American History Stories—Volume I - Mara L. Pratt

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt

The Colonies

I am going to ask you now to take a long trip with me, out of the period of discoveries over into the period of the colonies. You must not imagine that these few men I have told you about made all the discoveries in the new America.

There were many more, so many, that I think you might read about them every day for a whole year, and then not read the half. Hundreds and hundreds of men had been sent over by England, France, Spain, and many other European countries. These men had wandered about the country, daring much and suffering much, sometimes fighting and killing the Indians, and sometimes getting killed themselves.

Sometimes a band of these men would come over, intending to build towns and live here together, as they had lived in their old homes in Europe; but for a long time something would always happen to prevent their success. Often the men grew homesick, or they grew lazy; or, worse still, the Indians who had now good reason to hate the pale-faces, as they called the white men, would fall upon them and scalp them and slay them with their tomahawks.

But in spite of all the efforts of the Indians the pale-face colonies finally succeeded, and in due time there came to be little towns up and down the sea-coast.

It was as early as 1535 that the French came over to Florida, and built two forts and made a settlement of importance. For some time these French people lived in their settlement, happy and prosperous. But one day some Spanish vessels arrived, and claiming the country because they had first discovered it, they took possession of the French settlement, and massacred the people. There they built a fort for themselves, and made plans for building a town. This they did, and a successful town it proved; for it still stands—the old fort and all—at St. Augustine in Florida. And now people go to visit it, and wander about the old fort, and up and down the quaint narrow streets, and say, "This is the oldest town in America!"

It was not until 1607, however, that settlement by the English began in real earnest. At that time a number of men, having permission from the English government to come to America and found a colony, set sail from London. They reached the mouth of a river in Virginia, which they named the James, in honor of their English king. The town they began to build they named Jamestown.

One of the leading men of this company was John Smith. He was a very wise and able man, and seemed always to do the right thing at just the right time.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


The story of his life is as interesting as a novel. If there were time I would tell you some of his strange adventures at sea and on the battlefield.

One adventure of his in Jamestown colony will show you what a brave man he was, and how a little Indian girl saved his life. John Smith had started up the river on an exploring expedition. Some Indians had been watching him, and when Smith left his boat they seized it, scalped the men he had left with it, and then ran to overtake Smith himself.

When he saw them coming he turned and fought them so furiously that, although there were many of them, they had much trouble to secure him. They led him to their camp. Here he entertained them by showing them his compass, and told them how the needle always turned to the north. This amused the Indians so much that they allowed him to live some weeks in peace. They decided at last that he was too wise, and therefore dangerous to have about; and that the sooner he was killed the safer it would be for them. So, when they had held a long council, and had performed some wonderful war dances around him, they led him forth to be killed.

Poor Smith could see no way of escape; and, as he used to tell afterwards, he was more frightened than he had been when in his younger days he was thrown overboard from a ship or when he fought the Turks.

He was brought out, bound hand and foot, and a savage had already raised his war-club to dash out his brains, when just then up rushed little Pocahontas, the daughter of the great Indian Chief, Powhatan, threw her arms around John Smith's neck, and begged the chief to spare his life. Strange to say, the cruel old chief seemed moved by the child's pleading, and the prisoner was released, and even allowed to return to Jamestown.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt

(From an Old Print)

For some time John Smith remained in the little white settlement, guiding the affairs of the colony. As long as he was there all went well, for Smith was a very wise man, and not afraid to work hard with the other men in making the settlement a pleasant home. At last, however, having met with a severe injury, he was obliged to return for a time to England.

You would suppose that after he was gone the men would have been wise enough to keep on tilling the ground and building their houses. But, instead, when John Smith returned to Jamestown he found the men quarreling among themselves. They had used up the provisions and were almost starving. Had Smith not returned just when he did, I fear they would have given up the colony and gone back to England. But Smith worked hard to save Jamestown; and for a time he prevailed upon the men to stop their foolish quarreling, and to go to work to build up the colony and protect it from the Indians.

Later he made many voyages along the American coast, exploring the shores as far as Canada.

The Indians, however, were never quite friendly; and after years and years of continual quarreling with them, the Jamestown colonists determined to have peace in some way. One of them, Captain Argall, thought it would be a good plan to steal Pocahontas, and then send word to the Indians that they would do her no harm so long as the colony was not troubled. Pocahontas was now a young woman nearly nineteen years old and was said to be very beautiful. At any rate, soon after coming to the colony she won the heart of a young Englishman named John Rolfe, and he took her to his old home in England.

Pocahontas was received in England with much honor, and came to be greatly loved by all who knew her.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


It was Rolfe's plan to spend a few months in England and then to return to the colony in America, and make for himself and Pocahontas a home in which they hoped to live the rest of their lives. But Pocahontas began to fail in health. Probably the change from her free forest life to the close house life of an English city was more than she could bear. Day by day Pocahontas grew weaker and at last she died.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


She left a little baby boy who was as beautiful, it is said, as his mother had been. John Rolfe took the little one to America, and there he grew up in the colony. Some of the good families in Virginia to-day are proud to say that they are descendants from the little son of Pocahontas.