Chapter 1: Early American Literature to 1700
and Puritanism

John Smith

Paul P. Reuben
  October 13, 2016

Outside Link: | Captain John Smith | Life of Capt. John Smith | The Pocahontas Archive | Virtual Jamestown Pocahontas Timeline |

Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap 1 - Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page |

Source: Movers - Renaissance and Reformation

Primary Works

A True Relation of. . Virginia, 1608; A Map of Virginia with a Description of the Country, 1612; A Description of New England, 1616; New Englands Trials, 1620; 1622; The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles, 1624; The True Travels, Adventures, and Ohservations of Captaine John Smith, 1630; Advertisements for the Unexperienced Plant-ers of New England, or Anywhere, 1631; The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580&emdash; 1631), 3 vols., ed. P.L. Barbour, 1986.

The generall historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles. NY: Reade Microprint, 1966. F229 .S633

Travels and works of Captain John Smith. Edited by Edward Arber. Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1910. F229 S655

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Elrod, Eileen R. Piety and Dissent: Race, Gender, and Biblical Rhetoric in Early American Autobiography. Amherst, MA: U of Massachusetts P, 2008.

Emerson, Everett. Captain John Smith. NY: Twayne, 1993.

Fuller, Mary C. Remembering the Early Modern Voyage: English Narratives in the Age of European Expansion. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Gray, Richard, and Owen Robinson. eds. A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American South. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

Hayes, Kevin J. Captain John Smith: a reference guide. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1991. F229 .S7 H38x

Read, David. New World, Known World: Shaping Knowledge in Early Anglo-American Writing. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2005.

Rountree, Helen C. and others. John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages 1607-1609. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2007.

Royster, Paul. ed. A Description of New England (1616): An Online Electronic Text Edition. Lincoln: U of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries Digital Commons, 2006.

| Top |John Smith (1580-1631): A Brief Biography
A Student Project by Jaime Ohlsson 

John Smith may sound like the name of a very ordinary man, but in truth he was one of the more colorful characters in early America. Without the contributions he made to the birthing of the nation, the world would not be the same. Fascination over Smith is shared by both literary critics and historians alike. Most historians do not regard him as a great man, morally or ethically, but without question, he played a significant role in the written records of the early colonization of America.

Smith was born into a Yeoman (farming) family in Willoughby, Lincolnshire, England in 1580. He went to public school in 1592-95 in Alford and Louth, nearby towns. Shortly before his father's death, Smith became an apprentice to Thomas Sendall, a merchant. His father, George Smith, died in 1596 and left him his farm.

With the inheritance his father left him, Smith was able to begin a lifetime of adventuring at an early age (Leary, 289). In 1597-99, he fought in the Dutch war of independence against Spain in the Netherlands. He returned home and studied Niccolo Machievelli's The Art of War, which would prove to help him a great deal in later battles (Leary, 290). In 1600, Smith joined the Austrian army in warfare against the Ottoman Turks. On the way to Italy, Smith was thrown overboard in a storm and was rescued by a French merchantman. The two worked together in attacking and looting rival vessels, giving Smith even more money to spend on his adventures. Once back in action, Smith helped defeat much of the Turkish army, himself beheading three of the Turks. He was permitted to decorate his shield with a picture of the three heads in 1602, right before he was captured as a slave.

As a slave in Constantinople, Smith's owner, Charatza Tragabigzanda took a liking to him. She sent him to her brother so that her mother could not sell him. Smith wound up killing the brother in order to escape. After returning to the Holy Roman Empire, he was presented money and a document citing his achievements.

In 1604, Smith traveled all over Europe: to Germany, France, Spain, and Morocco. He was involved in a sea fight off the African Coast before returning home to England. Once back home, he became interested in settling on some land in Virginia. He set out by ship with 144 other colonists and arrived in the New World in 1606. Once again, troubles were not far behind, as 'During the voyage, probably for lack of tact in explaining to another seasoned adventurer how this venture should be managed, Smith was placed under arrest." (Leary, 290) Soon after, the colonists arrived at an area now known as Jamestown. As a result of colonists' poor preparation, many starved there, and there were fights with the Indians. Due to their desperate straits, Smith spent his time exploring and trying to get corn in any way possible from the Indians. He was thus made the supply officer for the group.

