Captain John Smith
The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624)

Excerpts from the Digitized Text found at Documenting the American South.

N.B. Spelling has been modernized here (as has punctuation and paragraphing to a limited degree). The headings and paragraph numbers provided are not part of the original document. Editorial explanations are in square brackets [ ]. The remaining text is Smith's. (Note that he describes himself in the third person -- i.e. as he rather than I.)

Smith and the Other Colonists Start Their New Lives, Fall 1607
Being thus left to our fortunes, it fortuned that within ten days scarce ten amongst us could either go, or well stand, such extreme weakness and sickness oppressed us. And thereat none need marvel, if they consider the cause and reason, which was this; whilst the ships stayed, our allowance was somewhat bettered by a daily proportion of Biscuit, which the sailors would pilfer to sell, give, or exchange with us, for money, sassafras, furs, or love. But when they departed, there remained neither tavern, beer house, nor place of relief, but the common Kettle. Had we been as free from all sins as gluttony and drunkenness, we might have been canonized for Saints; But our President would never have been admitted, for engrossing to his private [use], Oatmeal, Sack, Oil, Aquavitae, Beef, Eggs, or what not. But the Kettle, that indeed he allowed equally to be distributed, and that was half a pint of wheat, and as much barley boiled with water for a man a day, and this having fried some 26 weeks in the ship's hold, contained as many worms as grains; so that we might truly call it rather so much bran then corn, our drink was water, our lodgings Castles in the air: with this lodging and diet, our extreme toil in bearing and planting Pallisadoes, so strained and bruised us, and our continual labor in the extremity of the heat had so weakened us, as were cause sufficient to have made us as miserable in our native Country, or any other place in the world. From May to September, those that escaped lived upon Sturgeon, and Sea-crabs, fifty in this time we buried. . . .

[Smith and others recovered from their illnesses.] But now was all our provision spent, the Sturgeon gone, all helps abandoned, each hour expecting the fury of the Savages; when God the patron of all good endeavors, in that desperate extremity so changed the hearts of the Savages, that they brought such plenty of their fruits, and provision, as no man wanted. . . .

The new President and Martin, being little beloved, of weak judgement in dangers, and less industry in peace, committed the managing of all things abroad to Captain Smith: who by his own example, good words, and fair promises, set some to mow, others to bind thatch, some to build houses, others to thatch them, himself always bearing the greatest task for his own share, so that in short time, he provided most of them lodgings, neglecting any for himself. This done, seeing the Savages' superfluity begin to decrease (with some of his workmen) shipped himself in the Shallop to search the Country for trade. The want of the language, knowledge to manage his boat without sails, the want of a sufficient power (knowing the multitude of the Savages), apparel for his men, and other necessaries were infinite impediments, yet no discouragement. Being but six or seven in company he went down the river to Kecoughtan, where at first they scorned him, as a famished man, and would in derision offer him a handful of Corn, a piece of bread, for their swords and muskets, and such like proportions also for their apparel. But seeing by trade and courtesy there was nothing to be had, he made bold to try such conclusions as necessity enforced, though contrary to his Commission: Let fly his muskets, ran his boat on shore, whereat they all fled into the woods. So marching towards their houses, they might see great heaps of corn: much ado he had to restrain his hungry soldiers from present taking of it, expecting as it happened that the Savages would assault them, as not long after they did with a most hideous noise. Sixty or seventy of them, some black, some red, some white, some party-colored, came in a square order, singing and dancing out of the woods, with their Okee (which was an Idol made of skins, stuffed with moss, all painted and hung with chains and copper) borne before them: and in this manner being well armed, with Clubs, Targets, Bows and Arrows, they charged the English, that so kindly received them with their muskets loaded with Pistol shot, that down fell their God, and divers lay sprawling on the ground; the rest fled again to the woods, and ere long sent one of their Quiyoughkasoucks to offer peace, and redeem their Okee. Smith told them, if only six of them would come unarmed and load his boat, he would not only be their friend, but restore them their Okee, and give them Beads, Copper, and Hatchets besides: which on both sides was to their contents performed: and then they brought him Venison, Turkeys, wild fowl, bread, and what they had, singing and dancing in sign of friendship till they departed.

