Who were the parents of John Rolfe?

+7 votes

While searching for something else related to Pocahontas, I came across a reference to a 1990 article in The Virginia Genealogist that suggest that what we currently have as the parents of John Rolfe are inaccurate. While there was a 6 May 1585 baptism of one John Rolfe in Heacham, co. Norfolk, son of John Rolfe and Dorothy Mason, it may not have been the Virginia immigrant nor spouse of Pocahontas. Pertinent quotes:

"... John Rolfe [alleged father of John Rolfe the Virginia immigrant] died suddenly in 1594 (without a will), and on 8 March 1594/5 at Heacham the widow Dorothea Rolph married Robert Redmayne, widower... The 1618 will of Robert Redmaine... names his wife Dorothy and ... mentions no Rolfes nor any of his wife's family. The will of Dorothy Redmayne of Heacham, widow, in 1645 likewise names no Rolfes but does give bequests to... more than sixty persons... The will seems that of a prosperous widow without any descendants. Would the lady give so much money to so many people and yet ignore her own grandson and his family, even if that grandson was in Virginia? Further the immigrant John Rolfe had a brother Henry--the Heacham church register has no Henry Rolfe- so was Henry deadby 1645 without descendants? By inference, Dorothy (Mason) Rolfe Redmaine was not the mother of the Virginia immigrant, and therefore the English ancestry of John Rolfe of Virginia remains unknown."

This suggests we should detach his parents.


Source: William Thorndale, "Two Rolfe Negatives," in The Virginia Genealogist, 34(1990):209-210.

WikiTree profile: John Rolfe
in Genealogy Help by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (806k points)
edited by Jillaine Smith
I agree, the evidence strongly suggests that this couple are not his parents. Detaching seems the prudent thing to do.
Do we know the source for the name of his 1st wife?
First wife of whom?
The immigrant.  It says they married at Heacham, which would be relevant if it were known, but I guess it's just guessed.  It might be helpful if we even knew who she was, but if Sarah Hacker is just a nice girl that somebody picked out of the Heacham register then we're going in circles.
RJ, you might want to start a separate g2g thread on the identity of the immigrant's wife.
I only wondered.  Strachey's account of the wreck (as printed by Purchas) only mentions John Rolfe's child and the godparents and doesn't even mention the existence of a mother.
Superb write-up & notes from N.Gauthier & ties up with what limited I know.

Now, in answer to the 'original poster', this, but compiled with observations of my own, as both a local resident & a few indirect links.

"...Would the Lady give SO much many, to so many people & yet..."

From what I know, it's well-known round these parts (Snettisham, Heacham & Hunstanton), that one or more of the Rolfe Mother's were generous beyond measure, as many local schools & buildings & poor folk, were well financially bestowed by the Rolfe's, hence as to "Why" the family were held in such high regard by the locals.

I did know some facts, many years ago now, but as with all of us, age & advancing years DO take their toll on the memory, plus, most of my historical interest, is taken-up by WW.II Military history & even those huge memory-banks often fail, even after something that I've studied in-depth & then moved-on, yet, needed to recall 15+ years later.

My own Dad's Dad (Grandad), was born & bred in Heacham, plus, my kids also went to school there & my wife played keyboards & done an address there, inside St.Mary's, at Easter 2004.

I live nearby & use & go thru Heacham all the time, plus, most importantly, no-less than 27 of my own family are buried there, in the Churchyard of St.Mary's itself.

When I went looking for Edward & Margaret's gravestone (my 2 x Gt.Gramp's), I walked inside the Rolfe's own plot.

They were so (naturally) affluent, that they have their very own (large), secluded churchyard plot-area, although I've not walked-in there since circa 2004-2005, despite it's only a few miles from where I'm typing this.

With some strange wierd (unplanned), irony, my Paternal Heacham Grandad worked for L.N.E.R (at nearby Lynn) & soon became a Steam-Engine fireman, then, by 1935, a Steam-Train-Driver & settled in London, which is why I have a strong London accent, despite my own family tree (Paternal-side), originating from Hunstanton, Heacham, Sedgeford & Docking (all neigbouring local villages, as used by the Rolfe's themselves - When Pochohontas & John Rolfe came/returned back to England for the 2nd time, she fell ill, died on board ship (along the River Thames), & with some degree of irony, was buried at Gravesend in Kent, on the exact opposite side of the River Thames from where I was born & bred & raised. It wasn't until I was in my late 30's, that I even knew or realised that she (Pocohontas) had died & was buried more or less opposite me & yet, her own husband (John Rolfe), had been born & raised in amongst my own folks & family in the village of Heacham**

Seven of my Grandad's siblings were also born/raised there, plus, my family owned a farm at Heacham, of which, before my family took charge, the Rolfe's would have known & maybe even traded there...

