| This Country of Ours|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Stories from the history of the United States beginning with a full account of exploration and settlement and ending with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The 99 chapters are grouped under 7 headings: Stories of Explorers and Pioneers, Stories of Virginia, Stories of New England, Stories of the Middle and Southern Colonies, Stories of the French in America, Stories of the Struggle for Liberty, and Stories of the United States under the Constitution. Ages 10-14 |
THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH
 RALEIGH was the true father of England beyond the seas. He was a
great statesman and patriot. But he was a dreamer too and all his
schemes failed. Other men followed him who likewise failed. But
it would take too long to tell of them all, of Bartholomew Gosnold
who discovered and named Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod; of Bartholomew
Gilbert, brave Sir Humphrey's son, who was slain by Indians, and
of many more besides.
Again and again men tried to plant a colony on the shores of
America. Again and again they failed. But with British doggedness
they went on trying, and at length succeeded.
Raleigh lay in the Tower of London, a prisoner accused of treason.
All his lands were taken from him. Virginia, which had been granted
to him by Queen Elizabeth was the King's once more to give to whom
he would. So now two companies were formed, one of London merchants
called the London Company, one of Plymouth merchants called the
Plymouth Company. And both these companies prayed King James to grant
them permission to found colonies in Virginia. Virginia therefore
was divided into two parts; the right to found colonies in the
southern half being given to the London Company, the right to found
colonies in the northern half being given to the Plymouth
upon condition that the colonies founded must be one hundred miles
distant from each other.
These companies were formed by merchants. They were formed for
trade, and in the hope of making money, in spite of the fact that
up to this time no man had made money by trying to found colonies.
in America, but on the contrary many had lost fortunes.
Of the two companies now formed it was only the London Company
which really did anything. The Plymouth Company indeed sent out an
expedition which reached Virginia. But the colony was a failure,
and after a year of hardships the colonists set sail for England
taking home with them such doleful accounts of their sufferings
that none who heard them ever wished to help to found a colony.
The expedition of the London Company had a better fate. It was in
December, 1606, that the little fleet of three ships, the Susan
Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery, put out from England,
and turned westward towards the New World.
With the expedition sailed Captain John Smith. He was bronzed and
bearded like a Turk, a swaggering, long-headed lovable sort of man,
ambitious, too, and not given to submit his will to others. Since
a boy of sixteen he had led a wandering adventurous life—a life
cramful of heroic deeds, of hairbreadth escapes of which we have
no space to tell here. But I hope some day you will read his own
story of these days. For he was a writer as well as a warrior, and
"what his sword did his pen wrote." Every American boy and girl
should read his story, for he has been called the first American
Now with this saucy, swaggering fellow on board, troubles were not
far to seek. The voyage was long and tedious. For six weeks adverse
winds kept the little fleet prisoner in the English Channel within
sight of English shores, a thing trying to the tempers of men used
to action, and burning
 with impatience to reach the land beyond
the seas. They lay idle with nothing to do but talk. So they fell
to discussing matters about the colony they were to found. And from
discussing they fell to disputing until it ended at length in a
bitter quarrel between Smith and another of the adventurers, Captain
Captain Wingfield was twice John Smith's age, and deemed that he knew
much better how a colony ought to be formed than this dictatorial
youth of twenty-seven. He himself was just as dictatorial and
narrow into the bargain. So between the two the voyage was by no
Good Master Hunt, the preacher who went with the expedition, in
spite of the fact that he was so weak and ill that few thought he
would live, did his best to still the angry passions.
To some extent he succeeded. And when a fair wind blew at length
the ships spread their sails to it and were soon out of sight of
England. Two months of storm and danger passed before the adventurers
sighted the West Indies. Here they went ashore on the island of
San Dominica. Delighted once more to see land and escape from the
confinement of the ship, they stayed three weeks among the sunny
islands. They hunted and fished, traded with the savages, boiled
pork in hot natural springs, feasted on fresh food and vegetables,
and generally enjoyed themselves.
But among all this merry-making Wingfield did not forget his anger
against John Smith. Their quarrels became so bad that Wingfield
decided to end both quarrels and John Smith. So he ordered a gallows
to be set up and, having accused Smith of mutiny, made ready to
hang him. But John Smith stoutly defended himself. Nothing could be
proved against him. He laughed at the gallows, and as he quaintly
puts it "could not be persuaded to use them."
