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John Smith (c. January 1580 – 21 June 1631) Admiral of New England was an English soldier, explorer, and author. He was knighted for his services to Sigismund Bathory, Prince of Transylvania and his friend Mózes Székely. He was considered to have played an important part in the establishment of the first permanent English settlement in North America. He was a leader of the Virginia Colony (based at Jamestown) between September 1608 and August 1609, and led an exploration along the rivers of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay. He was the first English explorer to map the Chesapeake Bay area and New England.
Smith's books and maps are considered extremely important in encouraging and supporting English colonization of the New World. He gave the name New England to the region and noted: "Here every man may be master and owner of his owne labour and land... If he have nothing but his hands, he may...by industrie quickly grow rich."
When Jamestown was England's first permanent settlement in the New World, Smith trained the settlers to farm and work, thus saving the colony from early devastation. He publicly stated "he who shall not work, shall not eat". This strength of character and determination overcame problems presented from the hostile native Americans, the wilderness and the troublesome and uncooperative English settlers. Harsh weather, lack of water, living in a swampy wilderness, English unwillingness to work, and attacks from the Powhatan nation almost destroyed the colony.
John Smith was baptised on 6 January 1580 at Willoughby near Alford, Lincolnshire, where his parents rented a farm from Lord Willoughby. He claimed descent from the ancient Smith family of Cuerdley Lancashire and was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth, from 1592–1595.
After his father died, Smith left home at the age of sixteen and set off to sea. He served as a mercenary in the army of Henry IV of France against the Spaniards, fought for Dutch independence from the Spanish King Phillip II, then set off for the Mediterranean Sea. There he engaged in both trade and piracy, and later fought against the Ottoman Turks in the Long War. Smith was promoted to captain while fighting for the Austrian Habsburgs in Hungary, in the campaign of Michael the Brave in 1600 and 1601. After the death of Michael the Brave, he fought for Radu Şerban in Wallachia against the Ottoman vassal Ieremia Movilă.
Smith is reputed to have defeated, killed and beheaded Turkish commanders in three duels, for which he was knighted by the Transylvanian Prince Sigismund Báthory and given a horse and coat of Arms showing three Turks' heads. However, in 1602 he was wounded in a skirmish with the Tatars, captured and sold as a slave. As Smith describes it: "we all sold for slaves, like beasts in a market". Smith claimed his master, a Turkish nobleman, sent him as a gift to his Greek mistress in Constantinople, who fell in love with Smith. He then was taken to the Crimea, from where he escaped from the Ottoman lands into Muscovy then on to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, before travelling through Europe and Northern Africa, returning to England in 1604.
In 1606 Smith became involved with the Virginia Company of London plans to colonise Virginia for profit; it had been granted a charter by King James. The expedition set sail in three small ships, the Discovery, the Susan Constant and the Godspeed, on 20 December 1606. His page was a 12-year-old boy named Samuel Collier.
During the voyage, Smith was charged with mutiny, and Captain Christopher Newport (in charge of the three ships) had planned to execute him. Fortunately for Smith, upon first landing at what is now Cape Henry on 26 April 1607, unsealed orders from the Virginia Company designated Smith to be one of the leaders of the new colony, thus, perhaps, sparing Smith from the gallows.
The English arrived at Jamestown in April 1607 and, by summer of that year, the settlers were still living in temporary housing. The search for a suitable site ended on 14 May 1607, when Captain Edward Maria Wingfield, president of the council, chose the Jamestown site as the location for the colony. After the four-month ocean trip, their food stores were sufficient only for each to have a cup or two of grain-meal per day. Due to swampy conditions and widespread disease, someone died almost every day. By September, more than 60 were dead of the 104 brought by Newport. The men may well have died from drinking brackish creek water and from poor nutrition.
In early January 1608, nearly 100 new settlers arrived with Captain Newport, and through carelessness the village was set on fire. That winter the James River froze over, and the settlers were forced to live in the burnt ruins. During this time, for the three months that Newport and his crew were in port, they wasted much time loading their ships with iron pyrite (fool's gold). Food supplies ran low and although the native Americans brought some food, Smith wrote that "more than half of us died".
In April 1608 a ship brought supplies and 50 new settlers, whom Smith set to construct housing and do farm planting. He spent that summer exploring Chesapeake Bay waterways and produced a map that would be of great value to Virginia explorers for over a century.
