The entire colony would no doubt have perished before the return of Newport but for the courage and vigor of one man, the most notable and conspicuous character in the early colonial history of America -John Smith.
was still a young man, but according to his
own story, his
record was an extraordinary one.
When scarcely beyond boyhood he joined the French army and later that of the Netherlands in which he served for several years.
then embarked on the Mediterranean and was thrown overboard as a heretic, swam to an uninhabited island, was picked up by a vessel and carried to Egypt.
We next find him traversing Italy on foot, slaying three Turks successively in single combat in Transylvania, and at length captured by the Turks and sold into slavery.
mater with a flail, escaped into the Scythian Desert, wandered through every country of Europe, and joined the Virginia colonists soon after reaching his
It was now left for his
sojourn in the American forest to furnish the crowning romance of his
While exploring the Chickahominy River he
was taken captive by the Indians.
After entertaining his
captors for several days with a pocket compass and such curios, he
was condemned to death by the savages.
head was laid on the block when at the last moment a little daughter of the chief, named Pocahontas, rushed forward, laid her
head upon the head of the intended victim, and begged that his
life be spared.
request was granted, and he
was sent back rejoicing to his
This romantic story, as also the account of his
other adventures above mentioned, rests wholly on Smith's own testimony, and most historical writers in recent years are disposed to discredit them, especially the story of his
rescue by the Indian girl.
It seems clear that John Smith
gave a highly colored narrative in relating his
adventures, but there is reason to believe that the story of his
rescue by Pocahontas is true.
6The only ground for doubting the story is Smith's well-known spirit of boasting and the fact that in his
first account of his
capture by the Indians he
does not mention this incident.
On the other hand, there is one powerful argument, which seems almost conclusive, in favor of the truth of the story.
It was not an unusual occurrence among many Indian tribes, when they were about to put a captive to death, for some impulsive Indian, usually a female and in most cases a member of the chief's family, to be the life of the intended victim at the last moment.7Such a request was seldom denied, and the rescue was usually followed by a formal adoption of the rescued one into the tribe; and this is exactly what Smith claimed was done in his case, though he was given his freedom to return to his colony.
How could he
have invented a story coinciding so perfectly with an Indian custom with which he
could not have been familiar?
Such a thing is far less credible than the story itself.
It is not disputed, however, that John Smith
was a man of wonderful energy, and that he
did more for Virginia than any other of the early settlers.
He soon became governor of the colony, and he saved the colonists from starvation by trading with the Indians for corn.
succeeded above all others in keeping the men at work and thus laid the foundations for future prosperity.
later explored Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and afterward the New England coast, and he
made maps of them that are remarkable for their accuracy.
Others came from time to time, and in 1609, when John Smith
returned to England, the colony
numbered five hundred.
Of the five hundred left by Smith
the fall before only sixty remained alive in the spring of 1610.