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The two best things about Captain John Smith were that he was never idle and he never gave up. He was a good man to have in a colony, for he was always trying to find out something new or to accomplish some great thing. He had not found a way to China in the swamps on the Chickahominy River; he had only found a mudhole and got himself captured by the American Indians. But he thought he might find the Pacific Ocean by sailing up the Chesapeake Bay. So he went twice up this bay, exploring at last to the very head of it. Of course, he did not find a way into the Pacific Ocean. We know well enough nowadays that China is not anywhere in the neighborhood of Baltimore. But Smith made a good map of the great bay, and he bought corn from the Indians, and so kept the colony alive. This was better than finding a way to China, if he had only known it.

In living in an open boat and sailing among Indians that were very suspicious and unfriendly, Smith and his men had to suffer many hardships. They were sometimes nearly wrecked by storms, and once when their sail had been torn to pieces they patched it with the shirts off their backs. Their bread was spoiled by the splashing of the salt water, and they suffered so much with thirst that at one time they would have been willing to give a barrel of gold, if they had only had it, for a drink of puddle water. Sometimes when sleeping on the ground, they got so cold that they were forced to get up in the night and move their fire so that they could lie down on the warm earth where the fire had been.

At one place the Indians shot arrows at them from the trees. Then they tried to get the Englishmen to come on shore by dancing with baskets in their hands. Captain Smith says that he felt sure they had nothing in their baskets but villainy. So he had his men fire off their guns. The noise of the guns so frightened the Indians that they all dropped to the ground and then fled into the woods. Smith and his men now ventured ashore and left presents of beads, little bells, and looking-glasses in their wigwams. Pleased with these things, the Indians became friendly and fell to trading.

Once, when many of Captain Smith's men were ill, the Indians attacked him. Smith put his sick men under a tarpaulin and mounted their hats on sticks among his well men, so that the boat appeared to have its full force. Having procured Indian shields of wickerwork, Captain Smith put them along the side of his boat, so as to fight from behind them. But he generally made friends with the Indian tribes, and he came back to Jamestown with plenty of corn and furs.

Powhatan, the greatest of the Indian chiefs, wanted to get the arms of the colonists. Muskets, swords, and pistols were now and then stolen by the Indians, and Captain Smith tried to put a stop to this thievery. Two Indians who were brothers stole a pistol. They were captured, and one of them was put in prison, while the other was sent to get the pistol. The one in the prison was allowed a fire of charcoal, to keep him from freezing. When his brother came back, the prisoner was found smothered by the gas from the charcoal-fire. The other poor fellow was heartbroken; but Captain Smith succeeded in reviving the one that had been smothered. From this, the Indians concluded that he was not only a great brave, but a great medicine-man as well, who could bring dead people to life.

At another time, an Indian stole a bag of gunpowder, which was a thing of wonder to the Indians. He also stole a piece of armor at the same time. He had seen the colonists dry their wet powder by putting it into a piece of armor and holding it over the fire. He tried to do the same thing; but the fire was too hot for the powder, and the Indian was treated to a very great surprise. This terrified the Indians for a time.

In 1609, there were many newcomers, and Captain Smith's enemies got control of the colony. They sent Smith home, and he never saw Virginia again.

Captain Smith afterward sailed on a voyage to New England in 1014. While his men caught and salted fish to pay for the expense of the voyage, Smith sailed in an open boat along the New England coast. He traded with the Indians, giving them beads and other trinkets for furs, he also made the first good map of the coast. After he had returned to England with furs, Hunt, who was captain of his second ship, coaxed twenty-four Indians on board and then sailed away with them to Spain. Here he made sale of his shipload of salted fish and began to sell the poor Indians for slaves. Some good monks, finding out what he was doing stopped him and took the Indians into their convent to make Christians of them. One of these Indians, named Squanto [squon'-to], afterward found his way to England, and from there was taken back to America.

Captain Smith tried very hard to persuade English people to plant a colony in New England. He finally set out with only sixteen men to begin a settlement there, he had made friends with the New England Indians, and he was sure that with a few men he could still succeed in planting a colony. But he had very bad luck. He first lost the masts of his vessels in a storm. He returned to England again and set sail in a smaller ship. He was then chased by a pirate-vessel. Smith found, on hailing this ship, that some of the men on board had been soldiers under him in the Turkish wars. They proposed to him to be their captain, but he did not want to command such rogues.