In October 1608, Captain Newport arrived with 70 new settlers, including the first women. Some German and Polish craftsmen also arrived, but they brought no food supplies. Newport brought with him a list of counterfeit Virginia Company orders which angered John Smith greatly. He wrote an angry letter in response. One of the orders was to crown Powhatan Emperor and give him a fancy bedstead. The Company wanted Smith to pay for Newport's voyage with such as the colony could produce in the form of pitch, tar and sawed boards and soap ashes and glass.
After that, Smith tried to get food from the native Americans and it took threats of military force against the native Americans for them to comply. Powhatan was alarmed at the great number of white men coming and was trying to starve them out.
Smith found that there were those among both the settlers and native Americans who were planning to kill him, and it is written he was warned about the plan by Pocahontas. He called a meeting and threatened those who were spoiled and not working "that he that will not work shall not eat…" After that the situation improved and the settlers worked with more industry, albeit with some punishments as needed.
For three months in early 1609, February, March and April all was well at Jamestown with many dwellings built, acres of land cleared and much other work done. Then in April, an infestation of rats was discovered, which along with dampness, destroyed all their stored corn. They needed food badly and Smith sent a large group of settlers to fish and others to gather shellfish downriver. They came back without food and were willing enough to take the meager rations offered them. This angered Smith and he ordered them to trade their guns and tools for fruit from the native Americans and ordered everyone to work or be banished from the fort.
By that time, some settlers wanted Smith to abandon Jamestown but he refused. Some deserted to the Native American villages, but Powhatan's people also went by Smith's law which was: "he who works not, eats not". This was in effect "till they were near starved indeed" and they returned home.
The weeks-long emergency was relieved by the arrival of an unexpected ship, captained by Samuel Argall. He had items of food and wine which Smith bought on credit. Argall also brought news that the (South) Virginia Company of London was being reorganized and was sending more supplies and settlers to Jamestown along with a new governor, Lord De la Warr.
In a May 1609 voyage to Virginia, Sir Thomas Smith, Virginia Company treasurer, arranged for about 500 colonists, including women and children to come along. A fleet of nine ships set sail. One sank in a storm soon after leaving the harbor and another, the Sea Venture, with the flotilla admiral on board, wrecked on the Bermuda Islands. One year later, in May 1610, after building boats to take all the passengers and crew of the Sea Venture off Bermuda, they finally made their way to Jamestown with the new Governor, Thomas Gates, on board.
In August 1609 John Smith was quite surprised to see more than 300 new settlers arrive, which did not go well for him. London was sending new settlers with no real planning or logistical support.
Then in May 1610, Gates with 150 men finally arrived after spending almost a year trying to escape from Bermuda, by building small boats from their wrecked ship. Gates soon found that there was not enough food to support all in the colony and decided to abandon Jamestown. As their boats were leaving the Jamestown area, they met a ship carrying the new governor, Lord De la Warr, who ordered them back to Jamestown.
It is also recorded that Capt. John Smith was severely injured by an accidental gunpowder explosion in his canoe which decided his fate for him; he sailed to England for treatment in October 1609. He had spent two and a half years trying to do his best for Jamestown. He never returned to Virginia. History has confirmed his outstanding contribution to the English effort at Jamestown in its earliest years.
Although colonists would continue to die from various illnesses and disease, with an estimated 150 of the 500 surviving that winter, the Virginia Company continued to finance and transport settlers to sustain Jamestown. For the next five years, Governors Gates and Sir Thomas Dale continued to keep strict discipline, with Sir Thomas Smith in London attempting to find skilled craftsmen and other settlers to send to Jamestown.
In December 1607, while seeking food along the Chickahominy River, Smith was captured and taken to meet the chief of the Powhatans at Werowocomoco, the main village of the Powhatan Confederacy. The village was on the north shore of the York River about 15 miles due north of Jamestown and 25 miles downstream from where the river forms from the Pamunkey River and the Mattaponi River at West Point, Virginia. Although he feared for his life, Smith was eventually released without harm and later attributed this in part to the chief's daughter, Pocahontas, who according to Smith, threw herself across his body: "at the minute of my execution, she hazarded [i.e. risked] the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown".
