John Rolfe is a dashing young English diplomat in service to King James. He is sent to Jamestown with the task of bringing Chief Powhatan back to England for negotiations in order to prevent a war between the natives and the English. His character is based on the historical John Rolfe, who was married to the real-life Pocahontas. In the film, he and Pocahontas are initially at odds, but he eventually falls strongly in love with her.
Rolfe is known for his knowledge of polite society and proficiency in the English rules of etiquette. He is at odds with Pocahontas when they first meet, but they make up during the voyage back to England when he guards her against the rough crew, thus earning her respect.
Role in the film
John Rolfe is tasked by King James with bringing Chief Powhatan to London for negotiations in order to avoid another war between the natives and the settlers. He is greeted by the settlers in Jamestown, as well as Pocahontas. However, he dislikes Pocahontas initially when she rebukes him for interfering with an incident between Powhatan warriors and the settlers, who were about to attack one another.
Later, Rolfe overhears two women talking about how Pocahontas stopped a war, and falsely assumes that Pocahontas is the name of the chief, rather than of the young woman he just met. That night, he brings a horse as a gift for the "chief" but is astonished to learn who Pocahontas really is. The real chief, Powhatan, refuses to go to England and so, Rolfe is forced to take Pocahontas so that war can be avoided. Rolfe and Pocahontas clash on the voyage but soon reach a truce after Rolfe saves Pocahontas from being arrested for keeping stowaways (Flit, Meeko, and Percy) on the ship.
In England, Rolfe is given a proclamation by Governor Ratcliffe on behalf of the king, which states that if King James is not impressed by the Powhatan ambassador, an armada will set sail for Jamestown. After resting at his estate, Rolfe meets with King James. At Ratcliffe's suggestion, both Rolfe and Pocahontas are invited to a ball that night. Pocahontas would have to impress the king by appearing "civilized" in order to prevent the armada from sailing, much to the disgust of Rolfe.
Pocahontas agrees to the plan, despite Rolfe's doubts, and is tutored in dancing and etiquette. She dons a dress, and is powdered white, and is able to impress the king at first. However, Pocahontas offends the king by protesting a bear-baiting, which results in her being arrested and Rolfe's hopes for peace is shattered. That night, Rolfe meets a hooded stranger who assists him in breaking Pocahontas out of prison. At a cabin, the stranger reveals himself to be John Smith, who had been assumed dead after Ratcliffe had tried to arrest him. The fact that John Smith is still alive proves that Ratcliffe had been lying to the king in order to avoid his own crimes. While Smith wishes for Pocahontas to remain hidden, Rolfe allows Pocahontas to follow her heart. Smith soon realizes that Rolfe loves her.
Pocahontas goes before the king and queen and, with the help of Rolfe and Smith, is able to reveal Ratcliffe as a traitor and liar. Rolfe and the others then race to stop the armada, which they do so successfully. For his part in revealing the plot, Rolfe is offered a position as the king's advisor. He chooses to stay and Pocahontas chooses to head home alone. On the ship, Rolfe suddenly appears, revealing that he has actually turned down the king's position in favor of staying with her. Rolfe and Pocahontas passionately embrace and romantically kiss as the ship sails off in the sunset.
Differences from History
- Historically, John Rolfe was a very cruel, violent and hateful man.
- Rather than having been a diplomat for King James, the historic John Rolfe was a plantation-owner in Virginia who forced slaves to obtain tobacco for him.
- In real life, Rolfe met Pocahontas when she was in captivity under Sir Thomas Dale and converted to Christianity through Reverend Alexander Whitaker in July 1613, in the settlement of Henricus. In this animated film, he meets her near the colony of Jamestown.
- John Rolfe was incredibly racist and openly believed Native-Americans to not have souls. He married Pocahontas before bringing her to England but is documented to have been physically and emotionally abusive towards her, forcing her to take up the Christian name of Rebecca. A year later, they begot a son named Thomas. In this animated film, they do not get married whatsoever which explains Thomas being entirely absent.
- While Rolfe did bring Pochahontas to England, it was not for a diplomatic mission to make peace. Rather, Rolfe turned Pocahontas into a sort of side-show attraction which he referred to as, "The Dignified Savage" as racist propaganda of supposed English supremacy over her people. Rather than being to promote peace, this was to promote the English's continued invasion and subjugation of Native American peoples.
- The real John Rolfe did not have a maid whatsoever. His mother and siblings resided in Heacham. After Pocahontas died, Rolfe gave his son Thomas to Sir Lewis Stukeley who later transferred the wardship to Rolfe's brother, Henry.
- Despite the fact that John Rolfe's existence in the film respects real events, the character himself is widely panned by a wide part of the fandom - mainly due to the film having him replace the more fan-favorable John Smith as Pocahontas' love interest, thus making John Rolfe one of the most unpopular Disney characters. As a result, the Disney Princess couples still place John Smith as Pocahontas' lover instead of John Rolfe in merchandise.
- However, despite that, the Pocahontas/John Rolfe-pairing has a small but very dedicated fanbase.