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Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763
The English Establish a Foothold at Jamestown
John Smith, Wounded, Retires from Virginia, 1609

The following excerpt from Smith's General History of Virginia, was written by Richard Pots, clerk of the Virginia Company, and two others. Thus the story of Smith's departure may be more objective than if Smith wrote the story himself (although, of course, Smith may have "edited" their account to some degree). Why did Smith leave Jamestown? What do the authors of this excerpt suggest about "might-have-beens"; that is, what do they suggest might have happened had Smith been able to stay in Jamestown?

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Smith Wounded, Leaves Jamestown

TO redresse those jarres and ill proceedings, the Treasurer, Councell, and Company of Virginia, not finding that returne, and profit they expected; and them ingaged there, not having meanes to subsist of themselves, made meanes to his Majestie, to call in their Commission, and take a new in their owne names, as in their owne publication, 1610. you may reade at large. Having thus annihilated the old by vertue of a Commission made to the right Honourable, Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warre, to be Generall of Virginia; Sir Thomas Gates, his Lieutenant; Sir George Somers, Admirall; Sir Thomas Dale, high Marshall; Sir Fardinando Wainman, Generall of the Horse; and so all other offices to many other worthy Gentlemen, for their lives: (though not any of them had ever beene in Virginia; except Captaine Newport, who was also by Patent made vice-Admirall:) those noble Gentlemen drew in such great summes of money, that they sent Sir Thomas Gates, Sir George Somers, and Captaine Newport with nine shippes, and five hundred people, who had each of them a Commission, who first arrived to call in the old, without the knowledge or consent of them, that had endured all those former dangers to beat the path, not any regard had at all of them. All things being ready, because those three Captaines could not agree for place, it was concluded they should goe all in one ship, so all their three Commissions were in that Ship with them called the Sea-Venture. They set sayle from England in May 1609. . . .

Sleeping in his Boate, (for the ship was returned two daies before) accidentallie, one fired his powder-bag, which tore the flesh from his body and thighes, nine or ten inches square in a most pittifull manner; but to quench the tormenting fire, frying him in his cloaths he leaped overboord into the deepe river, where ere they could recover him he was neere drowned. In this estate without either Chirurgian, or Chirurgery he was to goe neere an hundred myles. Arriving at James towne, causing all things to be prepared for peace or warres to obtaine provision, whilest those things were providing, Ratliffe, Archer, & the rest of their Confederates, being to come to their trials; their guiltie consciences, fearing a just reward for their deserts, seeing the President, unable to stand, and neere bereft of his senses by reason of his torment, they had plotted to have murdered him in his bed. But his heart did faile him that should have given fire to that mercilesse Pistoll. So not finding that course to be the best, they joyned together to usurpe the government, thereby to escape their punishment. The President, had notice of their projects, the which to withstand, though his old souldiers importuned him but permit them to take their heads that would resist his command, yet he would not suffer them, but sent for the Masters of the ships, and tooke order with them for his returne for England. Seeing there was neither Chirurgian, nor Chirurgery in the Fort to cure his hurt, and the ships to depart the next day, his Commission to be suppressed he knew not why, himselfe and souldiers to be rewarded he knew not how, and a new commission granted they knew not to whom (the which disabled that authority he had, as made them presume so oft to those mutinies as they did:) besides so grievous were his wounds, and so cruell his torments (few expecting he could live) nor was hee able to follow his busines to regaine what they had lost, suppresse those factions, and range the countries for provision as he intended; and well he knew in those affaires his owne actions and presence was as requisit as his directions, which now could not be, he went presently abroad, resolving there to appoint them governours, and to take order for the mutiners, but he could finde none hee thought fit for it would accept it. In the meane time, seeing him gone, they perswaded Master Percy to stay, who was then to goe for England, and be their President. Within lesse then an houre was this mutation begun and concluded. For when the Company understood Smith would leave them, & saw the rest in Armes called Presidents & Councellors, divers began to fawne on those new commanders, that now bent all their wits to get him resigne them his Commission: who after much adoe and many bitter repulses; that their confusion (which he tould them was at their elbowes) should not be attributed to him, for leaving the Colony without a Commission, he was not unwilling they should steale it, but never would he give it to such as they. . . .

But had that unhappie blast not hapned, he would quickly have qualified the heate of those humors, and factions, had the ships but once left them and us to our fortunes; and have made that provision from among the Salvages, as we neither feared Spanyard, Salvage, nor famine; nor would have left Virginia, nor our lawfull authoritie, but at as deare a price as we had bought it, and payd for it. What shall I say but thus, we left him, that in all his proceedings, made Justice his first guide, and experience his second, even hating basenesse, sloath, pride, and indignitie, more then any dangers; that never allowed more for himselfe, then his souldiers with him; that upon no danger would send them where he would not lead them himselfe; that would never see us want, what he either had, or could by any meanes get us; that would rather want then borrow, or starve then not pay; that loved action more then words, and hated falshood and covetousnesse worse then death; whose adventures were our lives, and whose losse our deaths.

Leaving us thus with three ships, seaven boats, commodities readie to trade, the harvest newly gathered, ten weeks provision in the store, foure hundred nintie and od persons, twentie-foure Peeces of Ordnance, three hundred Muskets, Snaphances, and Firelockes, Shot, Powder, and Match sufficient, Curats, Pikes, Swords, and Morrios, more then men; the Salvages, their language, and habitations well knowne to an hundred well trayned and expert Souldiers; Nets for fishing; Tooles of all sorts to worke; apparell to supply our wants; six Mares and a Horse; five or sixe hundred Swine; as many Hennes and Chickens; some Goats; some sheepe; what was brought or bred there remained. But they regarding nothing but from hand to mouth, did consume that wee had, tooke care for nothing, but to perfect some colourable complaints against Captaine Smith. For effecting, whereof three weekes longer they stayed the Ships, till they could produce them. That time and charge might much better have beene spent, but it suted well with the rest of their discretions.

Besides James towne that was strongly Pallizadoed, containing some fiftie or sixtie houses, he left five or sixe other severall Forts and Plantations: though they were not so sumptuous as our successors expected, they were better then they provided any for us. All this time we had but one Carpenter in the Countrey, and three others that could doe little, but desired to be learners: two Blacksmiths; two saylers, & those we write labourers were for most part footmen, and such as they that were Adventurers brought to attend them, or such as they could perswade to goe with them, that never did know what a dayes worke was, except the Dutch-men and Poles, and some dozen other. For all the rest were poore Gentlemen, Tradsmen, Serving-men, libertines, and such like, ten times more fit to spoyle a Common-wealth, then either begin one, or but helpe to maintaine one. For when neither the feare of God, nor the law, nor shame, nor displeasure of their friends could rule them here, there is small hope ever to bring one in twentie of them ever to be good there. Notwithstanding, I confesse divers amongst them, had better mindes and grew much more industrious then was expected: yet ten good workemen would have done more substantiall worke in a day, then ten of them in a weeke. Therefore men may rather wonder how we could doe so much, then use us so badly, because we did no more, but leave those examples to make others beware, and the fruits of all, we know not for whom.


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