Captain John Smith (1580-1631)

Leader of the 1607 Jamestown Settlement in Virginia.

Captain John Smith, leader of the 1607 Jamestown Settlement in Virginia, was both Governor and Admiral.

His famed bronze statue, executed by William Couper in 1907, is a short distance from the 1638 Jamestown church and tower. Of recent vintage, an historical marker adjacent to Captain Smith’s statue states that he was, “arrogant, boastful and brutal.”

However, in describing Virginia’s earliest history, Thomas Jefferson cites the reputed historian Sir William Keith as a foremost authority. Keith gives us this account of Captain Smith’s bold testimony to Powhatan, Emperor of the Indians, after his imprisonment:

Powhatan, please to know that I worship only one God and serve but one king. I am not therefore here as your subject but as a friend to serve you in what I can.1

Keith’s narrative of Captain Smith’s imprisonment and near execution by the Indians continues thus:

A prisoner of Powhatan

…The captain was conducted to a long room, where forty tall fellows were appointed for his guard; and soon after that a great quantity of bread, venison, and other eatables were set before him; and when the prisoner had done eating as much as satisfied him, the remainder was carefully put by ’til midnight, when they brought in a fresh quantity, eating only themselves what was left at noon; and thus they continued to do every twelve hours, which made the Captain suspect that they intended to fatten him up for a sacrifice; and while under this desperate uncertain condition, he was ready to perish with cold, an Indian called Mancassater brought him his gown, in grateful return for some beads, and other toys he had received from the Captain, at his first arrival in Virginia…Last of all, the prisoner was carried to Weronocomaco, the seat of their great Emperor Powhatan, to whom they were formally introduced, as he sat, in a solemn manner, on a wooden bench before a great fire, covered with a robe of raccoon skins. There sat on each side of the Emperor a young woman, and on each side of the room, two rows of men, and as many women behind them, with all their hands and shoulders painted red; at the Captain’s entrance before this prince, all the people gave a shout, and the Queen of Appomatock was appointed to bring water to wash his hands, and another brought him a bunch of feathers, instead of a towel, to dry them. After this, having feasted the prisoner in the grandest manner they could, a long consultation was held amongst them; at the conclusion whereof, two great stones were placed before the Emperor Powhatan; then as many as could, laid hands on the prisoner, and dragging him towards the stones, they put his head on them, and immediately prepared themselves with great clubs to knock out his brains; but at this very instant, Pocahontas, the king’s favourite daughter, after she found no entreaties could prevail, flew to the block; and taking Captain Smith’s head in her arms, she laid her own upon it to save him from death; which surprising event moved the Emperor to tell the prisoner that he should live to make hatchets for him, and bells and other ornaments for his daughter Pocahontas…He told him that now they were good friends together, he intended to send him to Jamestown, from whence he desired the Captain would order two great guns and a grindstone to be sent to him; for which Powhatan would give him in return the country Capahowosiak, and forever esteem him as his son Nantaquand…2

We also read of the practise of child sacrifice among the Indians. Captain Smith relates this fact for posterity in these terms:

…Their solemn sacrifices of children, which they call Blackboyes.3

In his Historie of Virginia, Smith gives a narrative on the Indians’ “strange” religion:

Their god: …But their chief god they worship is the devil. Him they call Okee, and serve more of fear than love. They say they have conference with him, and fashion themselves as near to his shape as they can imagine…

How the world was made: …They believe there are many gods, which they call Mantoac, but of different sorts and degrees. Also that there is one chief god that hath been from all eternity, who as they say when he purposed first to make the world, made first other gods of a principle order, to be as instruments to be used in the creation and government to follow: And after the sun, moon and stars, as petty gods; and the instruments of the other order more principal. First (they say) were made waters, out of which by the gods were made all diversity creatures that are visible or invisible.

How man was made: For mankind they say a woman was made first, which by the working of one of the gods conceived and brought forth children; and so they had their beginnings, but how many years or ages since they know not; having no records but only tradition from father to son.

