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Edwin Rolfe

Edwin Rolfe



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Edwin Rolfe, the son of Russian immigrants, was born in Philadelphia in 1909. His father, a shoemaker, was an active trade unionist and a member of the Socialist Party of America. His mother, a friend of Margaret Sanger, was an advocate of women's rights.

His name was originally Solomon Fishman but he later changed it to Edwin Rolfe. As a teenager Rolfe joined the American Communist Party and was soon contributing cartoons, poems and book reviews to the party newspaper, the Daily Worker. He also reported on the case of Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco for the newspaper.

In 1929 Rolfe became a student at the University of Wisconsin. He then moved the New York and once again became active in politics. During this period he became friendly with Michael Gold and Langston Hughes. He also published his first book of poems, To My Contemporaries (1936).

In 1937 Rolfe joined the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, a unit that volunteered to fight for the Popular Front government during the Spanish Civil War. While in Spain he met the writer Alvah Bessie: "He (Rolfe) was frail; he resembled a bird; he had a fine, delicate bone structure and he did not look as though he should be in an army... I do not think I have ever met a gentler guy, a less pugnacious guy, less of a soldier. But he had the iron of conviction in him just the same. He had a tiny automatic pistol some one had given him, and it became him, though I could not imagine him ever using it."

After failing to take Madrid by frontal assault General Francisco Franco gave orders for the road that linked the city to the rest of Republican Spain to be cut. A Nationalist force of 40,000 men, including men from the Army of Africa, crossed the Jarama River on 11th February, 1937.

General José Miaja sent the Abraham Lincoln Battalion to the Jarama Valley to block the advance. Led by Robert Merriman, the 373 members of the brigade moved into the trenches on 23rd February. When the were ordered over the top they were backed by a pair of tanks from the Soviet Union. On the first day 20 men were killed and nearly 60 were wounded.

On 27th February 1937, Colonel Vladimir Copic, the Yugoslav commander of the Fifteenth Brigade, ordered Merriman and his men to attack the Nationalist forces at Jarama. As soon as he left the trenches Merrimen was shot in the shoulder, cracking the bone in five places. Of the 263 men who went into action that day, only 150 survived. One soldier remarked afterwards: "The battalion was named after Abraham Lincoln because he, too, was assassinated."

Rolfe survived but wrote: "When we were pulled out of the lines I felt very tired and lonely and guilty. Lonely because half of the battalion had been badly shot up. And guilty because I felt I didn't deserve to be alive now, with Arnold and Nick and Paul dead."

Despite his protests, Rolfe was removed from combat assignments and became editor of the brigade newspaper Volunteer for Liberty. In April 1938 the Nationalist Army broke through the Republican defences and reached the sea. General Francisco Franco now moved his troops towards Valencia with the objective of encircling Madrid and the central front.

Juan Negrin, in an attempt to relieve the pressure on the Spanish capital, ordered an attack across the fast-flowing Ebro River. General Juan Modesto, a member of the Communist Party (PCE), was placed in charge of the offensive. Over 80,000 Republican troops, including the 15th International Brigade and the British Battalion, began crossing the river in boats on 25th July. The men then moved forward towards Corbera and Gandesa.

On 26th July the Republican Army attempted to capture Hill 481, a key position at Gandesa. Hill 481 was well protected with barbed wire, trenches and bunkers. The Republicans suffered heavy casualties and after six days was forced to retreat to Hill 666 on the Sierra Pandols. It successfully defended the hill from a Nationalist offensive on 23rd September but once again large numbers were killed.

The following day, Juan Negrin, head of the Republican government, announced that the International Brigades would be unilaterally withdrawn from Spain. That night the 15th Brigade and the British Battalion moved back across the River Ebro and began their journey out of the country.

Rolfe arrived back in the United States in January 1939. Later that year he published a history of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion: The Lincoln Battalion (1939). He also worked for TASS, the Soviet news agency and as a film scriptwriter.

In 1947 the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), chaired by J. Parnell Thomas, began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. The HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named nineteen people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

One of those named, Bertolt Brecht, an emigrant playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz,, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie refused to answer any questions.

Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.

A blacklist was now drawn up of writers, directors and performers who had been members of the American Communist Party. This included Rolfe as well as Larry Adler, Stella Adler, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Joseph Bromberg, Charlie Chaplin, Aaron Copland, Hanns Eisler, Carl Foreman, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, Dashiell Hammett, E. Y. Harburg, Lillian Hellman, Burl Ives, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker, Philip Loeb, Joseph Losey, Anne Revere, Pete Seeger, Gale Sondergaard, Louis Untermeyer, Josh White, Clifford Odets, Michael Wilson, Paul Jarrico, Jeff Corey, John Randolph, Canada Lee, Orson Welles, Paul Green, Sidney Kingsley, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright and Abraham Polonsky.

Rolfe became active in the struggle against McCarthyism and wrote a series of anti-McCarthy poems. Edwin Rolfe died of a heart attack on 25th May, 1954. His friend, Alvah Bessie, commented: "Edwin Rolfe, poet and author of the first history of the Lincoln Battalion, whose eloquent volume of poems, First Love, expressed what all of us have always felt about Spain, was in Hollywood, blacklisted and unemployable when he was taken by a heart attack on 25 May 1954. Two wars were too much for so physically frail a man and unemployability added final insult to the injury."

Jarama was a complete success, in a way which none of the Americans who took part in it could then foresee. For the attack on February 27th impressed the insurgents with one inescapable fact: that the Jarama front was too heavily, too perfectly defended. From that day until the very end of the war, the rebels never succeeded in advancing another meter along the line which, they had hoped, would cut the Madrid-Valencia highway, effect the encirclement and the capture of Madrid.

We issued rifles, ammo, hand-grenades; I checked on these details and met a new recruit. He said his name was Rolfe; I looked at him. "Edwin Rolfe ?" I said, and he said, "Yes." "The Edwin Rolfe ? The poet?" "The same," he said. "Christ!" I said, "You know Carnovsky of the Group Theater, and Phoebe Brand." "Sure," he said. "Christ!" I said, "they told me you were here in Spain; that I should look you up and say hello." We laughed. "Hello," he said. He had been editing the Volunteer for Liberty, our publication, first edited by Ralph Bates. He was frail; he resembled a bird; he had a fine, delicate bone structure and he did not look as though he should be in an army. I asked him what he was doing here and how he liked it, and he said it was pretty tough at first, but that he liked it fine. He had volunteered to quit the desk job when the call came after the Fascists reached the sea. He had a tiny automatic pistol some one had given him, and it became him, though I could not imagine him ever using it. I felt better to have another writer on the spot. Writers will understand just what I mean.

The war has ripped all illusions from even the youngest of the volunteers, leaving only the reality. That reality is harder than anyone who has never been under machine-gun fire and bombs and artillery fire can ever know. Yet the men of the Lincoln brigade, knowing it well, chose and continue to choose to fight for Spain's free existence. To be true to themselves and their innermost convictions.


Edwin Rolfe papers, 1920-1994 | Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Who Is the Real Pocahontas?

