John Smith, the founder of Virginia, born at Willoughby, Lincolnshire, England, in January, 1579, died in London, June 21, 1631. When young he took part in the wars in the Netherlands, and after four years' service returned home, but went abroad again to fight against the Turks. He distinguished himself by daring exploits in Hungary and Transylvania, and received from Sigismund Bathori a patent of nobility and a pension, but finally was taken prisoner, and sent as a slave to Constantinople. Here he gained the affection of his young mistress, who to secure his safety sent him to her brother, a pasha on the sea of Azov, with a letter in which she confessed her feelings. The proud prince, indignant at the attachment of his sister to a Christian, maltreated Smith, who at length, maddened by an insult, beat out his master's brains with a flail, put on the dead man's clothes, mounted his horse, and finally reached a Russian garrison on the Don. He was here kindly treated and helped on his journey to Transylvania, where he was furnished with money to repair his losses. Smith now returned to England, reaching it after a long journey and an attempt to take part in a war in Barbary, and was persuaded by Capt. Gosnold, who had already visited the coasts of America, to engage in the founding of a colony.
The expedition, consisting of three vessels and 105 men, under the command of Newport, set sail Dec. 19, 1606. By the charter, the government of the colony was placed in the hands of a council appointed and removable by the crown; their names were in a sealed box, not to be opened until their arrival at Virginia. On the voyage dissensions sprang up among the leaders, and much enmity was shown to Smith. At the Canaries he was charged with a conspiracy to make himself king of Virginia, and was kept prisoner for the rest of the voyage. After landing the box was opened, and although Smith was named one of the council, he was excluded. With Newport he headed a party of 20 men to discover the source of the James. About six weeks after, when Newport was returning to England, Smith's enemies urged him to return and be reprimanded by the council in England rather than suffer the disgrace of a public conviction in the colony; but he demanded a trial, which resulted in his acquittal, and he was made a member of the council. Bad and scanty food brought on disease among the colonists and reduced their number. The president, Wingfield, embezzled the stores and was deposed. Rat-clift'e was made his successor, but the real head was Smith, and to his efforts the salvation of the infant colony was owing.
He set about the building of Jamestown, and after providing the settlers with lodgings made excursions into the neighboring country to obtain corn. On one of these expeditions he was taken prisoner by the Indians, and his life was saved, it is said, by the interference of Pocahontas. (See Pocahontas.) Sent back to Jamestown by Powhatan after an absence of seven weeks, he found the colony reduced to 40 men, and the most of these had determined to return to England. This, however, Smith prevented, and the arrival of Newport with 120 men raised the spirits of the colonists. In June and July, 1608, Smith explored the coasts of Chesapeake bay as far as the mouth of the Patapsco. On July 24 he started on another expedition, and explored the head of the Chesapeake, returning to Jamestown on Sept. 7. In these two voyages Capt. Smith sailed, by his own computation, about 3,000 m., and from his surveys constructed a map of the bay and the country bordering upon it. Being now president of the colonv, he administered its affairs with ener-gy; and his influence restored quiet to the colony, which had been filled with dissensions and disturbed by fears of the Indians. Smith's administration, however, had not been satisfactory to the company in England, whose too brilliant hopes had been disappointed, and whose irritation Smith's soldierly bluntness did not conciliate.
A new charter was granted, and the powers previously reserved to the king were transferred to the company. Lord Delaware was made governor, and three commissioners, Newport, Sir Thomas Gates, and Sir George Somers, were empowered to manage the affairs of the colony till his arrival. They set sail with more than 500 emigrants, and a part of the fleet, in a shattered condition, and without the commissioners, reached Virginia in August, 1609. The new emigrants were mostly "dissolute gallants, packed off to escape worse destinies at home, broken tradesmen, gentlemen impoverished in spirit and in fortune, rakes and libertines, men more fitted to corrupt than found a commonwealth." Disorders quickly ensued, and Smith, at the request of the better part of the colony, resumed the government. The refractory were put in prison, and new settlements established. Returning from one of them, he was severely injured by the explosion of a bag of gunpowder, and in September, 1609, returned to England. In 1614 he explored with two ships the New England coast, and on his return presented to Prince Charles a map of the country between the Penobscot and Cape Cod. In 1615 he sailed again to New England, to found a colony.
His vessel was captured by a French man-of-war, and he was carried to La Rochelle. He escaped, and on his return home wrote an account of his voyages to New England, which was published in 1616. The remainder of his life was passed in retirement. He published several works, the most important of which are "The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles" (1626), and "The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain John Smith, in Europe, Asia, Affrica, and America, from 1593 to 1629" (1630). These two works were reprinted at Richmond in 1819. In 1631 he published also " Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England, or anywhere, or the Pathway to Experience to Erect a Plantation." This has been reprinted with a facsimile of Smith's map of New England (4to, Boston, 1865); also the "Description of New England" (4to, 1865), and "A True Relation of Virginia," reprinted from the London edition of 1608, with an introduction and notes by Charles Deane (4to, 1866). - See " Life of Capt. John Smith," by G. S. Hillard, in Sparks's "American Biography," vol. ii.