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Captain John Smith
New England's Trials

by Charles Dudley Warner

Smith was not cast down by his reverses. No sooner had he laid his latest betrayers by the heels than he set himself resolutely to obtain money and means for establishing a colony in New England, and to this project and the cultivation in England of interest in New England he devoted the rest of his life.

His Map and Description of New England was published in 1616, and he became a colporteur of this, beseeching everywhere a hearing for his noble scheme. It might have been in 1617, while Pocahontas was about to sail for Virginia, or perhaps after her death, that he was again in Plymouth, provided with three good ships, but windbound for three months, so that the season being past, his design was frustrated, and his vessels, without him, made a fishing expedition to Newfoundland.

It must have been in the summer of this year that he was at Plymouth with divers of his personal friends, and only a hundred pounds among them all. He had acquainted the nobility with his projects, and was afraid to see the Prince Royal before he had accomplished anything, "but their great promises were nothing but air to prepare the voyage against the next year." He spent that summer in the west of England, visiting "Bristol, Exeter, Bastable? Bodman, Perin, Foy, Milborow, Saltash, Dartmouth, Absom, Pattnesse, and the most of the gentry in Cornwall and Devonshire, giving them books and maps," and inciting them to help his enterprise.

So well did he succeed, he says, that they promised him twenty sail of ships to go with him the next year, and to pay him for his pains and former losses. The western commissioners, in behalf of the company, contracted with him, under indented articles, "to be admiral of that country during my life, and in the renewing of the letters-patent so to be nominated"; half the profits of the enterprise to be theirs, and half to go to Smith and his companions.

Nothing seems to have come out of this promising induction except the title of "Admiral of New England," which Smith straightway assumed and wore all his life, styling himself on the title-page of everything he printed, "Sometime Governor of Virginia and Admiral of New England." As the generous Captain had before this time assumed this title, the failure of the contract could not much annoy him. He had about as good right to take the sounding name of Admiral as merchants of the west of England had to propose to give it to him.

The years wore away, and Smith was beseeching aid, republishing his works, which grew into new forms with each issue, and no doubt making himself a bore wherever he was known. The first edition of "New England's Trials"--by which he meant the various trials and attempts to settle New England was published in 1620. It was to some extent a repetition of his "Description" of 1616. In it he made no reference to Pocahontas. But in the edition of 1622, which is dedicated to Charles, Prince of Wales, and considerably enlarged, he drops into this remark about his experience at Jamestown: "It Is true in our greatest extremitie they shot me, slue three of my men, and by the folly of them that fled tooke me prisoner; yet God made Pocahontas the king's daughter the meanes to deliver me: and thereby taught me to know their treacheries to preserve the rest. [This is evidently an allusion to the warning Pocahontas gave him at Werowocomoco.] It was also my chance in single combat to take the king of Paspahegh prisoner, and by keeping him, forced his subjects to work in chains till I made all the country pay contribution having little else whereon to live."

This was written after he had heard of the horrible massacre of 1622 at Jamestown, and he cannot resist the temptation to draw a contrast between the present and his own management. He explains that the Indians did not kill the English because they were Christians, but to get their weapons and commodities. How different it was when he was in Virginia. "I kept that country with but 38, and had not to eat but what we had from the savages. When I had ten men able to go abroad, our commonwealth was very strong: with such a number I ranged that unknown country 14 weeks: I had but 18 to subdue them all." This is better than Sir John Falstaff. But he goes on: "When I first went to those desperate designes it cost me many a forgotten pound to hire men to go, and procrastination caused more run away than went." "Twise in that time I was President." [It will be remembered that about the close of his first year he gave up the command, for form's sake, to Capt. Martin, for three hours, and then took it again.] "To range this country of New England in like manner, I had but eight, as is said, and amongst their bruite conditions I met many of their silly encounters, and without any hurt, God be thanked." The valiant Captain had come by this time to regard himself as the inventor and discoverer of Virginia and New England, which were explored and settled at the cost of his private pocket, and which he is not ashamed to say cannot fare well in his absence. Smith, with all his good opinion of himself, could not have imagined how delicious his character would be to readers in after-times. As he goes on he warms up: "Thus you may see plainly the yearly success from New England by Virginia, which hath been so costly to this kingdom and so dear to me.

"By that acquaintance I have with them I may call them my children [he spent between two and three months on the New England coast] for they have been my wife, my hawks, my hounds, my cards, my dice, and total my best content, as indifferent to my heart as my left hand to my right.... Were there not one Englishman remaining I would yet begin again as I did at the first; not that I have any secret encouragement for any I protest, more than lamentable experiences; for all their discoveries I can yet hear of are but pigs of my sowe: nor more strange to me than to hear one tell me he hath gone from Billingate and discovered Greenwich!"