Pocahontas is more than a character from a Disney movie. Born around 1597 Pocahontas was the real-life daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a political and spiritual alliance of groups of fellow Algonquian-speaking Virginia Indians. By the time the English arrived in 1607, she likely lived at Werowocomoco, in today’s Gloucester County, Virginia. In Algonquian, Werowocomoco means “place of leadership.” It served as the capital of her father’s chiefdom which spanned Tsenacomoco, which means “densely inhabited place.” The paramount chief Powhatan had many wives and many children, but Pocahontas was his favorite. Pocahontas was a nickname bestowed by her father, meaning “playful one.” More formally she was known as Amonute and Matoaka.

As a young girl, Pocahontas would have learned the traditional skills dictated by her gender. Like other women and girls, Pocahontas would have helped process meat and hides after men returned from the hunt. She would have gathered plants and herbs and weeded and planted gardens for food. She likely knew how to make baskets, pots, and bark mats for bedding, and maybe even helped construct or repair the yehakin she lived in. Like other young girls before puberty, Pocahontas likely wore little to no clothing when she first encountered the English at James Fort.

Lithograph depicting Pocahontas "saving" John Smith published in 1870. Library of Congress

The history of the real Pocahontas is interwoven with the history of English colonization in Virginia, and most of what historians know about her comes from English sources and an English perspective. Famously, Pocahontas appears in the writings of colonist John Smith who (not until 1624) related that in December 1607 he was brought to Werowocomoco after being captured by Powhatan Indians. While there, Smith wrote that Pocahontas saved his life after his head was placed upon a large stone. In Smith’s relation, Pocahontas intervened: “she hazarded the beating out of her own[sic] braines to save mine, and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to James towne.” Some historians question Smith’s version of this event, and importantly, whether it happened at all. Most historians agree that if it did occur, Smith was never in any real danger, and the event likely an elaborate adoption ritual in which Powhatan demonstrated his dominance over Smith, an English representative, who misinterpreted the event entirely.

As relations between the Powhatan and English continued, young Pocahontas accompanied women to James Fort, where they brought food and supplies to the English men living there. In 1608, John Smith described Pocahontas as “a child of tenne years[sic] old, which not only for feature, countenance, and proportion, much exceedeth any of the rest of his [the paramount chief Powhatan’s] people, but for wit, and spirit, the only Nonpariel of his Country.” English settler William Strachey also wrote of Pocahontas’ visits to the fort, and her playful nature with the English boys there. Strachey recalled that Pocahontas would “get the boyes forth with her into the marketplace and make them wheel, falling on their hands, turning their heels upwards, who she would follow and wheel so, herself naked as she was, all the fort over.”

Pocahontas’ interactions with the English were not just for fun and games. As the daughter of the paramount chief, she played a very diplomatic role between the two cultures. On one occasion Pocahontas accompanied her father’s messenger to the fort to negotiate with John Smith for the release of Indian prisoners. Smith “delivered them [to] Pocahontas, for whose sake only, he fained to save their lives and graunt[sic] them liberty.” In January 1609, Pocahontas warned Smith of a plot to ambush him and 18 other Englishmen during a visit to Werowocomoco.

Shortly after, Smith returned to England and Pocahontas disappears from English records until 1613. During that time, the paramount chief Powhatan moved from Werowocomoco to a site on the Chickahominy River, further away from the English at Jamestown. During this time Pocahontas had reached adolescence and accounts suggest that she married an Indian man named Kocoum around 1610. In 1613 Pocahontas was visiting the Patawomeck, a tribe that paid tribute to her father the paramount chief Powhatan, at their town called Passapatanzy. In April of that year, the English Captain Samuel Argall devised a plan to kidnap Pocahontas and hold her for ransom, hoping her father would return English prisoners and stolen tools. Argall received help from Iopassus, the lesser chief of the Patawomeck, who lured Pocahontas onto Argall’s ship. Once onboard Argall refused to let her leave, informing her that he planned to hold her ransom. Argall presented Iopassus with a copper kettle and other gifts, in exchange for his help in the kidnapping plot.

Lithograph depicting "The Wedding of Pocahontas with John Rolfe" drawn by George Spohni in 1867. Library of Congress

Though Powhatan eventually returned the prisoners Pocahontas remained with the English. Living at Jamestown and then upriver at Henricus, Pocahontas learned the English language and by 1614 had converted to Christianity. When the Anglican Reverend Alexander Whitaker baptized her, she took the name, Rebecca.

During her time as a captive of the English, Pocahontas met her future husband, John Rolfe. Rolfe had arrived in Virginia after surviving the wreck of the Sea Venture, which left him, his wife, and other colonists shipwrecked on the island of Bermuda for a time. There, his wife gave birth to their daughter, but both mother and child died. The widower Rolfe arrived in Virginia in May 1610. By the time he met Pocahontas, he was experimenting with cultivating tobacco, which would eventually grow to be the colony’s most successful crop. Though the union between an English planter and the daughter of paramount chief Powhatan was undoubtedly useful politically, by his own account Rolfe fell in love with Pocahontas. We have no sources to indicate how Pocahontas felt towards him, but Rolfe’s 1614 letter to Virginia deputy governor Sir Thomas Dale, asking for permission to marry her, reveals his feelings. To Dale, Rolfe wrote of his “hartie and best thoughts” towards Pocahontas, and added he felt “her great appearance of love to me.” Rolfe and Pocahontas married on April 5, 1614, with one of her uncles and two brothers in attendance. Her father approved of the marriage. Sometime later, she gave birth to a son named Thomas. The union ushered in a renewed peace between the English and the paramount chief Powhatan.

It is not known where Pocahontas and John Rolfe lived after their marriage, but by the spring of 1616, they were on board a ship bound for England, to benefit the Virginia Company (the sponsors of the colony at Jamestown). The Company hoped that a visit from Pocahontas would help raise more funds and support for their endeavors in Virginia. Also traveling with the Rolfe family was a small delegation of other Virginia Indians including Pocahontas’s half-sister Matachanna and her husband Uttamatomakkin, whom the paramount chief Powhatan instructed to count all the people in England, among other tasks. Once in London, Pocahontas received new clothes and sat for a portrait by Simon van de Passe, a Dutch artist working in London. In this, the only known image of Pocahontas, she is seen depicted not in her own traditional dress but in the high fashion of the English elite.

While in London, Pocahontas met with King James at White Hall Palace, Queen Anne, and the Bishop of London among others. One Englishman, after meeting Pocahontas, wrote that she “carried her selfe as the daughter of a king,” while others regarded her not as equitable to royalty but simply as “the Virginian woman.” The Rolfes were in the city during the festive Christmas season, and attended a masque (an elaborate play) at King James’ invitation on January 6, 1617. While in England Pocahontas also reunited with John Smith, whom she believed to have died many years before. By Smith’s account, their reunion was not a particularly warm one. When she saw him Smith recalled “without any words, she turned about, obscured her face, as not seeming well contented.”