(or even could or may have owned themselves)

So, to the original poster, yeah, it's ENTIRELY possible that the super-generous Rolfe's female forebears may well have splashed-out on the locals with extreme generousity, whilst ignoring those going what we nowadys call 'stateside', as, remember, once the colony had finally settled & (tried), smoothing things over with the Powahtans (after many decades), the Tobacco growng industry quite literally took-off, due to super-high demand of Tobacco in the U.K. & the rest of Europe.
Well it looks like we never made any changes.  I think I'll leave them attached, but mark them as uncertain.
Maybe my husband’s family tree could hold the answer to who the correct parents are for John Rolfe b.1585 Heacham, he comes from a completely different line and angle.

His last know ancestor is John Rolfe b.1762, he settled in North Woolton, Norfolk and is buried there but was not born there. My husband’s family eventually ended up in Islington, London, where his father was born, from here as a young boy his father and grandfather immigrated to Australia, where we live today.

Recently my husband had his DNA taken by Ancestry and he has eleven different DNA matches with the descendants of John Rolfe and Pocahontas through their son Thomas Rolfe. I thought this could be the key to unravel the mystery surrounding John Rolfe.

Thanks for the additional info', Cheryl.

Just to let you know ( & very minor-correction)

It's "North Wooton", not  'Woolton'

It's a local village, roughly 10mins from where I'm typing this

2 Answers

+4 votes
very interesting , I never questioned the parents believing that this was all proven long ago. good work Jillaine.
by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (128k points)
The legend was built in Virginia in the 19th century, by limited research in the few accessible sources and a lot of supposing.
Encyclopedia Virginia also questions the birth date, parents and place of birth attributed to John Rolfe. I think we should remove parents.

It also says his 1st wife is unknown.

This written in 1950


Wikipedia hasn't caught up to 1990 either...
+3 votes
Below are some notes I have on this family. Given these dates perhaps someone can find copies of the relevant documents that would prove connections?

On 02 June 1609 a fleet of ships sailed from England for the Virginia colony in America via the Canaries route. Among the passengers was English navigator, Sir George SOMERS who was leading an expedition of 500 persons. When they entered the tropics, a number of those aboard succumbed to yellow fever.

On 25 July 1609 near Bahamas, the fleet was struck by a hurricane. This terrific 44 hour storm is believed to have been the basis for SHAKESPEARE's "The Tempest".

On 28 July 1609 one of the ships, the "Sea Venture" was driven aground on a reef off the Bermudas, but the entire company of 150 safely reached shore in the ship's boats. Survivors included:
Admiral SOMERS - Virginia's Vice Admiral
Sir Christopher NEWPORT - the Colony's Lieutenant-Governor
Sir Thomas GATES - Virginia's first Governor-Designate
John HAMOR, Jr.
John ROLFE & his wife Sarah
William STRACHEY (in 1625 he wrote a book about the journey, so perhaps Sarah's name was included therein). "A True Reportory of the Wracke ..." by William STRACHEY (shipwreck survivor).

On 21 Feb 1610 John ROLFE's first wife Sarah gave birth to a daughter who was christened Bermuda ROLFE. Both daughter & wife soon died and were buried on the island. I would recommend checking both Bahama and Bermuda records, because both islands were mentioned above and the two have been confused before.

John ROLFE signed his last Will on 10 March 1621\22. An abstract of this Will was supposed to have been published in "Gleanings" by WATERS.

John ROLFE's brother Henry eventually took charge of John's son Thomas. On 7 Oct 1622 Henry ROLFE petitioned the Virginia Company, requesting that he be paid out of John ROLFE's estate for expenses in bringing up John's son, Thomas ROLFE.

In May 1630 (on 11 or 21 ?) the last Will of John ROLFE was proved in London, England's prerogative Court of Canterbury by his father-in-law "William PYERS" and mentioned:

- John ROLFE, of James City in Virginnia, Esq.
- "sicke in body, but of perfecte mind & memory"

- "father-in-law William PYERS, gentleman, to have charge of the 2 small children of very tender age"

- "a parcel of land in the Country of Tappahannah between 2 creeks over against James City in the Country or Continent of Virginia, to son Thomas ROLFE & his heirs, failing his issue to my daughter Elizabeth next to my right heirs" (most likely this was the "Smiths Fort" tract).

- "Land on Mulberry Island, Virginia to my wife Jane, during her natural life, then to daughter Elizabeth"

- "to my servant Robert DAVIES, 20 pounds"

Temperance YEARDLEY
Richard BUCK
Robert DAVYS

To mark a picturesque episode in the history of 2 nations, in 1933 Americans presented the English with a memorial to Pocahontas. It was erected in the north aisle of Heacham Church where her father-in-law Johannes ROLFE was buried in 1594. Below it there is an older memorial with brass plate to him (Heacham Church guide book).
by N Gauthier G2G6 Pilot (193k points)

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