In 1860 Boston businessman and historian Charles Deane was the first scholar to question specific details of Smith's writings. Smith's version of events is the only source and skepticism has increasingly been expressed about its veracity. One reason for such doubt is that, despite having published two earlier books about Virginia, Smith's earliest-surviving account of his rescue by Pocahontas dates from 1616, nearly 10 years later, in a letter entreating Queen Anne to treat Pocahontas with dignity. The time gap in publishing his story raises the possibility that Smith may have exaggerated or invented the event to enhance Pocahontas's image. However, in a recent book, Professor J. A. Leo Lemay of the University of Delaware points out that Smith's earlier writing was primarily geographical and ethnographic in nature and did not dwell on his personal experiences; hence there was no reason for him to write down the story until this point.
Henry Brooks Adams, the pre-eminent Harvard historian of the second half of the 19th century, attempted to debunk Smith's claims of heroism. He said that Smith's recounting of the story of Pocahontas had been progressively embellished, made up of "falsehoods of an effrontery seldom equaled in modern times". Although there is consensus among historians that Smith tended to exaggerate, his account does seem to be consistent with the basic facts of his life. Adams's attack on Smith, an attempt to deface one of the icons of Southern history, was motivated by political considerations in the wake of the Civil War. Adams had been influenced to write his fusillade against Smith by John G. Palfrey who was promoting New England colonisation, as opposed to southern settlement, as the founding of America. The accuracy of Smith's accounts has continued to be a subject of debate over the centuries.
Some experts have suggested that although Smith believed he had been rescued, he had in fact been involved in a ritual intended to symbolize his death and rebirth as a member of the tribe. In Love and Hate in Jamestown, David A. Price notes that this is only guesswork, since little is known of Powhatan rituals, and there is no evidence for any similar rituals among other Native American tribes in North America.
In True Travels (1630), Smith told a similar story of having been rescued by the intervention of a young girl after having been captured in 1602 by Turks in Hungary. Karen Kupperman suggests that he "presented those remembered events from decades earlier" when telling the story of Pocahontas.
Whatever really happened, the encounter initiated a friendly relationship between the natives and Smith and the colonists at Jamestown. As the colonists expanded further, some of the tribes felt that their lands were threatened, and conflicts arose again.
In 1608, Pocahontas is said to have saved Smith a second time. Smith and some other colonists were invited to Werowocomoco by Chief Powhatan on friendly terms, but Pocahontas came to the hut where the English were staying and warned them that Powhatan was planning to kill them. Due to this warning, the English stayed on their guard and the attack never came.
In the summer of 1608, Smith left Jamestown to explore the Chesapeake Bay region and search for badly needed food, covering an estimated 3,000 miles. These explorations have been commemorated in the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, established in 2006. In his absence, Smith left his friend Matthew Scrivener, a young gentleman adventurer from Sibton, Suffolk, who was related by marriage to the Wingfield family, as governor in his place. (Scrivener would later drown along with Bartholomew Gosnold's brother in an ill-fated voyage to Hog Island during a storm.) Scrivener was not capable of leading the people. Smith was elected president of the local council in September 1608 and instituted a policy of discipline.
After suffering a severe injury to his leg, Smith returned to England in October 1609.
In 1614, Smith returned to the Americas in a voyage to the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts Bay. He named the region "New England". He made two attempts in 1614 and 1615 to return to the same coast. On the first trip, a storm dismasted his ship. In the second attempt, he was captured by French pirates off the coast of the Azores. Smith escaped after weeks of captivity and made his way back to England, where he published an account of his two voyages as A Description of New England. He never left England again. He died in the year 1631 in London at the age of 51.
John Smith died June 21, 1631. He was buried in 1633 in the south aisle of Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church, Holborn Viaduct, London. The church is the largest parish church in the City of London, dating from 1137. Captain Smith is commemorated in the south wall of the church by a beautiful stained glass window.
The Captain John Smith Monument currently lies in disrepair off the coast of New Hampshire on Star Island, part of the Isles of Shoals. Built in 1864 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of John Smith's visit to what he named Smith's Isles, the original monument was a tall pillar set on a triangular base atop a series of steps surrounded by granite supports and a sturdy iron railing. At the top of the original obelisk were three carved faces, representing the severed heads of three Turks that Smith lopped off while in combat during his stint as a soldier in Transylvania.
In 1914, the New Hampshire Society of Colonial Wars partially restored and rededicated the monument for the 300th anniversary celebration of his historic visit. The monument had weathered so badly in the harsh coastal winters that the inscription in the granite had worn away.
