Captain John Smith: Hero or Villain?

By | July 28, 2019

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Captain John Smith. Source: (

John Smith was a lot of things - an explorer, cartographer, and founder of the Jamestown colony as well as a writer. He was not, however, the romantic hero that Disney made him out to be in the 1995 animated film, Pocahontas. Some might say he actually had more in common with the villain of the movie. In any case, he was a major player in the early settlement of the New World and his books inspired later settlers.

Jon Smith was born in 1579 or 1580 and baptized on January 6, 1580, in Willoughby, Lincolnshire, England. He lived on his family’s farm until his teen years when became an apprentice to a wealthy merchant. Around the age of 16 or 17, he joined the military and he fought on the side of the Netherlands during their war for independence. He returned to England in 1599, but left again in 1601, this time as a mercenary fighting for the Austrian forces against the Ottoman Empire. He was promoted to captain before being captured by the enemy and forced into slavery. He eventually killed his captor and escaped, returning to England around 1604 or 1605.

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The Ottoman Empire in 1600 A.D. Source: (

After returning to England, Smith met with Captain Bartholomew Gosnold and joined an expedition of colonists sponsored by the Virginia Company of London. They set sail on December 20, 1606, and arrived at the Chesapeake Bay on April 26, 1607, disembarking on May 14 at the future site of Jamestown. Smith was made part of the colony’s governing council. He worked alongside John Ratcliffe, the president of the colony, and was in charge of bartering with the native tribes for food. He also explored the area through a series of river voyages and was later able to draw a map of Virginia based upon his exploration.