Captain John Smith by Charles Dudley Warner, chapter name DISCOVERY OF THE CHESAPEAKE


On the same, day that Nelson sailed for England, Smith set out to explore the Chesapeake, accompanying the Phoenix as far as Cape Henry, in a barge of about three tons. With him went Dr. Walter Russell, six gentlemen, and seven soldiers. The narrative of the voyage is signed by Dr. Russell, Thomas Momford, gentleman, and Anas Todkill, soldier. Master Scrivener remained at the fort, where his presence was needed to keep in check the prodigal waste of the stores upon his parasites by President Ratcliffe.

The expedition crossed the bay at "Smith's Isles," named after the Captain, touched at Cape Charles, and coasted along the eastern shore. Two stout savages hailed them from Cape Charles, and directed them to Accomack, whose king proved to be the most comely and civil savage they had yet encountered.

He told them of a strange accident that had happened. The parents of two children who had died were moved by some phantasy to revisit their dead carcasses, "whose benumbed bodies reflected to the eyes of the beholders such delightful countenances as though they had regained their vital spirits." This miracle drew a great part of the King's people to behold them, nearly all of whom died shortly afterward. These people spoke the language of Powhatan. Smith explored the bays, isles, and islets, searching for harbors and places of habitation. He was a born explorer and geographer, as his remarkable map of Virginia sufficiently testifies. The company was much tossed about in the rough waves of the bay, and had great difficulty in procuring drinking-water. They entered the Wighcocomoco, on the east side, where the natives first threatened and then received them with songs, dancing, and mirth. A point on the mainland where they found a pond of fresh water they named "Poynt Ployer in honer of the most honorable house of Monsay, in Britaine, that in an extreme extremitie once relieved our Captain." This reference to the Earl of Ployer, who was kind to Smith in his youth, is only an instance of the care with which he edited these narratives of his own exploits, which were nominally written by his companions.

The explorers were now assailed with violent storms, and at last took refuge for two days on some uninhabited islands, which by reason of the ill weather and the hurly-burly of thunder, lightning, wind, and rain, they called "Limbo." Repairing their torn sails with their shirts, they sailed for the mainland on the east, and ran into a river called Cuskarawook (perhaps the present Annomessie), where the inhabitants received them with showers of arrows, ascending the trees and shooting at them. The next day a crowd came dancing to the shore, making friendly signs, but Smith, suspecting villainy, discharged his muskets into them. Landing toward evening, the explorers found many baskets and much blood, but no savages. The following day, savages to the number, the account wildly says, of two or three thousand, came to visit them, and were very friendly. These tribes Smith calls the Sarapinagh, Nause, Arseek, and Nantaquak, and says they are the best merchants of that coast. They told him of a great nation, called the Massawomeks, of whom he set out in search, passing by the Limbo, and coasting the west side of Chesapeake Bay. The people on the east side he describes as of small stature.

They anchored at night at a place called Richard's Cliffs, north of the Pawtuxet, and from thence went on till they reached the first river navigable for ships, which they named the Bolus, and which by its position on Smith's map may be the Severn or the Patapsco.

The men now, having been kept at the oars ten days, tossed about by storms, and with nothing to eat but bread rotten from the wet, supposed that the Captain would turn about and go home. But he reminded them how the company of Ralph Lane, in like circumstances, importuned him to proceed with the discovery of Moratico, alleging that they had yet a dog that boiled with sassafrks leaves would richly feed them. He could not think of returning yet, for they were scarce able to say where they had been, nor had yet heard of what they were sent to seek. He exhorted them to abandon their childish fear of being lost in these unknown, large waters, but he assured them that return he would not, till he had seen the Massawomeks and found the Patowomek.

On the 16th of June they discovered the River Patowomek (Potomac), seven miles broad at the mouth, up which they sailed thirty miles before they encountered any inhabitants. Four savages at length appeared and conducted them up a creek where were three or four thousand in ambush, "so strangely painted, grimed, and disguised, shouting, yelling, and crying as so many spirits from hell could not have showed more terrible." But the discharge of the firearms and the echo in the forest so appeased their fury that they threw down their bows, exchanged hostages, and kindly used the strangers. The Indians told him that Powhatan had commanded them to betray them, and the serious charge is added that Powhatan, "so directed from the discontents at Jamestown because our Captain did cause them to stay in their country against their wills." This reveals the suspicion and thoroughly bad feeling existing among the colonists.

The expedition went up the river to a village called Patowomek, and thence rowed up a little River Quiyough (Acquia Creek?) in search of a mountain of antimony, which they found. The savages put this antimony up in little bags and sold it all over the country to paint their bodies and faces, which made them look like Blackamoors dusted over with silver. Some bags of this they carried away, and also collected a good amount of furs of otters, bears, martens, and minks. Fish were abundant, "lying so thick with their heads above water, as for want of nets (our barge driving among them) we attempted to catch them with a frying-pan; but we found it a bad instrument to catch fish with; neither better fish, more plenty, nor more variety for small fish, had any of us ever seen in any place, so swimming in the water, but they are not to be caught with frying-pans."