Powhatans capture Smith in December 1607
[Smith was exploring the Chickahominy river, having gone ahead of the group with a native guide.] Finding he was beset with 200 Savages, two of them he slew, still defending himself with the aid of a Savage his guide, whom he bound to his arm with his garters, and used him as a buckler. [That is, Smith tied his native guide to his arm to make him a human shield against the Powhatan arrows.] Yet he [Smith] was shot in his thigh a little, and had many arrows that stuck in his clothes but no great hurt, till at last they took him prisoner.

[Before being taken prisoner, he and his attackers had been at a standoff. After he killed three of them and frightened others with his gun, he stumbled into a bog and was trapped there. Even so, none of them would come near him] till being near dead with cold, he threw away his Arms. Then according to their composition they drew him forth and led him to the fire, where his men were slain. Diligently they chafed his benumbed limbs. He demanding for their Captain, they showed him Opechankanough, King of Pamaunkee [also Powhatan's brother and heir], to whom he gave a round Ivory double compass dial. Much they marveled at the playing of the Fly and Needle, which they could see so plainly, and yet not touch it, because of the glass that covered them. . . . But when he demonstrated by that Globe-like jewel, the roundness of the earth, and skies, the sphere of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, and how the Sun did chase the night round about the world continually; the greatness of the Land and Sea, the diversity of Nations, variety of complexions, and how we were to them Antipodes, and many other such like matters, they all stood as amazed with admiration.

Notwithstanding, within an hour after they tied him to a tree, and as many as could stand about him prepared to shoot him, but the King holding up the Compass in his hand, they all laid down their Bows and Arrows, and . . . he was after their manner kindly feasted, and well used.

Meeting with Powhatan
At last they brought him to [Werowocomoco], where was Powhatan their Emperor. Here more then two hundred of those grim Courtiers stood wondering at him, as he had been a monster; till Powhatan and his train had put themselves in their greatest braveries. Before a fire upon a seat like a bedstead, he sat covered with a great robe, made of Rarowcun [raccoon] skins, and all the tails hanging by. On either hand did sit a young wench of 16 or 18 years, and along on each side the house, two rows of men, and behind them as many women, with all their heads and shoulders painted red; many of their heads bedecked with the white down of Birds; but every one with something: and a great chain of white beads about their necks. At his entrance before the King, all the people gave a great shout. The Queen of Appamatuck was appointed to bring him water to wash his hands, and another brought him a bunch of feathers, instead of a towel to dry them.

Having feasted him after their best barbarous manner they could, a long consultation was held, but the conclusion was, two great stones were brought before Powhatan: then as many as could laid hands on him, dragged him to them, and thereon laid his head, and being ready with their clubs, to beat out his brains, Pocahontas the King's dearest daughter, when no entreaty could prevail, got his head in her Arms, and laid her own upon his to save him from death: whereat the Emperor was contented he should live to make him hatchets, and her bells, beads, and copper; for they thought him as well of all occupations as themselves. For the King himself will make his own robes, shoes, Bows, arrows, pots; plant, hunt, or do any thing so well as the rest. . . .

Two days after, Powhatan having disguised himself in the most fearful manner he could, caused Capt. Smith to be brought forth to a great house in the woods, and there upon a mat by the fire to be left alone. Not long after from behind a mat that divided the house, was made the most dolefullest noise he ever heard; then Powhatan more like a devil then a man with some two hundred more as black as himself, came unto him and told him now they were friends, and presently he should go to Jamestown, to send him two great guns, and a grindstone, for which he would give him the Country of Capahowosick, and forever esteem him as his son Nantaquoud.

After Meeting Powhatan, Smith Returns to the Jamestown Fort in January 1608
So to Jamestown with 12 guides Powhatan sent him. That night they quartered in the woods, he still expecting (as he had done all this long time of his imprisonment) every hour to be put to one death or other: for all their feasting. But almighty God (by his divine providence) had mollified the hearts of those stern Barbarians with compassion. The next morning betimes they came to the Fort, where Smith having used the Savages with what kindness he could, he showed Rawhunt, Powhatans trusty servant two demi-Culverings [a cannon] & a millstone to carry Powhatan: they found them somewhat too heavy [Here, Smith is making an amusing understatement.] But when they did see him discharge them, being loaded with stones, among the boughs of a great tree loaded with icicles, the ice and branches came so tumbling down, that the poor Savages ran away half dead with fear. But at last we regained some conference with them, and gave them such toys; and sent to Powhatan, his women, and children such presents, as gave them in general full content. . . .

