Book XI: Captain John Smith in Virginia (A. D. 1606-1631.)
The first four of the following extracts are from Smith's ‘Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles’ (edition of 1626), pp. 39-49. The next four are from the ‘Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia,’ by William Strachey, secretary of the Virginia Colony. Reprinted by the Hakluyt Society (1849), pp. 49-52, 57, 58, 80, 81, 110, II. The ninth is from the ‘Generall Historie,’ p. 219. The tenth is from ‘A Description of New England, by Captain John Smith,’ printed in the Massachusetts Historical Collections, 3d series, vol. VI. pp. 109, 121. The eleventh is from the ‘Generall Historie,’ pp. 121-123. The last two are from ‘Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England or anywhere, by Captaine John Smith, sometimes Governour of Virginia, and Admirall of New England.’ London, 1631. Reprinted in Mass. Hist. Coll., 3d series, vol. III. pp. 7, 29, 30, 44. There is a memoir of Captain Smith, by G. S. Hillard, in Sparks's ‘American Biography,’ vol. II.
I.—Captain John Smith in Virginia.Captain Bartholomew Gosnoll,1 one of the first movers of this plantation, having many years solicited many of his friends, but found small assistance, at last prevailed with some gentlemen, as Captain John Smith, Mr. Edward Maria Wingfield, Mr. Robert Hunt, and divers others, who depended2 a year upon his projects; but nothing could be effected, till, by their great charge and industry, it came to be apprehended by certain of the nobility, gentry, and merchants, so that his Majesty by his letters-patents gave commission for establishing councils to direct here, and to govern and to execute there. To effect this was spent another year; and by that, three ships were provided,—one of a hundred tons, another of forty, and a pinnace3 of twenty. The transportation of the company was committed to Captain Christopher Newport, a mariner well practiced for the western parts  of America. But their orders for government were put in a box, not to be opened, nor the governors known, until they arrived in Virginia. On the 19th of December, 1606, we set sail from Blackwall, but by unprosperous winds were kept six weeks in the sight of England. . . . We watered at the Canaries. We traded with the savages at Dominica. Three weeks we spent in refreshing ourselves among the West India Isles. In Gaudaloupe we found a bath so hot, as in it we boiled pork as well as over the fire; and, at a little isle called Monica, we took from the bushes with our hands, near two hogsheads full of birds in three or four hours. In Mevis, Mona, and the Virgin Isles, we spent some time, where, with a loathsome beast like a crocodile, called a gwayn,4 tortoises, pelicans, parrots, and fishes, we daily feasted. Gone from thence in search of Virginia, the company was not a little discomforted, seeing the mariners had three days passed their reckoning,5 and found no land; so that Captain Ratliffe, captain of the pinnace, rather desired to bear up the helm to return for England than make further search. But God the guider of all good actions, forcing them by an extreme storm to hull6 all night, did drive them by his providence to their desired port, beyond all their expectation; for never any of them had seen that coast. The first land they made they called Cape Henry, where thirty of them, recreating themselves on shore, were assaulted by five savages, who hurt two of the English very dangerously. That night was the box opened, and the orders read, in which Bartholomew  Gosnoll, John Smith, Edward Wingfield, Christopher Newport, John Ratliffe, John Martin, and George Kendall, were named to be the council, and to choose a president among them for a year, who, with the council, should govern. Matters of moment were to be examined by a jury, but determined by the major part of the council, in which the president had two voices. Until the 13th of May, they sought a place to plant7 in; then the council was sworn, Mr. Wingfield was chosen president, and an oration made8 why Captain Smith was not admitted of the council as the rest. Now falleth every man to work: the council contrive the fort, the rest cut down trees to make place to pitch their tents, some provide clapboard to relade the ships, some make gardens, some nets, &c. The savages often visited us kindly. The president's overweening jealousy9 would admit no exercise at arms, or fortification but the boughs of trees cast together in the form of a half-moon. By the extraordinary pains and diligence