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Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith


Captain John SmithCaptain John Smith is deservedly honored as the true founder of the first permanent English settlement in America. Though somewhat a braggart, he was also, as his name helps to indicate, a sturdy, courageous Anglo-Saxon, and all his best qualities were called forth in establishing the colony of Jamestown. John Smith was born at Willoughby, in Lincolnshire, England. The date of his baptism appears in the registry of Willoughby parish church, January 9. 1579. His father, George Smith, was descended from the Smiths of Crudley, in Lancashire; his mother, from the Rickards of Great Heck, in Yorkshire. His restless, roaming spirit was developed in boyhood, when he made preparations to run away to sea, but was stopped for a time by the death of his father, who left his little property in trust to John.


He was apprenticed to a merchant of Lynn, but soon ran away and managed to secure service with a son of Lord Willoughby, going with him to France. Within six months after entering France he was dismissed. The civil wars of the Catholics and Huguenots prevailed about this period, and Smith, making his way to Rouen, joined the army under Henry IV. "Here," he writes, first began to learn the life of a soldier. Peace being proclaimed, be passed into the Netherlands, and served against Spain in the war which finally gave to the Low Countries their independence. He was engaged in this conflct for three or four years.


In 1601 a cruel war was raging between the Christian powers of Germany and the Turks. Smith, according to the account which he afterward published, joined the Imperialists under the Earl of Meldritch, and had many desperate adventures. Olympach, under the command of Lord Ebersbaugh, was besieged by the Turks, who were daily growing more confident and strong. The regiment of Meldritch formed part of the command of Kisell, who was anxious to afford relief to the city, but was unable to do so, as the Turks had a vastly superior army, 20,000 strong. Smith, who was with Kisell, came to the relief of his commander. He told Kisch that he had communicated to Lord Ebersbaugh a system of signals by which, with torches corresponding regularly with the letters of the alphabet, a correspondence might be carried on by persons at a distance. Smith persuaded his commander to try the experiment. Seven miles from Olympach was a high mOl1ntainj this Smith ascended and started three signal fires, drawing on him the attention of the garrison. His fires were answered by three torches displayed from the walls of the town. Smith now displayed lights so as to form the sentence: "On Thursday at night, I will charge on the east. At the alarm sally you." The reply "I will" was flashed back. The scheme was carried out in an eminently successful manner the Turks were defeated. For this service, Smith received a command of two hundred and fifty horse, besides other rewards.


During the remainder of the war, Smith greatly distinguished himself by his daring exploits in Hungary and Transylvania. Finally, however, in a battle near Rottendon, he was severely wounded and left as dead. He was taken prisoner, and on his recovery offered for sale in the slave markets of Axiopolis. Purchased by Bashaw Bogall, he was sent as a present to that general's "faire mistresse at Constantinople. She, becoming enamored with Smith, contrived his escape, and gave him letters to her brother who Jived by the Sea of Azov. The brother, instead of receiving him kindly, loaded him with chains. After a time Smith managed to slay his persecutor. Fleeing into Russian territory, he was hospitably received, and passing on through Germany, France and Spain, finally returned to England in the year 1604.


Smith, now but twenty.five years of age, had gained an experience which few men at that age have ever done. He was persuaded by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, who had already visited America, to enter into a plan of colonization in Virginia. Letters patent bearing date April 10, 1606, were issued. King James named the Governor and Council, and the instructions for their direction of affairs were sealed in a strong box, not to be opened until Virginia was reached. The colonists set sail from London, December 19, 1606. On the voyage they became jealous of Smith, and when off the Canaries the malcontents seized upon him, and kept him in close custody, Under ridiculous charges of sedition and treason to the crown. Virginia being reached, the sealed box was opened, and John Smith's name appeared as one of those appointed for the Council. They, however, would not allow him to be one of the members but when the toils and perils of the field were to be undertaken, they gladly accepted his services. Smith now demanded a trial on the charges hanging over his head. The result was that he was acquitted, and his accuser condemned to pay £200 damages. Smith thus gained his seat in Council.


