John Smith and New England

Captain John Smith is usually associated with Jamestown and Pocahontas.  And he’s most famous for his relationship with the Native American tribes in Virginia.  Smith was proactively aggressive with hostile tribes, but proactively friendly with peaceful tribes.  There are plenty of examples in colonial history where hostile and peaceful tribes weren’t distinguished when it came to aggressive treatment of the Native Americans.  Pocahontas was just 11 when she met Smith, and it’s apparent that the stories of a romance between them are BS.  Whether she actually helped save his life is tougher to determine.

Smith was an opportunist, but so were a lot of men coming to the virgin coast of North America.  What separated him from many others was his gift for self-promotion and his willingness to take risks to advance his standing.  But he backed up this, let’s call it entrepreneurial spirit with tactical and practical knowledge.  Many point out that the inhabitants of Jamestown didn’t fair so well when Smith went back to England.  Instead of growing and storing food for the harsh winter the settlers of Jamestown held out hope for supplies from England.  When the supplies never showed up as much as 90% of the population of Jamestown starved to death.

Smith returned to North America in 1614 as ambitious as he was on his original trip.  This time he focused on what is now New England, and his crew worked on whaling and fishing to create a return on investment for those who funded the trip, while Smith and some others focused on mapping the coastline from the Bay of Fundy to the Hudson River.  Smith created a pretty accurate map, and betrayed his ambition by bringing the map to a young Prince Charles to have him choose place names for some of the locations.  A few of these, like the Charles River and Cape Ann, survive to this day.  Smith is credited with coming up with the name “New England” for this region, and named several other places on the map which have stuck.  But if he’d hoped to live on in infamy by naming the islands off Portsmouth, New Hampshire after himself, he’d be sorely disappointed to know they became known as Isle of Shoals.  But then again, Smith did enough to be remembered anyway.

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