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Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763
The English Establish a Foothold at Jamestown
John Smith Assesses the Accomplishments and Problems of Jamestown, 1609 and 1612

Just before he left Jamestown, Smith assessed his accomplishments while governor of Virginia. His observations are probably as accurate as they are self-serving. According to the first excerpt below, what does Smith see as his major accomplishments? The second excerpt was written in 1612, not long after Smith had left Virginia. Why did Smith write this tract in 1612? Where does Smith place most of the blame for the ill-repute of Virginia at the time?

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Smith Summarizes Some of His Accomplishments 1609

By this you may see for all those crosses, trecheries, and dissentions, how hee wrestled and overcame (without bloudshed) all that happened: also what good was done; how few dyed; what food the Countrey naturally affoordeth; what small cause there is men should starve, or be murthered by the Salvages, that have discretion to mannage them with courage and industrie. The two first yeares, though by his adventures, he had oft brought the Salvages to a tractable trade, yet you see how the envious authoritie ever crossed him, and frustrated his best endevours. But it wrought in him that experience and estimation amongst the Salvages, as otherwise it had bin impossible, he had ever effected that he did. Notwithstanding the many miserable, yet generous and worthy adventures, he had oft and long endured in the wide world, yet in this case he was againe to learne his Lecture by experience. Which with thus much adoe having obtained, it was his ill chance to end, when he had but onely learned how to begin. And though he left those unknowne difficulties (made easie and familiar) to his unlawfull successors, (who onely by living in James Towne, presumed to know more then all the world could direct them:) Now though they had all his Souldiers, with a tripple power, and twice tripple better meanes; by what they have done in his absence, the world may see what they would have done in his presence, had he not prevented their indiscretions: it doth justly prove, what cause he had to send them for England, and that he was neither factious, mutinous, nor dishonest. But they have made it more plaine since his returne for England; having his absolute authoritie freely in their power, with all the advantages and opportunitie that his labours had effected. As I am sorry their actions have made it so manifest, so I am unwilling to say what reason doth compell me, but onely to make apparant the truth, least I should seeme partiall, reasonlesse, and malicious.

John Smith, Book I, Generall Historie of Virginia (also known as A Map of Virginia), 1612

And this is as much as my memory can call to minde worthy of note; which I have purposely collected, to satisfie my friends of the true worth and qualitie of Virginia. Yet some bad natures will not sticke to slander the Countrey, that will slovenly spit at all things, especially in company where they can finde none to contradict them. Who though they were scarce ever ten myles from James Towne, or at the most but at the falles; yet holding it a great disgrace that amongst so much action, their actions were nothing, exclaime of all things, though they never adventured to know any thing; nor ever did any thing but devoure the fruits of other mens labours. Being for most part of such tender educations, and small experience in Martiall accidents, because they found not English Cities, nor such faire houses, nor at their owne wishes any of their accustomed dainties, with feather beds and downe pillowes, Tavernes and Alehouses in every breathing place, neither such plentie of gold and silver and dissolute libertie, as they expected, had little or no care of any thing, but to pamper their bellies, to fly away with our Pinnaces, or procure their meanes to returne for England. For the Country was to them a misery, a ruine, a death, a hell, and their reports here, and their actions there according.

Some other there were that had yearely stipends to passe to and againe for transportation: who to keepe the mysterie of the businesse in themselves, though they had neither time nor meanes to know much of themselves; yet all mens actions or relations they so formally tuned to the temporizing times simplicitie, as they could make their ignorances seeme much more, then all the true actors could by their experience. And those with their great words deluded the world with such strange promises, as abused the businesse much worse then the rest. For the businesse being builded upon the foundation of their fained experience, the planters, the money and meanes have still miscarried: yet they ever returning, and the planters so farre absent, who could contradict their excuses? which, still to maintaine their vaine glory and estimation, from time to time have used such diligence as made them passe for truths, though nothing more false. And that the adventurers might be thus abused, let no man wonder; for the wisest living is soonest abused by him that hath a faire tongue and a dissembling heart.

There were many in Virginia meerely projecting, verball, and idle contemplators, and those so devoted to pure idlenesse, that though they had lived two or three yeares in Virginia, lordly, necessitie it selfe could not compell them to passe the Peninsula, or Pallisadoes of James Towne, and those witty spirits, what would they not affirme in the behalfe of our transporters, to get victuall from their ships, or obtaine their good words in England, to get their passes. Thus from the clamors, and the ignorance of false informers, are sprung those disasters that sprung in Virginia: and our ingenious verbalists were no lesse plague to us in Virginia, then the Locusts to the Egyptians. For the labour of twentie or thirtie of the best onely preserved in Christianitie by their industry the idle livers of neare two hundred of the rest: who living neere ten moneths of such naturall meanes, as the Country naturally of it selfe afforded, notwithstanding all this, and the worst fury of the Salvages, the extremitie of sicknesse, mutinies, faction, ignorances, and want of victuall; in all that time I lost but seaven or eight men, yet subjected the salvages to our desired obedience, and received contribution from thirtie five of their Kings, to protect and assist them against any that should assault them, in which order they continued true and faithfull, and as subjects to his Majestie, so long after as I did governe there, untill I left the Countrey: since, how they have revolted, the Countrie lost, and againe replanted, and the businesses hath succeded from time to time, I referre you to the relations of them returned from Virginia, that have beene more diligent in such Observations.


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View the original documents by clicking on the links above. The documents are from The Capital and the Bay. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.