Having sailed up the Chickahominy River on an exploring trip, he was taken prisoner by a band of savages, under the Indian chief, Opechancanough. This savage handed him over to the great chieftain Powhatan. Smith was condemned to die two great stones were brought into the Indian assembly, and placed before the King. As many as could lay hands on Smith seized him and laid his head on the stones, being ready with their clubs to beat out his brains.But Pocahontas the King's dearest daughter, interposed for his safety shielded him from the blows and saved his life. Powhatan commanded that Smith should be given to his daughter, and henceforth he was her captive. This gained for the English the tolerance of Powbatan. Soon after Smith was freed and returned to Jamestown, where lie resumed his authority.


In June and July, .1608, in two voyages he explored the whole of Chesapeake- Bay; drawing at the same time an excellent map of those waters. In 1609 he returned to England for medical advice, and never again saw Virginia. In 1614, with two ships, he explored the New England coast from Penobscot to Cape Cod. He endeavored to found a colony here in the following year, but was captured by a French man-of-war, and carried to France. He soon escaped and returned to England. In 1616 he published a n Description of New England," in 1620 "New England's Trials," and in 1624 "The General History of Virginia." He passed the remainder of his life in retirement, but published other books. He died in London at the age of fifty-two.


Captain John Smith had a fiery spirit, tempered by prudence for the most trying adventure. He appears to have had none of the petty vices of the gallants of his day. He had great skill in managing savages; but with his eqt1al~ among the whites he lacked tact. Possessed of extraordinary conceit, he made many enemies. That he was neglected by those in power after his untiring labors, will not lessen the value of his performance in the regard of posterity.


After Smith had gone to England in October, 1609, Pocahontas ceased her visits to the colony. But a few years later, Captain Samuel Argall, who was foraging near the Potomac River, found her living in the territory of a chief named Japazaws. Argall bribed this chief with a copper kettle to deliver her into his hands, and then demanded of her father a ransom. The chief refused and Pocahontas was held prisoner at Jamestown. Meantime, John Rolfe, an amiable enthusiast, who had emigrated to the forests of Virginia, and was then a widower, became deeply impressed with his duty to strive for the conversion of the Indian maiden. He has recorded the earliest struggles of his soul before he engaged in the tusk which he felt had been imposed on him by the Spirit of God. The heathen princess received his instruction with docility, soon renounced idolatry, and embraced the Christian faith. She was baptized in the rude log church, in a font hewn out of the trunk of a tree, and received the Christian name Rebecca. The gaining of this one soul, the first fruits of Virginian conversion," was speedily followed by her marriage with Rolfe in April, 1614. Her uncle, Opachisco, gave the bride away, with the approbation of her father and friends. The whole colony rejoiced over the union, which gave a new element and presage of permanence to its existence. In 1616 Rolfe returned to England, taking his wife and child. Pocohontas was presented at the English court, and was every where most favorably received.


Smith came to see her at London and their meeting was most affecting. After saluting him, she turned away her face and hid it in her hands for a long time. She had believed that he was dead, and perhaps on that account had accepted Rolfe. When she addressed Smith as "Father," he objected to being called" Father" by the child of a king. But she replied, You promised my father that what was yours should be his, and that you and he should be all one. Being a stranger in the country, you called Powhatan 'Father. I for the same reason will call you' Father.' You were not afraid to come into my country and terrify everybody; why are you now afraid to have me call you' Father?' I will call you 'Father,' and you shall call me I Child and so will I forever be of your kindred and country." When Pocahontas was preparing to leave England and to return to Virginia with her husband, she was suddenly taken in at Gravesend and died there in March, 1617. She was but twenty·two years of age. Her son, Thomas Rolfe, was educated by his uncle, a London merchant, but afterwards removed to Virginia, where he held a prominent position. Among his descendants are the Randolph, Bolling, Fleming and other families.




