When John Rolfe arrived at the Jamestown Colony, he threw himself into developing and cultivating tobacco in North America. He was able to produce tobacco much different from native Virginia tobacco, which did not appeal to the market in England or the settlers in Virginia. He began exporting a sweeter tobacco beginning in 1612, transforming the Virginia Colony into a successful economic venture. After sending his first harvest of four barrels of tobacco to England in March 1614, Rolfe soon began exporting much larger quantities of the new cash crop. New plantations quickly grew along the James River, where shipments could be exported along the river wharfs. Rolfe’s strain of tobacco became the mainstay of farming plantations for many generations to come. Almost 400 years later, tobacco remains a prominent component of Virginia’s economy.
In 1613, Pocahontas, daughter of the Powhatan tribe chief, was converted to Christianity and renamed Rebecca. Intrigued by Powhatan's daughter, Rolfe struggled with the moral dilemma of marrying a 'heathen', finally writing a lengthy letter to the governor requesting permission to marry her. Permission was granted, and the newlyweds settled into Rolfe’s plantation, Varina Farms, across the James River. Their marriage helped to create peace between the Jamestown colonists and Powhatan tribes, allowing commerce and trade not only with Powhatans but also with their surrounding allies.