As to the charge that he was unfortunate, which we should think might have become current from the Captain's own narratives, he tells his maligners that if they had spent their time as he had done, they would rather believe in God than in their own calculations, and peradventure might have had to give as bad an account of their actions. It is strange they should tax him before they have tried what he tried in Asia, Europe, and America, where he never needed to importune for a reward, nor ever could learn to beg: "These sixteen years I have spared neither pains nor money, according to my ability, first to procure his majesty's letters patent, and a Company here to be the means to raise a company to go with me to Virginia [this is the expedition of 1606 in which he was without command] as is said: which beginning here and there cost me near five years work, and more than 500 pounds of my own estate, besides all the dangers, miseries and encumbrances I endured gratis, where I stayed till I left 500 better provided than ever I was: from which blessed Virgin (ere I returned) sprung the fortunate habitation of Somer Isles." "Ere I returned" is in Smith's best vein. The casual reader would certainly conclude that the Somers Isles were somehow due to the providence of John Smith, when in fact he never even heard that Gates and Smith were shipwrecked there till he had returned to England, sent home from Virginia. Neill says that Smith ventured L 9 in the Virginia company! But he does not say where he got the money.

New England, he affirms, hath been nearly as chargeable to him and his friends: he never got a shilling but it cost him a pound. And now, when New England is prosperous and a certainty, "what think you I undertook when nothing was known, but that there was a vast land." These are some of the considerations by which he urges the company to fit out an expedition for him: "thus betwixt the spur of desire and the bridle of reason I am near ridden to death in a ring of despair; the reins are in your hands, therefore I entreat you to ease me."

The Admiral of New England, who since he enjoyed the title had had neither ship, nor sailor, nor rod of land, nor cubic yard of salt water under his command, was not successful in his several "Trials." And in the hodge-podge compilation from himself and others, which he had put together shortly after,--the "General Historie," he pathetically exclaims: "Now all these proofs and this relation, I now called New England's Trials. I caused two or three thousand of them to be printed, one thousand with a great many maps both of Virginia and New England, I presented to thirty of the chief companies in London at their Halls, desiring either generally or particularly (them that would) to imbrace it and by the use of a stock of five thousand pounds to ease them of the superfluity of most of their companies that had but strength and health to labor; near a year I spent to understand their resolutions, which was to me a greater toil and torment, than to have been in New England about my business but with bread and water, and what I could get by my labor; but in conclusion, seeing nothing would be effected I was contented as well with this loss of time and change as all the rest."

In his "Advertisements" he says that at his own labor, cost, and loss he had "divulged more than seven thousand books and maps," in order to influence the companies, merchants and gentlemen to make a plantation, but "all availed no more than to hew Rocks with Oister-shels."

His suggestions about colonizing were always sensible. But we can imagine the group of merchants in Cheapside gradually dissolving as Smith hove in sight with his maps and demonstrations.

In 1618, Smith addressed a letter directly to Lord Bacon, to which there seems to have been no answer. The body of it was a condensation of what he had repeatedly written about New England, and the advantage to England of occupying the fisheries. "This nineteen years," he writes, "I have encountered no few dangers to learn what here I write in these few leaves:... their fruits I am certain may bring both wealth and honor for a crown and a kingdom to his majesty's posterity." With 5,000, pounds he will undertake to establish a colony, and he asks of his Majesty a pinnace to lodge his men and defend the coast for a few months, until the colony gets settled. Notwithstanding his disappointments and losses, he is still patriotic, and offers his experience to his country: "Should I present it to the Biskayners, French and Hollanders, they have made me large offers. But nature doth bind me thus to beg at home, whom strangers have pleased to create a commander abroad.... Though I can promise no mines of gold, the Hollanders are an example of my project, whose endeavors by fishing cannot be suppressed by all the King of Spain's golden powers. Worth is more than wealth, and industrious subjects are more to a kingdom than gold. And this is so certain a course to get both as I think was never propounded to any state for so small a charge, seeing I can prove it, both by example, reason and experience."

Smith's maxims were excellent, his notions of settling New England were sound and sensible, and if writing could have put him in command of New England, there would have been no room for the Puritans. He addressed letter after letter to the companies of Virginia and Plymouth, giving them distinctly to understand that they were losing time by not availing themselves of his services and his project. After the Virginia massacre, he offered to undertake to drive the savages out of their country with a hundred soldiers and thirty sailors. He heard that most of the company liked exceedingly well the notion, but no reply came to his overture.