The only known depiction of Pocahontas engraved by Simon van de Passe (right) and a painting based on the original engraving drawn by an unknown artist after 1616 (left). National Portrait Gallery, London

In March 1617, the Rolfes set sail to return to Virginia. While onboard the ship Pocahontas and her son, Thomas, became ill and the ship anchored at Gravesend just down the shore from London. There Pocahontas died, though the exact cause of her illness is unknown. Her body was interred at St. George’s Church on March 21, as a notation in the church’s burial record indicates: “March 21—Rebecca Wrolfe, wyffe of Thomas Rolfe gent. A Virginian lady borne, was buried in ye chancell.” She was about 20 years old.

Still too ill to travel, Thomas remained in England while his father returned to Virginia. From Jamestown on June 8, 1617, Rolfe wrote, “My wife’s death is much lamented.” In a letter to Sir Edwin Sandys, Rolfe requested that Thomas be sent to Virginia as soon as his strength improved, adding that his son embodied “the lyving ashes of his deceased mother.” Thomas did not return to Virginia until 1635, many years after his father’s death in 1622.

Though the real details of Pocahontas’s life are often clouded with modern interpretations and through the lens of English sources, it is still possible to uncover the real Pocahontas, and appreciate her life and legacy as a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a cultural emissary.


“Twenty and odd Negroes” an excerpt from a letter from John Rolfe to Sir Edwin Sandys (1619/1620)

In this excerpt from a letter to Sir Edwin Sandys , treasurer of the Virginia Company of London , the Jamestown colonist John Rolfe describes events in the Virginia colony. These include the first meeting of the General Assembly, a murder trial, and a controversy involving the Indian-language interpreter Captain Henry Spelman. He also notes the arrival of 󈬄. and odd Negroes,” the first Africans in Virginia. In greater detail he recounts a visit to Jamestown by a Patawomeck elder Iopassus (Japazaws), who in 1613 had been responsible for delivering Rolfe’s since-deceased wife Pocahontas into the hands of Captain Samuel Argall . Now Iopassus appeared to be engaging in diplomacy independent of Powhatan , Opechancanough , and the Indians of Tsenacomoco . The letter is dated “January 1619/1620,” the two years reflecting both the Old (Julian) Calendar and the New (Gregorian) Calendar . Some spelling has been updated and contractions expanded.

Studieng with my self what service I might doe yow, as a token of my gratefull rememberance for yor many favors and constant love shewed me, aswell in my absence as when I was present with yow I could not at this tyme devise a better, then to give yow notice of some pticulers both of our present estate, and what happened since the departure of the Diana. And though I am well assured, yow wilbe satisfied herin more fully by our Governor, yet I desire your kind acceptance of this my poore indeavor.

Presently after the Diana hadd her dispatch Sir George Yeardley (according to a Commyssion directed unto him and to the Councell of State,) caused Burgesses to be chosen in all places who mett at James City, where all matters therin conteyned were debated by severall Commyttees and approved: and likewise such other lawes enacted, as were held expedient & requisite for the welfare and peaceable govermt of this Common-weale. Captaine Martines Burgesses for his Plataccon were not admitted to this Assembly, the reasons I am assured yow shall receive from our Governor, who sendeth home a report of all those proceedings.

These principall men being at James Citie, Capten William Epps (who commandeth Smythes Hundred Company) was arraigned (as neere as might be) according to the lawdable Lawes of England, for killing one Captaine Edward Roecroft alias Stallenge. He came hether from the North Colony in a ship of Sir fferdinando Gorges (as he sayd) for some necessaries which he wanted and to coast along the shoare to fynd and discover what Harbors and rivers he could: but through neglect of the Master of the shipp and others she was forced a ground in a storme neere Newports Newes, and there sprang so greate a leake, that he could not carry her back againe. This myschance happened through uncivill and unmanly words urged by Stallenge (there being no precedent malice) with which Captaine Epps being much moved did strike him on the heade with a sword in the skabberd a such an unfortunate blowe, that within 2. daies he died. The Jury (whereof Capt Lawne was foreman a discreete and understanding man) hearing the Evidence, found him guilty of Manslaughter by Chaunce medley. The Governor fynding him (though young) yet a proper civill gent, and of good hopes, not long after restored him to his Command.

Captaine Henry Spelman being accused by Roberte Poole (one of the interpretors of the Indian language) of many crimes which might be prejudiciall to the State in generall, and to every mans safety in particular, received Censure at this generall Assembly. But the Governor hoping he might redeeme his faults being proceeding much of Childishe ignorance, pardoned the punishment upon hope of amendment. In trial whereof he was ymploied as interpretor to Patawamack to trade for Corne.

About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunnes arrived at Point-Comfort, the Comandors name Capt Jope, his Pilott for the West Indies one Mr Marmaduke an Englishman. They mett with the Treasurer in the West Indyes, and determined to hold consort shipp hetherward, but in their passage lost one the other. He brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualls (whereof he was in greate need as he pretended) at the best and easyest rates they could. He hadd a lardge and ample Commyssion from his Excellency to range and to take purchase in the West Indyes.

Three or 4. daies after the Treasurer arrived. At his arrivall he sent word presently to the Governor to know his pleasure, who wrote to him, and did request myself and Leiftenante Peace and Mr Ewens to goe downe to him, to desyre him to come up to James Cytie. But before we gott downe he hadd sett saile and was gone out of the Bay. The occasion hereof happened by the unfrendly dealing of the Inhabitants of Keqnoughton, for he was in greate want of victualls, wherewith they would not releive him nor his Company upon any termes. He reported (whilst he staied at Keqnoughton) that if wee got not some Ord’nance planted at Point Comfort, the Colony would be quyte undone and that ere long: for that undoubtedly

the Spanyard would be here the next spring wch he gathered (as was sayd) from some Spanyards in the West Indyes. This being spread abroade doth much disharten the people ingenerall. ffor wee have no place of strength to retreate unto, no shipping of certeynty (wch would be to us as the wodden walles of England) no sound and experienced souldyers to undertake, no Engineers and arthmen to erect works, few Ordenance, not a serviceable carriadge to mount them on not Ammunycon of powlder, shott and leade, to fight and 2. wholl dayes, no not one gunner belonging to the Plantaccon, so your Honors our soveraignes dignity, your honors our poore reputacons lives and labors thus long spent lieth too open to a suddayne, and to an inevitable hazard, if a forroigne enemy oppose against us. Of this I cannot better doe, to give yow full satisfaccon, then to referr yow to the judgement and opynion of Capt Argall who hath often spoken and herof during his goverment, and knoweth (none better) these defects.

About the begynnyng of September J-apazous (the King of Patawamacks brother) came to James Cyty to the Governor. Amongst other frivoulous messages he requested, that 2. shipps might be speedyly to Patawamack where they should trade for greate stoore of corne. Hereupon (according to his desyre) the Governor sent an Englishman with him by land, and in the begynning of October, Capt Wards ship and Sommer-Iselands frigate departed James Cyty hether-ward.