of Captain Kendall, Newport, Smith, and twenty others, were sent to discover the head of the river.10 By divers small habitations they passed. In six days they arrive at a town called Powhatan, consisting of some twelve houses pleasantly seated on a hill, before it three fertile isles, about it many of their cornfields. The place is very pleasant, and strong by nature. Of this place the prince is called Powhatan, and his people Powhatans. To this place the river is navigable; but higher within a mile, by reason of the rocks and isles, there is not passage for a small boat. This they call  the falls. The people in all parts kindly entreated11 them, till, being returned within twenty miles of Jamestown, they gave just cause of jealousy. But had God not blessed the discoverers otherwise than those at the fort, there had then been an end of that plantation; for at the fort, where they arrived the next day, they found seventeen men hurt, and a boy slain by the savages. And had it not chanced a cross-bar shot12 from the ships struck down a bough from a tree amongst them, that caused them to retire, our men had all been slain, being securely all at work, and their arms in dry-vats.13 Hereupon the president was willing the fort should be palisaded,14 the ordnance mounted, his men armed and exercised, for many were the assaults and ambuscades of the savages; and our men, by their disorderly straggling, were often hurt, when the savages, by the nimbleness of their heels, well escaped. What toil we had, with so small a power to guard our workmen a-days,15 watch all night, resist our enemies, and effect our business, to relade the ships, cut down trees, and prepare the ground to plant our corn, &c., I refer to the reader's consideration.
Ii.—The Virginia colonists.Being, for most part, of such tender educations, and small experience in martial accidents, because they round [neither] English cities, nor such fair houses, nor  at their own wishes any of their accustomed dainties, with feather-beds and downy pillows, taverns and alehouses in every breathing-place, neither such plenty of gold and silver, and dissolute liberty, as they expected, had little or no care of any thing but to . . . procure their means to return for England. For the country was to them a misery, a ruin, a death, a hell, and their reports here and their actions there according. Some other there were that had yearly stipends16 to pass to and again for transportation. And those with their great words deluded the world with such strange promises as abused the business much worse than the rest. For the business being builded upon the foundation of their feigned experience, the planters, the money, and means have still miscarried; yet they ever returning, and the planters so far absent, who could contradict their excuses? Which, still to maintain their vain glory and estimation from time to time, have used such diligence as made them pass for truths, though nothing more false. And, that the adventurers might be thus abused, let no man wonder; for the wisest living is soonest abused by him that hath a fair tongue and a dissembling heart. There were many in Virginia merely projecting, verbal and idle contemplators,17 and those so devoted to pure idleness, that, though they had lived two or three years in Virginia, lordly necessity itself could not compel them to pass the peninsula or palisades of Jamestown; and those witty spirits, what would they not affirm in behalf of our transporters18 to get victual from  their ships, or obtain their good words in England to get their passes! Thus from the clamors and the influence of false informers are sprung those disasters that sprung in Virginia; and our ingenious verbalists19 were no less a plague to us in Virginia than the locusts to the Egyptians. For the labor of twenty or thirty of the best only preserved in Christianity by their industry the idle lives of near two hundred of the rest, who, living near ten months of such natural means as the country naturally of itself affordeth. Notwithstanding all this, and the worst fury of the savages, the extremity of sickness, mutinies, faction, ignorances, and want of victual, in all that time I lost but seven or eight men, yet subjected the savages to our desired obedience, and received contribution from thirty-five of their kings, to protect and assist them against any that should assault them. In which order they continued true and faithful, and as subjects to his Majesty, so long after as I did govern there, until I left the country.
