Royal weddings seem to be all the rage right now. But 397 years ago today a very different royal wedding took place. And it proved fundamental to the survival of the Virginia colony.
In 1614 the Jamestown settlers had been clinging to Virginia despite the odds for seven years at this point. Captain James Smith had returned to England five years before. And then in 1610 Baron De la War (immortalized in the name of the Delaware colony) arrived with new colonists reinvigorating those who had been about to abandon the whole experiment as a bad job.
With De la War came a handsome farmer named John Rolfe. Rolfe was the first to plant the tobacco that would become Virginia’s salvation.
Unfortunately, since Captain Smith’s departure relations between the colonists and the natives had steadily deteriorated. In spring of 1613 Chief Wahunsonacock’s daughter Matoaka was kidnapped by Captain Samuel Argall, who hoped to use her to negotiate a permanent peace.
The English called Chief Wahunsonacock “Chief Powhatan” because he was the head of the Powhatan confederacy of tribes. We know Matoaka by her nickname, Pocahontas, which has been translated as “playful one.”
In Jamestown, Pocahontas was placed in the custody of Sir Thomas Gates. Far from treating her as a prisoner she was treated as an honored guest, although she was encouraged to learn English customs. During this time she also converted to Christianity, and was baptized Lady Rebecca.
It was also during this time that she met the planter, John Rolfe. He was about 10 years her senior which would have made him about 28.
Eventually her father agreed to the terms of the peace treaty, but by then she had already fallen in love. On April 5, 1614 Princess Pocahontas and John Rolfe married, cementing the peace between the colonists and the Powhatans, (at least for a time.) During this time of peace the colonist's grew in numbers and strength until
A year later, Pocahontas gave birth to a little boy named Thomas. The following year, the couple set sail for England where she was made a triumphal tour of the country, being feted across the land. She was even presented to the court of King James I.
In 1617, Pocahontas and Rolfe prepared to return to Virginia. Sadly, she grew ill and passed away the day before they were scheduled to depart. It’s believed she died of smallpox.
Her grief-stricken husband had her buried in the parish church of St. George in Gravesend, England. John Rolfe did return to Virginia and so did their son, Thomas. He married and became a very prominent member of the colony.
Today, thousands of Americans claim to trace their heritage back to the “Indian Princess.”
Are you looking forward Kate and Will’s wedding or could you care less? What other famous royal marriages have made an impact on the world. (Besides Victoria and Albert and Charles and Diana!)