American Stories: Living American History, Volume I, To 1877 by Jason Ripper

By Jason Ripper

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Pocahontas died in 1617, just before embarking on what otherwise would have been a good sail back to Virginia. A lung disease took her, and John Rolfe left behind their young son, who was at the time also sick and unlikely to survive the voyage. The son lived into adulthood, and John Rolfe lived until 1622, long enough to keep planting tobacco and almost long enough to witness Virginia’s next strategic butchery. While it is tempting to credit the muscular, fearless John Smith with floating the colony through its first near-impossible years, Pocahontas deserves at least as much credit, if not more.

Pocahontas’s marriage to John Rolfe reinstated the half-hearted goodwill that had once existed between the colonists and the Powhatans. Years of war turned into a few years of relative peace. The crucial diplomatic love affair between Pocahontas and Rolfe gave safe space for his ridiculously successful experiments in farming tobacco, that noxious 26 THE COLONIAL SOUTH weed that just about everybody loved and that local Indians already grew. If John Smith and Pocahontas saved Jamestown (and hence England’s stab at empire building), John Rolfe’s faith in smokable, snuffable vegetable leaves made sure that England had found gold after all—green gold.

Slowly definitions of citizenship blended into definitions of skin color, restricting the rights and liberties of African-Americans, slave and free alike. Colonial Virginia: 1622, 1676, and 1705 The morning of March 22, 1622, apparently started out like any other day in Virginia. Poor farmers and their poorer servants, and land-rich planters and their poor servants all set to work at their tasks. As was common, Powhatan men walked onto the riverside plantations to trade fish and hides for whatever valuables the English might be willing to exchange.

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