John Smith

William Boelhower

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
John Smith


Captain John Smith (b. 1580–d. 1631) won honors and experience as a volunteer soldier on the continent before joining the first group of Virginia colonists who founded James Fort in 1607. If this colony survived to become England’s first permanent settlement in the Americas, it was largely due to the initiative, cunning, and military discipline of Smith, who became president of the colony, its major author, and a legendary figure of early modern letters. Although his achievements as “cape merchant” (trader) at James Fort and diplomatic liaison between Powhatan and the colony are universally acknowledged, his self-fashioned and contested reputation is due in large part to his own writings and rewritings, beginning with the autobiographical letter A True Relation (1608), written in Jamestown, and followed by later works such as Map of Virginia (1612), New England’s Trials (1620), the ambitious magnum opus The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), and the comprehensive autobiographical True Travels published a year before his death in 1631. Smith filled many roles and played many parts in his enterprising lifetime: soldier of fortune, slave, world traveler, sailor, adventurer, president of the Jamestown colony, diplomat to the Algonquian tribes in Tidewater Virginia, historian, geographer/cartographer, ethnographer, linguist, promoter of colonization to New England, compiler, and autobiographer. Such a rich and complex life has led scholars and critics to portray him in contradictory ways: epic hero versus romantic failure, exemplary Elizabethan versus prototypical American, or soldier and man of action versus thinker and fabulator.

Article.  11788 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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