Newport and his squadron, pursuing, for some unknown reason, the wider compass taken by the first navigators to America, instead of the less circuitous track that had been recently ascertained, did not accomplish their voyage in a shorter period than four months; but its termination was rendered peculiarly fortunate by the effect of a storm, which defeated their purpose of landing and settling at Roanoke, and carried them into the Bay of Chesapeake April, 1607. As they advanced through its waters, they easily perceived the advantage that would be gained by establishing their settlement on the shores of this spacious haven, replenished by the tributary floods of so many great rivers, which fertilize the soil of that extensive district of America, and, affording Commodious inlets into the interior parts, facilitate their foreign commerce and mutual communication.


Newport first landed on a promontory forming the southern boundary of the bay, which, in honor of the Prince of Wales, he named Cape Henry. Thence, coasting the southern shore, he entered a river which the natives called Powhatan, and explored its banks for the space of forty miles from its mouth. Impressed with the superior convenience of the coast and soil to which they had been thus happily conducted, the adventurers unanimously determined to make this the place of their abode. They gave to their infant settlement, as well as to the neighboring river, the name of their King; and Jamestown retains the distinction of being the oldest habitation of the English in America.


But the dissensions that broke out among the colonists soon threatened to deprive them of all the advantages of their fortunate territorial position. Their animosities were inflamed by an arrangement, which if it did not originate with the King, at least betrays a strong affinity to that ostentatious mystery and drift less artifice which he affected as the perfection of political dexterity. The names of the Provincial Council were not communicated to the adventurers when they departed from England; but the commission which contained them was inclosed in a sealed packet, which was directed to be opened within twenty-four hours after their arrival on the coast of Virginia, when the councilors were to be installed in their office, and to elect their own president. The disagreements incident to a long voyage had free scope among men unaware of the relations they were to occupy toward each other, and of the subordination which their relative and allotted functions might imply; and when the names of the Council were proclaimed, the disclosure was far from affording satisfaction.


Captain Smith, whose superior talents and spirit excited the envy and jealousy of his colleagues, was excluded from a seat in the Council, which the commission authorized him to assume, and even accused of traitorous designs, so unproved and improbable, that none less believed the charge than the persons who preferred it. The deprivation of his counsel and services in the difficulties of their outset was a serious loss lo the colonists, and might have been attended with ruin to the settlement, if his merit and generosity had n9t been superior to their mean injustice. The jealous suspicious of the individual who was elected president restrained the use of arms, and discouraged the construction of fortifications; and a misunderstanding having arisen with the Indians, the colonists, unprepared for hostilities, suffered severely from one of the sudden attacks characteristic of the warfare of these savages. Newport had been ordered to return with the ships to England; and, as the time of his departure approached, the accusers of Smith, with affected clemency, proposed that he also should return with Newport, instead of abiding a criminal prosecution in Virginia. But, happily for the colony, he scorned so to compromise his integrity and, demanding a trial, was honorably acquitted I and took his seat in the council.


The fleet was better victualed than the magazines of the colony and while it remained with them, the colonists were permitted to share the plenty enjoyed by the sailors. But when Newport set sail for England, they found themselves limited to scanty supplies of unwholesome provisions; and the sultry heat of the climate and moisture of a country overgrown with wood, co-operating with the defects of their diet, brought on diseases that raged with fatal violence. Before the month of September, one half of their number had miserably perished; and among these victims was Bartholomew Gosnold who had planned the expedition, and materially contributed to its accomplishment. This scene of suffering was embittered by internal dissensions. The president was accused of embezzling the public stores, and finally detected in an attempt to seize a pinnace and escape from the colony and its calamities. At length, in the extremity of their distress, when ruin seemed to unpend alike from famine and the fury of the savages, the colonists obtained a complete and unexpected deliverance, which the piety of Smith ascribed to the influence of God, in suspending the passions and con· trolling the sentiments and purposes of men. The savages, actuated by a sudden and generous change of feeling, not only refrained from molesting them, but gratuitously brought them a supply of provisions so liberal as at once to dissipate their apprehensions of famine and hostility.