Iii.—Smith captured by the Indians.And now the winter approaching, the rivers became so covered with swans, geese, ducks, and cranes, that we daily feasted with good bread, Virginia peas, pumpkins and putchamins,20 fish, fowl, and divers sorts of wild beasts as fat as we could eat them: so that none of our tuftaffatty humorists21 desired to go for England. But our comedies never endured long without a tragedy; some idle exceptions being muttered against  Captain Smith for not discovering the head of Chickahamania22 River, and taxed by the council to be too slow in so worthy an attempt. The next voyage he proceeded so far, that, with much labor by cutting of trees asunder, he made his passage; but, when his barge could pass no farther, he left her in a broad bay, out of danger of shot, commanding none should go ashore until his return. Himself, with two English and two savages, went up higher in a canoe; but he was not
|Old print of Smith's capture.|
Iv.—Captain John Smith and Pocahontas.[this narrative is taken from Smith's ‘Generall Historie.’ it was possibly written by Captain Smith, but is now generally disbelieved by historical students, because it is inconsistent with an earlier account of the same events, also written by Smith, and because the incident is not mentioned by Strachey, who also described the Virginia Colony.]
Two days after, a man would have slain him—but that the guard prevented it—for the death of his son, to whom they conducted him to recover the poor man, then breathing his last. Smith told them that at Jamestown he had a water would do, if they would let him fetch it. But they would not permit that, but made all the preparations they could to assault Jamestown, craving his advice, and, for recompense, he should have life, liberty, land, and women. In part of a table book32 he wrote his mind to them at the fort,—what was intended, how they should follow that direction to affright the messengers, and without fail send him such things as he wrote for; and an inventory with them. The difficulty and danger he told the  savages, of the mines, great guns, and other engines, exceedingly affrighted them; yet, according to his request, they went to Jamestown in as bitter weather as could be of frost and snow, and within three days returned with an answer. But when they came to Jamestown, seeing men sally out, as he had told them they would, they fled. Yet in the night they came again to the same place where he had told them they should receive an answer, and such things as he had promised them; which they found accordingly, and with which they returned, with no small expedition, to the wonder of them all that heard it, that he could either divine, or the paper could speak . . . . Not long after, early in a morning, a great fire was made in a long house, and a mat spread on the one side as on the other. On the one they caused him to sit, and all the guard went out of the house; and presently came skipping in a great grim fellow, all painted over with coal, mingled with oil, and many snakes' and weasels' skins stuffed with moss, and all their tails tied together, so as they met on the crown of his head in a tassel. And round about the tassel was as a coronet of feathers, the skins hanging round about his head, back, and shoulders, and in a manner covered his face; with a hellish voice, and a rattle in his hand. With most strange gestures and passions, he began his invocation, and environed the fire with a circle of meal; which done, three more such like devils came rushing in with the like antic tricks, painted half black, half red; but all their eyes were painted white, and some red strokes like mustaches  along their cheeks. Round about him those fiends danced a pretty while; and then came in three more as ugly as the rest, with red eyes, and white strokes over their black faces. At last they all sat down right against him, three of them on the one hand of the chief priest, and three on the other. Then all with their rattles began a song; which ended, the chief priest laid down five wheat-corns; then straining his arms and hands with such violence that he sweat, and his veins swelled, he began a short oration: at the conclusion they all gave a short groan, and then laid down three grains more. After that began their song again, and then another oration, ever laying down so many corns as before, till they had twice encircled the fire. That done, they took a bunch of little sticks prepared for that purpose, continuing still their devotion; and at the end of every song and oration they laid down a stick betwixt the divisions of corn. Till night, neither he nor they did either eat or drink, and then they feasted merrily, with the best provisions they could make. Three days they used this ceremony, the meaning whereof, they told him, was to know if he intended them well or no. The circle of meal signified their county; the circles of corn, the boundaries of the sea; and the sticks, his country. They imagined the world to be flat and round like a trencher, and they in the middle. After this they brought him a bag of gunpowder, which they carefully preserved until the next spring, to plant, as they did their corn, because they would be acquainted with the nature of that seed. Opitchapam, the king's brother, invited him to his house, where, with as many platters of bread, fowl, and  wild beasts as did environ him, he bid him welcome; but not any of them would eat a bit with him, but put up all the remainder in baskets. . . .
