Builders of our Country Vol. I - G. Southworth

John Smith and Pocahontas

I. The Jamestown Colony and the Adventures of John Smith

In the year 1606 two companies were formed in England to make settlements in America. One of these was called the London Company, the other the Plymouth Company.

On the first day of January, 1607, the London Company sent out three vessels with one hundred and five colonists, all men. Of these, fifty-two were men of wealthy families who had never had to work. This was very unfortunate for a colony that had to make its way in an unfarmed land.

The colonists had been told to put ashore on Roanoke Island, where Raleigh's ill-fated colonists had been. But a storm drove the ships into Chesapeake Bay, and the new-comers sailed up a beautiful river which they named after King James. It was now the middle of May. The place looked inviting; the shores were covered with beautiful flowers and shrubs, and so the colonists determined to settle there. They built a little town and named it Jamestown.

But it was not an easy task this founding a colony. The food gave out. The hot Virginia sun and the terrible fever killed many. Within a few months half of the settlers had died, and the remainder would have starved had not some kind Indians brought corn and fruit.

In time, however, the intense heat of summer gave place to the glorious days of autumn, and the settlers became hopeful again.

Territory of Virginia

By great good fortune there was a wonderful man in this colony, and had it not been for him the settlers at Jamestown might all have perished. This was Captain John Smith. Through his ability and good judgment, the colony finally won its footing.

John Smith was born in 1579, in England. His life was one of continuous adventure, much of which he tells in his autobiography. Many think that he has exaggerated his accounts of his daring adventures and narrow escapes from death; but he was nevertheless a wonderful man, and his life as he tells it is very interesting.

When yet a boy Smith was very fond of adventure. He was anxious to travel and tee strange lands, so at the age of fifteen he sold his books and ran away with the money. He went over to the continent of Europe and fought in the Dutch and French armies.

James I. of England


He soon tired of this and thought he would like to go on a ship; so he boarded a vessel sailing to Italy. A severe storm arose; and the sailors, thinking him the cause of the tempest, threw him, like Jonah, into the sea. But young Smith was a fine swimmer and after a hard struggle reached an island.

A passing vessel picked him up. This ship was a war vessel. It soon met an enemy, and a battle ensued. Smith fought so bravely that he was given a share in the plunder of the vessel.

Still looking for other adventures, our young hero turned his steps toward the east, where he joined the Austrian army, which was fighting the Turks. For his bravery he was made a captain.

One day the Turks sent a challenge "to any officer in the Christian army" that "to delight the ladies who did long to see any court-like pastime, the Lord Turbashaw did defy any captain that had the command of a company, who durst combat him for his head." This challenge was accepted by so many young captains that they had to cast lots, and the lot fell to Captain John Smith.

All the officers and soldiers and grand ladies appeared to witness the conflict. With one single swift thrust Smith sent his lance through his opponent. A comrade of the Turk wanted to avenge his friend's death. He challenged Smith, but a like fate awaited him. Still a third Turk thought he could overcome Smith, but he too was killed. For his skill Smith was given a coat of arms on which the bleeding heads of three Turks were represented.

John Smith's


Ill luck soon overtook him, however. He was wounded in a battle and left on the battlefield as dead. Lying there with dead and dying men on all sides, he was finally found and his wounds cared for. After a while; Smith was taken to Constantinople and sold as a slave. A Turkish lady aided him, but he was cruelly treated by her brother.

One day while Smith was threshing grain, this cruel master rode up and insulted him. In his anger he smote the man and killed him. Then he swiftly exchanged his ragged clothes for those of his master and, hiding the body under some straw, fled.

After traveling through other countries our adventurer arrived in England, just as the fever of American colonization was at its height. And he, too, determined to go to America.

II. Life in Jamestown

In 1607 Captain John Smith sailed with a colonizing expedition sent out by the London company. It was the same expedition that founded Jamestown, as we have seen, and struggled through that first hot summer.

