Captain John Smith’s Writings

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Captain John Smith was an English soldier, sailor and explorer. He is remembered for his role in founding the first permanent English settlement in North America, and his short alliance with the Native American princess Pocahontas. Smith went back to New England in 1614 after he quarreled with the Virginia Company. He mapped the coast from Penobscot Bay to Cape Cod. In 1615, he attempted to sail again for New England but was forced by violent storms to return to England. He hoped to be in Plymouth Company but after that he never saw America again. Now, with no money in his pocket and living in England, Princess Pocahontas (Lady Rebecca) and John Rolfe paid him a visit. Captain John Smith spent the rest of his life writing of his personal accounts on military exploits and adventures.

In 1616, when Captain John Smith heard that Pocahontas was coming England with her husband John Rolfe to pay him a visit, he wrote a letter to Queen Anne. It was more an appeal rather than a perfunctory letter. Captain Smith main concern was the kind of reception accorded to Pocahontas. He felt that she might not be given the reception she deserved, so he wrote Queen Anne a letter to make his sentiments known. At the same time, to personally give his assurance on the integrity of Pocahontas. In his letter, he discloses to the Queen that Pocahontas saved his life on several occasions. Not just his but also the lives of many English at Jamestown. To which he owed Pocahontas some debt of gratitude. Smith humbled himself before the Queen in this letter which any English citizen would do. But what made it particularly interesting is the fact that he was not an ordinary citizen. At that time, he was one of the most famous and influential explorers in England and what he said mattered.

Captain John Smith`s reports are described as the first distinctly American literature written in English because his writing gets to the heart of the matter without any verbose descriptions that are not pertinent to his reports. Take for instance ‘A Plantation in New-England’. This report is part of his writings about the Pilgrims and Plymouth. It gave an account describing the Pilgrims leaving for America. An example of his account is “Upon these inducements some few well disposed Gentlemen, and Merchants of London and other places, provided two ships, the one of a hundred and three-score tons, the other of threescore and ten. They left the coast of England the two and twentieth of August, with about a hundred and twenty persons”. Another report Captain Smith made is called ‘The Present [1624] Estate of New Plymouth’. This report contains account describing the colony and its finances as of 1624. The following are excerpts from the said report: “The governor is one Master William Bradford; their Captain Miles Standish, a bred Soldier in Holland; the chief men for their assistance is Master Isaak Alderton, and divers others as occasion serveth; their preachers are Master William Bruster and Master John Layford.”

Captain Smith’s account is mainly factual and objective. It is not embellished with fancy words but get straight to the point. His writings do not appeal to emotions but more on reason and inspire one to think. It answers the most basic questions: who, when, where, why and how. I believe these are the features that made his reports the first distinctly American literature written in English.


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