He laments the imbecility in the conduct of the new plantations. At first, he says, it was feared the Spaniards would invade the plantations or the English Papists dissolve them: but neither the councils of Spain nor the Papists could have desired a better course to ruin the plantations than have been pursued; "It seems God is angry to see Virginia in hands so strange where nothing but murder and indiscretion contends for the victory."

In his letters to the company and to the King's commissions for the reformation of Virginia, Smith invariably reproduces his own exploits, until we can imagine every person in London, who could read, was sick of the story. He reminds them of his unrequited services: "in neither of those two countries have I one foot of land, nor the very house I builded, nor the ground I digged with my own hands, nor ever any content or satisfaction at all, and though I see ordinarily those two countries shared before me by them that neither have them nor knows them, but by my descriptions.... For the books and maps I have made, I will thank him that will show me so much for so little recompense, and bear with their errors till I have done better. For the materials in them I cannot deny, but am ready to affirm them both there and here, upon such ground as I have propounded, which is to have but fifteen hundred men to subdue again the Salvages, fortify the country, discover that yet unknown, and both defend and feed their colony."

There is no record that these various petitions and letters of advice were received by the companies, but Smith prints them in his History, and gives also seven questions propounded to him by the commissioners, with his replies; in which he clearly states the cause of the disasters in the colonies, and proposes wise and statesman-like remedies. He insists upon industry and good conduct: "to rectify a commonwealth with debauched people is impossible, and no wise man would throw himself into such society, that intends honestly, and knows what he understands, for there is no country to pillage, as the Romans found; all you expect from thence must be by labour."

Smith was no friend to tobacco, and although he favored the production to a certain limit as a means of profit, it is interesting to note his true prophecy that it would ultimately be a demoralizing product. He often proposes the restriction of its cultivation, and speaks with contempt of "our men rooting in the ground about tobacco like swine." The colony would have been much better off "had they not so much doated on their tobacco, on whose furnish foundation there is small stability."

So long as he lived, Smith kept himself informed of the progress of adventure and settlement in the New World, reading all relations and eagerly questioning all voyagers, and transferring their accounts to his own History, which became a confused patchwork of other men's exploits and his own reminiscences and reflections. He always regards the new plantations as somehow his own, and made in the light of his advice; and their mischances are usually due to the neglect of his counsel. He relates in this volume the story of the Pilgrims in 1620 and the years following, and of the settlement of the Somers Isles, making himself appear as a kind of Providence over the New World.

Out of his various and repetitious writings might be compiled quite a hand-book of maxims and wise saws. Yet all had in steady view one purpose--to excite interest in his favorite projects, to shame the laggards of England out of their idleness, and to give himself honorable employment and authority in the building up of a new empire. "Who can desire," he exclaims, "more content that hath small means, or but only his merit to advance his fortunes, than to tread and plant that ground he hath purchased by the hazard of his life; if he have but the taste of virtue and magnanimity, what to such a mind can be more pleasant than planting and building a foundation for his posterity, got from the rude earth by God's blessing and his own industry without prejudice to any; if he have any grace of faith or zeal in Religion, what can be more healthful to any or more agreeable to God than to convert those poor salvages to know Christ and humanity, whose labours and discretion will triply requite any charge and pain."

"Then who would live at home idly," he exhorts his countrymen, "or think in himself any worth to live, only to eat, drink and sleep, and so die; or by consuming that carelessly his friends got worthily, or by using that miserably that maintained virtue honestly, or for being descended nobly, or pine with the vain vaunt of great kindred in penury, or to maintain a silly show of bravery, toil out thy heart, soul and time basely; by shifts, tricks, cards and dice, or by relating news of other men's actions, sharke here and there for a dinner or supper, deceive thy friends by fair promises and dissimulations, in borrowing when thou never meanest to pay, offend the laws, surfeit with excess, burden thy country, abuse thyself, despair in want, and then cozen thy kindred, yea, even thy own brother, and wish thy parent's death (I will not say damnation), to have their estates, though thou seest what honors and rewards the world yet hath for them that will seek them and worthily deserve them."

"I would be sorry to offend, or that any should mistake my honest meaning: for I wish good to all, hurt to none; but rich men for the most part are grown to that dotage through their pride in their wealth, as though there were no accident could end it or their life."

"And what hellish care do such take to make it their own misery and their countrie's spoil, especially when there is such need of their employment, drawing by all manner of inventions from the Prince and his honest subjects, even the vital spirits of their powers and estates; as if their bags or brags were so powerful a defense, the malicious could not assault them, when they are the only bait to cause us not only to be assaulted, but betrayed and smothered in our own security ere we will prevent it."