Smith's little vessel had no sooner got away from these villains, then he was chased by a French ship. He had to threaten to blow up his ship to get his men to fight. He escaped again, but the next time he was met by a fleet of French privateers. They made Smith come aboard one of their vessels to show his papers. After they had got him out of his ship, they held him prisoner and took possession of his cargo. They afterward agreed to let him have his vessel again, as he was still determined to sail to New England; but his men wanted to turn back. So, while Smith was on the French ship, his own men ran away with his vessel and got back to England. Thus, his plan for a colony failed.

Smith spent his summer on the French fleet. When the French privateers were fighting with an English vessel, they made Smith a prisoner in the cabin; but when they fought with Spanish ships they would put Smith at the guns and make him fight with them. Smith reached England at last and had the satisfaction of having some of his runaway sailors put in prison. He never tried to plant another colony, though he was very much pleased with the success of the Plymouth colony which settled in New England a few years later than this. This brave, roving, fighting, boasting captain died in 1631, when he was fifty-two years old.


Study the lesson for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the story.
  • Review the synopsis.
  • Study the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.
  • Answer the review questions.


Captain John Smith was never idle and never gave up. He failed to find the Pacific via the Chickahominy River, so next he tried to find a path via the Chesapeake Bay, but found it was not the way. Smith and his men suffered many hardships while sailing, including storms, damage to his ship, tainted food, lack of drinking water, cold weather, and wary American Indians. Smith did a lot of trading with the Powhatans and tried to remain friendly. By 1609, many newcomers came to Jamestown and took over the settlement. Smith was sent home, but returned again in 1614 to New England, again trading with the American Indians and exploring. He also made maps of the coast and brought furs back to Europe for sale. The captain of his second ship, Hunt, also brought captured American Indians back to Spain and sold them as slaves. Some monks freed the American Indians and tried to convert them to Christianity. One of the slaves, named Squanto, made his way back home to America. Smith tried to establish a colony in New England but failed. He was taken prisoner by a French ship, but eventually made his way back home to England. He died in 1631, at the age of 52.


Idle: Not active, lazy.
Villainy: Wickedness.
Tarpaulin: Waterproof canvas for covering goods.
Wigwam: A traditional American Indian house of long ago.
Wickerwork: Woven of twigs, such as a basket.
Privateer: A warship belonging to private owners, with authority from the government to capture vessels of an enemy.
Medicine Man: A priest and doctor among the Indians who pretends to work by charms.


Activity 1: Narrate the Story

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Story Picture

  • Study the story picture of John Smith and describe how it relates to the story.

Activity 3: Map the Story

  • Jamestown, the site of the settlement, was located on the coast of present-day Virginia. Find Virginia (VA) on the map of the United States.

Activity 4: Complete Copywork, Narration, Dictation, and Art   

  • Click the crayon above. Complete pages 13-14 of 'American History Copywork, Narration, Dictation, and Art for Third Grade.'


Question 1

Why did Captain John Smith explore Chesapeake Bay?
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Answer 1

Smith explored Chesapeake Bay in the hopes of finding a waterway leading to the Pacific Ocean.
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Question 2

Why was Smith sent home to England?
2 / 5

Answer 2

Smith was sent home by newcomers that wished to take over the settlement.
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Question 3

Who was Squanto?
3 / 5

Answer 3

Squanto was an American Indian, captured and sold into slavery by Smith's captain, Hunt, then freed by monks. He made his way back home to America.
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Question 4

Where did Smith want to establish a new colony?
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Answer 4

Smith wished to establish a new colony in New England.
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Question 5

Did Smith succeed in establishing a colony in New England?
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Answer 5

No, Smith did not succeed in establishing a colony in New England.
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  1. Why did Captain John Smith explore Chesapeake Bay? Smith explored Chesapeake Bay in the hopes of finding a waterway leading to the Pacific Ocean.
  2. Why was Smith sent home to England? Smith was sent home by newcomers that wished to take over the settlement.
  3. Who was Squanto? Squanto was an American Indian, captured and sold into slavery by Smith's captain, Hunt, then freed by monks. He made his way back home to America.
  4. Where did Smith want to establish a new colony? Smith wished to establish a new colony in New England.
  5. Did Smith succeed in establishing a colony in New England? No, Smith did not succeed in establishing a colony in New England.


  1. 'Image from 'The Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. (1906 {PD-US})' Gutenberg. www.gutenberg.org/files/24487/24487-h/24487-h.htm#johnsmith. n.p.