List Of Contents | Contents of Captain John Smith by, Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

after year, with penury and leysure, ill provided for before they
come, and worse governed when they are here, men of such distempered
bodies and infected minds, whom no examples daily before their eyes,
either of goodness or punishment, can deterr from their habituall
impieties, or terrifie from a shameful death, that must be the
carpenters and workmen in this so glorious a building."

The chapter in the "General Historie" relating to Smith's last days
in Virginia was transferred from the narrative in the appendix to
Smith's "Map of Virginia," Oxford, 1612, but much changed in the
transfer.  In the "General Historie" Smith says very little about the
nature of the charges against him.  In the original narrative signed
by Richard Pots and edited by Smith, there are more details of the
charges.  One omitted passage is this: "Now all those Smith had
either whipped or punished, or in any way disgraced, had free power
and liberty to say or sweare anything, and from a whole armful of
their examinations this was concluded."

Another omitted passage relates to the charge, to which reference is
made in the "General Historie," that Smith proposed to marry

"Some propheticall spirit calculated he had the salvages in such
subjection, he would have made himself a king by marrying Pocahuntas,
Powhatan's daughter.  It is true she was the very nonpareil
of his kingdom, and at most not past thirteen or fourteen years of
age.  Very oft she came to our fort with what she could get for
Capt. Smith, that ever loved and used all the country well, but her
especially he ever much respected, and she so well requited it, that
when her father intended to have surprised him, she by stealth in
the dark night came through the wild woods and told him of it.
But her marriage could in no way have entitled him by any right
to the kingdom, nor was it ever suspected he had such a thought, or
more regarded her or any of them than in honest reason and discretion
he might.  If he would he might have married her, or have
done what he listed.  For there were none that could have hindered
his determination."

It is fair, in passing, to remark that the above allusion to the
night visit of Pocahontas to Smith in this tract of 1612 helps to
confirm the story, which does not appear in the previous narration of
Smith's encounter with Powhatan at Werowocomoco in the same tract,
but is celebrated in the "General Historie."  It is also hinted
plainly enough that Smith might have taken the girl to wife, Indian



It was necessary to follow for a time the fortune of the Virginia
colony after the departure of Captain Smith.  Of its disasters and
speedy decline there is no more doubt than there is of the opinion of
Smith that these were owing to his absence.  The savages, we read in
his narration, no sooner knew he was gone than they all revolted and
spoiled and murdered all they encountered.

The day before Captain Smith sailed, Captain Davis arrived in a small
pinnace with sixteen men.  These, with a company from the fort under
Captain Ratcliffe, were sent down to Point Comfort.  Captain West and
Captain Martin, having lost their boats and half their men among the
savages at the Falls, returned to Jamestown.  The colony now lived
upon what Smith had provided, "and now they had presidents with all
their appurtenances.  President Percy was so sick he could neither go
nor stand.  Provisions getting short, West and Ratcliffe went abroad
to trade, and Ratcliffe and twenty-eight of his men were slain by an
ambush of Powhatan's, as before related in the narrative of Henry
Spelman.  Powhatan cut off their boats, and refused to trade, so that
Captain West set sail for England.  What ensued cannot be more
vividly told than in the "General Historie":

"Now we all found the losse of Capt. Smith, yea his greatest
maligners could now curse his losse; as for corne provision and
contribution from the salvages, we had nothing but mortall wounds,
with clubs and arrowes; as for our hogs, hens, goats, sheep, horse,
or what lived, our commanders, officers and salvages daily consumed
them, some small proportions sometimes we tasted, till all was
devoured; then swords, arms, pieces or anything was traded with the
salvages, whose cruell fingers were so oft imbrued in our blouds,
that what by their crueltie, our Governor's indiscretion, and the
losse of our ships, of five hundred within six months after Capt.
Smith's departure, there remained not past sixty men, women and
children, most miserable and poore creatures; and those were
preserved for the most part, by roots, herbes, acorns, walnuts,
berries, now and then a little fish; they that had starch in these
extremities made no small use of it, yea, even the very skinnes of
our horses.  Nay, so great was our famine, that a salvage we slew and
buried, the poorer sort took him up again and eat him, and so did
divers one another boyled, and stewed with roots and herbs.  And one
amongst the rest did kill his wife, poudered her and had eaten part
of her before it was knowne, for which he was executed, as he well
deserved; now whether she was better roasted, boyled, or carbonaded,
I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of.
This was that time, which still to this day we called the starving
time; it were too vile to say and scarce to be believed what we
endured; but the occasion was our owne, for want of providence,
industrie and government, and not the barreness and defect of the
country as is generally supposed."

