John Smith was not the most important figure in the early years of Jamestown. Pocahontas’ husband, John Rolfe, was the man who made Jamestown into a viable colony. For years after its founding settlers came to Jamestown, attracted by the vast amounts of land. England’s had belonged to the nobility for centuries, meaning most people either farmed someone else’s land or moved to town looking for work. America, however, had land for everyone.
People did get land in the Jamestown area, but that did not mean they knew what to do with it. Wave after wave of settlers came to Jamestown and struggled to survive and create self-sustaining farms. John Rolfe receives credit for creating a product that saved Jamestown.
When Columbus landed in Cuba he found the natives smoking tobacco. The Caribbean strain of tobacco was taken back to Europe and became popular among the economic and social elites. Smoking is in many ways the same as lighting money on fire, and it was a luxury for those who could afford it and desirable for everyone else. The Powhatan Indians in Virginia also grew tobacco, but it was too harsh for the English to smoke. Rolfe brought seeds from the sweeter Caribbean strain and produced a strain that the English would smoke and could grow in the climate and soil of Virginia.
In 1612, the Virginia Company began exporting Rolfe’s tobacco, and Jamestown had a reliable cash crop that is still a major product of Virginia. Life was still a struggle for settlers, but they knew how to make a living. The company owned the colony, and it needed to recruit more settlers to grow more tobacco and make more money for the company. Rolfe and Pocahontas travelled to England, where she died, to show their success and encourage more settlement.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.