Captain John Smith by Charles Dudley Warner, chapter name SMITH TO THE FRONT


It is now time to turn to Smith's personal adventures among the Indians during this period. Almost our only authority is Smith himself, or such presumed writings of his companions as he edited or rewrote. Strachey and others testify to his energy in procuring supplies for the colony, and his success in dealing with the Indians, and it seems likely that the colony would have famished but for his exertions. Whatever suspicion attaches to Smith's relation of his own exploits, it must never be forgotten that he was a man of extraordinary executive ability, and had many good qualities to offset his vanity and impatience of restraint.

After the departure of Wingfield, Captain Smith was constrained to act as Cape Merchant; the leaders were sick or discontented, the rest were in despair, and would rather starve and rot than do anything for their own relief, and the Indian trade was decreasing. Under these circumstances, Smith says in his "True Relation," "I was sent to the mouth of the river, to Kegquoughtan [now Hampton], an Indian Towne, to trade for corn, and try the river for fish." The Indians, thinking them near famished, tantalized them with offers of little bits of bread in exchange for a hatchet or a piece of copper, and Smith offered trifles in return. The next day the Indians were anxious to trade. Smith sent men up to their town, a display of force was made by firing four guns, and the Indians kindly traded, giving fish, oysters, bread, and deer. The town contained eighteen houses, and heaps of grain. Smith obtained fifteen bushels of it, and on his homeward way he met two canoes with Indians, whom he accompanied to their villages on the south side of the river, and got from them fifteen bushels more.

This incident is expanded in the "General Historie." After the lapse of fifteen years Smith is able to remember more details, and to conceive himself as the one efficient man who had charge of everything outside the fort, and to represent his dealings with the Indians in a much more heroic and summary manner. He was not sent on the expedition, but went of his own motion. The account opens in this way: "The new President [Ratcliffe] and Martin, being little beloved, of weake judgement in dangers, and loose industrie in peace, committed the management of all things abroad to Captain Smith; who by his own example, good words, and fair promises, set some to mow, others to binde thatch, some to builde houses, others to thatch them, himselfe always bearing the greatest taske for his own share, so that in short time he provided most of them with lodgings, neglecting any for himselfe. This done, seeing the Salvage superfluities beginne to decrease (with some of his workmen) shipped himself in the Shallop to search the country for trade."

In this narration, when the Indians trifled with Smith he fired a volley at them, ran his boat ashore, and pursued them fleeing towards their village, where were great heaps of corn that he could with difficulty restrain his soldiers [six or seven] from taking. The Indians then assaulted them with a hideous noise: "Sixty or seventy of them, some black, some red, some white, some particoloured, came in a square order, singing and dancing out of the woods, with their Okee (which is an Idol made of skinnes, stuffed with mosse, and painted and hung with chains and copper) borne before them; and in this manner being well armed with clubs, targets, bowes and arrowes, they charged the English that so kindly received them with their muskets loaden with pistol shot, that down fell their God, and divers lay sprawling on the ground; the rest fled againe to the woods, and ere long sent men of their Quiyoughkasoucks [conjurors] to offer peace and redeeme the Okee." Good feeling was restored, and the savages brought the English "venison, turkies, wild fowl, bread all that they had, singing and dancing in sign of friendship till they departed." This fantastical account is much more readable than the former bare narration.

The supplies which Smith brought gave great comfort to the despairing colony, which was by this time reasonably fitted with houses. But it was not long before they again ran short of food. In his first narrative Smith says there were some motions made for the President and Captain Arthur to go over to England and procure a supply, but it was with much ado concluded that the pinnace and the barge should go up the river to Powhatan to trade for corn, and the lot fell to Smith to command the expedition. In his "General Historie" a little different complexion is put upon this. On his return, Smith says, he suppressed an attempt to run away with the pinnace to England. He represents that what food "he carefully provided the rest carelessly spent," and there is probably much truth in his charges that the settlers were idle and improvident. He says also that they were in continual broils at this time. It is in the fall of 1607, just before his famous voyage up the Chickahominy, on which he departed December 10th that he writes: "The President and Captain Arthur intended not long after to have abandoned the country, which project was curbed and suppressed by Smith. The Spaniard never more greedily desired gold than he victual, nor his soldiers more to abandon the country than he to keep it. But finding plenty of corn in the river of Chickahomania, where hundreds of salvages in divers places stood with baskets expecting his coming, and now the winter approaching, the rivers became covered with swans, geese, ducks, and cranes, that we daily feasted with good bread, Virginia peas, pumpions, and putchamins, fish, fowls, and divers sorts of wild beasts as fat as we could eat them, so that none of our Tuftaffaty humorists desired to go to England."

While the Chickahominy expedition was preparing, Smith made a voyage to Popohanock or Quiyoughcohanock, as it is called on his map, a town on the south side of the river, above Jamestown. Here the women and children fled from their homes and the natives refused to trade. They had plenty of corn, but Smith says he had no commission to spoil them. On his return he called at Paspahegh, a town on the north side of the James, and on the map placed higher than Popohanock, but evidently nearer to Jamestown, as he visited it on his return. He obtained ten bushels of corn of the churlish and treacherous natives, who closely watched and dogged the expedition.

Everything was now ready for the journey to Powhatan. Smith had the barge and eight men for trading and discovery, and the pinnace was to follow to take the supplies at convenient landings. On the 9th of November he set out in the barge to explore the Chickahominy, which is described as emptying into the James at Paspahegh, eight miles above the fort. The pinnace was to ascend the river twenty miles to Point Weanock, and to await Smith there. All the month of November Smith toiled up and down the Chickahominy, discovering and visiting many villages, finding the natives kindly disposed and eager to trade, and possessing abundance of corn. Notwithstanding this abundance, many were still mutinous. At this time occurred the President's quarrel with the blacksmith, who, for assaulting the President, was condemned to death, and released on disclosing a conspiracy of which Captain Kendall was principal; and the latter was executed in his place. Smith returned from a third voyage to the Chickahominy with more supplies, only to find the matter of sending the pinnace to England still debated.

This project, by the help of Captain Martin, he again quieted and at last set forward on his famous voyage into the country of Powhatan and Pocahontas.