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Excerpts from John Smith’s 1608 Account of Virginia

In preparation for tomorrow’s Atlantic History class I have decided to release the source in written as well as the usual audio format.  Unfortunately there was a small section of the podcast release which featured distorted sound which may have made a small section hard to follow.  Here is the full text which will be studied by the seminar group.  As always, I will live tweet throughout the class (follow @ThatHistorian) and the session will be released as a podcast episode at a later date.  You can download the audio of this source by RIGHT CLICKING HERE AND SAVING THE FILE or via iTunes by CLICKING HERE



Kinde Sir, commendations remembred &c. You shall understand that after many crosses in the downes by tempests, wee arrived safely uppon the Southwest part of the great Canaries: within four or five daies after we set sail for Dominica, the 26. Of Aprill: the first land we made, wee fell with Cape Henry, the verie mouth of the Bay of Chissapiacke, which at that present we little expected, having by a cruell storme bene put to the Northward:


Anchoring in this Bay, twentie or thirtie went a shore with the Captain, and in coming aboard, they were assalted with certaine Indians, which charged them within Pistoll shot: in which conflict, Captaine Archer and Mathew Morton were shot: whereupon, Captaine Newport seconding them, made a shot at them, which the Indians little respected, but having spent their arrowes retyred without harme, and in that place was the Box opened, wherin the Counsell for Virginia was nominated: and arriving at the place where wee are now seated, the Counsell was sworne, the President elected, which for that yeare was Maister Edm. Maria Wingfield, where was made choice for our scituation a verie fit place for the erecting of a great cittie, about which some contention passed betwixt Capatain Wingfield and Captaine Gosnold, notwithstanding all our provision was brought a shore, and with as much speede as might bee wee went about our fortification.


The two and twenty day of Aprill, Captain Newport and my selfe with divers others, to the other number of twenty two persons, set forward to discover the River, some fiftie or sixtie miles, finding it in some places broader, & in some narrower, the Countrie (for the moste part) on each side plaine high ground, with many fresh Springes, the people in all places kindely intreating us, daunsing and feasting us with strawberries, Mulberries, Bread, Fish, and other their Countrie provisions wherof we had plenty: for which Captaine Newport kindely requited their least favours with Bels, Pinnes, Needles, beades, or Glassas, which so contented them that his liberallities made them follow us from place to place, ever kindely to respect us. In the midway staying to refresh our selves in little Ile foure or five savages came unto us which described unto us the course of the River, and after in our journey, they often met us, trading with us for such provision as wee had, and ariving at Arsatecke, hee whom we supposed to bee the chiefe King of all the rest, moste kindely entertained us, giving us in a guide to go with us up the River to Powhatan, of which place their great Emperor taketh his name… But to finish this discoverie, we passed on further, where within an ile we were intercepted with great craggy stones in the midst of the river, where the water falleth so rudely, and with such a violence, as not any boat can possibly passe, and so broad disperseth the streame, as there is not past five or sixe Foote at a low water, and to the shore scarce passage with a barge, the water floweth foure foote, and the freshes by reason of the Rockes have left markes of the inundation 8. or 9. Foote…


That night we returned to Powhatan: the next day (being Whitsunday after dinner) we returned to the fals, leaving a mariner in pawn with the Indians for a guide of theirs, hee that they honoured for King followe us by the river (further he would not goe) so there we erected a crosse, and that night taking our man at Powhatans, Captaine Newport congratulated his kindenes with a Gown and a Hatchet: returning to Arsetecke, and stayed there the next day to observe the height therof, & so with many signes of love we departed.


The next day the Queene of Agamatack kindely intreated us, her people being no lesse contented then the rest, and from thence we went to another place, (the name wherof I doe not remember) where the people shewed us the manner of their diving of Mussels, in which they finde Pearles.


That night passing by Weanock some twentie miles from our Fort, they according to their former churlish condition, seemed little to affect us, but as wee departed and lodged at the point of Weanocke, the people the next morning seemed kindely to content us, yet we might perceive many signs of a more Jealousie in them then before, and also the Hinde that the King of Arseteck had given us, altered his resolution in going to our Fort, and with many kinde circumstances left us there. This gave us some occasion to doubt some mischiefe at the Fort…but the instant change of the winde being faire for our return we repaired to the fort withall speed, where the first we heard was that 400. Indians the day before assalted the fort, & surprised it, had not God (beyond al their expectations) by meanes of the shippes at whom they shot with their Ordinances and Muskets), caused them to retire, they had entred the fort with our own men, which were then busied in setting Corne… With all speede we pallisadoed our Fort: (each other day) for sixe or seaven daies we had alarums by ambuscadoes, and foure or five cruelly wounded by being abroad: the Indians losse wee know not, but as they report three were slain and divers hurt.


