History Biography Geography Science Games

History >> Colonial America >> Biography


John Smith

John Smith
Author: Unknown

Growing Up

John Smith was born in Willoughby, England in 1580. His father was a farmer who rented land from the local lord. John was able to attend grammar school in his teens, but at the age of sixteen his father died. John now had to make his way on his own. Being a tough and daring young man, John set off to live a life of adventure.


After leaving home, John worked for a time as a seaman and then became a mercenary (a soldier for hire). First, he fought in Europe for the Dutch independence. After that, he went to Hungary to fight against the Ottoman Turks. While in Hungary fighting the Turks, Smith fought three duals against Turkish commanders. He won all three duals and claimed to have beheaded the commanders.

Smith's adventures weren't all a success, however. In 1602, he was captured and sold into slavery. Eventually, Smith escaped and managed to travel all the way across Europe in order to return to England in 1604.

Traveling to America

Not long after returning to England, Smith joined the Virginia Company to start a settlement in Virginia. The settlement would become known as Jamestown and would be the first permanent English colony in North America. Three ships (the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery) left England in late 1606 and arrived in Virginia in April of 1607.

During the voyage, Smith spoke out against the English government as well as the captain of the expedition. He was arrested for mutiny and locked up. The captain had planned to execute Smith when they arrived in Virginia. Fortunately for Smith, the first thing the expedition did when they arrived was to open a box from the Virginia Company containing their orders. One of the orders stated that Smith was to be one of the leaders of the colony. As a result, he was released and his life spared.

Jamestown Colony

The first few years of the colony was difficult. Many people died from disease and starvation. Most of the settlers (all men) were only searching for treasure. They didn't want to work and few of them knew how to farm, fish, or hunt. In the summer of 1608, John Smith became the president of the colony.

Leader of Jamestown

As a leader, Smith was tough and egotistical. Few of the settlers liked him. However, they did recognize that he was a strong leader and would keep them alive. Smith demanded that everyone at the settlement work. His rule was "if you don't work, you don't eat."

Smith also knew that the colony needed to establish better relations with the Powhatan people, the local Native American tribe. He bravely went to meet with their leader and was captured. He likely would have been killed had it not been for the Powhatan chief's daughter, Pocahontas. Pocahontas pled for John Smith's life and the Powhatan chief decided to release him. After this encounter, the relationship between the colonists and the local tribes improved.

Smith's leadership helped to turn things around for the Jamestown colony. Unfortunately, his leg was injured in a gunpowder accident in 1609 and he was forced to return to England to recover.

Exploring New England

After recovering from his injury, Smith was ready for more adventure. He led an expedition to explore the northern coast of America. He named the land "New England" and mapped the northeastern coastline.

Death and Legacy

After returning to London, Smith retired to write detailed descriptions of his adventures. Although much of what he wrote about did actually happen, Smith also tended to embellish his stories quite a bit. Smith died in London on June 21, 1631.

Interesting Facts about John Smith Activities

  • Listen to a recorded reading of this page:

  • To learn more about Colonial America:

    Colonies and Places
    Lost Colony of Roanoke
    Jamestown Settlement
    Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrims
    The Thirteen Colonies

    Daily Life
    Clothing - Men's
    Clothing - Women's
    Daily Life in the City
    Daily Life on the Farm
    Food and Cooking
    Homes and Dwellings
    Jobs and Occupations
    Places in a Colonial Town
    Women's Roles
    William Bradford
    Henry Hudson
    James Oglethorpe
    William Penn
    John Smith
    Roger Williams

    French and Indian War
    King Philip's War
    Mayflower Voyage
    Salem Witch Trials

    Timeline of Colonial America
    Glossary and Terms of Colonial America

    Works Cited

    History >> Colonial America >> Biography

    Ducksters Footer Gif with Ducks

    About Ducksters Privacy Policy 


    This site is a product of TSI (Technological Solutions, Inc.), Copyright 2024, All Rights Reserved. By using this site you agree to the Terms of Use.