Roberte Poole being whole ymployed by the Governor of messages to the greate King, perswaded Sir George, that if he would send Pledges he would, he would come to visite him. Our Corne and Tobacco being in great aboundance in our grounds (for a more plentyfull yere then this, it hath not pleased God to send us since the beginning of the Plantaccon, yet very contagious for sycknes, whereof many both old and new men died) the Governor sent two men unto him, who were returned with frivoulous aunsweres, sayng he never hadd any intent to come unto him. The Governor being jealous of them (the rather because wee hadd many straggling Plantaccons, much weakened by the greate mortality, Poole lykewise proving very dishonest) requested Captaine William Powell and myself (for Opachankano professeth much love to me, and giveth much credite to my words) to goe in a shallopp unto Pomonkey ryver: wch wee did. Going up that

ryver within 5. myles of his house wee sent Capt Spelman and Tho: Hobson unto him with the Governors message. The shipp and frigate (being not farr out of their way to Patawamack) went in the night about 12. myles into the river, and wee hasting upp wth our shallopp, the messengers were with Opaihankano, before or asone as any newes came to him eyther of the shipps or our arrivall, wch much daunted them and putt then in greate feare. Their intertayment at first was harshe, (Poole being even turned heathen) but after their message was delyvered, it was kindly taken, they sent away lovingly, and Poole accused and Condemned by them, as an instrument that sought all the meanes he could to breake our league. They seemed also to be very weary of him. Sh Opachankano much wondered I would not goe to him, but (as I wished the messengers) they said I was syck of an ague, wherewith they was were satisfied. Wee hadd no order to bring Poole away, nor to make any shew of discontent to him, for feare he should perswade them to some myscheif in our corne feilds, hoping to gett him away by fayre meanes. So wee returned in greate love and amyty to the greate content of the Colony, wch before lived in dayly hazard, all messages being untruly delyvered by Poole on both sides.

The Chikahomynies come not at us, but wee receyve no domage by them.

Thus ffarr farr as parte of my duty (ever ready at your service) have I breifly made knowen unto yow, some partyculers of our estate: and withall in conclusion cannot chose but reveale unto yow the sorrow I conceyve, to heare of the many accusaccons heaped upon Captaine Argall, with whom my reputaccon hath bene unjustly jointed but I am perswaded he will aunswere well for himself. Here have also bene divers deposyccons taken and sent home by the Diana, I will tax no man therein: but when it shall come to farther triall, I assure yow that yow shall fynd many dishonest and faithles men to Captaine Argall, who have receyved much kindnes at his hands & to his face will contradict, and be ashamed of much, wch in his absence they have intymated against him. Lastly, I speake on my owne experience for these 11. yeres, I never amongst so few, have seene so many falseharted, envious and malicious people (yea amongst some who march in the better ranck) nor shall yow ever heare of any the justest Governor here, who shall live free, from their scandalls and shameles exclamaccons, if way be given to their reports. And so desyring your kind acceptance hereof, being unwilling to conceale any thing from yourself (who now, to myne and many others comforts, standeth at the helme to guide us and bring us to our the Port of our best happyness, wch of late wee say principally by your goodnes wee now injoy) eyther wch yow

may be desirous to understand or wch may further yow for the advauncement of this Christian Plantaccon I take my leave, and will ever rest


Ⓘ Edwin Rolfe was an American poet and journalist. His first collected poetry appeared in an anthology of four poets called We Gather Strength. Three more collect ..

Edwin Rolfe was an American poet and journalist. His first collected poetry appeared in an anthology of four poets called We Gather Strength. Three more collections followed, none of which were conventionally published. To My Contemporaries was published by the small Dynamo Press and included works by Archibald MacLeish. First Love and Other Poems was sold to subscribers. Permit Me Refuge was posthumous and published by the California Quarterly, whose editor Philip Stevenson took up a collection from Rolfes friends, such as Albert Maltz, to pay for it. Thomas McGrath wrote its foreword. Rolfes poetry was inseparable from historical events: it responded to the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, and the era of McCarthyism. As a poet and journalist, he contributed extensively to The Daily Worker between 1927 and 1939.

He was born Solomon Fishman in Philadelphia in 1909, the first of three sons. His parents were immigrants from Russia, and had married the year before, having met through a marriage broker. Both of his parents were politically active, with his mother involved in the suffrage and birth control movements, and his father a labor organizer and union officer. In 1915 the family moved to New York. Rolfe attended New Utrecht High School and contributed to the school magazine, The Comet and eventually became its editor, following Leo Hurwitz, who was a close friend of Rolfe in his early years. During this period Rolfe then Fishman began to use pseudonyms, and eventually settled on "Edwin Rolfe".


Edwin Rolfe's historical witness to the spectacle of McCarthyism.

In "'Deeds Were Their Last Words': The Return of Edwin Rolfe" (College Literature 24.3), Walter Kalaidjian argues that Rolfe's later poetry represents a "crucial linkage of the politically engaged project of Depression-era verse to the haunted cultural poetics of McCarthyism and the Cold War era" (1997, 67). His analysis of "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" and "Letter" deftly names the cultural moment and the ideological terrain of Rolfe's poems as that of mass culture, and more precisely the public-burning spectacle of the Newsreel / televised "committee hearing" and its relation to the emergent Cold War domestic ideology inscribed in the figure of the 1950s TV patriarch. Kalaidjian, however, misreads the dramatic situation and persona of these poems, which leads to a limited reading of their historical vision. These two poems, and Rolfe's Cold War-era poetry more generally, offer more than melancholy laments over the repression of 1930s Left avant-garde commitments and the heady idealism of Popular Front mass culture sociability from 1950s contemporaneous cultural memory (though that's part of their meaning). They also offer complex theoretical meditations on cultural memory and historicity that anticipate contemporary cultural studies theories of hegemony and rearticulation--these are lyric meditations which locate glimpses of new Left progressive possibilities emerging from within the dark terrain of McCarthyite paranoia and repression. Rolfe's poems brilliantly deploy double-voiced modernist ironies in order to, as Michael Rothberg defines the goal of traumatic realism, "explore the intersection of the psychic and the social, the discursive and the material, and the extreme and the everyday" (2000, 6). Working with Rothberg's definition of traumatic realism and cultural studies models for "mapping a totality" in our so-called post-Marxist, postmodern present, I want to consider McCarthyism as a mass-mediated traumatic experience and Rolfe's McCarthy-era poems as forms of traumatic realism dramatizing mass culture's ideological interpolation of individual subjectivities. In the current context of Bush-Ashcroft Patriot Act repressions, Rolfe's poems simultaneously bear theoretical and historical witness to the spectacle McCarthyisms of our past and offer useable strategies to deal with the repressive cultural apparatuses in the New Right's most recent deployment of its now all-too-familiar rhetorics of crisis.