|Facsimile Illustration from Smith's ‘general History.’|
V.—King Powhatan.He is a goodly old man, not yet shrinking, though well beaten with many cold and stormy winters, in which he hath been patient of many necessities and attempts of his fortune to make his name and family great. He is supposed to be little less than eighty years old, I dare not say how much more. Others say he is of a tall stature and clean limbs, of a sad aspect, round, fat-visaged, with gray hairs, but plain and thin, hanging upon his broad shoulders; some few hairs upon his chin, and so on his upper lip. He hath been a strong and able savage, sinewy, and of a daring spirit, vigilant, ambitious, subtile to enlarge his dominions. . . . Cruel he hath been, and quarrelsome, as well with his own weroances41 for trifles, and that to strike a terror and awe into them of his power and condition, as also with his neighbors, in his younger days, though now delighted in security and pleasure. . . . Watchful he is over us, and keeps good espial42 upon our proceedings, concerning which he hath his sentinels, that—at what time soever any of our boats, pinnaces,  or ships come in, fall down, or make up the river —give the alarm, and take it quickly one from the other, until it reach and come even to the court or hunting-house, wheresoever he and his cronoccoes,that is, councillors and priests, are; and then he calls to advise, and gives out directions what is to be done. . . . About his person ordinarily attendeth a guard of forty or fifty of the tallest men his country do afford. Every night, upon the four quarters of his house, are four sentinels drawn forth, each standing from other a flight-shot;43 and at every half-hour, one from the corps de garde44 doth halloo, unto whom every sentinel returns answer round from his stand: if any fail, an officer is presently sent forth that beateth him extremely. The word weroance,which we call and construe for a king, is a common word, whereby they call all commanders; for they have but few words in their language, and but few occasions to use any officers more than one commander, which commonly they call weroance. It is strange to see with what great fear arid adoration all this people do obey this Powhatan; for at his feet they present whatsoever he commandeth: and at the least frown of his brow the greatest will tremble, it may be because he is very terrible and inexorable in punishing such as offend him. . . . And sure it is to be wondered at, how such a barbarous and uncivil prince should take unto him—adorned and set forth with no great outward ornament and munificence—a form and ostentation of such majesty as he expresseth, which oftentimes strikes awe and sufficient wonder in our people presenting themselves before him.
VI.—a Virginia princess.Nor is [she] so handsome a savage woman as I have seen amongst them, yet with a kind of pride can take upon her a show of greatness; for we have seen her forbear to come out of her quintan,or boat, through the water, as the other, both maids and married women, usually do, unless she were carried forth between two of her servants. I was once early at her house—it being summer time-when she was laid without doors, under the shadow of a broad-leaved tree, upon a pallet of osiers, spread over with four or five fine gray mats, herself covered with a fair white dressed deerskin or two; and, when she rose, she had a maid who fetched her a frontall45 of white coral, and pendants of great but imperfect colored and worse drilled pearls, which she put into her ears, and a chain with long links of copper, which they call tapoantaminais,and which came twice or thrice about her neck, and they account a jolly ornament. And sure thus attired, with some variety of feathers and flowers stuck in their hairs, they seem as debonaire, quaint, and well pleased as . . . a daughter of the house of Austria46 decked with all her jewels. Likewise, her maid fetched her a mantle, which they call puttawus,which is like a side cloak, made of blue feathers, so artificially and thick sewed together, that it seemed like a deep purple satin, and is very smooth and sleek; and after, she brought her water for her hands, and then a branch or two of fresh green ashen leaves, as for a towel to dry them.
VII.—An Indian dance in Virginia.As for their dancing, the sport seems unto them, and the use, almost as frequent and necessary as their meat and drink, in which they consume much time, and for which they appoint many and often meetings, and have therefore, as it were, set orgies47 or festivals for the same pastime, as have yet at this day the merry Greeks.