And he adds this good advice to those who maintain their children in wantonness till they grow to be the masters: "Let this lamentable example [the ruin of Constantinople] remember you that are rich (seeing there are such great thieves in the world to rob you) not grudge to lend some proportion to breed them that have little, yet willing to learn how to defend you, for it is too late when the deed is done."

No motive of action did Smith omit in his importunity, for "Religion above all things should move us, especially the clergy, if we are religious." "Honor might move the gentry, the valiant and industrious, and the hope and assurance of wealth all, if we were that we would seem and be accounted; or be we so far inferior to other nations, or our spirits so far dejected from our ancient predecessors, or our minds so upon spoil, piracy and such villainy, as to serve the Portugall, Spaniard, Dutch, French or Turke (as to the cost of Europe too many do), rather than our own God, our king, our country, and ourselves; excusing our idleness and our base complaints by want of employment, when here is such choice of all sorts, and for all degrees, in the planting and discovering these North parts of America."

It was all in vain so far as Smith's fortunes were concerned. The planting and subjection of New England went on, and Smith had no part in it except to describe it. The Brownists, the Anabaptists, the Papists, the Puritans, the Separatists, and "such factious Humorists," were taking possession of the land that Smith claimed to have "discovered," and in which he had no foothold. Failing to get employment anywhere, he petitioned the Virginia Company for a reward out of the treasury in London or the profits in Virginia.

At one of the hot discussions in 1623 preceding the dissolution of the Virginia Company by the revocation of their charter, Smith was present, and said that he hoped for his time spent in Virginia he should receive that year a good quantity of tobacco. The charter was revoked in 1624 after many violent scenes, and King James was glad to be rid of what he called "a seminary for a seditious parliament." The company had made use of lotteries to raise funds, and upon their disuse, in 1621, Smith proposed to the company to compile for its benefit a general history. This he did, but it does not appear that the company took any action on his proposal. At one time he had been named, with three others, as a fit person for secretary, on the removal of Mr. Pory, but as only three could be balloted for, his name was left out. He was, however, commended as entirely competent.

After the dissolution of the companies, and the granting of new letters-patent to a company of some twenty noblemen, there seems to have been a project for dividing up the country by lot. Smith says: "All this they divided in twenty parts, for which they cast lots, but no lot for me but Smith's Isles, which are a many of barren rocks, the most overgrown with shrubs, and sharp whins, you can hardly pass them; without either grass or wood, but three or four short shrubby old cedars."

The plan was not carried out, and Smith never became lord of even these barren rocks, the Isles of Shoals. That he visited them when he sailed along the coast is probable, though he never speaks of doing so. In the Virginia waters he had left a cluster of islands bearing his name also.

In the Captain's "True Travels," published in 1630, is a summary of the condition of colonization in New England from Smith's voyage thence till the settlement of Plymouth in 1620, which makes an appropriate close to our review of this period:

"When I first went to the North part of Virginia, where the Westerly Colony had been planted, it had dissolved itself within a year, and there was not one Christian in all the land. I was set forth at the sole charge of four merchants of London; the Country being then reputed by your westerlings a most rocky, barren, desolate desart; but the good return I brought from thence, with the maps and relations of the Country, which I made so manifest, some of them did believe me, and they were well embraced, both by the Londoners, and Westerlings, for whom I had promised to undertake it, thinking to have joyned them all together, but that might well have been a work for Hercules. Betwixt them long there was much contention: the Londoners indeed went bravely forward: but in three or four years I and my friends consumed many hundred pounds amongst the Plimothians, who only fed me but with delays, promises, and excuses, but no performance of anything to any purpose. In the interim, many particular ships went thither, and finding my relations true, and that I had not taken that I brought home from the French men, as had been reported: yet further for my pains to discredit me, and my calling it New England, they obscured it, and shadowed it, with the title of Canada, till at my humble suit, it pleased our most Royal King Charles, whom God long keep, bless and preserve, then Prince of Wales, to confirm it with my map and book, by the title of New England; the gain thence returning did make the fame thereof so increase that thirty, forty or fifty sail went yearly only to trade and fish; but nothing would be done for a plantation, till about some hundred of your Brownists of England, Amsterdam and Leyden went to New Plimouth, whose humorous ignorances, caused them for more than a year, to endure a wonderful deal of misery, with an infinite patience; saying my books and maps were much better cheap to teach them than myself: many others have used the like good husbandry that have payed soundly in trying their self-willed conclusions; but those in time doing well, diverse others have in small handfulls undertaken to go there, to be several Lords and Kings of themselves, but most vanished to nothing."
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