Captaine Newport having set things in order, set saile for England the 22 of June, leaving provision for 13. or 14 weeks. The day before the Ships departure, the king of Pamaunke sent the Indian that had met us before in our discoverie, to assure us peace, our fort being then pallisadoed round, and all our men in good health and comfort, albeit, that throgh some discontented humors, it did not so long continue, for the President and Captaine Gosnold, with the rest of the Counsell being for the moste part discontented with one another, in so much, that things were neither carried with that discretion nor any busines effected in such good sort as wisdome would, nor our owne good and safetie required thereby, and through the hard dealings of our President, the rest of the counsell being diverslie affected through his audacious commaund, and for Captaine Martin, (albeit verie honest) and wishing the best good, yet so sicke and weake, and my selfe disgrac’d through others mallice, through which disorder God (being angrie with us) plagued us with such famin and sicknes, that the living were scarce able to bury the dead… onely of Sturgion wee had great store, whereon our men would so greedily surfet, as it cost manye their lives: the Sack, Aquatie, and other preservatives for our health, being kept onely in the Presidents hands, for his owne diet, and his few associates.


About the tenth of September there was about 46. of our men dead, at which time Captaine Wingefield having ordred the affaires in such sort that he was generally hated of all, in which respect with one consent he was deposed from his presidencie, and Captaine Ratcliffe according to his course was elected.


Our provision now being within twentie dayes spent, the Indians brought us great store both of Corne and bread ready made: and also there came such aboundance of Fowles into the Rivers, as greatly refreshed our weake estates, where uppon many of our weake men were presently able to goe abroad.


As yet we had no houses to cover us, our tents were rotten and our Cabbins worse than nought: our best commodities was Yron which we made into little chissels.


As at this time were most of our chiefest men either sicke or discontented, the rest being in such dispaire, as they would rather starve and rot with idleness, then be persuaded to do any thing for their owne reliefe without constraint: our victualles being now within eighteene dayes spent, and the Indians trade decreasing, I was sent to the mouth of the river to…trade for Corne, and try the river for Fish, but our fishing we could not effect by reason of the stormy weather. The Indians thinking us neare famished, with carelesse kindnes, offered us little pieces of bread and small handfulls of beanes or wheat, for a hatchet or a piece of copper: In like maner I entertained their kindnes, and in like scorne offered them like commodities, but the Children, or any that shewe extraordinary kundnes, I liberally confronted with free gifte such trifles as wel contented them.


Finding this colde comfort, I anchored before the Town, and the next day returned to trade, but God (the absolute disposer of all heartes) altered their conceits, for now they were no lesse desirous of our commodities then we of their Corne…


The 9 of November I set forward for the discovery of the country of Chikhamania, leaving the pinnace the next tid to followe, and stay for my coming at Point weanock 20 miles from our fort: the mouth of this river falleth into the great river at Paspahegh, 8 miles above our fort…


Having thus by Gods assistance gotten good store of corne, notwithstanding some bad spirits not content with Gods providence, still grew mutinous; in so much, that our president having occasion to chide the smith for his misdemeanour, he not only gave him bad language, but also offred to strike him with some of his tooles. For which rebellious act, the smith was by a Jury condemned to be hanged, but being uppon the ladder, continuing very obstinate as hoping upon a rescue, when he saw no other way but death with him, he became penitent, and declared a dangerous conspiracy: for which, Captaine Kendall, as principal, was by a Jury condemned, and shot to death.


This conspiracy appeased, I set forward for the discovery of the River Checka Hamania…


…  I heard a loud cry, and a hollowing of Indians, but no warning peece… 20 or 30 arrowes were shot at me but short. 3 or 4 times I had discharged my pistoll ere the king of Pamaunck called Opekenkenough with 200 men invironed me, eache drawing their bowe: which done they laid them upon the ground, yet without shot:


My hinde teated betwixt them and me of conditions of peace; he discovered me to be the Captaine: my request was to retire to the boate: they demaunded my armes, the rest they saide were slaine, onely me they would reserve:


The Indian importuned me not to shoot. In retiring being in the midst of a low quagmire, and minding them more then my steps, I stept fast into the quagmire, and also the Indian in drawing me forth:


Thus surprised, I resolved to trie their mercies: my armes I caste from me, till which none durst approach me.


Being ceazed on me, they drew me out and led me to the King. I presented him with a compasse diall, describing by my best meanes the use therof: whereat he so amazedly admired, as he suffered me to proceed in a discourse of the roundness of the earth, the course of the sunne, moone, starres and plannets.


With kinde speeches and bread he requited me, conducting me where the Canow lay and John Robbinson slaine, with 20 or 30 arrowes in him. Emry I saw not…


Each morning 3 women presented me three great platters of fine bread, more venison then ten men could devour I had: my gowne, points and garters, my compass and my tablet they gave me again. Though 8 ordinarily guarded me, I wanted not what they could devise to content me: and still our longer acquaintance increased our better affection.