Resuming their spirit; the colonists now proved them· selves not wholly uninstructed by their misfortunes. In seasons of exigency merit is illustrated, and the envy that pursues it is absorbed by deeper interest and alarm.The sense of common and urgent danger promoted a willing and even eager submission to a man whose talents were most likely to extricate his companions from the difficulties with which they were encompassed. Every eye was now turned on Smith, and with universal acclaim his fellow-colonists devolved on him the authority which they had formerly shown so much jealousy of his acquiring.


Assuming the direction of public affairs, Captain Smith promptly adopted the only policy that could save them from destruction. Under his directions, Jamestown was fortified by such defenses as were sufficient to repel the attacks of the savages; and by dint of great labor, which he was always the foremost to partake, its inhabitants were provided with dwellings that afforded shelter from the weather, and contributed to restore and preserve their health. Finding the supplies of the savages discontinued, he put himself at the head of a detachment of his people, and penetrated into the interior of the country, where, by courtesy and liberality to the tribes whom he found well.disposed, and vigorous retribution of the hostility of such as were otherwise minded, he succeeded in procuring a plentiful stock of provision.


In the midst of his successes, he was surprised during an expedition by a band of hostile savages, who, having made him prisoner, after a gallant and nearly successful defense, prepared to inflict on him the usual fate of their captives. His genius and presence of mind did not desert him in this trying emergency. He desired to speak with the sachem or chief of the tribe to which he was a prisoner and presenting him with a mariner's compass, expatiated on the wonderful discoveries to which this little instrument had contributed, descanted on the shape of the earth, the extent of its lands and oceans, the course of the sun, the varieties of nations, and the singularity of their relative terrestrial positions, which made some of them antipodes to the others. With equal prudence and magnanimity, he refrained from any expression of solicitude for his life, which would have infallibly weakened or counteracted the effect which he studied to produce. The savages listened to him with amazement and admiration. They had handled the compass, and, viewing with surprise the play of the needle, which they plainly saw, but found it impossible to touch, from the intervention of the glass, were prepared by this marvelous object for the reception of those sublime and interesting communications by which their captive endeavored to gain an ascendancy over their minds.


For an hour after he had finished his discourse, they remained undecided till, their accustomed sentiments reviving, they resumed their suspended purpose, and, having bound him to a tree, prepared to dispatch him with their arrows. But a deeper impression had been made on their chief and his soul, enlarged for a season by the admission of knowledge, or subdued by the influence of wonder, revolted from the dominion of habitual barbarity. This chief bore the harsh and uncouth appellation of Opechaucanough, a name which the subsequent history of the province was to invest with no small terror and celebrity. Holding up the compass in his hand, he gave the signal of reprieve; and Smith, though still guarded as a prisoner, was conducted to a dwelling, where he was kindly treated and plentifully entertained, But the strongest impressions pass away, while the influence of habit remains. After vainly attempting to prevail on their captive to betray the English Colony into their hands, the Indians referred his fate to Powhatan, the emperor or principal sachem of the coluntry, to whose presence they conducted him in triumphal procession.


This prince received him with much ceremony, ordered a plentiful repast to be set before him, and then adjudged him to suffer death by having his head laid on a stone and beaten to pieces with dubs. At the place appointed for his execution, Smith was again rescued from impending destruction by the interposition of Pocahontas, the favorite daughter of the King, who, finding her first entreaties in deprecation of the captive's fate disregarded, threw her arms around him, and passionately declared her determination to save him or die with him. Her generous humanity prevailed on the cruelty of her tribe; and the King not only gave Smith his life, but soon sent him back to Jamestown, where the beneficence of Pocahontas continued to follow him with supplies of provisions, that delivered the Colonists from famine.