While Kalaidjian claims that both poems dramatize separate instances of two different people recanting their former radical, political pasts in ways that are emblematic of "the Red Scare's shaping of everyday life in the 1950s" (1997, 65), I want to consider what happens if we read "Letter" as the second part of "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been," wherein both parts might be read as a single poetic sequence sharing the same persona and dramatic situation. Read this way, "Letter" is not a separate poem written in confessional mode about a man "explaining the circumstances of his own impending committee summons" to his spouse (65). Rather, in dramatic monologue and epistolary forms respectively, both poems are spoken by the same man who, in "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been," finds himself called before some kind of legal proceeding (not necessarily HUAC) to answer three specific charges: 1) that he "signed [a] letter asking clemency / for six Negroes" he believed to be innocent 2) that he "wrote a small check" for a refugee fund and 3) that he "join[ed] a demonstration at the city hall / protesting the raising of rents" (Rolfe 1993, 256) This same narrator then subsequently names these same three acts again in the final lines of "Letter" when, faced with an impending trial based on his previous testimony, he asks his wife to:

It is such an unlikely coincidence that the speaking persona of "Letter" would name (in the same order) exactly the same three acts which were just addressed by the speaking persona in "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" that it must be the same character. Moreover, the pronouns in these final lines in "Letter" refer to previous events of which the poem assumes the reader is now familiar (as his wife, the audience for letter, certainly would have been): find "those people who asked me to sign that letter. / . who asked me for that small contribution" (256 my emphasis). And finally, the parallelism connecting these three acts/charges is also reinforced in the first part of "Letter" when the narrator reports with a mixture of disbelief and horror, "they even had photostats of my cancelled checks / photostats of my signatures / photographs of me among others / in that demonstration at city hall" (256). (1)

Once we recognize the continuity of plot events and the unified subjectivity of the speaking persona in both poems, one can argue that the poem sequence dramatizes the plot progression of a man belatedly coming into political consciousness and ideological awareness, rather than two similar but unrelated incidents in which once politically aware and socially committed men recant their former lives, name names, and then subconsciously mask their "social and self betrayals" behind newly adopted personas of familial care. Read together as one poem, we can see a formal symmetry and structural parallelism in the way these actions are addressed--first as isolated semiconscious actions in stanza one of "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been," then twice as state's evidence (in the last stanza of "Are You Now" and again in the first stanza of "Letter"), which lead to the character's taking three new parallel, more fully conscious actions in the end of "Letter."

Kalaidjian adroitly names the subject of Rolfe's poems as the intersection of the political and the personal, the lived experiences of everyday people amidst traumatic historical shifts in 1950s structures of feeling resulting from the strange confluence of Red Scare media spectacles and Father Knows Best TV sitcom families. The now infamous House Un-American Activities Committee / McCarthy hearings, Kalaidjian argues, were first and foremost scripted mass media spectacles in which public figures first confess their Left or communist pasts (frequently casting themselves as victims of seduction plots), then recant their earlier political idealisms and commitments (frequently characterizing these as the products of youthful naivete), and finally name the names of their former comrades in order to demonstrate their rehabilitation and to prove their allegiance to the new world order of Cold War domestic conformity epitomized in the figure of the TV father figure:

By assuming that the speaking persona of "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" has wholly "internalized" the new Cold War ideology and that he is now pleading for leniency, Kalaidjian's reading flattens out the ironic double-voicedness of the poem, characterizing the committee witness as merely a dupe of his newly adopted false consciousness and limiting the agency of the poet to that of an impotent modernist observer who can only "turn to black humor as a psychic defense against Red Scare repression" (1997, 65). Such a rigid segregation of an ironic sensibility belonging to the poet but not the speaking character doesn't fit with the final lines of the poem, however, where the ironic consciousness of the witness is revealed when his confession takes the form of a mock trial summation:

The irony of the present-tense parenthetical aside "no, I own no tenements" must belong to the consciousness of the speaking witness, and once you allow that ironic sensibility here you have to allow it to resonate back throughout the poem. The key questions then become ones of temporality and historicity. When exactly does (or did) the witness character possess the political consciousness necessary to articulate such double-voiced modernist ironies, and what kinds of agency are available to this political voice now in the midst of McCarthyism's Red Scare repression / revisionism and its postmodern future?

In Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left, Cary Nelson suggests that the reverberating ironies of the voice in the poem remain more open-ended than Kalaidjian's reading allows: "Its deliberate ironies--confessions to timid actions rendered as sardonic apologies--belong to a persona who is part committee witness and part avenging poet. We cannot be sure where to draw the line" (2001, 81). We can draw the line, however, when we read the whole poem. Reading "Are You Now or Have You Every Been?" with the end of "Letter" in mind, it's clear that the speaking persona is not a committee witness playing his scripted role of confession, recantation, and soon to be naming names, but instead he's a committee witness who has only just now come into political consciousness and who is becoming radicalized as he speaks as a result of finding himself suddenly caught in the web of precisely the kind of mass mediated cultural repressions Kalaidjian describes.

Nelson claims that the ironic language of "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?" spins back towards the title, "truncate[ing] the committee's question and turn[ing] it into an existential challenge" (2001, 81). Are you now or have you ever been . idealistic? altruistic? ideologically enlightened? socially committed? . indeed even, are you now or have you ever been truly "patriotic"?--insofar as patriotism may be rearticulated from the Red-baiting context of the committee hearing to neo-Popular Front rhetoric aligning traditional American democratic values with the idealism of radical democracy movements. The timidity of the three acts "confessed," however, suggests that prior to this moment of first public and then self interrogation the witness was, in fact, not very idealistic, altruistic, politically enlightened, or socially committed. He lived his life, as he tells us with sardonic irony now, within the dominant ideology of the privatized family man who "asked nothing from / gave nothing to / any man / except myself my wife my children."

Earlier in this third stanza, where Kalaidjian locates the witness's unreflective capitulation to this dominant ideology, the speaker suggests that his break with that dominant ideology began with his first timid act of signing the petition, though it is not clear whether he knew it then. Thinking back now in the present moment of his ironic plea (an ironic plea for understanding rather than a genuine plea for leniency), he remembers that "before they approached me with that petition / I was may it please the court exactly / like you like every other man" (1997, 254 my emphasis). But his subsequent present-tense reflections on the trauma of his hearing testimony in "Letter" suggest that this recognition of his newly confessed Left politics has in fact only now fully come to consciousness through the trauma of the hearing itself.

In "Letter," Rolfe's witness character speaks to his spouse predominantly in the present-tense as someone who has just experienced a trauma and a moment of profound ideological awakening, and as someone who is moved to act on his new understanding:

Though his assertion of new understanding is ironically understated as "less confusion," he marks the moment of the hearing itself as the "now" of his enlightenment, which suggests that the political ironies he rearticulates in his hearing testimony in the first poem originated from those moments on the stand when he was forced to confront his earlier timid and semiconscious idealistic actions in their now defamiliarized, postmodern form as sensationalized evidentiary accusations of a conscious, committed, and conspiratorial Left politics. The witness's quiet resistance in the form of modernist ironies spoken in the first poem (spawned by those three timid actions turned spectacle accusations) lead him to consider three parallel, more confrontational future actions in the second poem: first, he tells his wife to cancel their checking account because "the bank can not, I see now, be trusted" then he instructs her to send the children away because he doesn't want them to face their own public burning trials-by-association at the hands of "their classmates, possibly even their teachers" and finally, and most importantly (his phrase), he asks her to "find out who those people were" (those people whom he only casually encountered when he wrote that check, signed that petition, and attended that demonstration) because he "wants to know them better" (my emphasis), because now he has "lots of questions to ask / many things to find out" and he realizes that their historical experiences and Marxist perspectives might be the key to his learning "everything [he now wants] to know."