Viii.—Indian children in Virginia.To make the children hardy, in the coldest mornings they wash them in the rivers, and by paintings and ointments so tan their skins, that, after a year or two, no weather will hurt them. As also, to practise their children in the use of their bows and arrows, the mothers do not give them their breakfast in a morning before they have hit a mark which she appoints them to shoot at; and commonly, so cunning they will have them, as throwing up in the air a piece of moss, or some such light thing, the boy must with his arrow meet it in the fall, and hit it, or else he shall not have his breakfast.  Both men, women, and children have their several names; at first, according to the several humor of their parents. And for the men-children, at first, when they are young, their mothers give them a name, calling them by some affectionate title, or, perhaps, observing their promising inclination, give it accordingly; and so the great King Powhatan called a young daughter of his whom he loved well, Pocahontas, which may signify ‘little wanton;’50 howbeit, she was rightly called Amonate at more ripe years. When they become able to travel into the woods, and to go forth a hunting, fowling, and fishing with their fathers, the fathers give him another name, as he finds him apt, and of spirit to prove toward51 and valiant, or otherwise, changing the mother's [name], which yet in the family is not so soon forgotten. And if so be, it be by agility, strength, or any extraordinary strain of wit, he performs any remarkable or valorous exploit in open act of arms, or by stratagem, especially in the time of extremity in the wars for the public and common state, upon the enemy, the king, taking notice of the same, doth then, not only in open view and solemnly, reward him with some present of copper, or chain of pearl and beads, but doth then likewise-and which they take for the most eminent and supreme favor-give him a name answerable to the attempt, not much differing herein from the—ancient warlike encouragement and order of the Romans to a well-deserving and gallant young spirit.
IX.—‘the planter's pleasure and profit.’There are who delight extremely in vain pleasure, that take much more pains in England to enjoy it than I should do here to gain wealth sufficient: and yet I think they should not have half such sweet content; for our pleasure here is still gain, in England charges and loss. Here nature and liberty afford us that freely which in England we want, or it costeth us dearly. What pleasure can be more than being tired with any occasion ashore, in planting vines, fruits, or herbs; in contriving their own ground to the pleasure of their own minds, their fields, gardens, orchards, buildings, ships, and other works, &c.; to recreate themselves before their own doors, in their own boats upon the sea, where man, woman, and child, with a small hook and line, by angling, may take divers sorts of excellent fish at their pleasures? And is it not pretty sport to pull up two-pence, sixpence, and twelve-pence as fast as you can haul and veer a line? He is a very bad fisher [who] cannot kill in one day, with his hook and line, one, two, or three hundred cods; which dressed and dried, if they be sold there for ten shillings a hundred, though in England they will give more than twenty, may not both servant, master, and merchant be well content with this gain? If a man work but three days in seven, he may get more than he can spend, unless he will be exceedingly excessive. Now that carpenter, mason, gardener, tailor, smith, sailor, forger, or what other—may they not make this a very pretty recreation, though they fish but an hour in a day, to take more than they can  eat in a week; or if they will not eat it, because there is so much better choice, yet sell it, or change it with the fishermen or merchants, for any thing you want? And what sport doth yield a more pleasing content, and less hurt and charge, than angling with a hook, and crossing the sweet air from isle to isle, over the silent streams of a calm sea, wherein the most curious may find profit, pleasure, and content? Thus, though all men be not fishers, yet all men whatsoever may in other matters do as well, for necessity doth in these cases so rule a commonwealth, and each in their several functions, as their labors, in their qualities, may be as profitable, because there is a necessary mutual use of all. For gentlemen, what exercise should more delight them than ranging daily these unknown parts, using fowling and fishing for52 hunting and hawking? and yet you shall see the wild hawks give you some pleasure in seeing them stoop six or seven times after one another, an hour or two together, at the skults53 of fish in the fair harbors, as those ashore at a fowl, and never trouble nor torment yourselves with watching, mewing,54 feeding, and attending them, nor kill horse and man with running, and crying, ‘See you not a hawk?’ For hunting, also, the woods, lakes, and rivers afford not only chase sufficient for any that delights in that kind of toil or pleasure, but such beasts to hunt, that, besides the delicacy of their bodies for food, their skins are so rich as they will recompense thy daily labor with a captain's pay.