Many of the colonists, you will remember, had never worked. They thought manual labor a disgrace. But it soon became evident that some must work, or all would starve. The warm climate had tended to make them all languid. Many were really lazy and preferred to search for gold than till the soil.

But John Smith soon showed these idle "gentlemen" now to hew trees and build huts. In his book he says, "The axes so oft blistered their tender fingers, that many times every third blow had a loud oath to drown the echo." Smith did not like to hear the men swear, so he devised a plan to make them refrain from it. He told them that at night, for every oath, he would pour a can of cold water down the swearer's sleeve.

At first it was very hard to get food enough. The corn brought by the friendly Indians did not last long. So to keep the colonists from starving, Smith explored the coon try, visited different Indian tribes, and bargained with them for such supplies as they could furnish.

New England


These settlers had no idea of the greatness of this country. A map of that time showed Virginia as a mere narrow strip of land between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Believing this to be true, Captain Smith decided to visit the Pacific and went on many exploring trips to the west of Jamestown in the hope of finding it.

On one of these expeditions, Captain, Smith and a few of his men fell into the hands of hostile Indians. All of his companions were killed, but Smith was saved by his presence of mind. He diverted the Indians attention by showing them a compass. The Indians had never seen anything like it before. They thought it marvelous. Then Smith wrote some message on a piece of paper and asked his captors to send it to Jamestown. When the Indians found that this wonderful prisoner "could make paper talk" to his friends, they were a little afraid of him and considered it wiser not to kill him, but to take him to their mighty chief, Powhatan.

When John Smith was led as a captive before Powhatan, the great chief sat before his fire, dressed in raccoon skins. On either side of him sat the squaws, and in front of the squaws stood the grim warriors, straight and stiff. It was a terrible moment for poor Captain Smith. Would they kill him at once, or could he still hope to save his life by amusing the Indians? Again the compass was brought out, and once more it worked a charm. The chief concluded to keep this entertaining person a prisoner.

Now, Powhatan had a little daughter twelve or thirteen years old. Her name was Pocahontas. She was a beautiful girl and her father's pet. She was allowed to spend much time with the old chief's prisoner; and Smith told her strange stories, made whistles for her, gave her strings of beads, and so won her lasting love and affection.

But before very long the novelty of the prisoner's compass and the marvel of his writing wore away. Smith had nothing new with which to amuse the Indians. They grew tired of him, and Powhatan ordered him to be killed. The day of the execution arrived. The whole tribe came. Smith was forced to lay his head on a block of stone. An Indian had just raised the hatchet for the fatal blow when Pocahontas rushed to Smith and, throwing her arms over his head, begged her father to spare his life. The old chief could never refuse his little daughter anything; and so Smith's life was spared, and he was sent back to Jamestown.

colonist and Indian


From now on Pocahontas was always kind to the colonists; and as long as there was peace between the Indians and the English, she often visited them. Once she even came secretly by night and warned them of danger from an Indian attack.

When Captain Smith reached the colony again, he found it ill a sad condition. During his imprisonment, matters had gone from bad to worse. With him away the lazy would not work, and nothing seemed to have been done. Sickness and famine had once more attacked the settlers, and death was everywhere. Fortunately a vessel with provisions and more colonists soon anchored in the bay. But many of the newcomers were "fine gentlemen "or "vagabond gentlemen "like the first settlers. They too refused to do their share. "We haven't come here to work," they boldly asserted. "If you will not work, you shall not eat," said Smith; and they soon found that he fully meant what he said. They had to work, and matters began to improve. Still the temptation to neglect the fields and to search for gold was very strong with these early settlers. Once they found something that looked like gold. A shipload was sent to England. Great was the disappointment when they learned it was nothing but yellow earth. It was called "fool's gold."

In the fall of 1609 Smith was dreadfully injured by the explosion of a bag of gunpowder, and he was compelled to go to England for surgical aid.