This playful allusion to powdered wife, and speculation as to how she
was best cooked, is the first instance we have been able to find of
what is called "American humor," and Captain Smith has the honor of
being the first of the "American humorists" who have handled subjects
of this kind with such pleasing gayety.

It is to be noticed that this horrible story of cannibalism and wife-
eating appears in Smith's "General Historie" of 1624, without a word
of contradiction or explanation, although the company as early as
1610 had taken pains to get at the facts, and Smith must have seen
their "Declaration," which supposes the story was started by enemies
of the colony.  Some reported they saw it, some that Captain Smith
said so, and some that one Beadle, the lieutenant of Captain Davis,
did relate it.  In "A True Declaration of the State of the Colonie in
Virginia," published by the advice and direction of the Council of
Virginia, London, 1610, we read:

"But to clear all doubt, Sir Thomas Yates thus relateth the tragedie:

"There was one of the company who mortally hated his wife, and
therefore secretly killed her, then cut her in pieces and hid her in
divers parts of his house: when the woman was missing, the man
suspected, his house searched, and parts of her mangled body were
discovered, to excuse himself he said that his wife died, that he hid
her to satisfie his hunger, and that he fed daily upon her.  Upon
this his house was again searched, when they found a good quantitie
of meale, oatmeale, beanes and pease.  Hee therefore was arraigned,
confessed the murder, and was burned for his horrible villainy."

This same "True Declaration," which singularly enough does not
mention the name of Captain Smith, who was so prominent an actor in
Virginia during the period to which it relates, confirms all that
Smith said as to the character of the colonists, especially the new
supply which landed in the eight vessels with Ratcliffe and Archer.
"Every man overvalueing his own strength would be a commander; every
man underprizing another's value, denied to be commanded."  They were
negligent and improvident.  "Every man sharked for his present
bootie, but was altogether careless of succeeding penurie."  To
idleness and faction was joined treason.  About thirty "unhallowed
creatures," in the winter of 1610, some five months before the
arrival of Captain Gates, seized upon the ship Swallow, which had
been prepared to trade with the Indians, and having obtained corn
conspired together and made a league to become pirates, dreaming of
mountains of gold and happy robberies.  By this desertion they
weakened the colony, which waited for their return with the
provisions, and they made implacable enemies of the Indians by their
violence.  "These are that scum of men," which, after roving the seas
and failing in their piracy, joined themselves to other pirates they
found on the sea, or returned to England, bound by a mutual oath to
discredit the land, and swore they were drawn away by famine.  "These
are they that roared at the tragicall historie of the man eating up
his dead wife in Virginia"--"scandalous reports of a viperous

If further evidence were wanting, we have it in "The New Life of
Virginia," published by authority of the Council, London, 1612.  This
is the second part of the "Nova Britannia," published in London,
1609.  Both are prefaced by an epistle to Sir Thomas Smith, one of
the Council and treasurer, signed "R. I."  Neither document contains
any allusion to Captain John Smith, or the part he played in
Virginia.  The "New Life of Virginia," after speaking of the tempest
which drove Sir Thomas Gates on Bermuda, and the landing of the eight
ships at Jamestown, says: "By which means the body of the plantation
was now augmented with such numbers of irregular persons that it soon
became as so many members without a head, who as they were bad and
evil affected for the most part before they went hence; so now being
landed and wanting restraint, they displayed their condition in all
kinds of looseness, those chief and wisest guides among them (whereof
there were not many) did nothing but bitterly contend who should be
first to command the rest, the common sort, as is ever seen in such
cases grew factious and disordered out of measure, in so much as the
poor colony seemed (like the Colledge of English fugitives in Rome)
as a hostile camp within itself; in which distemper that envious man
stept in, sowing plentiful tares in the hearts of all, which grew to

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: