173 Author Biography: Captain John Smith

John Smith was born in Lincolnshire, England in either late 1579 or early 1580, the exact date is unknown. As a child he attended a grammar school, however, he wanted to be a sailor. Instead, his father insisted that he take an apprenticeship with a merchant. After this he decided to become a soldier at age 16 and joined the military. He was sent to Hungary on a mission with the English army, however he was captured and enslaved in the region that now makes up Istanbul. He worked for a woman who treated him well, however, she sold him to her brother who was much harsher. Smith believed this was an attempt to convert him to Islam and that the lady was in love with him. Smith did labor intensive farm work, however, he killed his master and escaped. He returned to England in the early 1600s and began engaging with the Virginia Company. The Company sent 3 small ships to what Smith names, New England. Along the voyage, however, Smith was arrested for rebelling against authority. When Smith was released, he was instructed to set up trade with the indigenous people as well as explore the area. Upon arrival to the Chesapeake Bay the settlers attempted to take land that was claimed by the Powhatan Confederacy. They struggled with starvation and lack of resources. After his release, Smith set out on two voyages in attempts to find the Pacific Ocean and a trail to it, which he did not. However, he did provide accurate maps of the region, which were later used by other settlers coming to New England. While on an expedition he was captured by the native people and almost executed by Powhatan. According to Smith, the daughter of Powhatan, Pocahontas, stopped the execution. This is debated, as the “execution” may have been a ceremony of acceptance. The natives established peace with Smith and the settlers and helped provide them food. Smith sent a letter back to England, A True Relation of Virginia, which became known as the first publications in New England. When Smith returned to Jamestown, he was elected president of Jamestown. During this time there was a drought, which limited the food supply. The Natives stopped helping provide food for the Colonists because of the drought. This led Smith to attempt to enslave the native people and attacked their settlements. This began conflict with the native people that seized with the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. He also forced colonists to work on the farms in order to eat. This system was efficient, however, the colonist did not like Smith. He was sent back to England on allegations of attempted murder and never returned to New England. He published works about Jamestown and advice about farming, including: General Historie of Virginia (1624) which discussed colonization in North America and the Virginia Company; The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain John Smith (1630) which focused on Smith’s role in New England; and Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England, or Anywhere (1631) which was mainly advice for farming, most of which Smith learned from the native people.

Works Cited:

“John Smith Biography”, A&E Television Networks, April 2, 2014,    https://www.biography.com/people/john-smith-9486928

Szaylay, Jessie. “John Smith of Jamestown: Facts and Biography”, Live Science, November 1, 2013, https://www.livescience.com/40898-captain-john-smith.html

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Author Biography: Captain John Smith by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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