Nevertheless, although nothing could be proved against
 him, there
were many who quite agreed that Captain John Smith was a turbulent
fellow. So to keep him quiet they clapped him in irons and kept him
so until their arrival in Virginia. After leaving the West Indies
the adventurers fell into more bad weather, and lost their course;
but finally they arrived safely in Chesapeake Bay.
They named the capes on either side Henry and Charles, in honour
of the two sons of their King. Upon Cape Henry they set up a brass
cross upon which was carved "Jacobus Rex" and thus claimed the
land for England. Then they sailed on up the river which they named
James River, in honour of the King himself. Their settlement they
named Jamestown, also in his honour. Jamestown has now disappeared,
but the two capes and the river are still called by the names given
them by these early settlers.
Before this expedition sailed the directors of the Company had
arranged who among the colonists were to be the rulers. But for
some quaint reason they were not told. Their names, together with
many instructions as to what they were to do, were put into a sealed
box, and orders were given that this box was not to be opened until
Virginia was reached.
The box was now opened, and it was found that John Smith was named
among the seven who were to form the council. The others were much
disgusted at this, and in spite of all he could say, they refused
to have him in the council. They did, however, set him free from
his fetters. Of the council Wingfield was chosen President. All
the others, except John Smith, took oath to do their best for the
colony. Then at once the business of building houses was begun.
While the council drew plans the men dug trenches and felled trees
in order to clear space on which to pitch their tents, or otherwise
busied themselves about the settlement.
The Indians appeared to be friendly, and often came to
on curiously at these strange doings. And Wingfield thought them
so gentle and kindly that he would not allow the men to build any
fortifications except a sort of screen of interwoven boughs.
Besides building houses one of the colonists' first cares was
to provide themselves with a church. But indeed it was one of the
quaintest churches ever known. An old sail was stretched beneath
a group of trees to give shelter from the burning sun. And to make
a pulpit a plank of wood was nailed between two trees which grew
near together. And here good Master Hunt preached twice every
Sunday while the men sat on felled trunks reverently listening to
his long sermons.
While the houses were being built Smith, with some twenty others,
was sent to explore the country. They sailed up the river and found
the Indians to all appearance friendly. But they found no gold
or precious stones, and could hear nothing of a passage to the
Pacific Ocean which they had been told to seek. So they returned
to Jamestown. Arriving here they found that the day before the
Indians had attacked the settlement and that one Englishman lay
slain and seventeen injured.
This was a bitter disappointment to Wingfield who had trusted in
the friendliness of the Indians. But at length he was persuaded to
allow fortifications to be built. Even then, however, the colonists
were not secure, for as they went about their business felling
trees or digging the ground the savages would shoot at them from
the shelter of the surrounding forest. If a man strayed from the
fort he was sure to return wounded if he returned at all; and in
this sort of warfare the stolid English were no match for the wily
Indians. "Our men," says Smith, "by their disorderly straggling
were often hurt when the savages by the nimbleness of their heels
So six months passed, and the ships which had brought
 out the
colonists were ready to go back to England with a cargo of wood
instead of the gold which the Company had hoped for. But before
the ships sailed Smith, who was still considered in disgrace, and
therefore kept out of the council, insisted on having a fair trial.
For he would not have Captain Newport go home and spread evil
stories about him.
Smith's enemies were unwilling to allow the trial. But Smith would
take no denial. So at length his request was granted, the result
being that he was proved innocent of every charge against him, and
was at length admitted to the council.
Now at last something like peace was restored, and Captain Newport
set sail for home. He promised to make all speed he could and to
be back in five months' time. And indeed he had need to hasten. For
the journey outward had been so long, the supply of food so scant,
that already it was giving out. And when Captain Newport sailed it
was plain that the colonists had not food enough to last fifteen
Such food it was too! It consisted chiefly of worm-eaten grain. A
pint was served out daily for each man, and this boiled and made
into a sort of porridge formed their chief food. Their drink was
cold water. For tea and coffee were unknown in those days, and
beer they had none. To men used to the beer and beef of England
in plenty this indeed seemed meagre diet. "Had we been as free of
all sins as gluttony and drunkenness," says Smith, "we might have
been canonised as saints, our wheat having fried some twenty-six weeks
in the ship's hold, contained as many worms as grains, so that we
might truly call it rather so much bran than corn. Our drink was
water, our lodging castles in the air."