Many critics judge Captain John Smith's character and credibility as an author based on a single event, his description of when Pocahontas saved his life from the hand of Powhatan. Additional and probably more accurate judgments should rest upon his relationship with both the Native Americans and colonists of Jamestown. Smith earned his status as an American hero through his strong work ethic and compromise with the native Americans, themes that reappear in his writings such as The Generall Historie of Virginia and The True Travels…of Captain John Smith. Most of the critical scepticism of Smith's credibility is a result of the differences between his narratives. His earliest text is A True Relation of Virginia, which was submitted for publication in 1608, the year after Smith's experiences in Jamestown. The second, The Generall Historie, was published in 1624, sixteen years later. Compared to The Generall Historie, many events, including the Pocahontas scene, are either left out or changed. Accordingly, the publishing of letters, journals, and pamphlets from the colonists were regulated by the companies that sponsored the voyage in that they must go "directly to the company," because no one was to "write any letter of anything that may discourage others". Smith is now known to have violated this regulation by first publishing A True Relation as an unknown author. Furthermore, the editor of The Generall Historie probably "cut out...references to the Indians' hostility, to bickering among the leaders of Virginia Company, and to the early supposed mutiny of...Smith on the voyage to Virginia."
The Pocahontas episode is subject to the most scrutiny by literary critics, for it does not even appear in A True Relation, but does so in The Generall Historie. According to Lemay, it is probable that "Smith was being ritualistically killed. Reborn, he was adopted into the tribe, with Pocahontas as his sponsor. But Smith, of course, did not realise the nature of the initiation ceremony." Also important evidence to Smith's credibility regarding the story is the fact that "no one in Smith's day ever expressed doubt in [it], and many persons who must have known the truth...including John Rolfe [and] Pocahontas...were in London in 1616 when Smith publicised the story in a letter to the queen".
Smith focuses heavily on native Americans in all of his works concerning the New World. Smith's relationship with the Powhatan native Americans is the sole factor that saved the Jamestown colony from sharing the fate of the Roanoke colony. His relations with the native Americans were very wise in that:
He was friendly toward them, but never let them forget the might of English weapons… Realizing that the very existence of the colony depended on peace, he never thought of trying to exterminate the natives. Only after his departure were there bitter wars and massacres, the natural results of a more hostile policy. In his writings, Smith reveals the attitudes behind his actions.
However, in The Generall Historie, Smith implies that the Virginia colonists resented the native Americans and the two peoples had mostly hostile feelings towards each other. He compares Chief Powhatan to the devil, and refers to the native Americans as "barbarians". Numerous times, he mentions sending spies to discover the Chief's intent and declining Powhatan's request to relinquish their arms. He also stresses the many experiences where the native Americans threatened and attempted to kill him. However, Lemay contests Smith's depiction of the relations between colonists and native Americans: "[He] was not only fair, he was surprisingly kind and humanitarian. He treated the native Americans as he treated whites…tortured [none], executed none, and saved native Americans when others wanted to slay them." Smith's own past as a commoner allowed him to sympathise with the native Americans, and he believed that the native Americans were not inferior to the whites but just "at a different stage of civilisation". The respect between Smith and the Powhatan earned him the title of a werowance, "a chieftain among the whites". The relationship between Smith and Chief Powhatan is further evidence of the understanding between these two cultures. In The Generall Historie, Smith addresses a number of letters exchanged between him and Powhatan that reflect the respect that existed between them: "Half a dozen years after Smith had left Virginia—and after the whites had repeatedly assured Powhatan that Smith was dead—[the] leader instructed his advisor… [and] Pocahontas to look for Smith in England;" judging from his directions, the Chief seems to have been deeply affected by Smith's rumoured death. This is another indication of the positive relationship held between colonists and native Americans: if their associations were as Smith depicted them in The Generall Historie, Powhatan would not have been much concerned about his absence or death.