Because of his unethical behavior, the Powhatan Indians kidnapped Smith and almost executed him. According to his story in The General Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, Pocahontas put her head on top of his so that he would not be executed. This is the third time Smith was saved by a woman: "The beauteous Lady Tragabigzanda aided him when he was a captive of the Turks; the Lady Callamata gave him succor after he arrived half dead from his fearful flight from Turkish captivity across the Russian steppes to the Don; and Pocahontas saved his life in the New World whence he had gone to add new deeds to the brave adventures already accomplished in the old." (Rozwenc 30).

Many historians and literary scholars question the veracity of the Pocahontas story. As Thomas P. Slaughter states, "He baldly transformed the famous story of his brief captivity by Indians from a tale of tribal nobility to an adventure-romance in which Smith was delivered from imminent decapitation through the direct intercession of Pocahontas. After years of recounting his experiences in founding Virginia, Smith suddenly included the Indian maiden in the story, after she had become an English celebrity of sorts, and after her death and the demise of all others who might prove the lie to his revised version." (Slaughter 220) Robert S. Tilton explains in his review of the book, Did Pocahontas Save John Smith?, that it is nearly impossible to know whether or not Smith made up the story. It is a question that will be left hanging forever.

Smith's writings have received much criticism over the years because of its inconsistency. According to David Read in Modern Philology, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles "is full of internal contradictions, second-and third hand information, jarring juxtapositions of tone, and passages of uncertain authorship." (Read 429) However, Read goes on to explain that perhaps his writing is incoherent because colonization itself is not coherent.

Smith returned to England in 1608 and published A True Relation. He did more exploring in the United States and was made president of the colony of Jamestown.

He then went back to England again and worked on A Map of Virginia.

In 1609 Smith was burnt very badly by his gun powder bag exploding while he was in America. He returned once again to England to work on more literature. He explored New England in 1614 and was named Admiral. While traveling back to America from England in 1615, he was captured by pirates. He worked on A Description of New England before returning to England. Smith requested a financial grant to start a colony in New England in 1618. New England Trials was published in 1620. In 1622, The General Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles was published.

Smith published several other works before his death in 1631. Many people gleaned advice from his writings on how to establish colonies. Although the Puritans rejected him because of their religious bias, they made good use of his maps. Unfortunately, John Smith died in poverty.

Although John Smith may seem vainglorious in his writings, he contributed a great deal to the growth of the new colonies. His writings helped get the New World started and influenced future writers for years. Not only was John Smith a writer, he was an adviser and an expert on new lands (Leary 291). Despite the suspicions of scholars, the historical value of his works is something that cannot be denied. Without the hard work he put into his recordings and maps, the colonists to follow would have had little to go by and would have perhaps lacked a vision for the new world's promise: "He sang of himself but also of the bounty and beauty of the New World, its rugged shores, its fertile fields, sweet brooks and crystal springs, and of possibilities there for people bound in Europe by persecution and poverty." (Leary 292) His influence on American literature lasts until today.

Works Cited

Barbour, Philip L. The Three Worlds of Captain John Smith. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1964.

Emerson, Everett H. Captain John Smith. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1971.

Fleming, Thomas. "John Smith. American Historians, 1607-1865. 30 vols. Ed. Clyde N. Wilson. Detroit: Edward Brothers, Inc., 1984.

Leary, Lewis. "John Smith." American Colonial Writers, 1606-1734. 30 vols. Ed. Emory Elliot. Detroit: Edward Brothers, Inc., 1984.

Read, David. "Colonialism and Coherence: The Case of Captain John Smith's Generall Historie of Virginia." Modern Philology 91.4 (May 1994): 428-48.

Rozwenc, Edwin C. "Captain John Smith's Image of America." The William and Mary Quarterly 16 (1959): 27-36.

Slaughter, Thomas P. "John Smith, Uomo Universale." Reviews in American History 15.2 (1987): 220-225.

Smith, John. The General Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles. 1624. USA: Readex Microprint, 1966.

Tilton, Robert S. "Did Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith?" The William and Mary Quarterly 52 (1995): 714-16.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 1: John Smith." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: (provide page date or date of your login).

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