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A Brief Biography of Captain John Smith

 

John Smith was baptized in Willoughby by Alford, England, on January 9, 1579. He was the eldest son of

 

George Smith and Alice Rickards. George Smith was a yeoman farmer who most probably worked for

 

Peregrine Bertie (Lord Willoughby). Smith was educated in Alford and later he attended a boarding

 

school in nearby Louth. He also served briefly as an apprentice to Thomas Sewell, a local merchant, but

 

his formal education ended in 1596 when his father died. Smith's mother remarried soon after the death

 

of her husband.

 

Although Smith inherited land from his father, he opted for a more adventurous life abroad. In 1596 or

 

1597 he joined a group of English volunteers and for the next four years he fought for Dutch

 

independence from the Spanish King Phillip II. Smith returned to England briefly in 1599 and then set off

 

again to France and Italy. He toured the Mediterranean on board a merchant ship and joined the

 

Austrian forces in their battles against the Turks. One notable incident occurred in the battle against the

 

Turks. Smith contends that he was captured by the Turks in Transylvania and was then transferred to

 

Constantinople as a present for the Pasha's wife. She in turn fell in love with him and managed (with the

 

help of her brother) to smuggle Smith to "safety." Evidently Smith wanted complete freedom, he killed

 

the brother and returned to Transylvania. Smith continued his wanderings, eventually returning to

 

England in 1604.

 


 

In England Smith soon developed an interest in the plans to colonize the New World. The Virginia

 

Company received its charter from King James I on April 10, 1606. In December of the same year, three

 

ships set sail for Virginia; Smith was one of the 144 colonists on board. The colonists landed at

 

Jamestown on May 13, 1607 and James Smith served as one of the seven councilors of the colony.

 

The early years of the Jamestown settlement were marked by great hardship. The colonists suffered

 

from disease, malnutrition, and frequent Indian attacks. Within the first seven months two-thirds of the

 

colonists died. Smith stepped forward as the leader of the colony when it became apparent that the

 

council of seven was ineffective. He led expeditions into the interior and traded with the Indians for

 

corn. Smith and several other colonists were captured by Indians. In December 1607, Smith and several

 

other colonists left the fort to explore the local area. Unfortunately they ran into an Indian hunting party

 

and were promptly captured by the Indians. Although the other Englishmen were killed outright, the

 

Indians took Smith to Chief Powhatan. Smith was held captive for several weeks and released

 

unharmed, though there much debate surrounding the circumstances in which this happened.

 

Returning to Jamestown, Smith found that he was not well received. Captain Christopher Newport and

 

Gabriel Archer had assumed leadership during Smith's absence and the colonists still suffered from a

 

lack of food and proper shelter. Smith soon escaped from the tension of the fort and proceeded to

 

explore the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers and the Chesapeake Bay during the summer of 1608. His

 

explorations of Virginia were later compiled in his Map of Virginia. Captain Newport returned to England

 

in the fall of 1608 and John Smith was elected to the council once again in September.

 

Smith proved to be an able and efficient administrator and he quickly emerged as the leader of the

 

settlement. He pressured Powhatan to provide corn for the colonists and he threatened to banish any

 

colonist who was unwilling to work. Smith's discipline helped to sustain the colony through the winter of

 

1608-1609. However, Smith's prominent role in the colony was short-lived; Captain Newport returned to

 

Jamestown in 1609, bringing new settlers and supplies and armed with a new charter for the Virginia

 

Company. A power struggle ensued and Smith eventually lost his position as the president of the colony.

 

Smith also injured himself in a gunpowder explosion in the fall of the year. He went back to England in

 

October, 1609 and never returned to Virginia.

 

Smith did not abandon his commitment to the success of the Virginia settlement. Instead, he continued

 

his efforts to promote Jamestown (if not the Virginia Company) in England, producing numerous

 

narratives and maps of the new colony. In 1614 Smith, backed by London merchants, sailed to New

 

England and returned to England with furs and fish. Smith published ?A Description of New England? in

 

1616. He attempted a return trip to New England but was unsuccessful. During his remaining years in

 

England, he published eight books. His more significant title is ?The General History of Virginia, the

 

Somer Iles, and New England, with the Names of the Adventurers, and Their Adventures...? Captain John

 

Smith died in London on June 21, 1631. He is buried in St. Sepulchre's Church in London.

 


 

Source: http://www.virtualjamestown.org/jsmith.html

 


 

 







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