Aerial View: date and artist unknown. Bacon’s Rebellion: engraving entitled The Burning of Jamestown, 1676, from The Illustrated School History of the United States, published in 1857, artist unknown. Smith: 18th century coloured engraving after portrait by the Dutch artist Simon de Passe (1595-1647), 1616 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Map: hand-coloured engraving by John Smith – Library of Congress, Washington. Pocahontas: romanticized portrait by the English-born American painter Thomas Sully (1783-1872) c1852 – Museum of Virginia History, Richmond, Virginia, photo by Jim Steinhart. Champlain: by the Canadian artist Théophile Hamel (1817-1870), based on earlier portraits. Map (Canada): licensed under Creative Commons – Quebec: c1608, artist unknown – illustration from The Works of Samuel de Champlain, first published by the Champlain Society in 1925.


John Smith,

Pocahontas and

Samuel de Champlain

xxxxxA man who played an important part in the early days of the colony was the English soldier of fortune Captain John Smith (1580-1631). A member of the original pioneers, he was president of the colony from 1608 to 1609 and during his time in office proved to be a brave and resourceful leader. It was probably his success in trading with the Indians for food that kept many of the settlers alive during what came to be called "the starving time". It is said that, among other things, he also erected an enclosure, built twenty houses, and organised the planting of crops and regular fishing trips. These accomplishments proved insufficient, however, to keep the colony in good order over the bitter winter of 1609-10, and, as we have seen, the settlers were preparing to abandon the enterprise when Lord De La Warr arrived in June 1610.

xxxxxOn arrival at Jamestown, Smith began a series of river journeys which enabled him to produce an amazingly accurate map of Virginia (illustrated). It was while on one of these exploratory excursions in 1607 that he was captured by a local Indian tribe and taken to their chief, known to the settlers as Powhatan. Sentenced to death, he was saved - according to his own account - by the sudden intervention of the chief's daughter Pocahontas. She threw herself between him and his executioners, and implored her father to spare the white man. This he did, and the goodwill thus created served to keep the colonists and the Indians at peace for a number of years.

xxxxxSmith was born in Willoughby, Lincolnshire. Eager for a life of adventure, at the age of 20 he went to fight against the Turks in Hungary. On his return in 1604, he invested in the Virginia Company - specifically chartered by King James to colonise North America - and in 1607 joined the company's first voyage to Virginia. Elected president in 1608 his tour of office was abruptly ended the following year when he was badly burnt in an accident. He was obliged to seek treatment in England and, on his return to America in 1614, he chose to lead an expedition to the area he named "New England". Here he explored and carefully mapped the coastline from Penobscot Bay in Maine to Cape Cod. During another expedition the following year he was captured by pirates. He managed to escape three months later and returned penniless to England. He never saw North America again.

xxxxxApart from being an accomplished cartographer, Smith was a prolific and attractive writer, and his accounts of his travels, particularly those in North America, did much to stimulate interest in further colonisation. His writings - perhaps a little embellished as to his own part in the proceedings - include The General History of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles (1624), A Description of New England (1625), and The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith, published in 1630.

xxxxxThe soldier of fortune Captain John Smith (1580-1631) played an important part as president of the Jamestown colony in 1608-9, trading with the Indians, planting crops and building some 20 houses. He also made a very accurate map of Virginia, and it was while exploring the region for this purpose that he was captured by a local tribe and sentenced to death. He was saved by the intervention of the chief’s daughter Pocahontas, and this created goodwill between the Indians and the colonists. Smith led an adventurous life, and this included some time in what he called “New England”, mapping part of the coastline. He wrote numerous accounts of his travels, many describing his exploration in North America.

xxxxxAs we have seen, the colony founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585 (L1) was found abandoned in 1590. The first permanent English settlement was established at Jamestown, Virginia in May 1607 by a small band of adventurers, and managed to survive due to the arrival of some new settlers three years later. The colony began to prosper with the production of cotton and tobacco, but two Indian attacks in 1622 and 1664 caused enormous damage, and then, during an internal revolt in 1676 - known as Bacon’s Rebellion, - Jamestown was destroyed by fire and all was lost.

xxxxxAs we have seen, the English adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh had failed in the 1580s to found a colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of Virginia. It was established in 1585 (L1), re-settled two years later, and then found abandoned in 1590. The first permanent English settlement in North America was established at Jamestown, Virginia in May 1607 (south-east of Richmond), but this also came close to failure. Itxwas founded on the banks of the James River by a small band of 105 adventurers led by Captain Christopher Newport. As in the case of the Roanoke settlement, life proved exceedingly hard. During the first three years in particular many of the pioneers died from disease or famine. Inxfact, only the arrival of 150 new settlers in 1610, led by Lord De La Warr, together with the supplies they brought with them, saved the small settlement from being abandoned. De La Warr (after whom Delaware state and river is named) persuaded the original settlers to stay and, as the appointed Governor, re-established the colony on a firm footing, erecting a number of forts and rebuilding Jamestown, damaged by fire.


xxxxxFrom 1612 the colony began to prosper, due mainly to the growing of cotton and a substantial income from tobacco farming. In 1619 the first African slaves to be sent to North America, about twenty in number, arrived to work in the production of these cash crops. As a result of its growing prosperity, Jamestown, was chosen as the venue for the first representative assembly in America, and was made the capital of Virginia in 1624.

xxxxxBut the settlement was not destined to survive. It was frequently attacked by local Indians, and suffered particularly heavy loses in two savage wars - some 350 colonists were massacred in 1622 and near to 500 in 1664. But its eventual destruction came from within. In 1676, following further Indian raids, an uprising known as "Bacon's rebellion" broke out amongst the settlers (illustrated), and during the course of this conflict Jamestown was destroyed by fire. In 1699 the seat of government was moved to present-day Williamsburg and Jamestown was abandoned.

xxxxxToday, the Fort James of 1607 has been recreated in the Jamestown Festival Park, along with full-scale replicas of the Discovery, Godspeed and Susan Constant, the ships that carried the pioneers to Virginia and into the history books. A part of the settlement itself has been restored and is included in the Colonial National Historical Park.

xxxxxIncidentally, important though this English settlement proved to be in the history of the United States, it is worth remembering that North American Indians had occupied this area for some 3,000 years. Furthermore, it is more than likely that Norsemen led, by the intrepid Leif Eriksson, landed in the Cape Cod region around the year 1003.