Concerning his relationship with the colonists, Smith is considered by historical and literary critics to be an arrogant braggart. On numerous accounts, he outwardly expressed the opinion that the colonists were worthless; most of them were gentlemen who felt no need to do physical labour. As a method of survival, Smith blatantly rejected the social order that existed in England, which obviously angered the gentlemen of the colony. Smith was regularly frustrated with the amount of delegation[clarification needed] that the colonists went through before a decision could be made. Smith's disgust with the "gentlemen" of Jamestown was clear: he makes several references to them as "useless parasites," for their ignorance in the laborious tasks that are required for beginning a colony. His frustration with them did not end at their inability to work, but also extended to the social order that they believed they were entitled to. The colonists, accustomed to the social order of England, rejected the social construct that Smith created in Jamestown. They perceived Smith's establishment of this new structure as a challenge to their "deserved" respect. Smith mentions several times in his works that having actual workers would have been better than what the Virginia Company sent over: "twentie good workmen had been better than all them all". In Smith's hopes to better colonise the Americas, he urges to the Massachusetts Bay Company not to make the same mistake that the Virginia Company made: "...nor such multitude of Officers, neither masters, gentlemen, gentlewomen and children as you have men to work, which idle charges you will find very troublesome, and the effects dangerous, and one hundred good labourers better than a thousand such Gallants as we were sent me that could do nothing."
In reality, Smith was discontent with only a few colonists who acted this way: he "claimed the early colonists were heroes. His primary purpose in writing The Generall Historie...was to eternalise 'the memory of those that effected' the settlement of Virginia". In Smith's publication, A Description of New England (1616), he goes so far as to compare the colonists to Adam and Eve; just as Adam and Eve spread productivity throughout the world, the colonists created life in the Virginia colony. Smith essentially sympathised with gentlemen; he knew it was not their fault they were useless and that this trait was merely a product of the imposed standards of English society. He recognised that "they were imprisoned by their own self-imposed limitations. What they could and could not do was decided by their awareness of traditional roles and by the shame that they would feel if others saw them engaged in physical work". Lemay speculates that as a result of Smith's strict rules and the emigration to America, these men could shed these roles and create new lives for themselves in which they could celebrate the products of their labours and not feel humiliated.
One of John Smith's main incentives in writing about his New World experiences and observances was to promote the colonisation of The New World by England. Many promotional writers sugar-coated their depictions of America in order to heighten its appeal, but Smith was not one to exaggerate the facts. He was very straightforward with his readers about both the dangers and the possibilities of colonisation: instead of proclaiming that there was an abundance of gold in the New World—as many writers did—Smith illustrated that what was truly abundant within America was monetary opportunity in the form of industry. Smith was realistic about his proposition for colonisation and the benefits that it could yield. He recognised that no "other motive [besides] wealth…would draw [potential colonists] from their ease and humours at home". Therefore, he presented in his writings actual industries that could yield significant capital within the New World: fishing, farming, shipbuilding, and fur trading". In A Description of New England, Smith illustrates America as an ideal environment for such trades and enumerates the monetary benefits that they would bring. Rather than making false promises of abounding gold to his readers, Smith attempted to attract interest for colonisation by depicting the opportunities that fertile soil and abundant resources would bring. He insists, however, that only hard workers will be able to reap such benefits. Just as Smith did not exaggerate the possibilities for wealth within America, he did not understate the dangers and toil associated with colonisation. He declared that only those with a strong work ethic would be able to "live and succeed in America" in the face of such dangers. Colonists would have to risk their lives in order to benefit from the "phenomenal possibilities" that the New World offered. As a promoter of American colonisation, Smith did not placate his readers: he wished for potential colonists to be aware of the dangers that they faced, the work that colonisation would require, and the benefits that they stood to gain.
A Map of Virginia is focused centrally on the observations that Smith made about the native Americans, particularly regarding their religion and government. This specific focus would have been Smith's way of adapting to the new world by assimilating the best parts of their culture and incorporating them into the colony. A Map of Virginia was not just a pamphlet discussing the observations that Smith made, but also a map which Smith had drawn himself, to help make the Americas seem more domestic. As Lemay remarks, "maps tamed the unknown, reduced it to civilisation and harnessed it for Western consciousness," promoting Smith's central theme of encouraging the settlement of America. Many "naysayers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century" have made the argument that Smith's maps weren't reliable because he "lacked a formal education in cartography". That allegation, however, was proved false by the fact that Smith was a "master in his chosen fields of experience".
The Proceedings of English Colonie In Virginia was a compilation of other writings; it narrates the colony's history from Dec. 1609 to summer 1610, and Smith left the colony in Oct. 1609 due to a gunpowder accident. The writing style of The Proceedings is thought to be better constructed than A Map of Virginia.
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|Colonial Governor of Virginia|