John Smith was the eldest son of George Smith and Alice Rickards; he was baptized in Willoughby by Alford, England, on January 9, 1579. His father “was a yeoman farmer who most probably worked for Peregrine Bertie (Lord Willoughby). John received his education in Alford and later attended a boarding school in Louth. He served for a time as an apprentice to a local merchant named Thomas Sewell. John’s formal education ended when his father passed away in 1596 when John was 17. John’s mother remarried shortly after the death of her husband. Even though John inherited land from his father, he joined the military and served throughout Europe. He fought in an English brigade for Dutch independence from Spain and served in an Austrian army to fight the Turks.
In 1604 Smith returned to England; he joined the first group of settlers going to Jamestown in December 1606. “He was named to the colony’s governing council but his heavy-handed methods quickly antagonized the other leaders. He similarly alienated common settlers and the local Indians, but he is generally credited with saving the colony from complete ruin its first two years and remains Jamestown’s “most important figure” during those two years.
Captain John Smith was negotiating for provisions for the colony in December 1607 when he was captured by Powhatan, the Algonquian chief. “Smith claimed his life was spared through the intervention of the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. But many historians believe Smith either misunderstood or sensationalized a formal adoption ceremony.”
Captain Smith “has become a mythic hero in American history, largely because of the myths he himself created.” He did promote “the Virginia Company’s interests in the New World,” and he did provide “the leadership necessary to save the colonists during the early years of the settlement.” He may have had to boast in his narratives in order to “lure adventurous new settlers to Virginia;” however, his “descriptions of the settlement of Jamestown and his encounters with the Indians of the region are invaluable resources of American history.”
Smith returned to England in October 1609 due to tensions with the other leaders of the colony and never returned to Virginia; however, he did travel to New England at a later time. He “published several books and maps on the New World. He died in London on June 21, 1631, and is buried in St. Sepulchre’s Church in London.