X.—The glories of fishing.The main staple from hence to be extracted, for the present, to produce the rest, is fish; which, however it may seem a mean and base commodity, yet who will but truly take the pains, and consider the sequel, I think will allow it well worth the labor. It is strange to see
Xi.—Visit of Pocahontas to London in 1617.During this time, the Lady Rebecca, alias Pocahontas, daughter to Powhatan, by the diligent care of Master John Rolfe, her husband, and his friends, was taught to speak such English as might well be understood, well instructed in Christianity, and was become very formal and civil after our English manner. She had also, by him, a child, which she loved most dearly; and the treasurer and company took order, both for the maintenance of her and it. Besides, there were divers persons of great rank and quality had been very kind to her; and, before she arrived at London, Captain Smith, to deserve her former courtesies, made  her qualities known to the queen's most excellent majesty and her court, and wrote a little book to this effect to the queen, an abstract whereof followeth:—
The treasurer, council, and company having well furnished Captain Samuel Argall, the lady Pocahontas aliasRebecca, with her husband and others, in the good ship called ‘The George,’ it pleased God at Gravesend to take this young lady to his mercy, where she made  not more sorrow for her unexpected death than joy to the beholders to hear and see her make so religious and godly an end. Her little child, Thomas Rolfe, therefore was left at Plymouth with Sir Lewis Stukely that desired the keeping of it.
Xii.—First buildings of the Virginia colonists.[this description was written by Smith in the last year of his life,—631.]
When I went first to Virginia, I well remember we did hang an awning—which is an old sail—to three or four trees to shadow us from the sun. Our walls were rails of wood, our seats unhewed trees till we cut planks, our pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees. In foul weather we shifted into an old rotten tent, for we had few better; and this came by the way of adventure59 for new. This was our church till we built a homely thing like a barn, set upon crotchets, covered with rafts, sedge, and earth: so was also the walls. The best of our houses [were] of the like curiosity,60 but the most part far much worse workmanship, that could neither well defend61 wind nor rain; yet we had daily common prayer morning and evening, every Sunday two sermons, and every three months the holy communion, till our minister died. But our prayers daily, with an homily on Sundays, we continued two or three years after, till more preachers came . . . Notwithstanding, out of the relics of our miseries, time and experience had brought that country to a  great happiness, had they not so much doted on their tobacco, on whose furnish62 foundation there is small stability; there being so many good commodities besides.
Xiii.—Captain John Smith's recollections of his own life.[also written in the last year of his life,—1631.]
The wars in Europe, Asia, and Africa, taught me how to subdue the wild savages in Virginia and New England in America . . . . Having been a slave to the Turks, prisoner amongst the most barbarous savages; after my deliverance commonly discovering and ranging those large rivers and unknown nations, with such a handful of ignorant companions, that the wiser sort often gave me for lost; always in mutinies, wants, and miseries; blown up with gunpowder; a long time prisoner among the French pirates, from whom escaping in a little boat by myself, and adrift all such a stormy winter night, when their ships were split, more than an hundred thousand pound lost, we had taken at sea, and most of them drowned upon the Isle of Ree,63 not far from whence I was driven on shore in my little boat, &c.; and many a score of the worst of winter months lived in the fields; yet to have lived near thirty-seven years in the midst of wars, pestilence, and famine, by which many an hundred thousand have died about me, and scarce five living of them went first with me to Virginia, and see the fruits  of my labors thus well begin to prosper,—though I have but my labor for my pains, have I not much reason both privately and publicly to acknowledge it, and give God thanks, whose omnipotent power only delivered me to do the utmost of my best to make his name known in those remote parts of the world, and his loving mercy to such a miserable sinner?