XxxxxSaving the life of the English adventurer John Smith, captured by her tribe in December 1607, brought unexpected fame to Pocahontas, the thirteen-year-old daughter of the Indian chief Powhatan. With the return of Smith to England in 1609, relations between the settlers and the Indians took a turn for the worse. So much so that the colonists took the bold step of kidnapping the young "princess" in the hope of negotiating a lasting peace. So kindly was she treated in captivity, however, that she was converted to Christianity and baptised as Lady Rebecca.

xxxxxHer father paid the ransom for her release, but by this time she had fallen in love with John Rolfe, a successful tobacco planter, and their marriage was sanctioned by both the Virginian governor and Chief Powhatan. This union brought eight years of peace between the English and their Indian neighbours. In 1616 she and her husband travelled to England, where she was received by the king and queen and admired wherever she went for her beauty and charm. Sadly, in March 1617, just before departing for Virginia, she died of smallpox and was buried in the chapel of the parish church of Gravesend. John Rolfe returned to Jamestown and, ironically, was killed in the war with the Powhatan Indians in 1622. Their only son, Thomas Rolfe, was educated in England and returned to America in 1640. A number of books have been written about Pocahontas, and a Walt Disney film has been made about her extraordinary life.

xxxxxSaving the life of the English adventurer John Smith, captured by her tribe in 1607, brought unexpected fame to the chief’s daughter, thirteen-year-old Pocahontas. She was later kidnapped by the colonists and, converted to Christianity, was baptised Lady Rebecca. She married John Rolfe, a tobacco planter, and travelled to England in 1616, where she was admired for her beauty and charm. Sadly, she died of smallpox in March 1617, and her husband, on returning to Jamestown, was killed in a war with her tribe in 1622. Their son, Thomas, was educated in England and returned to America in 1640. A number of books have been written and a film has been made about her extraordinary life.

xxxxxIn 1608, a year after the establishment of Jamestown, the French soldier and explorer Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) founded and named the city of Quebec, a small cluster of dwellings which was destined to be the capital of New France. Four years later he was appointed lieutenant governor of French Canada. He made no less than 12 visits to North America - seeking to extend French settlement, promote the Christian faith and, above all, expand the fur trade. Following closely at times in the footsteps of his great countryman, Jacques Cartier, he discovered the River Ottawa and the three lakes of Ontario, Huron and “Champlain”. Such was his accomplishment that he became known as the "Father of New France", the champion of French colonisation.


xxxxxChamplain was born in Hiers Brouage, western France. He served in the army of Henry IV and then in 1599 made a voyage to the West Indies and Spanish America. Later, reporting his findings to his monarch, he put forward the idea of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama as a means of shortening the passage to the South Seas. (The canal was eventually built 1904-1910). In 1603 he turned his attention to North America and joined an expedition seeking colonies in the New World. He explored the Saint Lawrence River up to the Lachine Rapids (as Cartier had done before him) and, the following year (1604), mapped the New England coast as far south as Massachusetts. It was during this expedition that he took part in the founding of Arcadia and then Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia), the first French colony in North America.

xxxxxIt was on his third expedition to Canada, in 1609, that he reached Quebec and set up a fur trading fort. He may well have given the settlement its name, derived from an Indian word meaning "where the river narrows". It was from here, realising the importance of Indian support, that he formed an alliance with the local tribes, the Algonquin and Hurons, and actively supported them in their conflict with the Iroquois to the south, using firearms for the first time to ensure victory. It was while fighting in support of the Canadian Indians that he discovered the lake that today bears his name. Two years later, in 1611, he established a trading station at Montreal, named by Cartier in 1535. Then,xhaving sailed up the Ottawa river as far as Allumette Island, in 1615 he explored Lake Ontario, accompanied by his fellow countryman, Étienne Brûlé - who may well have gone on to discover Lake Superior.

xxxxxIn 1629, when an English force raided and captured the settlement of Quebec - guided up the St. Lawrence, in fact, by a turncoat Brûlé! - Champlain was taken prisoner and spent the next three years in England. He then returned to North America and was appointed governor of New France in 1633, a post he held until his death two years later.

xxxxxSon of a naval captain, Champlain showed a remarkable ability both as a navigator and cartographer. His accounts and maps of the territory, many included in his Voyages in Western New France, greatly aided future settlement. When he died in Quebec in 1635 the colony was still in its infancy, but his exploration of eastern Canada, his development of the fur trade, and the alliance he had formed with the local Indian tribes, helped to pave the way for the making of a substantial French empire in North America.

xxxxxIn 1608, a year after the establishment of Jamestown, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) founded and named the city of Quebec, the future capital of New France. During 12 visits to North America he discovered the River Ottawa and the three lakes of Ontario, Huron and “Champlain”. Earlier he founded Arcadia and then Port Royal, the first French colony in North America, and was one of the first to suggest the building of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Appointed governor of New France in 1733, he helped pave the way for the building of a French empire in North America. Furthermore, his Voyages in Western New France, complete with maps, did much to aid future settlement in the region.