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The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of
Captain John Smith
in Europe, Asia, Africa and America

Published in London, 1630.

Introduced and redacted by Marcia E. Stewart.

On the cover of the Summer 1996 Quarterly is a portrait of Capt. John Smith (1579 - 1631). He is a legendary figure in Virginia’s history, but few realize that, after he was removed from his captaincy of Virginia in 1609, he devoted the last 20 years of his life in the furtherance of the colonization of New England. He was the first to accurately map the coast. He coined the name of New England, and persuaded the royalty to endorse it (the land was formerly known as part of lower Canada). He wrote A Description of New England (1616) and his remarkable General History of Virginia (1624), which are our most accurate pictures of the land and the story of the earliest settlements. He strived all the last years of his life and spent all his resources pursuing his vision of a New England, and died without ever seeing the fruition of his efforts, thinking that perhaps his life's work had been in vain. On the contrary, we will say that John Smith was the first great American.

John Smith was not a Puritan. A simple Christian, certainly, but an English patriot foremost. He was the son of a Lincolnshire farmer, of grammar school education, who gained experience during his epic career as a soldier and sea-captain. His heroic deeds won him honors and the companionship of some of England's greatest Lords.

Smith loved America, and foresaw its importance to England, even to the 20th century, when American fleets would save England from enslavement. He here mentions some aristocratic friends who thought likewise, such as Justice Popham, the founder of the Sagadahoc plantation, whose death brought an end to that promising first settlement in New England.

Smith was a practical yet visionary genius who sympathized with the poorly prepared Mayflower Pilgrims, and abhorred the short-sighted, greedy foolishness of the aristocratic adventurers whose support he felt he was needed for the settlement. Smith was hawking a fabulous property before a shabby clientèle. He didn't realize that the Puritans were his market. One wonders if he had ever met the Earls of Warwick or Lincoln. There can be little doubt that our Puritan forefathers read and took to heart all of Smith's writings, made the best use of them, and felt indebted to him.

This excerpt has been very slightly edited from the 1630 original for spelling and punctuation, one minor reference to a previous chapter deleted, and a few parenthetic insertions in italic font added as an aid to comprehension.

Chapter XXIII
The proceedings and present estate of New England since 1624 to this present 1629.

When I first went to the north part of Virginia, where the westerly colony had been planted, it had dissolved itself within a year (the Sagadahoc plantation, 1608-09) and there was not one Christian in all the land. I was set forth at the sole charge of four merchants of London; the country then being reputed by your westerlings (The Plymouth Company) a most rocky, barren, desolate desert. But the good return I brought from thence (a rich cargo of fish and furs, 1614), with the maps and relations I made of the country, which I made so manifest, some of them did believe me, and they were well embraced, both by the Londoners and by the westerlings, for whom I had promised to undertake it, thinking to have joined them all together (but that might have been a work for Hercules!). Betwixt them there was much contention. The Londoners indeed went bravely forward, but in three or four years, I and my friends consumed many hundred pounds amongst the Plimothians, who only fed me with delays, promises, and excuses, but no performance of any thing to any purpose.

In the interim, many particular ships went thither and, finding my relations true, and that I had not stolen from the Frenchmen that which I brought home, as has been reported; yet further for my pains to discredit me and my calling it New England, they obscured it and shadowed it with the title of Canada, till at my humble suit, it pleased our most royal King Charles (whom God long keep, bless and preserve!), then Prince of Wales, to confirm it with my map and book by the title of New England. The gain thence returning did make the fame thereof so increase, that thirty, forty or fifty sail went yearly only to trade and fish (in the 1610's). But nothing would be done for a plantation until some hundred of your Brownists of England, Amsterdam and Leyden went to New Plimoth, whose misguided ignorances caused them for more than a year to endure a wonderful deal of misery with an infinite patience. They said my books and maps were cheaper than myself to teach them — many others have used the like husbandry and have paid soundly in trying their self-willed conclusions! But these in time doing well, divers others have in small handfuls undertaken to go there, to be several Lords and Kings of but themselves, yet most vanished to nothing.

