siblimgs Our great grandfather lived to 105 and so did the others live to very old age. There have been few generations and I can show you how good the artists were that drew the sketches in the 1600’s. I have photos and the resemblance is strong. The Sedge Field Hall painting of Thomas looks like my son at the same age,. I have the painting of my son and you can see the family resemblance is very strong. We did not know who we were until the end of January 2016. I want to know the modern day plat description of the land that Powhatan left to Thomas Rolfe. Is there anyone out there that has that info to share? He called the land TappinHannah

    • I live in Heacham West Norfolk England where John Rolfes parents and grandparents are buried inside St Mary’s Church with 19 other Rolfes in the past 4 centuries and 45 Rolfes are buried in the own private walled family burial garden many important famous names . John Rolfe’s father John Rolfe (senior) died young aged only 32 a very successful farmer and his mother Dorothea Rolfe married a few months later in the Heacham St Mary’s Church in April 1594 Dr Robert Redmayne who was a successful Cambridge Lawyer and the Chancellor of Norwich Cathedral for 37 years and for FIVE Bishops who died in 1625 aged 70 and has a huge ornate tomb beside John Rolfe’s parents and the Rolfes and Redmaynes would have traded in their family ships and horses and carriages around Norfolk and Cambridgeshire and to Boston Lincs England as when Princess Pocahontas and John Rolfe visited England with their toddler son Thomas Rolfe in 1616 -1617 she has an old Inn there named after her INDIAN QUEEN when they all stayed and another in Cornwall north of Truro where they stayed overnight as their TREASURER ship hit stormy weather off Lands End in June 1616 so landed urgently diverted to Falmouth not Plymouth -hence it is now the name of the Cornwall village. They then visited London staying at the Bell Inn renamed BELLE SAUVAGE INN near St Pauls Cathedral then travelled to relatives and grandma Dorothea in Heacham in the nine months where Pocahontas planted an old mulberry tree still growing at their farm at HEACHAM HALL now the Heacham Manor Hotel and she probably travelled to Narford Hall Red Lodge where Uncle Edmund Rolfe and baby son Francis Rolfe lived born 1615 and their family later raised Anne Rolfe (Elisabeth Washington and Thomas Rolfes daughter) as Anne Rolfe married Peter Elwin and they named their first child FOUNTAIN that is the family surname now at Narford Hall and dates from 1600’s and the Tuttington Rolfes also looked after Anne Rolfe (Washington ) who was Thomas Rolfe Elisabeths daughter who died at her birth so he returned to his birthplace at Varina Henricho in Virginia aged about 23 .The REDMAYNE land /park at Norwich TROWSE is used for the Norwich Cathedral School Playing Fields and for new homes built in 2003 for families and for REDMAYNE VIEW Retirement home for 40 elderly residents. Pocahontas was given a 1617 bible by Queen Anne and King James 1 after she visited Whitehall Palace on Twelfth night January 6th 1617 for a Masque Ball especially written by Ben Johnson Vision of Delight original script is in British Library and John Rolfes fathers Geneva 1580 bible turned up on their wedding anniversary 400th celebrations on April 6th 2014 displayed at Jamestown preserved at Williamsburg University Library archives with a letter inside from Rev Seymour Landen explaining that Thomas Rolfe did not collect it so his family gave it to the library as it is historically very important and the second oldest bible in America . These bibles should now finish their journeys to the correct families after 400 years

  3. Your first portrait of Pocahontas and Thomas rolfe was hanging at SEDGFORD HALL in the next village for many years where other Rolfes lived in the 1800 and 1900’s and they gave it to Kings Lynn Museum and it is huge and beautiful with ornate gold frame hanging on the staircase at the Town Hall-that is the Old Guildhall in Kings Lynn next to St Margaret’s Church close to BOAL QUAY and THORESBY COLLEGE where John Smith worked as a junior clerk aged 15 for Sir Thomas Sendall the Mayor of Kings Lynn and a successful wine merchant -His home is near the old CORN EXCHANGE called the TUDOR ROSE INN next door to the old Bishops House that is close to the other old Kings Lynn church St Nicholas and TRUES YARD -now a Fisherman museum -so they would all have known each other as the populations were much smaller . Look on old maps dated 1648 on google as the sea was tidal up to Cambridge and Huntingdon and Peterborough with the Isle of Ely as an island so farmers with ships traded very successfully selling sheep and wool and fresh food and building materials that made Norfolk wealthy villages in these MINI ICE AGE STARVING TIMES with freezing winters and drought summers for more than seven years so clean water and food was scarce

  4. Have you watched the new successful documentary film POCAHONTAS DOVE OF PEACE made by CBN Jamestown launched in USA in November 2016 that was nominated for three Emmy Film Awards at Los Angeles on April 28th 2017 so film Director Amy Reid attended the red carpet ceremonies? This film is excellent with some very interesting commentaries especially by Rappahannock Chief Anne Nelson Richardson who was at the 400 Memorial Service with two other American Indian Chiefs Adams and Chief Adkins and other families and schools + 50 Americans with other interesting history lectures by senior executive Mr David Givens -Rediscovery Dig Jamestown and exhibitions at Gravesend St Georges Church special Pocahontas memorial service on March 21st 2017 . There is more information archives still being found in England that would make a new second history archive film. Dorothea Rolfe and her second husband Dr Robert Redmaynes two WILLS are preserved with all their births marriages deaths births in Heacham St Mary’s Church Parish record books including his grandparents and John Rolfe (senior and junior) and his twin Eustacius Rolfe at Norwich County Hall Records office not far from the Norwich Cathedral where his stepfather Dr Robert Redmayne worked for 37 years as the Chancellor for five bishops This included his relative Bishop of Norwich Cathedral Rev William Redman from 1595-1602 who died and is buried with a family memorial in the chancel at Great Shelford Church Cambridge .Francis Rolfe (born 1615) cousin of Pocahontas son Thomas Rolfe from Narford Hall Red Lodge has two grandchildren Julian Rolfe and his sister Sarah Rolfe later buried in Norwich Cathedral with a special plaque as Julian Rolfe was also a lawyer at the Cathedral Many of the Rolfes were important leaders in the Atlantic shipping and Ernest Neville Rolfe later was an Admiral in the Royal Navy in the 1800’s and church warden at Westminster Abbey where there is a plaque-Pocahontas family helped John Rolfes first tobacco plantations were important as entrepreneurs in changing history and taking new trades and exchanging new ideas to other nations with its successful trade to Europe in the past four centuries-as they would not have known about its nicotine carcinogenic problems that can cause lung cancer and in World War 11 many servicemen were grateful for their pipes and tobacco. Tobacco plants are now being used for developing ten new important medical drugs including ZMAPP for Ebola that saved the lives of two American doctors treating patients in West Africa in 2013- It would be great news if all these new tobacco plant drugs are successful and can save more lives especially for HIV and Norovirus and Malaria and Cancer and for treating tendons injuries

    • It all gets deeper and deeper. I’m glad my post generated this kind of interest. I don’t have the time, nor the ability, to watch documentaries, I’m afraid. I work in Myanmar these days, and it’s about as much as I can do to get WiFi to work. The most I can say about the internet where I live is that it’s better than China — which is not saying much.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)