Captain John Smith by Charles Dudley Warner, chapter name SMITH'S WAY WITH THE INDIANS


As we are not endeavoring to write the early history of Virginia, but only to trace Smith's share in it, we proceed with his exploits after the arrival of the first supply, consisting of near a hundred men, in two ships, one commanded by Captain Newport and the other by Captain Francis Nelson. The latter, when in sight of Cape Henry, was driven by a storm back to the West Indies, and did not arrive at James River with his vessel, the Phoenix, till after the departure of Newport for England with his load of "golddust," and Master Wingfield and Captain Arthur.

In his "True Relation," Smith gives some account of his exploration of the Pamunkey River, which he sometimes calls the "Youghtamand," upon which, where the water is salt, is the town of Werowocomoco. It can serve no purpose in elucidating the character of our hero to attempt to identify all the places he visited.

It was at Werowocomoco that Smith observed certain conjurations of the medicine men, which he supposed had reference to his fate. From ten o'clock in the morning till six at night, seven of the savages, with rattles in their hands, sang and danced about the fire, laying down grains of corn in circles, and with vehement actions, casting cakes of deer suet, deer, and tobacco into the fire, howling without ceasing. One of them was "disfigured with a great skin, his head hung around with little skins of weasels and other vermin, with a crownlet of feathers on his head, painted as ugly as the devil." So fat they fed him that he much doubted they intended to sacrifice him to the Quiyoughquosicke, which is a superior power they worship: a more uglier thing cannot be described. These savages buried their dead with great sorrow and weeping, and they acknowledge no resurrection. Tobacco they offer to the water to secure a good passage in foul weather. The descent of the crown is to the first heirs of the king's sisters, "for the kings have as many women as they will, the subjects two, and most but one."

After Smith's return, as we have read, he was saved from a plot to take his life by the timely arrival of Captain Newport. Somewhere about this time the great fire occurred. Smith was now one of the Council; Martin and Matthew Scrivener, just named, were also councilors. Ratcliffe was still President. The savages, owing to their acquaintance with and confidence in Captain Smith, sent in abundance of provision. Powhatan sent once or twice a week "deer, bread, raugroughcuns (probably not to be confounded with the rahaughcuns [raccoons] spoken of before, but probably 'rawcomens,' mentioned in the Description of Virginia), half for Smith, and half for his father, Captain Newport." Smith had, in his intercourse with the natives, extolled the greatness of Newport, so that they conceived him to be the chief and all the rest his children, and regarded him as an oracle, if not a god.

Powhatan and the rest had, therefore, a great desire to see this mighty person. Smith says that the President and Council greatly envied his reputation with the Indians, and wrought upon them to believe, by giving in trade four times as much as the price set by Smith, that their authority exceeded his as much as their bounty.

We must give Smith the credit of being usually intent upon the building up of the colony, and establishing permanent and livable relations with the Indians, while many of his companions in authority seemed to regard the adventure as a temporary occurrence, out of which they would make what personal profit they could. The new-comers on a vessel always demoralized the trade with the Indians, by paying extravagant prices. Smith's relations with Captain Newport were peculiar. While he magnified him to the Indians as the great power, he does not conceal his own opinion of his ostentation and want of shrewdness. Smith's attitude was that of a priest who puts up for the worship of the vulgar an idol, which he knows is only a clay image stuffed with straw.

In the great joy of the colony at the arrival of the first supply, leave was given to sailors to trade with the Indians, and the new-comers soon so raised prices that it needed a pound of copper to buy a quantity of provisions that before had been obtained for an ounce. Newport sent great presents to Powhatan, and, in response to the wish of the "Emperor," prepared to visit him. "A great coyle there was to set him forward," says Smith. Mr. Scrivener and Captain Smith, and a guard of thirty or forty, accompanied him. On this expedition they found the mouth of the Pamaunck (now York) River. Arriving at Werowocomoco, Newport, fearing treachery, sent Smith with twenty men to land and make a preliminary visit. When they came ashore they found a network of creeks which were crossed by very shaky bridges, constructed of crotched sticks and poles, which had so much the appearance of traps that Smith would not cross them until many of the Indians had preceded him, while he kept others with him as hostages. Three hundred savages conducted him to Powhatan, who received him in great state. Before his house were ranged forty or fifty great platters of fine bread. Entering his house, "with loude tunes they made all signs of great joy." In the first account Powhatan is represented as surrounded by his principal women and chief men, "as upon a throne at the upper end of the house, with such majesty as I cannot express, nor yet have often seen, either in Pagan or Christian." In the later account he is "sitting upon his bed of mats, his pillow of leather embroidered (after their rude manner with pearls 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 of 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." This is the scene that figures in the old copper-plate engravings. The Emperor welcomed Smith with a kind countenance, caused him to sit beside him, and with pretty discourse they renewed their old acquaintance. Smith presented him with a suit of red cloth, a white greyhound, and a hat. The Queen of Apamatuc, a comely young savage, brought him water, a turkeycock, and bread to eat. Powhatan professed great content with Smith, but desired to see his father, Captain Newport. He inquired also with a merry countenance after the piece of ordnance that Smith had promised to send him, and Smith, with equal jocularity, replied that he had offered the men four demi-culverins, which they found too heavy to carry. This night they quartered with Powhatan, and were liberally feasted, and entertained with singing, dancing, and orations.