But as before, no sooner was he gone than the troubles of the colonists began to increase. Now came what was known as the "starving time." At last the colonists had to eat cats, dogs, rats; and, once, even an Indian was cooked and devoured. If more help had not come from England just when it did, the little colony would soon have been at an end.

However, it was not until Sir Thomas Dale came to Virginia as governor that affairs really began to brighten. A stem, severe soldier, Governor Dale had strict rules and saw that they were obeyed. If a colonist did not like the rules and talked against them, the Governor had a hole bored through his tongue; and he had other punishments for other offenses. So it is no wonder that from the time of his coming the harvests were greater and the idlers disappeared.



But in spite of all Governor Dale could do, one great danger still threatened the colonists. This was the hostility of the Indians. They were very treacherous. Even Powhatan had played several wily tricks upon the white settlers and had proved a, most dangerous friend.

Such were the conditions between the white men and the Indians, when, by chance, a certain young colonial captain captured Pocahontas. She was visiting a neighboring tribe; and with a copper kettle he bribed the chief of this tribe to help him take the Indian girl prisoner. Then he carried her back to Jamestown where she was kept as a hostage for her father's good behavior.

In the years that had passed since Pocahontas saved the life of John Smith, she had grown still more beautiful. Living among the settlers, she quickly came to be beloved by all, and especially by a young Englishman named John Rolfe. He wanted to make her his wife. But she was still a heathen, and it was thought wrong to marry a heathen. So Pocahontas became a Christian, was baptized in the little church at Jamestown, and received the name of Rebecca. And the next year, 1614, she and John Rolfe were married. Both the settlers and the Indians were delighted over this marriage, for it created a strong, new bond between them. Marcy years of peace followed.

Later Rolfe took his bride to England where the King and Queen received this American princess with great delight, for they had heard of her bravery in saving Captain Smith's life.

In 1617, John Rolfe decided to return with his wife and their little son to Jamestown. Pocahontas had grown to love her adopted country, and yet she had many sad hours of longing for her forest home. But this home she was never to see again. Just before she and her husband were to sail; she suddenly became ill and died. And the beautiful Indian princess was buried in the land of her adoption, where her sweet winning manners had won her many friends.

Two years before his marriage to Pocahontas, John Rolfe had begun the systematic culture of tobacco in. Virginia. Soon this came to be the leading industry of the colony.

In 1619 a Dutch vessel sold twenty negroes to the settlers. They were made to till the soil and do manual labor. From time to time more slaves were brought over, and slavery and the culture of tobacco went hand in hand.

Tobacco was becoming very popular it England and found a ready sale, though King James was much opposed to the smoking of it. He called it "a vile weed." As it continued to be smoked just the same, he placed a heavy tax upon it. Yet, in spite of even this, the demand increased; and a flourishing tobacco trade with Europe resulted in a flourishing colony in America.

What had become of Captain John Smith? After his gunpowder wounds had healed, he had come back to America and explored the Atlantic coast from Maine many miles to the south. It was he who gave to this part of our country the name New England. He carefully made a map of the new section and on his return to England presented it to King Charles, the son of King James.

Then the next year Smith set out again to found a colony in this region. Unfortunately he and his vessel were captured by the French, but after a while Smith escaped and fled back to England. He never returned to America after this, but remained in England and wrote several books on his travels.

John Smith has been called "The Father of Virginia." Certain it is that it was through his bravery, tact, and resolute perseverance that the Jamestown colony weathered its first hard year in America and became one of the most important English settlements in the New World.

III. The Indians

The Virginia colonists, the explorers who came to. America before them, and the settlers who followed them, all found the country occupied by Indians.

These Indians had copper-colored skins, were tall, and had small black piercing eyes and straight black hair.

The race was divided into tribes, and each tribe was governed by its chief. Each tribe had its headquarters in some definite part of the country, although the men in hunting often wandered for miles into neighboring lands.

The homes of the Indians varied according to the tribe. Some lived in log houses, some built rude houses of bark, while still other tribes had only circular wigwams. There was no chimney in any of these homes. The fires were built in fire pits dug in the ground, and the smoke escaped through a hole in the roof.