There was fish enough in the river, game enough in the woods. But
the birds and beasts were so wild, and the men
 so unskilful and
ignorant in ways of shooting and trapping, that they succeeded
in catching very little. Besides which there were few among the
colonists who had any idea of what work meant. More than half the
company were "gentlemen adventurers," dare devil, shiftless men who
had joined the expedition in search of excitement with no idea of
labouring with their hands.
Badly fed, unused to the heat of a Virginian summer the men soon
fell ill. Their tents were rotten, their houses yet unbuilt. Trees
remained unfelled, the land untilled, while the men lay on the bare
ground about the fort groaning and in misery. Many died, and soon
those who remained were so feeble that they had scarce strength
to bury the dead or even to crawl to the "common kettle" for their
daily measure of porridge.
In their misery the men became suspicious and jealous, and once
more quarrels were rife. Wingfield had never been loved. Now many
grew to hate him, for they believed that while they starved he
kept back for his own use secret stores of oil and wine and other
dainties. No explanations were of any avail, and he was deposed
from his office of President and another chosen in his place.
As autumn drew on the misery began to lessen. For the Indians, whose
corn was now ripe, began to bring it to the fort to barter it for
chisels, and beads, and other trifles. Wild fowl too, such as ducks
and geese, swarmed in the river.
So with good food and cooler weather the sick soon began to mend.
Energy returned to them, and once more they found strength to build
and thatch their houses. And led by Smith they made many expeditions
among the Indians, bringing back great stores of venison, wild
turkeys, bread, and grain in exchange for beads, hatchets, bells
and other knick-knacks.
But all the misery through which the colonists had passed
 had taught
them nothing. They took no thought for the time to come when food
might again be scarce. They took no care of it, but feasted daily
on good bread, fish and fowl and "wild beasts as fat as we could
eat them," says Smith.
Now one December day Smith set out on an exploring expedition up
the Chickahominy River. It was a hard journey, for the river was so
overgrown with trees that the men had to hew a path for the little
vessel. At length the barque could go no further, so Smith left it,
and went on in a canoe with only two Englishmen, and two Indians
For a time all went well. But one day he and his companions went
ashore to camp. While the others were preparing a meal, Smith, taking
one of the Indians with him, went on to explore a little further.
But he had not gone far when he heard the wild, blood-curdling war
whoop of the Indians. Guessing at once that they had come against
him he resolved to sell his life as dearly as might be. So seizing
the Indian guide he tied his arm fast to his own with his garters.
Then with pistol in his right hand, and holding the Indian in
front of him as a shield, he pushed as rapidly as he could in the
direction of the camp.
Arrows flew round him thick and fast, but Smith's good buff coat turned
them aside. The whole forest was alive with Indians, but although
from the shelter of the trees they showered arrows upon Smith
none dared approach him to take him. For they knew and dreaded the
terrible fire stick which he held in his hand. Smith fired again
and yet again as he retreated, and more than one Indian fell, never
more to rise. He kept his eyes upon the bushes and trees trying
to catch glimpses of the dusky figures as they skulked among them,
and paid little heed to the path he was taking. So suddenly he
found himself floundering in a quagmire.
Still he fought for dear life, and as long as he held his
no Redman dared come near to take him. But at length, chilled and
wet, and half dead—with cold, unable to go further, he saw it was
useless to resist longer. So he tossed away his pistol. At once
the savages closed in upon him and,
dragging him out of the quagmire,
led him to their chief.
Smith had given in because he knew that one man stuck in a quagmire
could not hope to keep three hundred Indians long at bay. But he
had sharp wits as well as a steady hand, and with them he still
fought for his life. As soon as he was brought before the chief he
whipped out his compass, and showing it to the chief, explained to
him that it always pointed north, and thus the white men were able
to find their way through the pathless desert.
