Captain John Smith

Colonial Leader


Born in 1580 in Willoughby, England.

He left home at 16 after his father died.

Becoming a Captain

Two years later, he set off for the Mediterranean Sea, working on a merchant ship. In 1600 he joined Austrian forces to fight the Turks in the "Long War." A valiant soldier, he was promoted to Captain while fighting in Hungary

Virginia Company

Here begins Captain John Smith's American adventures. Apparently restless in England, Smith became actively involved with plans by the Virginia Colony to colonize Virginia for profit, as had been granted by a charter from King James I.

"History is the memory of time, the life of the dead and the happiness of the living."

Personal conflicts among Smith and various leaders, as well as disagreements over new policies being formulated in London, added to the discontent. As a result, Smith left Jamestown to explore and map the Chesapeake Bay region and search for badly needed food supplies.

"I call them my children," he says of the American settlements, "for they have been my wife, my hawks, my hounds, my cards, my dice and in total, my best content, as indifferent to my heart as my left hand to my right."

Due to bad government and near chaos, Smith was eventually elected president of the local council in September 1608. He instituted a policy of rigid discipline, strengthened defenses, and he encouraged farming with this admonishment: "He who does not work, will not eat." Because of his strong leadership, the settlement survived and grew during the next year.

Unfortunately, Smith was accidentally injured by a gunpowder burn and had to return to England for treatment in October 1609, never to return to Virginia.