The most important of the Indians' household goods was the pot. They had also some wooden dishes and trays, which they made themselves. They seldom had anything to sit upon, but squatted upon the ground. Some of them slept on small couches made of bulrushes. Others rolled themselves in skins and slept on the ground.

The Indian's clothes were generally made from the dried skins of animals. He would wear the same skin until it wore out, and never thought of washing it. Cleanliness was little known among these people. They were very fond of bright colors and liked to deck themselves with strings of shells or beads. In this love of finery, the men exceeded the women.

The Indians lived mainly on game and fish. The game consisted of wild geese, ducks, deer, bears, and foxes. In summer, game was very plentiful and easily found; but a struggle for existence began with the cold weather.

The Indian despised manual labor. He spent his time in fishing, hunting, and fighting, and left all the hard work to his squaw. These squaws must have had their hands full, as they had to look after the house, the planting of the garden, the children, and the cooking.

An Indian mother was anxious to have each son grow up to be a manly, brave warrior. His first lesson was not to read and write, but to use his bow and arrow. The little girls learned such housework as the Indians thought necessary and helped their mothers in the garden.

Indians Making a Canoe


Among some of the Indian tribes the women held a high place and were often consulted in matters of war and peace. Most of the Indian women were kind and gentle, but the men were usually very cruel.

An Indian warrior's bravery was judged by the number of human scalps that hung from his belt. This prize trophy was cut from the head of each victim, sometimes even before he was dead. Because of this custom of cutting off scalps, the Indian warriors adopted a strange way of wearing their hair. Most likely it was partly to show that they did not fear death and partly as a challenge to their enemies to come and take their scalps if they could. Be that as it may, an. Indian warrior had his hair cut short except on the top of his head. Here grew one long lock the scalp lock.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - I  by G. Southworth


If an enemy was taken alive, he could be pretty sure that sooner or later he must die by torture. His only hope was that some member of his captor's tribe might ask that his life be spared. If this miracle should happen, the prisoner would've adopted as a member of the victorious tribe.

A favorite method of putting a prisoner to death was by burning him alive. He was tied to a stump, and fagots were piled around him and set on fire. The delight of the Indians at this awful sight was often so great that they would dance and howl like fiends around the poor victim.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - I  by G. Southworth


The war implements of the Indians were tomahawks, bows and arrows, and war clubs. The tomahawk looked much like a hatchet, but was made of stone. Later when the Indian saw the white man's weapons, he wanted to obtain them. For a long time gunpowder was a mystery to the savages. They thought that it grew from the ground. One of the Indian tribes sowed some in the spring, hoping that by autumn they would have a fine harvest.

In warfare an Indian seldom came out in open battle, but preferred to send a swift arrow upon an unsuspecting foe. If he could kill his enemy, why should he endanger himself? so he reasoned.

The religious beliefs of the Indian were simple. The Great Spirit, all wise, loving, and powerful, ruled over all. But the spirit of some animal ruled and took care of each individual. An Indian never killed the animal whose spirit formed his totem, but he did not hesitate to kill the totem of any other Indian. After death, the spirits of the brave would go to the happy hunting grounds, where hunting and fishing and eating were the chief pastimes.

The Indians did not have a priesthood. The medicine-man had some of the qualities of a priest. He pretended to be able to drive away evil spirits by the aid of magic.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - I  by G. Southworth


The Indian's education was a very severe one. He knew nothing about reading and writing, although he did make pictures which served as a kind of writing. But he was skilled in woodcraft, in the art of war, and, above all, in self-control.

It would not be at all fair to say that the American Indian was always cruel and revengeful. He had a good side to his nature which was just as strong as the bad side. No friend could prove truer than an Indian. He never forgot a kindness that had been done to him, and never failed to return it in some way. He would often divide his last ear of corn with a starving person. It was only after the settlers had shown hostility to the Indians that they found them the bitterest and most persistent of foes.