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Captain John Smith

By Charles Dudley Warner



When I consented to prepare this volume for a series, which should
deal with the notables of American history with some familiarity and
disregard of historic gravity, I did not anticipate the seriousness
of the task.  But investigation of the subject showed me that while
Captain John Smith would lend himself easily enough to the purely
facetious treatment, there were historic problems worthy of a
different handling, and that if the life of Smith was to be written,
an effort should be made to state the truth, and to disentangle the
career of the adventurer from the fables and misrepresentations that
have clustered about it.

The extant biographies of Smith, and the portions of the history of
Virginia that relate to him, all follow his own narrative, and accept
his estimate of himself, and are little more than paraphrases of his
story as told by himself.  But within the last twenty years some new
contemporary evidence has come to light, and special scholars have
expended much critical research upon different portions of his
career.  The result of this modern investigation has been to
discredit much of the romance gathered about Smith and Pocahontas,
and a good deal to reduce his heroic proportions.  A vague report of-
-these scholarly studies has gone abroad, but no effort has been made
to tell the real story of Smith as a connected whole in the light of
the new researches.

This volume is an effort to put in popular form the truth about
Smith's adventures, and to estimate his exploits and character.  For
this purpose I have depended almost entirely upon original
contemporary material, illumined as it now is by the labors of
special editors.  I believe that I have read everything that is
attributed to his pen, and have compared his own accounts with other
contemporary narratives, and I think I have omitted the perusal of
little that could throw any light upon his life or character.  For
the early part of his career--before he came to Virginia--there is
absolutely no authority except Smith himself; but when he emerges
from romance into history, he can be followed and checked by
contemporary evidence.  If he was always and uniformly untrustworthy
it would be less perplexing to follow him, but his liability to tell
the truth when vanity or prejudice does not interfere is annoying to
the careful student.

As far as possible I have endeavored to let the actors in these pages
tell their own story, and I have quoted freely from Capt. Smith
himself, because it is as a writer that he is to be judged no less
than as an actor.  His development of the Pocahontas legend has been
carefully traced, and all the known facts about that Indian--or
Indese, as some of the old chroniclers call the female North
Americans--have been consecutively set forth in separate chapters.
The book is not a history of early Virginia, nor of the times of
Smith, but merely a study of his life and writings.  If my estimate
of the character of Smith is not that which his biographers have
entertained, and differs from his own candid opinion, I can only
plead that contemporary evidence and a collation of his own stories
show that he was mistaken.  I am not aware that there has been before
any systematic effort to collate his different accounts of his
exploits.  If he had ever undertaken the task, he might have
disturbed that serene opinion of himself which marks him as a man who
realized his own ideals.

The works used in this study are, first, the writings of Smith, which
are as follows:

"A True Relation," etc., London, 1608.

"A Map of Virginia, Description and Appendix," Oxford, 1612.

"A Description of New England," etc., London, 1616.

"New England's Trials," etc., London, 1620.  Second edition,
enlarged, 1622.

"The Generall Historie," etc., London, 1624.  Reissued, with date of
title-page altered, in 1626, 1627, and twice in 1632.

"An Accidence: or, The Pathway to Experience," etc., London, 1626.

"A Sea Grammar," etc., London, 1627.  Also editions in 1653 and 1699.

"The True Travels," etc., London, 1630.

"Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England," etc.,
London, 1631.

Other authorities are:

"The Historie of Travaile into Virginia," etc., by William Strachey,
Secretary of the colony 1609 to 1612.  First printed for the Hakluyt
Society, London, 1849.

"Newport's Relatyon," 1607.  Am.  Ant.  Soc., Vol.  4.

"Wingfield's Discourse," etc., 1607.  Am.  Ant.  Soc., Vol. 4.

"Purchas his Pilgrimage," London, 1613.

"Purchas his Pilgrimes," London, 1625-6.

"Ralph Hamor's True Discourse," etc., London, 1615.

"Relation of Virginia," by Henry Spelman, 1609.  First printed by J.
F. Hunnewell, London, 1872.

"History of the Virginia Company in London," by Edward D.  Neill,
Albany, 1869.