To the Indians this seemed like magic; they marvelled greatly at the
shining needle which they could see so plainly and yet not touch.
Seeing their interest Smith went on to explain other marvels of
the sun, and moon, and stars, and the roundness of the earth, until
those who heard were quite sure he was a great "medicine man."
Thus Smith fought for his life. But at length utterly exhausted, he
could say no more. So while the chief still held the little ivory
compass, and watched the quivering needle, his followers led Smith
away to his own camp fire. Here lay the other white men dead, thrust
through with many arrows. And here the Indians warmed and chafed
his benumbed body, and treated him with all the kindness they knew.
But that brought Smith little comfort. For he knew it was the Indian
way. A famous warrior might be sure of kindness at their hands if
they meant in the end to slay him with awful torture.
And so, thoroughly warmed and restored, in less than an hour Smith
found himself fast bound to a tree, while grim warriors, terribly
painted, danced around him, bows and arrows in hand. They were about
to slay him when
 the chief, holding up the compass, bade them lay
down their weapons. Such a medicine man, he had decided, must not
thus be slain. So Smith was unbound.
For some weeks Smith was marched hither and thither from village to
village. He was kindly enough treated, but he never knew how long
the kindness would last, and he constantly expected death. Yet he
was quite calm. He kept a journal, and in this he set down accounts
of many strange sights he saw, not knowing if indeed they would
ever be read.
At length Smith was brought to the wigwam of the great Powhatan,
the chief of chiefs, or Emperor, as these simple English folk
called him. To receive the white prisoner the Powhatan put on his
greatest bravery. Feathered and painted, and wearing a wide robe
of raccoon skins he sat upon a broad couch beside a fire. On either
side of him sat one of his wives and behind in grim array stood his
warriors, row upon row. Behind them again stood the squaws. Their
faces and shoulders were painted bright red, about their necks they
wore chains of white beads, and on their heads the down of white
It was a weird scene, and the flickering firelight added to its
strangeness. Silent and still as statues the warriors stood. Then
as John Smith was led before the chief they raised a wild shout.
As that died away to silence one of the Powhatan's squaws rose and
brought a basin of water to Smith. In this he washed his hands,
and then another squaw brought him a bunch of feathers instead of
a towel, with which to dry them.
After this the Indians feasted their prisoner with savage splendour.
Then a long consultation took place. What was said Smith knew not.
He only knew that his life hung in
 the balance. The end of the
consultation he felt sure meant life or death for him.
At length the long talk came to an end. Two great stones were placed
before the chief. Then as many as could lay hands on Smith seized
him, and dragging him to the stones, they threw him on the ground,
and laid his head upon them. Fiercely then they brandished their
clubs and Smith knew that his last hour had come, and that the
Indians were about to beat out his brains.
But the raised clubs never fell, for with a cry Pocahontas, the
chief's young daughter, sprang through the circle of warriors. She
stood beside the prisoner pleading for his life. But the Indians
were in no mood to listen to prayers for mercy. So seeing that all
her entreaties were in vain she threw herself upon her knees beside
Smith, put her arms about his neck, and laid her head upon his,
crying out that if they would beat out his brains they should beat
hers out too.
Of all his many children the Powhatan loved this little daughter
best. He could deny her nothing. So Smith's life was saved. He
should live, said the Powhatan, to make hatchets for him, and bells
and beads for his little daughter.
Having thus been saved, Smith was looked upon as one of the tribe.
Two days later he was admitted as such with fearsome ceremony.
Having painted and decorated himself as frightfully as he could,
the Powhatan caused Smith to be taken to a large wigwam in the
forest. The wigwam was divided in two by a curtain and in one half
a huge fire burned. Smith was placed upon a mat in front of the
fire and left alone. He did not understand in the least what was
going on, and marvelled greatly what this new ceremony might mean.
But he had not sat long before the fire when he heard doleful
sounds coming from the other side of the curtain. Then from behind
it appeared the Powhatan with a hundred
 others as hideously painted
as himself, and told Smith that now that they were brothers he
might go back to his fort.
So with twelve guides Smith set out. Yet in spite of all their
feasting and ceremonies Smith scarcely believed in the friendship
of the Indians, and no one was more surprised than himself when he
at length reached Jamestown in safety.
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