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,
"A Description of New England," etc., London, 1616.
"New England's Trials," etc., London, 1620. Second edition,
"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.,
"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.
"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
CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH
BIRTH AND TRAINING
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
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. The name ends in by, the Danish word for hamlet or
small village, and we can measure the progress of the Danish (CONTINUED
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