Notwithstanding, the fishing ships made such good revenues, that at last it was engrossed by twenty patentees that divided my map into twenty parts (1622*). But money not coming in as they expected, they procured a proclamation that none should go there without their licenses to fish at the rate of £5 for every thirty tons of shipping. And besides, upon great penalties, none should trade with the natives, nor cut down wood for their stages (fish preparing factories) without giving satisfaction (though all the country is wood and none make use of it), and with many other pretenses, as if to make this country plant itself by its own wealth! Hereupon most men grew so discontented that few or none would go. So the patentees, who never one of them had been there, seeing those projects would not prevail, have since not hindered any to go that would, so that within these last few years more have gone thither than ever.

Now in this year 1629, a great company of people (The Higginson fleet) of good rank, zeal, means and quality have made a great stock, and with six good ships in the months of April and May, they set sail from Thames for the Bay of the Massachusetts, otherwise called Charles River, viz. the George Bonaventure, of twenty pieces of ordnance, the Talbot nineteen, the Lion’s Whelp eight, the Mayflower fourteen, the Four Sisters fourteen, the Pilgrim four, with 350 men, women and children, also 115 head of cattle, as horses, mares, cows and oxen, 41 goats, some conies (rabbits), with all provision for household and apparel, 6 pieces of great ordnance for a fort, with muskets, pikes, corselets, drums, colors, and with all provisions necessary for a plantation for the good of man. Other particulars I understand no more of than is written in the general histories of those countries.

But you are to understand that the noble Lord Chief Justice Popham, Judge Doderedge, the Right Honorable Earls of Pembroke, Southampton, Salisbury, and the rest, as I take it, they all did think, as did I and them that went with me did, that had those two countries (Virginia and New England) been planted as it was intended, that no nation should have come plant betwixt us (as had the Dutch on the Hudson River). If ever the King of Spain and we should fall foul, those countries being capable of all materials for shipping, by this we might have been owners of a good fleet of ships, and have relieved a whole navy from England upon occasion. Yea, and to have furnished England with the most easterly commodities. And now since, seeing how conveniently the Summer Isles (Bermuda) fell to our shares, so near to the West Indies, we might with much more facility than the Dutchman have invaded the West Indies, who now put in practice what so long hath been advised on by many an honest English statesman.

Those countries Captain Smith oft times used to call his children that never had a mother. And well he might, for few fathers ever paid dearer for so little content. And for those that would truly understand, how many strange accidents hath befallen them and him — how oft up, how oft down, sometimes near desperate, and ere long flourishing — cannot but conceive God's infinite mercies and favors towards them. Had his designs been to persuade men to a mine of gold (though few doth conceive either the charge or pains in refining it, nor the power nor care to defend it), or some new invention to pass to the South Seas, or some strange plot to invade some strange monastery (the English had no qualms about pillaging Catholic churches in those days), or some portable country, or some chargeable fleet to take some rich caracks in the East Indies, or letters of marque to rob some poor merchants — then what multitudes of both people and money would contend to be first employed! But in those noble endeavors (colonizing New England) now how few of quality adventure, unless it be to beg some monopoly, and those seldom seek the common good, but the commons’ goods! For yet those countries (The Virginia, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay Colonies) are not so far advanced but they may become as miserable as ever, if better courses be not taken than this, as this Smith will plainly demonstrate to his Majesty or any other noble person of ability, liable generously to undertake it: how to make Virginia able to resist any enemy, that as yet lieth open to all; and yield the King more custom within these few years, in certain staple commodities, than ever it did in tobacco, which now not being worth bringing home, the custom (exorbitant import taxes) being as uncertain to the King as dangerous to the plantations.

* See the map of John Smith as divided and showing the patents, p.41 of our summer, 1996 WSQ.

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