The next day after my letter, came a salvage to my lodging. With his sword, to have slaine me: but being by my guard intercepted, with a bowe and arrow he offred to have effected his purpose: the cause I knew not, till the King understanding thereof came and told me of a man a dying, wounded with my pistol…the King presently conducted me to another Kingdome…


Arriving at Weramocomoco, their Emperour proudly lying uppon a Bedstead a foote high, upon tenne or twelves Mattes, richly hung…At heade sat a woman, at his feete another; on each side sitting uppon a Matte uppon the ground, were raunged his chiefe men on each side of the fire, tenne in a ranke, and behinde them as many young women, each a great Chaine of white Beaddes over their shoulders, their heades painted in redde: and with such a grave and Majesticall countenance, as draue me into admiration to see such state in a naked Salvage…


…Hee asked me the cause of our coming.


After good deliberation, hee began to describe mee the Countreys beyonde the Falles…


The Empereur Powhatan, each weeke once or twice, sent me many presents of Deare, bread Raugroughcuns…


[W]e came ashore, the King with a solemne discourse, causing all to depart but his principall men: and this was the effect.


When as hee perceived that we had a desire to invade Monacum, against whom he was no professed enemmy: yet thus farre he would assist us in his enterprise.


First hee would send his spies, perfectly to understand their strength and abilitie to fight, with which he would acquaint us himselfe. Captaine Nuport would not be seene in it himselfe, being great Werowances. They would stay at home: but I, Maister Scrivener, and two of his Sonnes, and Opechankanough the King of Pamaunke should have 100 of his men to goe before as though they were hunting; they giving us notise where was the advantage, we should kill them: the weomen and young children he wished we would spare, and bring them to him. Only 100 or 150 of our men he held sufficient for this exploit. Our boats should stay at the falls, where we might hew timber, which we might convey, each man a piece, till we were past the stones; and there joyne them to passe our men by water. If any were shot, his men should bring them backe to our boats.


This faire tale had almost made Captaine Nuport undertake by this meanses to discover the South sea: which will not be without trecherie, if wee ground our intent upon his constancie.


This day we spent in trading, dancing, and much mirth…


At our Fort, the tooles we had, were so ordinarily stolen by the Indians, as necessity inforced us to correct their braving the everie: for he that stole to day, durst come againe the next day. One amongst the rest, having stolen two swords, I got the Counsels consent to set in the bilboes. The next day, with three more, he came, with their woodden swordes, in the midst of our men to steale. Their custome is to take and thing they can ceaze off: onely the people of Pamaunke wee have not found stealing, but what others can steale, their King receiveth. I bad them depart, but flourishing their swords, they seemed to defend what they could catch but one of our hands: his pride urged me to turne him from amongst us, whereat he offred to strike me with his sword; which I prevented, striking him first. The rest offring to revenge the blow, received such an incounter, and fled. The better to afright them, I pursued them with five or sixe shot, and so chased them out of the Iland.


Powhatan understanding we detaine certaine Salvages, sent his Daughter, a child of tenne years old: which, not only for feature, countenance, and proportion, much exceedeth any of the rest of his people: but for wit and spirit…This hee sent by his most trustie messenger, called Rawhunt, as much exceeding in deformitie of person; but of a subtill wit and crafty understanding.


He, with a long circumstance, told mee, how well Powhatan loved and respected mee; and in that I should not doubt any way of his kindnesse, he had sent his child, which he most esteemed, to see me; a Deare and bread besides, for a present: desiring me that the Boy might come againe, which he loved exceedingly. His litle Daughter hee had taught this lesson also, not taking notice at all of the Indeans that had beene prisoners three daies, till that morning that she saw their fathers and friends come quietly, and in good tearmes to entreate their libertie.


Opechankanough sent also unto us, that for his sake, we would release two that were his friends: and for a token, sent me his shooting Glove and Bracer, which the day our men was taken upon; separating himselfe from the rest a long time, intreated to speake with me, where in token of peace, he had preferred me the same. Now all of them having found their peremptorie conditions but to increase our malice; which they seeing us begin to threaten to destroy them, as familiarly as before, without suspition or feare, came amongst us, to begge libertie for their men.


In the afternoone, they being gone, we guarded them as before to the Church; and after prayer, gave them to Pocahantas, the Kings Daughter, in regard of her fathers kindnesse in sending her. After having well fed them, as all the time of their imprisonment, we gave them their bowes, arrowes, or what else they had; and with much content, sent them packing. Pocahuntas also we requited with such trifles as contented her, to tel that we had used the Paspaheyans very kindly in so releasing them.

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