The key word here is "want" (as opposed to "need") in the present tense, signifying his desire to know these people again for the first time. Far from a moment of social and self betrayal, Rolfe's witness now desires to remember "them" (to remember those people he literally cannot name because he doesn't know who they are), he desires to recover their 1930s political and historical knowledge, and ultimately he now desires to join in their social commitments. The final irony of the poem sequence, however, (and here the poet and sensitive readers do in fact know more than the speaking persona) is that the witness will have to reinvent new ways to act on his new found political consciousness because now, in the wake of this surreal, draconian Red Scare purge, he probably won't be able to find them and even if he could they wouldn't remember him and so wouldn't likely tell him anything. They have probably either recanted their lives and succumbed to the dominant ideology of domestic conformity as Kalaidjian describes, or they have closed ranks and gone underground, in which case the witness's inquiries would likely be greeted with weary and guarded skepticism (after all they don't know him either). But make no mistake, Rolfe's witness is indeed now radicalized. He is closing his checking account. He's going to opt out of the bank--that's a pretty dramatic personal break with capitalism, and a pretty certain way for someone in 1950s American consumer capitalism to banish him/herself to the margins of society and subculture status, the equivalent of not having a credit card today. (Try asserting your radically enlightened academic personhood at MLA without a credit card.)

Despite his misreading of plot and character in these two poems, it is again important to note how precisely Kalaidjian names the emerging postmodern, mass culture forms shaping the "everyday life" struggles which these poems dramatize and theorize. The multiple, overlapping layers of modernist double-voicedness which Rolfe represents in this poem sequence (running a gamut of emotional registers, from bemused bewilderment and self-abasement, to horrific epiphany and moral outrage, to, ultimately, melancholic mourning and a newly found political resolve and courageous self-determination) are all articulated in response to the twin traumatic historical experiences of McCarthyism and postmodernity in the 1950s. Most significantly, Kalaidjian points out Rolfe's recognition of the important role television played in the "Red Scare's shaping of everyday life in the 1950s," particularly the way McCarthyite repression and its vocabulary of global politics aligned itself with the TV ideology of domestic conformity:

As a modern little-man, everyman character, Rolfe's "witness" has no doubt subconsciously experienced this nuanced hegemonic shift in the dailiness of his increasingly mass-mediated life. He has "witnessed" these changes but he could not begin to historicize them until he found himself suddenly the object of a Newsreel / TV-styled spectacle "committee hearing"--an increasingly ubiquitous TV mediated event which he had, until now, disassociated from his own daily lived experiences.

His situation is similar to the dark postmodern comedy in which Jack Gladney, professor of mass culture and fascism, finds himself in Don DeLillo's White Noise. In book one of the novel we watch the Gladney family watch TV disaster footage which they dissociate from their own lives (TV footage that ironically documents the postmodern historical detritus of their 1980s suburban consumer lifestyles), then in book two of the novel a real, local industrial accident forces the Gladney's to evacuate their home and become the subjects of "The Airborne Toxic Event." They find themselves suddenly on the receiving end of a ready-made TV news disaster story, one that, even more ironically, isn't deemed worthy of being televised in the end because not enough people have died, leaving them feeling cheated of their right to complain about the intrusion of TV cameras into their private lives--lives which are, precisely in that ironic moment of frustration and resentment, fleetingly imagined as public subjectivities living historicized experiences. "Spectacle," Jack Gladney likes to assume, is an exterior event (spectacle is what happens to other people), until he experiences it from within--however "simulated" the event may have been.

In Rolfe's poem, the TV-mediatedness of the witness's committee hearing similarly may not be an actually televised national or public event on the scale of a HUAC Hollywood Ten or McCarthy hearing. More likely, it is a local simulation of those nationally broadcasted Newsreel and TV hearings, such as the loyalty-security program hearings that investigated many lower-level civil-service employees. In fact, the political acts which Rolfe's witness confronts as the evidence against him bear an uncanny resemblance to the charges made against a substitute postal employee called before a Regional Office of the United States Civil Service Commission in February 1954. According to the case study, documented in Ellen Schrecker's The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents, the employee was charged with the following "un-American" activities in violation of the 1947 Loyalty-Security Program:

As personal experiences transformed into spectacle simulacra of iconic TV narratives, "Exhibits A and B and C" in "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" literally and figuratively become the building blocks of a new vocabulary for historicizing state capitalist power and for rethinking the possibilities of popular resistance in Rolfe's 1950s (post)modern present. A timidly written check for a refugee fund in the 1930s, once forced back into memory in the form of sensationalized TV trial evidence in the McCarthyite 1950s, leads the witness (and potentially the audience) to recover a repressed understanding of and appreciation for 1930s social commitments he never really experienced then, but desires to recover now, because, having been accused of simulating 1930s Left politics, he now begins to understand and appreciate not only their political ideals of radical democracy but also their Marxist critiques of capitalism and its repressive ideological state apparatuses.

Rolfe's poem sequence dramatizes a truly postmodern moment of "revolutionary memory" and offers us, the inheritors of Cold War spectacles, a model for mapping new ways to exploit hegemonic suture points of the dominant ideology in its battle to win popular consent--one that helps us recover the historicity of the 1950s as a complex maze of mass-mediated contests for popular consent attempting to define "the 1950s" as a reified historical moment. With its limiting insistence on biographical interpretation and its compulsory idealization of Rolfe's 1930s political commitments in reductive binary terms, Kalaidjian's reading of Rolfe's McCarthy-era poetry produces an image of historical experience more generally as a reified closed door, be it the lived experiences of socialist politics in the 1930s or the repression of 1930s political causes in the Red-scare 1950s. But Rolfe's double-voiced poetic vision, looking backward in order to see forward, rearticulates emergent 1950s postmodern cultural forms and cultural narratives to us, his future post-McCarthy-era readers (readers for whom McCarthyism itself will have become reified as dead history), with that most valuable 1930s utopian ideal of kicking the doors of history wide open.

(1) Cary Nelson's notes to the poems in Collected Poems support my reading of both poems as a unified sequence: "The poem ['Letter'] is untitled. It was written as a companion piece to 'Are You Now or Have You Ever Been.' At the bottom of the second page of the former poem Rolfe typed three asterisks and began this poem, which we have titled 'Letter'." (Collected 310) See Appendix for a version of the two poems sutured together with Rolfe's original manuscript asterisks visually separating the dramatic monologue and epistolary forms, as well as marking the temporal and spatial shifts between the persona's speech on the stand and his reflective letter home shortly afterward.

DeLillo, Don. 1988. Libra. New York: Penguin.

___. 1986. White Noise. New York: Penguin.

Kalaidjian, Walter. 1997. "'Deeds Were Their Last Words': The Return of Edwin Rolfe." College Literature. 24(3): 55-69.

Jameson, Fredric. 1991. Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Nelson, Cary. 2001. Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left. New York: Routledge University Press.

Rolfe, Edwin. 1993. Collected Poems. Ed. Cary Nelson and Jefferson Hendricks. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Rothberg, Michael. 2000. Traumatic Realism:The Demands of Holocaust Representation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Schrecker, Ellen. 2002. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents. 2nd Edition. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Jim Finnegan is assistant professor of English at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. He has published on youth subcultures in Postmodern Culture.


