W HEN John Smith arrived in England, he found a ship with colonists on board ready to sail for the New World. He was asked to join the party and try his fortune in the strange land across the ocean. Of course, he agreed, and the ship soon set sail. Now, the King had arranged for the new colony to be governed by twelve counselors, whose names were put in a sealed envelope, not to be opened until the vessel reached America. There was much quarrelling on board as to which among the adventurers was the greatest; you may be sure that Smith did a deal of boasting, and would allow that no one was greater than he. His vain talk so alarmed some of those present and so enraged others that they put him in irons and kept him thus until they reached land.
They founded Jamestown, in Virginia but the colonists were not suited to the rude work of the wilderness. They were gentlemen who wanted gold, and they did not care to cut down trees, build houses, and plant gardens. Smith warned them they had better plant their gardens in the spring; if they wanted gold, they could seek it afterwards. But they would not listen to him, and went about the woods, digging around trees and seeking in the gullies for the precious metal. This made the Indians laugh, for they knew that the winter would find the white folks without food. And so it came to pass. A terrible starving time fell upon them, and many of them died.
The Indians would not sell corn to the colonists, and so Smith set out to make them. He and a few men went up the James River in a boat, until they came to an Indian village. Here they made signs that Smith would exchange hatchets and beads for corn. The Indians knew the whites were starving, and shook their heads, "No." The trinkets Smith offered did not tempt them, but they said they would give a small piece of bread for Smith's gun and sword.
Smith knew the Indians were afraid of his gun, so he fired it off several times. This frightened the Indians so much that they ran, yelling, into the woods, which gave Smith and his men the opportunity to seize a quantity of corn. The Indians soon came back, carrying their painted idol which they thought would destroy the white men. But Smith and his men fired their guns again, whereupon, the Indians dropped the idol and ran away into the woods for the second time.
Smith seized the idol and started to carry it away. When the Indians returned and saw him with their precious god, they gladly exchanged a boat load of corn for it; by their manner they showed Smith plainly that they wished he would go away as quietly as possible. This the brave Captain was not slow to do, especially as he had a large amount of good corn.
Later on, Captain Smith decided to explore the country, and, with a few men and two Indian guides he sailed up the Chickahominy River in search of adventure. After he had sailed for some distance, with an Indian guide he went ashore, leaving the rest of the party to boil the pot for supper. He had not gone very far before he heard cries and sounds of strife from the direction of the canoe. The Indians had attacked the party and had killed every one of them. This left Smith and his guide alone in a wilderness, surrounded by hostile savages.
Smith now tied the Indian fast to his own arm, so that he could not escape and both began to run. An arrow whizzed out from the bushes, striking Smith in the thigh. Signs of Indians were all around. Their forms skulked in the undergrowth, and their arrows flew through the air. Smith seized his guide and held him in front as a shield to protect himself from the arrows. In this way the brave soldier tried to walk backwards towards his canoe, but, not seeing where he was walking, he backed into a quicksand up to his waist.
The Indians, realizing the plight of Smith and the Indian guide, ran yelling from the woods, and made them both captive. They were pulled from the mud, washed clean, and their clothes were dried before a fire. Smith knew that this was all in preparation for a great time when he would be tortured to death.
Soon the Indians came with Smith to their Chief, Opecancanough, who looked at the captive with angry face. Smith thought his hour had arrived, but he resolved to put it off as long as he could. So he took out his pocket compass and showed it to the Indians. They looked at the trembling needle, which they could see but not touch, on account of the glass, and were so astonished that they decided not to kill Smith at once, but to send him to Powhatan.
When Powhatan saw the white man, he was greatly pleased, and ordered him fed abundantly that he might be fat when the time came to kill him. Smith ate so much bread and deer meat and vegetables that he fell ill, and asked Powhatan to let him send word to his friends at Jamestown.
Smith wrote a note on a piece of bark, with a bit of burnt stick, and gave it to a messenger to take to the colony. The messenger quickly delivered the note, and came back with presents for Powhatan. But Powhatan said that any man who could make a piece of bark talk by merely marking on it was a magician, and should be put to death.
One day Smith was brought in before the savage old Chief, bound with thongs, and laid upon a stone, while the warriors prepared to beat out his brains. This would have been the end of Captain John Smith if Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, had not rushed in and begged her father to spare the life of the white man. Old Powhatan ordered Smith unbound, and he was led away to continue his adventures in the wilds of America.