"William Stith's History of Virginia," 1753, has been consulted for
the charters and letters-patent. The Pocahontas discussion has been
followed in many magazine papers.  I am greatly indebted to the
scholarly labors of Charles Deane, LL.D., the accomplished editor of
the "True Relation," and other Virginia monographs.  I wish also to
acknowledge the courtesy of the librarians of the Astor, the Lenox,
the New York Historical, Yale, and Cornell libraries, and of Dr. J.
Hammond Trumbull, the custodian of the Brinley collection, and the
kindness of Mr. S. L. M. Barlow of New York, who is ever ready to
give students access to his rich "Americana."

C.  D.  W.
HARTFORD, June, 1881



Fortunate is the hero who links his name romantically with that of a
woman.  A tender interest in his fame is assured.  Still more
fortunate is he if he is able to record his own achievements and give
to them that form and color and importance which they assume in his
own gallant consciousness.  Captain John Smith, the first of an
honored name, had this double good fortune.

We are indebted to him for the glowing picture of a knight-errant of
the sixteenth century, moving with the port of a swash-buckler across
the field of vision, wherever cities were to be taken and heads
cracked in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and, in the language of one of
his laureates

         "To see bright honor sparkled all in gore."

But we are specially his debtor for adventures on our own continent,
narrated with naivete and vigor by a pen as direct and clear-cutting
as the sword with which he shaved off the heads of the Turks, and for
one of the few romances that illumine our early history.

Captain John Smith understood his good fortune in being the recorder
of his own deeds, and he preceded Lord Beaconsfield (in "Endymion")
in his appreciation of the value of the influence of women upon the
career of a hero.  In the dedication of his "General Historie" to
Frances, Duchess of Richmond, he says:

"I have deeply hazarded myself in doing and suffering, and why should
I sticke to hazard my reputation in recording?  He that acteth two
parts is the more borne withall  if he come short, or fayle in one of
them.  Where shall we looke to finde a Julius Caesar whose
atchievments shine as cleare in his owne Commentaries, as they did in
the field?  I confesse, my hand though able to wield a weapon among
the Barbarous, yet well may tremble in handling a Pen among so many
judicious; especially when I am so bold as to call so piercing and so
glorious an Eye, as your Grace, to view these poore ragged lines.
Yet my comfort is that heretofore honorable and vertuous Ladies, and
comparable but amongst themselves, have offered me rescue and
protection in my greatest dangers: even in forraine parts, I have
felt reliefe from that sex.  The beauteous Lady Tragabigzanda, when I
was a slave to the Turks, did all she could to secure me.  When I
overcame the Bashaw of Nalbrits in Tartaria, the charitable Lady
Callamata supplyed my necessities.  In the utmost of my extremities,
that blessed Pokahontas, the great King's daughter of Virginia, oft
saved my life.  When I escaped the cruelties of Pirats and most
furious stormes, a long time alone in a small Boat at Sea, and driven
ashore in France, the good Lady Chanoyes bountifully assisted me."

It is stated in his "True Travels" that John Smith was born in
Willoughby, in Lincolnshire.  The year of his birth is not given, but
it was probably in 1579, as it appears by the portrait prefixed to
that work that he was aged 37 years in 1616.  We are able to add also
that the rector of the Willoughby Rectory, Alford, finds in the
register an entry of the baptism of John, son of George Smith, under
date of Jan. 9, 1579.  His biographers, following his account,
represent him as of ancient lineage: "His father actually descended
from the ancient Smiths of Crudley in Lancashire, his mother from the
Rickands at great Heck in Yorkshire;" but the circumstances of his
boyhood would indicate that like many other men who have made
themselves a name, his origin was humble.  If it had been otherwise
he would scarcely have been bound as an apprentice, nor had so much
difficulty in his advancement.  But the boy was born with a merry
disposition, and in his earliest years was impatient for adventure.
The desire to rove was doubtless increased by the nature of his
native shire, which offered every inducement to the lad of spirit to
leave it.

Lincolnshire is the most uninteresting part of all England.  It is
frequently water-logged till late in the summer: invisible a part of
the year, when it emerges it is mostly a dreary flat.  Willoughby is
a considerable village in this shire, situated about three miles and
a half southeastward from Alford.  It stands just on the edge of the
chalk hills whose drives gently slope down to the German Ocean, and
the scenery around offers an unvarying expanse of flats.  All the
villages in this part of Lincolnshire exhibit the same character.

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