Matthew Pittman's English Blog

Edwin Rolfe was the son of Russian immigrants, was born in Philadelphia in 1909. His father, a shoemaker, was an active trade unionist and a member of the Socialist Party of America. His mother was an advocate of women's rights.

As a teenager Rolfe joined the American Communist Party and was soon contributing cartoons, poems and book reviews to the party newspaper. He also published his first book of poems, To My Contemporaries.

In 1937 Rolfe joined the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, a unit that volunteered to fight for the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War. Despite his protests, Rolfe was removed from combat assignments and became editor of the brigade newspaper Volunteer for Liberty. Rolfe arrived back in the United States in January 1939. Later that year he published a history of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion: The Lincoln Battalion in 1939.

After World War II, the Cold War began with the Soviet Union and the red scare began. A blacklist was drawn up of writers, directors and performers who had been members of the American Communist Party, including Edwin Rolfe.

Rolfe became active in the struggle against McCarthyism and wrote a series of anti-McCarthy poems. Edwin Rolfe died of a heart attack on May 25, 1954. He was 45.


1610 to 1619

Sir Thomas Gates is deputy governor until the arrival of Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, the newly appointed governor of Jamestown.

The Virginia Company sends the Reverend Richard Buck to Jamestown to be the colony's first chaplain.

Dutch colonists begin operating a glassworks at Jamestown.

May 23 or 24, 1610

The Deliverance and the Patience arrive in Jamestown, carrying John Rolfe, Ralph Hamor, Sir George Somers, and others from the Sea Venture wreck. The survivors have built the two ships on Bermuda island from wreckage of the original ships destroyed in a hurricane. They find approximately sixty malnourished colonists at Jamestown.

May 24, 1610

Sir Thomas Gates, the new governor of Jamestown establishes martial law under Laws Divine, Morall and Martiall. These laws are published in London in 1612.

June 7, 1610

Conditions continue to deteriorate at Jamestown and Sir Thomas Gates and the colonists sail away, abandoning the colony. But they encounter Lord De la Warr and his supply ships at Mulberry Island on June 8 and return to Jamestown three days later.

August 9, 1610

Jamestown colonists attack the Paspagegh Indians. They defeat the Pasageghs decisively, at least for the moment. Friction continues between the Paspageghs and the English who have settled on their land.

Lord De La Warr serves as governor from June 10, 1610 through late March 1611 and then departs for England. George Percy serves as deputy governor through the end of May, when Thomas Dale arrives and replaces him.

September 1611

Thomas Dale leads a group of colonists to establish Henricus (later Henrico), one of the first outlying settlements in Virginia.

The third charter of the Virginia Company of London reaffirms its independence from the Crown in matters of trade and governance. A new council, drawn from all Company members, makes policy and writes instructions for Jamestown. Meetings of the weekly "court" or assembly made up of officers and some members will be more frequent, and there will be a great quarterly court, made up of council members, interested officials, and members. The governor and his council in Jamestown are responsible to the Company.

The Crown licenses lotteries and one is established to raise funds for the Virginia Company.

The British establish a colony on the island of Bermuda.

April 13, 1613

At Jamestown, Captain Samuel Argall and others who have captured Powhatan's daughter Pocohontas, bring her to Jamestown. Governor Sir Thomas Dale determines to keep her hostage until Powhatan releases captured Englishmen.

Settlements branch into the interior. There are now four: Jamestown, Kecoughtan (Elizabeth City after 1621), Henrico, and Charles City. The term of the first indentured servants in Jamestown expires and they are now free laborers. Some return to England, while others remain to become tenant farmers.

John Rolfe is the first in Jamestown to grow marketable tobacco after obtaining superior seed from the West Indies, where the Spanish have outlawed the sale of tobacco seed to other nations on penalty of death.

This year, Captain Samuel Argall negotiates a written treaty with the Chickahominy Indians, who are semi-independent of the Powhatan confederation. Jamestown is still largely dependent on Indian tribes for food supplies.

March 1614

John Rolfe and Robert Sparkes travel up the Pamunkey River with Pocohontas, who has been held captive at Jamestown for almost a year. Powhatan negotiates a truce.

April 1614

John Rolfe and Pocohontas are married. Before she is married, Pocohontas converts to Christianity and assumes the Christian name "Rebecca."

June 28, 1614

John Rolfe sends the first shipment of Virginia tobacco to England. Samuel Argall and Ralph Hamor depart for England.

The Bermuda Company is chartered. In 1609, the Virginia Company claimed Bermuda as part of its original charter but did nothing to establish a colony there. In 1612, some Virginia Company members purchased rights from their own Company and formed the Somers Island Company, which is chartered as the Bermuda Company in 1615. London meetings of the Virginia and Bermuda Companies often involve the same people. An Extraordinary Court Held for Virginia and the Sumer Islandes

May. Governor Sir Thomas Dale, John Rolfe, Pocohontas, and ten other Powhatan Indians sail for England on board the Treasurer, arriving in June. George Yeardley is deputy governor while Dale is in England. Dale has been recalled under criticism and in an effort to redeem his leadership writes A True Relation of the State of Virginia, Left by Sir Thomas Dale, Knight, in May last, 1616. A Proclamation Giving License to Any Who Are in Virginia, to Return Home, 1616/17

Late summer 1616

Under Deputy Governor George Yeardley's leadership, friendly relations with the Chickahominy Indians deteriorate. Jamestown is unable to supply itself, instead devoting land and labor to the cultivation of tobacco. The Chickahominy Indians are sometimes unable to supply the colony with food, or they grow impatient of repeated requests and refuse supplies. Governor Yeardley and a group of men kill twenty to forty Chickahominy Indians, and as a result the tribe draws closer to the Powhatan confederation.

The Company fails to win a monopoly in tobacco trade from the Crown. This would have made the Company and colony the sole importers of tobacco. James I , who has a strong distaste for the habit of smoking, opposes excessive cultivation of the crop. Tobacco exports grow from a total of twenty-five hundred pounds in 1616 to a total of fifty thousand pounds in 1628.

In London the Company creates a subsidiary joint-stock company called the "Magazine" or "Society of Particular Adventurers for Traffic with the People of Virginia in Joint Stock." This almost-completely-independent company receives a monopoly in supplying Jamestown and outlying settlements. Its director and courts meet separately from the Virginia Company's, and profits are returned to its investors alone.

November 1616

Ending the first seven-year period, the Virginia Company attempts to issue dividends to its investors, but profits are so small that it distributes land in Virginia instead. The Company allows the establishment of private plantations, called "hundreds." Land grants are made to several of the Company's major adventurers. Thereafter, some people buy stock in the Virginia Company for the specific purpose of getting private land grants. After 1618, English settlement significantly encroaches on Indian lands, especially along the Chickahominy and James Rivers. Most of these encroachments are due to private land grants by the Company.

March 21, 1617

Pocohontas dies of illness at Gravesend, England. While in England, her husband, John Rolfe, has written A True Relation of the State of Virginia, which puts a good face upon conditions in Virginia. A Letter from John Rolfe to Edwin Sandys upon His Return to Virginia

April 1618

Powhatan dies. About a year earlier he had ceded power to Opitchapan (or, Itopan), who was then succeeded by Opechancanough.

October 29, 1618

Sir Walter Raleigh is executed for treason in London, in part to satisfy the Spanish. In 1616, Raleigh had been paroled from the Tower of London, where he had been imprisoned since 1606. After his release, Raleigh had attacked a Spanish settlement in Orinoco, where he had been searching for "El Dorado," the fabled Indian leader of a city of gold. The expedition a failure, Raleigh then sailed north along the Carolina coast and Chesapeake Bay and on up to Cape Cod and the mouth of the Kennebec River before sailing home to face trial and execution.

December 1618

The Company's instructions to the Colony's new governor, George Yeardley, recognize tobacco as a medium of exchange.

This year, Virginia Company officials in London discover that rather than yielding a profit, the original investment of seventy-five thousand pounds has been almost entirely lost.

This year begins what is called the "Great Migration," which by 1623 brings the population of the Virginia colony to forty-five hundred.

April 23, 1619

Sir Edwin Sandys, a west English merchant with leanings toward Puritanism, is elected treasurer of the Virginia Company at a quarterly court. John Ferrar is deputy treasurer. Sandys calls for a decrease in tobacco cultivation, the creation of industries, such as the reestablishment of the glassworks and saltworks, which had fallen away, the production of naval stores, an ironworks, sawmill, silkworming, and vineyards. He calls for the cultivation of subsistence crops and of the neglected Company or "public" lands in Virginia. Women are recruited in London to come to the colony and marry. Sandys's predecessor and political enemy, Sir Thomas Smith, becomes head of the Bermuda Company. When Sandys's laudable projects fail, he becomes vulnerable to attacks.

April 1619

Governor Sir George Yeardley is empowered to charge and try Governor Samuel Argall for neglect of duty and malfeasance. Yeardley had been governor from April 1616 to May 1617 and was then succeeded by Samuel Argall, who had returned from England. Argall had established harsh martial law during his tenure, which had caused adverse publicity for the Company in London. Yeardley assures colonists that in Virginia they shall enjoy the same rule of common law as in England. The Company has instructed him to establish a legislature, settle disputes about private land patents, regularize the relationship between private plantations, or hundreds, and the Company, and to re-cultivate the Company or public lands. Instructions to Governor Yeardley.

July 30- August 4, 1619

The first legislative assembly meets in Jamestown, in the choir of the church. None of the Assembly's laws are official unless ratified by one-fourth of the Company's Court. Guided by the Company's instructions, the Assembly passes measures to encourage the production of wine, hemp, flax, and, above all, an adequate food supply. The cultivation of tobacco is restricted. Colonists have complained about the high prices charged by the Magazine, and the Assembly limits its profits to twenty-five percent. Other measures address social behavior, such as idleness, drunkenness, gambling, and the wearing of apparel beyond one's social station. Seven private plantations, or hundreds, are represented in this first Assembly. John Pory, A Reporte of. the General Assembly Convented at James City, July 30-August 4, 1619

John Rolfe, who has returned from England, becomes a member of the Council. He marries Jane, the daughter of Captain William Pierce.

Summer 1619

Unceasing torrid heat adds to the crop, food supply, and health problems of the Virginia settlements. There are about a thousand people living in the Virginia colony.

August 1619

The first African slaves are brought to Virginia by Captain Jope in a Dutch ship. Governor Yeardley and a merchant, Abraham Piersey, exchange twenty of them for supplies. These Africans become indentured servants like the white indentured servants who traded passage for servitude. John Rolfe to Edwin Sandys, Jan 1619/20, "About the latter end of August. "

The duty-free status of the Company and the colony ends. The Crown now expects to derive revenue from the Colony in the form of custom duties.

Opechancanough replaces Itopatin as leader of the Powhatan confederation.


--> Rolfe, Edwin, 1909-1954

Edwin Rolfe, born Solomon Fishman, was a journalist, author, and Communist Party activist. During the 1930s he was employed by the "Daily Worker." In the spring of 1937, he joined the International Brigades. Once in Spain, he was assigned to edit the "Volunteer for Liberty," the English-language magazine of the volunteers, in Madrid until joining the troops in the field in the spring of 1938.

From the description of Edwin Rolfe photograph collection [graphic]. ca. 1937. (New York University, Group Batchload). WorldCat record id: 60951137

Rolfe was born Solomon Fishman to Russian Jewish parents. He spent the first few years of his life in Philadelphia before the family moved to New York City. His father was a socialist and an official of a union local in New York, who later became a member of the Lovestonite faction of the Communist Party. His mother was active in the birth-control movement, a supporter of the striking Paterson silk workers in 1913, and later a member of the Communist Party. During high school Fishman began using pen names the name Edwin Rolfe appears on some of his publications in the 1920s.

Rolfe joined the Communist Party in 1925 when he was 15 and was assigned to the Young Communist League. He published his first poem, "The Ballad of the Subway Digger," in the Daily Worker in 1927. He quit the Party in 1929 and moved from New York City to Madison, Wisconsin, to enroll in the Experimental College at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He spent his time writing non-political poems between 1929 and 1930 and in 1932 was published in Pagany . He left the university during his second year and rejoined the Party in New York City. After a variety of temporary jobs he began working full time at the Daily Worker. Rolfe published To My Contemporaries, his first book of poetry, in 1936, the same year he married Mary Wolfe. A few months later the Spanish Civil War began. After the Comintern began organizing international volunteers to help defend the Spanish Republic, Rolfe joined the International Brigades in the spring of 1937. Once in Spain he was assigned to edit the Volunteer for Liberty, the English-language magazine of the volunteers, in Madrid until joining the troops in the field in the spring of 1938. Rolfe's wife Mary joined him in Barcelona that fall.

In January of 1939, the Rolfe's returned to the United States where the Spanish cause was already under attack. Martin Dies began congressional hearings on Communist activity and the volunteers who fought in Spain, as well as their supporters, were immediate suspects. Rolfe's brother Bern Fishman, a federal employee who had raised money for the fledgling Spanish Republic came under scrutiny and Milt Wolff was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. While government harassment of the Lincoln Brigade veterans commenced, Random House published Rolfe's, The Lincoln Battalion, in 1939. He subsequently worked for the Soviet news agency TASS until he was drafted in 1943. Mary moved to Los Angeles and Rolfe joined her after the war where he published a mystery novel ( The Glass Room ) and found occasional work on the fringes of the film industry. He was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and continued to be active in the struggle against McCarthyism until his death, by heart attack, in 1954.

Rolfe accrued the images in this collection in the course of his work as a journalist for the Volunteer for Liberty and the Daily Worker .

From the guide to the Edwin Rolfe Photographs, circa 1937, (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)


School of Poetry Overview
Title Leftist Type of Content School of Poetry
Number/Poets 17 Number/Members 1
Originally Posted 17 Apr 2013 Number/Content 17
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Creator Modern American. Tags No Data

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