In all his encounters and quarrels with the treacherous savages Smith lost not a man; it was his habit when he encountered a body of them to demand their bows, arrows, swords, and furs, and a child or two as hostages.

Having finished his discovery he returned. Passing the mouth of the Rappahannock, by some called the Tappahannock, where in shoal water were many fish lurking in the weeds, Smith had his first experience of the Stingray. It chanced that the Captain took one of these fish from his sword, "not knowing her condition, being much the fashion of a Thornbeck, but a long tayle like a riding rodde whereon the middest is a most poysonne sting of two or three inches long, bearded like a saw on each side, which she struck into the wrist of his arme neare an inch and a half." The arm and shoulder swelled so much, and the torment was so great, that "we all with much sorrow concluded his funerale, and prepared his grave in an island by, as himself directed." But it "pleased God by a precious oyle Dr. Russell applied to it that his tormenting paine was so assuged that he ate of that fish to his supper."

Setting sail for Jamestown, and arriving at Kecoughtan, the sight of the furs and other plunder, and of Captain Smith wounded, led the Indians to think that he had been at war with the Massawomeks; which opinion Smith encouraged. They reached Jamestown July 21st, in fine spirits, to find the colony in a mutinous condition, the last arrivals all sick, and the others on the point of revenging themselves on the silly President, who had brought them all to misery by his riotous consumption of the stores, and by forcing them to work on an unnecessary pleasure-house for himself in the woods. They were somewhat appeased by the good news of the discovery, and in the belief that their bay stretched into the South Sea; and submitted on condition that Ratclifte should be deposed and Captain Smith take upon himself the government, "as by course it did belong." He consented, but substituted Mr. Scrivener, his dear friend, in the presidency, distributed the provisions, appointed honest men to assist Mr. Scrivener, and set out on the 24th, with twelve men, to finish his discovery.

He passed by the Patowomek River and hasted to the River Bolus, which he had before visited. In the bay they fell in with seven or eight canoes full of the renowned Massawomeks, with whom they had a fight, but at length these savages became friendly and gave them bows, arrows, and skins. They were at war with the Tockwoghes. Proceeding up the River Tockwogh, the latter Indians received them with friendship, because they had the weapons which they supposed had been captured in a fight with the Massawomeks. These Indians had hatchets, knives, pieces of iron and brass, they reported came from the Susquesahanocks, a mighty people, the enemies of the Massawomeks, living at the head of the bay. As Smith in his barge could not ascend to them, he sent an interpreter to request a visit from them. In three or four days sixty of these giant-like people came down with presents of venison, tobacco-pipes three feet in length, baskets, targets, and bows and arrows. Some further notice is necessary of this first appearance of the Susquehannocks, who became afterwards so well known, by reason of their great stature and their friendliness. Portraits of these noble savages appeared in De Bry's voyages, which were used in Smith's map, and also by Strachey. These beautiful copperplate engravings spread through Europe most exaggerated ideas of the American savages.

"Our order," says Smith, "was daily to have prayers, with a psalm, at which solemnity the poor savages wondered." When it was over the Susquesahanocks, in a fervent manner, held up their hands to the sun, and then embracing the Captain, adored him in like manner. With a furious manner and "a hellish voyce" they began an oration of their loves, covered him with their painted bear-skins, hung a chain of white beads about his neck, and hailed his creation as their governor and protector, promising aid and victuals if he would stay and help them fight the Massawomeks. Much they told him of the Atquanachuks, who live on the Ocean Sea, the Massawomeks and other people living on a great water beyond the mountain (which Smith understood to be some great lake or the river of Canada), and that they received their hatchets and other commodities from the French. They moumed greatly at Smith's departure. Of Powhatan they knew nothing but the name.

Strachey, who probably enlarges from Smith his account of the same people, whom he calls Sasquesahanougs, says they were well-proportioned giants, but of an honest and simple disposition. Their language well beseemed their proportions, "sounding from them as it were a great voice in a vault or cave, as an ecco." The picture of one of these chiefs is given in De Bry, and described by Strachey," the calf of whose leg was three-quarters of a yard about, and all the rest of his limbs so answerable to the same proportions that he seemed the goodliest man they ever saw."

It would not entertain the reader to follow Smith in all the small adventures of the exploration, during which he says he went about 3,000 miles (three thousand miles in three or four weeks in a rowboat is nothing in Smith's memory), "with such watery diet in these great waters and barbarous countries." Much hardship he endured, alternately skirmishing and feasting with the Indians; many were the tribes he struck an alliance with, and many valuable details he added to the geographical knowledge of the region. In all this exploration Smith showed himself skillful as he was vigorous and adventurous.

He returned to James River September 7th. Many had died, some were sick, Ratcliffe, the late President, was a prisoner for mutiny, Master Scrivener had diligently gathered the harvest, but much of the provisions had been spoiled by rain. Thus the summer was consumed, and nothing had been accomplished except Smith's discovery.