John Rolfe, if known at all today, is known as the husband of Pocahontas. The marriage between these two did create a peace between the English and the Powhatans for eight years, known as the "Peace of Pocahontas," saving perhaps hundreds of lives. However this man also may well have been "the man who saved America."
The first English claim in America was "Virginia," established by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late sixteenth century. In 1607 and thereafter Captain John Smith and many others made their personal contributions to this speculative business venture funded by investors under the name "Virginia Company." Seeking the great wealth in precious metals which the Spanish had been taking from America for over one hundred years, the company's investors came up empty in Virginia, for the Powhatan Indians had no such treasures. Aggressively seeking profitable alternatives, they found none which were adequate to offset tremendous expenditures, even after years of searching, suffering immense hardships and a tremendous mortality rate.
The failing experiment was on the verge of abandonment when John Rolfe, entrepreneur, stepped forward with salvation for the colony. Rolfe, through investigation, experimentation, cultivation and a great deal of perseverance introduced into Virginia a particular variety of tobacco which prospered in the soil and climate and which, for the first time, prospered the Virginia Company. From a loss to a profit through one man. From long suffering, failure and near bankruptcy to profit, life and continuance.
That profit created by Rolfe permitted the continued growth in America of another plant as well, one which grew into the United States of America. For the seed which could only have been planted by the English was that which brought forth a plant with the branches of constitutionally limited democratic government from the tradition of the Common Law and from the Magna Carta. That seed also produced widespread ownership of private property by the "common man" after a disastrous and nearly fatal experiment with the "common storehouse" concept, Virginia's early painful trial of socialism.
Rolfe, entrepreneur, who saved the failing experiment was also a member of that first little American democratic parliament in 1619 called the General Assembly and had served as Secretary of the Colony. But above all he must be remembered as the man who made it all possible through his persistence, his labor and his entrepreneurial spirit, without which there would not have been anything called the United States of America. All this preceded and made possible the 1620 landing of those well known and overly praised "Pilgrims," who seeking their own religious liberty, denied it to everyone else in that part of "northern Virginia" commonly known as Plymouth Rock.
Thank you, John Rolfe. Too bad we forgot you.
January 19, 2004