Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe, Father of John Rolfe, Jr. Who Married Pocahontas
Birth: Oct. 17, 1562, Heacham, Norfolk, England
Death: Nov. 29, 1594, Heacham, Norfolk, England (Age 32)
Buried: Dec. 1, 1594, Heacham Church, Heacham, Norfolk, England
It is thought that settlers first came to Heacham as early as 3000 BC, drawn to the region to support the daily needs of the people. The river for fresh water, the sea for fish and shellfish, deer and other creatures from the deeply wooded area around. The name of Heacham arises from its l2th-century overlord Geoffrey de Hecham, and its river, the Hitch. Over the years speaking and spelling have become Heacham – meaning “The Home in the Thicket”. The settlement lay in a hollow, with the fall into it from north, south, and east. Here again, is evidence of passing historic ages, stone age, bronze age, including the Romans and the Normans.
The story of the Red Indian Princess, Pocahontas, and her romantic marriage to the son of the Lord of the Manor, John Rolfe, shined like a beacon in the early 1600s.
The earliest record of the Rolfe family direct line is two brothers, Robert and Eustace Rolfe, who were born at Heacham about 1539. Robert married Margaret Crowe and was an ancestor of a prominent family at Lynn, and Eustace Rolfe married at Heacham, May 27, 1560, Joanna Jenner. Eustace and Joanna had a son Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe, of Heacham, who was born October 17, 1562, married Dorothea Mason, Sept. 24, 1582, died in 1594, and was buried at Heacham Church, December 1st of that year.
The “First Common Market”
Heacham is a little known coastal village in the County of Norfolk between King Lynn’s–a Hanseatic town (engaged in an alliance of trading cities in the later Middle Ages and the Early Modern period maintained a trade monopoly over most of Northern Europe and the Baltic) dating back to the 12th century and beyond when it was one of England’s most important ports–and Hunstanton.
Old Hunstanton village is of prehistoric origin and is situated near to the head of Peddars Way. In 1970, evidence of Neolithic settlement was found. The quiet character of Old Hunstanton remains distinct from and complements that of its busy sibling, with clifftop walks past a privately owned redundant lighthouse and the ruins of St. Edmund’s Chapel, built in 1272. Heacham’s rich past has left a magnificent heritage of buildings and stories to be discovered.
The much-loved church of St Mary the Virgin was built in the 13th century, making the church the oldest building in the village. It is a true reflection of the village’s history since it stands very much at the heart of the village. The church is surrounded by many buildings made from local chalk, carrstone and a terracotta brick once manufactured in the village. Churches designed like St Mary the Virgin of Heacham, with a central tower built on the crossing, are a rarity in Norfolk as buildings designed in this manner required a strong foundation base using good strong building stone. Buildings of this design often collapsed because of poor quality local stone. Others were reduced in height, but St Mary’s has survived more than 800 years. The church belfry has circular openings on each side which appear small in proportion to the massive tower. This particular feature of the church indicates its great age as belfry openings grew in size over time. A cupola crowns the top and contains the original 12th-century bell – regarded as the oldest in East Anglia. Glorious Byzantine style brass lanterns hang from the ceiling identical in design to those of the Basilica in St Marks Square, Venice. Local legend has it that the Indian Princess, Pocahontas, worshiped at the church when she and John Rolfe returned with their young son, Thomas from Virginia to England. Sadly, Pocahontas became ill and died in Gravesend, Kent aged 22. There is a legend that the very ancient Mulberry tree in the gardens of Heacham Hall – always known as the Pocahontas Mulberry tree – was planted at the time of the visit which John Rolfe and his wife paid to Heacham.
Following Pocahontas death, John Rolfe returned to his land in Virginia leaving their son Thomas in England for his formative years. Thomas returned to Virginia in 1640 when he was about 25 years old. It is significant that a village in Virginia named Heacham dates from that time. Thomas Rolfe remained in America and married Jane, daughter of Francis Poythress, leaving issue an only daughter, Jane, from whose marriage to Colonel Robert Bolling, many eminent American families are descended. The forefathers of John Rolfe rest in Heacham Church and it is fitting that the tablet in memory of his wife Pocahontas should be placed just above those of his father John Rolfe and his mother Dorothy Rolfe. Coats of arms of prominent members of the Rolfe family are located inside the church. A sculpture of Pocahontas in Jacobean dress by Otilia Wallace, a pupil of Rodin hangs on the wall above a plaque dedicated to Johannes Eustacius Rolfe. The following is a translation of the original Latin inscription:
John Rolfe, gentleman, of Hitcham died on the twenty-nineth day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1594, in the thirty-second year of his age. While he lived he was of much service to his fellows; his wish to enrich all his neighbors and kinsfolk by assisting the poor with his wealth; nothing could be kinder than he was; he bore the insults of many men quietly without offence; by exporting and importing such things as England abounded in or needed, he was of the greatest service, inasmuch as he spent both pains and labor upon it. Thus he seemed to die as the force of fire is quenched by excess of water. For his strength was unimpaired, nor had he completed many years when he died. His death brought grief to many, but he had done nobly upon the consciousness of a well spent life, and the record of many benefits not allowed to die utterly: John Rolfe had, no doubt, been a successful merchant at Lynn. Rolfe had, with other issue, 1. Eustace, and 2. John (twins) baptized May 6, 1585; 3. Edward, baptized Feb, 22, 1591. There was another son, Henry, afterwards a merchant in London and a member of the Virginia Company, who is included in a manuscript pedigree mentioned by Mrs. Jones in her Old Sandringham.
While there isn’t much more to write about Johannes Eustacius Rolfe, we still can see the staying power of the Rolfe name on Heacham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk County, and England, as the map below shows several of the landmarks Rolfe’s family times