After an absence of seven weeks, Smith returned to Jamestown, barely in time to prevent the desertion of the Colony. his associates, reduced to the number of thirty eight, impatient of further stay in a country where they had met with so many discouragements, and ill which they seemed fated to re-enact the disasters of Roanoke, were preparing to abandon the settlement; and it was not without the utmost difficulty, and alternately employing persuasion, remonstrance, and even violent interference, that Smith prevailed on them to relinquish their design.


The provisions that Pocahontas sent him relieved their present wants his account of the plenty he had witnessed among the Indians renewed their hopes and he endeavored, by a diligent improvement of the favorable impressions he had made on the savages, and by a judicious regulation of the intercourse between them and the colonists, to promote a coalition of interests and a reciprocation of advantages between the two races of people. His generous efforts were successful he preserved a steady and sufficient supply of food to the English, and extended his influence and consideration with the Indians, who began to respect and consult their former captive as a superior being.-J. GRAHAME.



A forest-child, amid the flowers at play! Her raven locks in strange profusion flowing; A sweet, wild girl , with eye of earnest ray, And olive cheek, at each emotion glowing; Yet, whether in her gladsome frolic leaping, Or 'neath the greenwood shade unconscious sleeping, Or with light oar her fairy pinnace rowing, Still, like the eaglet all its new-fledged wing, Her spirit-glance bespoke the daughter of a king.


But he, that wily monarch, stern and old, Mid his grim chiefs, with barbarous trappings bright, That morn a court of savage state did hold. The sentenced captive see-bis brow how 'white! Stretched on the turf his manly form lies low, The war-club poises for its fatal blow, The death-mist swims before his darken sight: Forth springs the child, in tearful pity bold, Her head on his declines, her arms his neck enfold.


"The child! what madness fires her? Hence! Depart! Fly, daughter, fly! before the death-stroke rings; Divide her, warriors, from that English heart." In vain! for with convulsive grasp she clings: She claims a pardon from her frowning sire; Her pleading tones subdue his gather'd ire; And so, uplifting high his feathery dart, That doting father gave the child her will, And bade the victim live, and be bis servant still.


Know'st thou what thou hast done, thou durk-hair'd child? What great events on thy compassion hung? What prowess lurks beneath yon aspect mild, And in the accents of that foreign tongue? As little knew the princess who descried A floating speck on Egypt's turbid tide, A bulrush-ark the matted reeds among, And, yielding to an infant's tearful smile, Drew forth Jehovah's seer from the devouring Nile.


In many a dime, in many a battle tried, By Turkish sabre and by Moorish spear; Mid Afric's sands, or Russian forests wide, Romantic, bold, chivalrous and sincere, Keen-eyed, clear-minded, and of purpose pure, Dauntless to rule, or patient to endure, Was he whom thou hast rescued with a tear: Thou wert the saviour of the Saxon vine, And for this deed alone our praise and love are thine.


Nor yet for this alone shall history's scroll Embalm thine image with a grateful tear; For when the grasp of famine tried the soul, When strength decay'd and dark despair was near, Who led her train of playmates, day by day, O'er rock, and stream, and wild, a weary way, Their baskets teeming with the golden ear? Whose generons hand vouch safed its tireless aid To guard a nation's germ? Thine, thine, heroic maid!


The council -fires are quench 'd, that erst so red Their midnight volume mid the groves entwined ; King, stately chief, and warrior host are dead, Nor remnant nor memorial left behind: But thou, 0' forest-princess, true of heart, When over our fathers waved destruction's dart, Shalt in their children's loving hearts be shrined; Pure, lonely star, o'er dark oblivion's wave, It is not meet thy name should moulder in the grave. -MRS. L· H. SICOURNEY.


Captain John Smith

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