Lieut. Thomas Rolfe

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Lieut. Thomas Rolfe

Also Known As: "Pepsironemeh", "Prince of Powhatan"
Birthplace: Varina Plantation, Smiths Fort, Henrico County, Virginia, Colonial America
Death: April 16, 1675 (60)
Henrico Shire (County), Virginia, Colonial America
Place of Burial: Hopewell, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Captain John Rolfe, Ancient Planter and Pocahontas
Husband of Jane Rolfe
Father of Jane Bolling
Half brother of Bermuda Rolfe and Elizabeth Milner

Occupation: Lieutenant, Landowner
Managed by: Noah Tutak
Last Updated:

About Lieut. Thomas Rolfe

Thomas Rolfe was born in Virginia in 1615, the first recorded birth of a child born to a Virginia Indian princess and an English gentleman. The child was presumably named after the Governor, Sir Thomas Dale. His mother, Pocahontas, had converted to Christianity in 1614 and taken the name Rebecca before she married John Rolfe, an English gentleman planter in Virginia. He traveled to England as a small child. His mother died before the family could return to Virginia, and Thomas was left in England. He did not return to Virginia until he was 20 years old.

Thomas married Jane Poythress shortly after his return to Virginia. The date of the marriage is not known, but with land and a wife, Thomas Rolfe was established. Now, he looked to find his Powhatan relatives and establish family connections.

In 1622, John Rolfe died unexpectedly in Virginia. The explanation for his death is not fully known, although it may have been through sickness. Another prominent figure that died in these years of Thomas' absence was his grandfather, Powhatan. He was the chief of the Powhatan Indians and died of seemingly natural causes in 1618. At one point during Powhatan's sickness, it was rumored among the Indians that Thomas would be the heir to the Powhatan domain. Upon Powhatan's death, however, it was clear that this was not the case. Opechancanough, Thomas' uncle, took over in Powhatan's place. When Thomas returned to Virginia in 1635, he found that his grandfather did not forget him. Through John and Rebecca Rolfe, Powhatan left Thomas thousands of acres on the James River, some of which is directly across the James River from Jamestown Island. He was also left the plantation where he was born, Varina. John Rolfe had secured this land for Thomas by taking out a royal patent before his death in 1622.

In 1641, Thomas petitioned the Governor for permission to meet with his mother's people. The petition was accepted and Thomas met his uncle, Opechancanough. Unfortunately, there are no recordings of their meeting. Thomas evidently made the choice between his Powhatan and English heritages in 1646 when he became a lieutenant in the English military. The General Assembly in the colony granted Thomas the land called Fort James in return for his service. Thomas was now part of the English policy to dismantle and control the land of his Powhatan ancestors.

Around 1650, Thomas and Jane had their only child, Jane. Jane went on to marry Colonel Robert Bolling in 1675. The couple had one son, John, the third in line of descendants from Rebecca and John Rolfe, and from Bolling came seven children.

There are few documents that trace his life past the time of 1646, and records regarding his death are lacking. Most genealogists believe he died in Virginia, in either Richmond or at his plantation, Varina, where he had been born. It is clear that Thomas became a man of wealth, as can be seen through land patents and deeds. The last reference made to him is in a deed from 1698 by John Bolling. John inherited Fort James through his mother, Jane, and transferred the land to William Brown in this deed. Thomas' name was mentioned in the document as deceased, and it is the last known reference to him.

Although Thomas Rolfe's heritage was Powhatan and English, he lived as an Englishman. When Thomas cemented that by becoming a lieutenant for the colony, he decided the manner in which thousands of his descendants would live for years to come.

Other Wives and Children

There are unproven theories that , when Jane Poythress died, after bearing an only daughter, Thomas Rolfe left Virginia and moved to North Carolina, where he is also reputed to have married again. With the laws of North Carolina so strict, both then and during the next century or so, it is understandable that Thomas would never have mentioned the fact that he was half Indian, nor would that information have likely been passed down in the family tales. If, in fact, Thomas did leave Virginia, and, if in fact, he did remarry, he could have sired a number of male children. If those events happened, it would be reasonable to assume that one or more of them returned to England, particularly if they knew of their ancestor's ethnic background and were therefore nervous about remaining in the colonies. These are theories, with no proofs yet found. None of the proposed later wives have been accepted by the Pocahontas Society [see Dubious Pocahontas Descendants at].