The next day Captain Newport came ashore. The two monarchs exchanged presents. Newport gave Powhatan a white boy thirteen years old, named Thomas Savage. This boy remained with the Indians and served the colony many years as an interpreter. Powhatan gave Newport in return a bag of beans and an Indian named Namontack for his servant. Three or four days they remained, feasting, dancing, and trading with the Indians.

In trade the wily savage was more than a match for Newport. He affected great dignity; it was unworthy such great werowances to dicker; it was not agreeable to his greatness in a peddling manner to trade for trifles; let the great Newport lay down his commodities all together, and Powhatan would take what he wished, and recompense him with a proper return. Smith, who knew the Indians and their ostentation, told Newport that the intention was to cheat him, but his interference was resented. The result justified Smith's suspicion. Newport received but four bushels of corn when he should have had twenty hogsheads. Smith then tried his hand at a trade. With a few blue beads, which he represented as of a rare substance, the color of the skies, and worn by the greatest kings in the world, he so inflamed the desire of Powhatan that he was half mad to possess such strange jewels, and gave for them 200 to 300 bushels of corn, "and yet," says Smith, "parted good friends."

At this time Powhatan, knowing that they desired to invade or explore Monacan, the country above the Falls, proposed an expedition, with men and boats, and "this faire tale had almost made Captain Newport undertake by this means to discover the South Sea," a project which the adventurers had always in mind. On this expedition they sojourned also with the King of Pamaunke.

Captain Newport returned to England on the 10th of April. Mr. Scrivener and Captain Smith were now in fact the sustainers of the colony. They made short expeditions of exploration. Powhatan and other chiefs still professed friendship and sent presents, but the Indians grew more and more offensive, lurking about and stealing all they could lay hands on. Several of them were caught and confined in the fort, and, guarded, were conducted to the morning and evening prayers. By threats and slight torture, the captives were made to confess the hostile intentions of Powhatan and the other chiefs, which was to steal their weapons and then overpower the colony. Rigorous measures were needed to keep the Indians in check, but the command from England not to offend the savages was so strict that Smith dared not chastise them as they deserved. The history of the colony all this spring of 1608 is one of labor and discontent, of constant annoyance from the Indians, and expectations of attacks. On the 20th of April, while they were hewing trees and setting corn, an alarm was given which sent them all to their arms. Fright was turned into joy by the sight of the Phoenix, with Captain Nelson and his company, who had been for three months detained in the West Indies, and given up for lost.

Being thus re-enforced, Smith and Scrivener desired to explore the country above the Falls, and got ready an expedition. But this, Martin, who was only intent upon loading the return ship with "his phantastical gold," opposed, and Nelson did not think he had authority to allow it, unless they would bind themselves to pay the hire of the ships. The project was therefore abandoned. The Indians continued their depredations. Messages daily passed between the fort and the Indians, and treachery was always expected. About this time the boy Thomas Savage was returned, with his chest and clothing.

The colony had now several of the Indians detained in the fort. At this point in the "True Relation" occurs the first mention of Pocahontas. Smith says: "Powhatan, understanding we detained certain Salvages, sent his daughter, a child of tenne years old, which not only for feature, countenance, and proportion much exceeded any of his people, but for wit and spirit, the only nonpareil of his country." She was accompanied by his trusty messenger Rawhunt, a crafty and deformed savage, who assured Smith how much Powhatan loved and respected him and, that he should not doubt his kindness, had sent his child, whom he most esteemed, to see him, and a deer, and bread besides for a present; "desiring us that the boy might come again, which he loved exceedingly, his little daughter he had taught this lesson also: not taking notice at all of the Indians that had been prisoners three days, till that morning that she saw their fathers and friends come quietly and in good terms to entreat their liberty."

Opechancanough (the King of "Pamauk") also sent asking the release of two that were his friends; and others, apparently with confidence in the whites, came begging for the release of the prisoners. "In the afternoon they being gone, we guarded them [the prisoners] as before to the church, and after prayer gave them to Pocahuntas, the King's daughter, in regard to her father's kindness in sending her: after having well fed them, as all the time of their imprisonment, we gave them their bows, arrows, or what else they had, and with much content sent them packing; Pocahuntas, also, we requited with such trifles as contented her, to tell that we had used the Paspaheyans very kindly in so releasing them."

This account would show that Pocahontas was a child of uncommon dignity and self-control for her age. In his letter to Queen Anne, written in 1616, he speaks of her as aged twelve or thirteen at the time of his captivity, several months before this visit to the fort.

The colonists still had reasons to fear ambuscades from the savages lurking about in the woods. One day a Paspahean came with a glittering mineral stone, and said he could show them great abundance of it. Smith went to look for this mine, but was led about hither and thither in the woods till he lost his patience and was convinced that the Indian was fooling him, when he gave him twenty lashes with a rope, handed him his bows and arrows, told him to shoot if he dared, and let him go. Smith had a prompt way with the Indians. He always traded "squarely" with them, kept his promises, and never hesitated to attack or punish them when they deserved it. They feared and respected him.

The colony was now in fair condition, in good health, and contented; and it was believed, though the belief was not well founded, that they would have lasting peace with the Indians. Captain Nelson's ship, the Phoenix, was freighted with cedar wood, and was despatched for England June 8, 1608. Captain Martin, "always sickly and unserviceable, and desirous to enjoy the credit of his supposed art of finding the gold mine," took passage. Captain Nelson probably carried Smith's "True Relation."