Pocahontas Helps the Colonists in early 1608
Now ever once in four or five days, Pocahontas with her attendants, brought him so much provision, that saved many of their lives, that else for all this had starved with hunger.

[Smith's] relation of the plenty he had seen, especially at [Werowocomoco], and of the state and bounty of Powhatan, (which till that time was unknown) so revived [the colonists'] dead spirits (especially the love of Pocahontas) as all men's fear was abandoned. Thus you may see what difficulties still crossed any good endeavor: and the good success of the business being thus oft brought to the very period of destruction; yet you see by what strange means God hath still delivered it.

Negotiating with Powhatan in early 1608
[Shortly after Smith returned to Jamestown in January 1608, Captain Christopher Newport arrived from England to lead the colony. He and Smith disagreed over how to manage relations with the Powhatans.] The Savages, as is said, every other day repaired [to Smith], with such provisions that sufficiently did serve them from hand to mouth: part always they brought him as Presents from their King, or Pocahontas; the rest he as their Market Clerk set the price himself, how they should sell: so he had enchanted these poor souls being their prisoner. . . .

But the President and Council so much envied [Smith's] estimation among the Savages, . . .that they wrought it into the Savages' understandings (by their great bounty in giving four times more for their commodities then Smith appointed) that their greatness and authority as much exceeded his, as their bounty and liberality. . . . But in a short time it followed, that could not be had for a pound of Copper, which before was sold us for an ounce: thus ambition and sufferance cut the throat of our trade, but confirmed their opinion of the greatness of Capt. Newport . . . especially by the great presents Newport often sent [Powhatan].

Arriving at Werowocomoco, Newport's [image of] this great Savage bred many doubts and suspicions of treacheries, which Smith to make appear was needless, with twenty men well appointed, undertook to encounter the worst that could happen. . . . But finding all things well, by two or three hundred Savages they were kindly conducted to their town. Where Powhatan strained himself to the utmost of his greatness to entertain them, with great shouts of joy, Orations of protestations; and with the most plenty of victuals he could provide to feast them. Sitting upon his bed of mats, his pillow of leather embroidered (after their rude manner with pearl and white Beads) his attire a fair robe of skins as large as an Irish mantel: at his head and feet a handsome young woman: on each side his house sat twenty of his Concubines, their heads and shoulders painted red, with a great chain of white beads about each of their necks. Before those sat his chiefest men in like order in his arbor-like house, and more then forty platters of fine bread stood as a guard in two files on each side the door. Four or five hundred people made a guard behind them for our passage; and Proclamation was made, none upon pain of death to presume to do us any wrong or discourtesy. With many pretty Discourses to renew their old acquaintance, this great King and our Captain spent the time.

Three or four days more we spent in feasting, dancing, and trading, wherein Powhatan carried himself so proudly, yet discreetly (in his savage manner) as made us all admire his natural gifts, considering his education. As scorning to trade as his subjects did; he bespake Newport in this manner.

Captain Newport it is not agreeable to my greatness, in this peddling manner to trade for trifles; and I esteem you also a great Werowance. Therefore lay me down all your commodities together; what I like I will take, and in recompense give you what I think fitting their value.

Captain Smith being our interpreter . . . knowing best the disposition of Powhatan, told us his intent was but only to cheat us; yet Captain Newport thinking to out brave this Savage in ostentation of greatness, and so to bewitch him with his bounty, as to have what he listed, it so happened, that Powhatan having his desire, valued his corn at such a rate, that I think it better cheap in Spain: for we had not four bushels for that we expected to have twenty hogsheads. This bred some unkindness between our two Captains; Newport seeking to please the unsatiable desire of the Savage, Smith to cause the Savage to please him.

But smothering his [Smith's] distaste to avoid the Savages suspicion, glanced in the eyes of Powhatan many trifles, who fixed his humor upon a few blue beads. A long time he [Powhatan] importunately desired them, but Smith seemed so much the more to affect them, as being composed of a most rare substance of the color of the skies, and not to be worn but by the greatest kings in the world. This made him half mad to be the owner of such strange jewels: so that ere we departed, for a pound or two of blue beads, he brought over . . . 200 or 300 Bushels of corn; yet parted good friends.

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