How they use their gods: They think that all the gods are of human shape, and therefore represent them by images in the forms of men; which they call Kewasowok: one alone is called Kewasa; them they place in their temples, where they worship, pray, sing, and make many offerings. The common sort think them also gods…

Their consultations: When they intend any wars, the Werowances usually have the advice of their priests and conjurers, and their allies and ancient friends, but chiefly the priests determine their resolution. Every Werowance, or some lusty fellow, they appoint Captain over every nation. They seldom make war for lands or goods, but for women and children, and principally for revenge.

Their enemies: They have many enemies, namely, all their westerly countries beyond the mountains, and the heads of the rivers…

Their charms to cure: They have many professed physicians, who, with their charms and rattles, with an infernal rout of words and actions, will seem to suck their inward grief from their navels, or their grieved places…4

Captain Smith’s Historie of Virginia also describes the settlers’ first church upon arrival at Jamestown Island in 1607:

Wee did hang an awning (which is an old saile) to three or foure trees to shadow us from the sunne, our walls were rales of wood, our seats unhewed trees, till we cut plankes, our Pulpit a bar of wood nailed to tow neighbouring trees, in foule weather we shifted into an old rotten tent.5

The Indians’ Desire of Salvation

Under the subtitle Their Desire of Salvation, Smith relates that even the natives were in awe and admiration of the colonists’ Christian lives, which drew them to the true God of the Bible:

The King Wingina where we dwelt would oft be with us at prayer. Twice he was exceeding sick and like to die. And doubting of any help from his priests, thinking he was in such danger for offending us and our God, sent for some of us to pray, and be a means to our God, he might live with Him after death. And so did many other in like case. One other strange accident (leaving others) will I mention before I end, which moved the whole country that either knew or heard of us, to have us in wonderful admiration. There was no town where they had practiced any villany against us (we leaving it unpunished, because we sought by all possible means to win them by gentleness) but within a few days after our departure, they began to die; in some towns twenty, in some forty, in some sixty, and in one a hundred and twenty, which was very many in respect to their numbers. And this happened in no place (we could learn) where we had been, but where they had used some practice to betray us. And this disease was so strange, they neither knew what it was, nor how to cure it; nor had they known the like time out of mind; a thing specially observed by us, as also by themselves, in so much that some of them who were our friends, especially Wingina, had observed such effects in four or five towns, that they were persuaded it was the work of God through our means: and that we by Him might kill and slay whom we would, without weapons, and not come near them. And thereupon, when they had any understanding, that any of their enemies abused us in our journeys, they would entreat us, we would be a means to our God, that they, as the others that had dealt ill with us, might die in like sort: although we showed them their requests were ungodly and that our God would not subject Himself to any such requests of men, but all things as He pleased came to pass: and that we, to show ourselves His true servants, ought rather to pray for the contrary. Yet because the effect fell out so suddenly after, according to their desires, they thought it came to pass by our means, and would come give us thanks in their manner, that though we satisfied them not in words, yet in deeds we had fulfilled their desires…6

The above accounts point out the contrast between Christianity as embraced and practiced by Captain John Smith and the 1607 settlement in Virginia, and the false religions practiced by Indian tribes such as the Werowances. Once again, we find that these original historic documents of early Virginia dispel the modern revisionist historical markers and textbook accounts, of the Indians having been indoctrinated, exploited and massacred by the colonists.

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Bibliography:

1

Keith, Sir William. The History of the British Plantations in America. Part I containing the History of Virginia. London: Printed at the expense of the Society for the Encouragement of Learning by S. Richardson, 1738, p. 96.

2

Ibid., pp. 66-71.

3

Smith, Captain John. The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles, from their first beginning AN: 1584 to this present 1626. London: Blackmore, 1632, p. 36.

4

Ibid., pp. 32-34

5

Ibid.

6

Ibid., pp. 11-12

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