There is a possible wife and child BEFORE Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia. The Pocahontas Society has accepted this theory. [see again the link to Dubious Descendants, above]. The proponents of this theory claim the birth of a first daughter, Anne Rolfe, by what would have been Thomas' first wife in England. Recent discussion on this marriage claims that young Thomas could not inherit until age 21 UNLESS he was married. It is inferred that he married to obtain that inheritance.

The most likely candidate for the first wife is Elizabeth Washington. A church record shows the following: Thomas ROLFE married Elizabeth WASHINGTON in Sep 1632 at St.James Church, Clerkenwell, London, England. Thomas, son of Pocahontas, would have been 17 at marriage and Elizabeth would have been 18. Let us not forget that Thomas had been left in England to be raised by family. The Thomas who married Elizabeth could have been a cousin. The Elizabeth Washington who married a Thomas Rolfe died giving birth to a daughter Anne Rolfe. Some claim that there was also a son of this marriage. Anne Rolfe, daughter of Elizabeth Washington, married an Elwyn and had numerous descendants. Some items said to have belonged to Pocahontas, such as her earrings, were passed down in the family for generations. (Debunked - this was a different Rolfe family.)

Recently I have been pointed to another website ( that claims Rolfe must have had more wives/liaisons, as it was unusual to have a single child in colonial Virginia. This website asserts that Thomas Rolfe must have had several children, perhaps as many as twelve according to some reports, and they almost certainly issued from more than one wife or mistress. Specifically, it discusses the merits of one Ann/Anne/Anna Rolfe Barnett, born circa 1648, according to her family's oral tradition, and a specific reference to her in the bible of John Perry Barnett (1764-1828). The story is compelling but no documents are linked to the site, and one of the articles mentioned has since been debunked. See (Dead link)

Capt. John Smith

John Smith DID NOT not marry Pocahontas. John Rolfe did. Rolfe's descendents all come from the Bollings, the family into which Jane Rolfe, the only child of Pocahontas and John Rolfe's son Thomas "Pepsironemeh" Rolfe, married. There was no son to carry on the Rolfe name. Though other Rolfes who were related to the family may claim to be related to John Rolfe; they cannot, however, claim to be related "by blood" to Pocahontas and the Powhattan clan. And, although they are not properly kin of Pocahontas herself or her Native American forebears, they are kin to her child Thomas Rolfe and his daughter Jane Rolfe and to her Bolling descendants. 

Additional Notes

Around 1650, Thomas and Jane had their only child, Jane. Jane went on to marry Colonel Robert Bolling in 1675. The couple had one son, John. John Bolling was the third in line of descendants from Rebecca and John Rolfe, and from Bolling came seven children. John sparked off the trend of having more than one child, each successive generation doing the same.

As Rolfe was a child of an Englishman and a Native American woman, some aspects of his life were particularly controversial. He expressed interest in rekindling relations with his Native American relatives, despite societal ridicule and laws that forbade such contact. In 1641, Rolfe petitioned the governor for permission to visit his "aunt, Cleopatra, and his kinsman Opecanaugh".[6]

(Often named as the son of John Rolfe the colonist was a different Thomas Rolfe, who married Elizabeth Washington in September 1632 at St James's Church in Clerkenwell, London. This couple had two children and lived in England until after 1642. Many people wrongly claim descent from Pocahontas and John Rolfe through this unrelated Thomas Rolfe.)

Thomas Rolfe later married a woman named Jane Poythress, who was the daughter of Captain Francis Poythress, a prosperous landowner in Virginia.[7] They had one daughter together, who was also named Jane, after her mother.[8]

In 1698 his grandson, John Bolling (Jane's son), released to William Browne his rights in land, in a deed in which Bolling is identified as "...son and heir of Jane, late wife of Robert Bolling of Charles City County, Gent., which Jane was the only daughter of Thomas Rolf, dec'd..."[9] As confirmed by the 1698 deed quoted above, his daughter Jane married Robert Bolling. Robert Bolling and Jane Rolfe Bolling had one child; their son John was born January 26, 1676.


