John Smith

Captain John Smith is often mentioned in American history classes. Still, it wasn’t until the Disney movie “Pocahontas” was released that the world became more familiar with the name and the man.

Although the movie was a bit of fabrication and a bit of truth, John Smith was a famous leader and explorer that was best known for founding the Virginia Jamestown Colony.


Where did they live?

Smith was born in 1580 in Willoughby, England, to a farming family that rented their land from one of the local lords. John attended school until his father died when he was a teenager. At that point, John had to support himself. He was a daring and tough 16-year-old, and he set out on the adventure of his life.

The following years found John working as a mercenary (soldier that people could hire) and a seaman. He was in the battle for Europe fighting or Dutch independence and then fought against the Ottoman Turks in Hungary. When he was in Hungary, he battled in three duals against commanders of the Turks and won all of them.

Facts about John Smith

  • By 1602 John was captured and sold into slavery but managed to escape. It took him two years to travel throughout Europe before he returned home to England.
  • John Smith joined the Virginia Company in England as part of the venture to create a Virginia settlement. This would eventually be known as Jamestown and was the first English colony in the New World.
  • The three ships that set out were the Godspeed, Susan Constant, and the Discovery. While he was on the boat, John was verbal about his feelings against the English government and the captain of the expedition that he was on. Eventually, he was arrested for mutiny and locked up, with a plan to execute him once they arrived in Virginia.
  • Upon arrival, the captain opened a box with instructions from the Virginia Company, and it indicated that Smith was supposed to be one of the colony leaders. John was released and allowed to live.
  • Setting up the Jamestown colony was hard. They lost many from starvation and disease, and the men had little interest in anything but looking for treasure. Very few that arrived knew anything about farming, fishing, or hunting.
  • By 1608, John Smith was the colony president. By this time, Smith may have been tough, but he also had an ego. Almost none of the settlers like him, but they knew he had good leadership strength, and that might help them to survive.
  • Smith required that everyone had to work and instituted a motto “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.”
  • It was Smith that established good relations with the local Native Indians and their leader, Powhatan. He met with the leader face to face and was captured. It was here that Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, stepped in to save his life and release him. The relationship between the colony and the tribe got better.
  • Thanks to John Smith, the Jamestown colony began to improve. However, in 1609, Smith had a leg injury due to an accident with gunpowder; he had to go back to England to recover.
  • Once he was well, Smith led another expedition to explore the northern coast of the New World. He named this area “New England” and created a map of the northeastern coastline.
  • Smith went back to England and retired to write about his adventures. Smith was known to embellish his stories, so historians take a lot of that into consideration.
  • Smith died in 1631.

What did you learn?

How old was John Smith when his father died, and he had to support himself?


What were two of the first types of jobs that John Smith did?

Seaman and mercenary

What was the name of the company John Smith joined to create a settlement in the New World?

The Virginia Company

What saved John Smith’s life during his first voyage to the New World?

Instructions from the Virginia Company that he was to be one of the leaders of the settlement

When John Smith was captured by Powhatan, who saved his life?


What was the purpose of John Smith’s last expedition to the New World?

Explore the northern coastline