The Sedgeford Hall Portrait, once believed to represent Matoaka and her son, has been re-identified as being Pe-o-ka (wife of Osceola) and their son.

Rolfe's daughter, Jane Rolfe, married Robert Bolling of Prince George County, Virginia; the couple's son, John Bolling, was born on January 27, 1676. Jane Rolfe is said to have died shortly after giving birth.[15] John Bolling married Mary Kennon, daughter of Richard Kennon and Elizabeth Worsham of Conjurer's Neck.[15] John and Mary Bolling had six surviving children, each of whom married and had surviving children.[23]

The Sedgeford Hall Portrait, now in King's Lynn Town Hall, once believed to represent Matoaka and her son Thomas Rolfe, has been re-identified as being Pe-o-ka, wife of the Seminole leader Osceola, and their son.[24]

The birth of Thomas Rolfe, as he was both of European and Native American descent, reinstated peace between the Powhatans and the European settlements. Early in his career as deputy governor, Argall reported in a letter published within the Virginia Company Records that Powhatan "goes from place to place visiting his country taking his pleasure in good friendship with us laments his daughter's death but glad her child is living so doth Opachank".[5]

Birth: Jan. 30, 1615 Jamestown James City County Virginia, USA Death: 1680 Richmond Richmond City Virginia, USA

Colonial American Figure. His mother was Pocahontas whose father was Chief Powhatan of a federation of the Algonquian Indian tribes of the tidewater region of Virginia The father of Thomas Rolfe was John Rolfe, a member of the House of Burgess & credited with establishing the planting of tobacco in Virgina Colony.

Thomas was born in the Virginia Colony, probably on Smith's plantation at Jamestown. His mother, Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, gave up her native birth name and took the Christian name of Rebecca when she married John Rolfe.

Thomas' parents' marriage was as much a political action as an action of affection. In John's petition to the Governor for permission to marry Pocahontas, he stated both reasons.

When still an infant, Thomas went to England with his parents, where his mother died about seven months later. His father left him there to be raised in guardianship, while he returned to business interests in Virginia.

Since Thomas spent his childhood in the white society of England and the Virginia Colony, he thought of himself as an Englishman. When he reached adulthood, history recorded that the Virginia Governor granted Thomas permission to meet his Native American uncle, Opechancanough. Nothing was noted of the outcome of this meeting, however.

He served as a lieutenant in the English military, and was granted land at Fort James. By the time he died, his estate showed he held more than one deed and land grant, so he was a man of means in Colonial Virginia.

He married Jane Poythress, and their only child, Jane, married Colonel Robert Bolling. The Bollings had a son, John. He had seven children.

Some researchers suggest Thomas died at age 61 in 1674/75; However a property event dating 23 Apr 1681, lands of Thomas Rolfe, deceased, known as "the Fort Land" were divided and sold - so he was clearly gone before 23 Apr 1681; His only grandson, John Bolling, signed over some of his land in 1698 to a William Brown.


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Lieut. Thomas Rolfe's Timeline

January 30, 1615
Varina Plantation, Smiths Fort, Henrico County, Virginia, Colonial America

Pocahontas age 17 or 18 while married to John Rolfe, bore a son in January 1615, named Thomas Rolfe (Wikipedia, 2020).

Their son, Thomas Rolfe and his wife, Jane Poythress, had a daughter, Jane Rolfe, who was born in Varina, Henrico County, Virginia on October 10, 1650. Jane Rolfe married Robert Bolling of Prince George County, Virginia. Their son, John Bolling, was born in 1676. John Bolling married Mary Kennon and had six surviving children, each of whom married and had surviving children. (Wikipedia, 2020).

October 10, 1650
Varina, Henrico County, Province of Virginia, Colonial America
April 16, 1675
Age 60
Henrico Shire (County), Virginia, Colonial America
April 16, 1675
Age 60
Kippax Plantation, Hopewell, Virginia, United States