John Smith: The Proceedings of the English Colony in Virginia (1612)


The English who initially settled Jamestown in 1607 struggled to survive and a couple of times came close to abandoning the colony. They could not grow food to sustain themselves and they could not subjugate the local Indian confederacy under the chief Powhatan. They understandably feared that he could wipe them out with a concerted attack, while they remained dependent on supplies that his people could supply from their agricultural surpluses. Captain John Smith, for some months the head of the Jamestown colony, regularly encountered Powhatan or contingents of his people as he himself led small groups into the hinterland. They almost always haggled as each sought to assert his primacy over the other.

Did the Indians already possess some European-made implements when Smith came to visit them? What kinds of ceremonies did the Indians display? What kinds of ceremonies did the English display? Were the Powhatan Indians fearful of the English or vice versa? Did the English need anything of the Indians? Did the English take advantage of Powhatan in the trade that they conducted? What did Powhatan suspect to be the ultimate motive of the English in coming to his territory?


What happened on the second voyage to discover the Bay

Entering the River of Tockwogh the savages all armed in a fleet of boats round environed us; it chanced one of them could speak the language of Powhatan who persuaded the rest to a friendly parley: but when they see us furnished with the Massawomecks' weapons, and we feigning the invention of Kecoughtan to have taken them perforce; they conducted us to their palisaded town, mantled with the barks of trees, with scaffolds like mounts, breasted about with barks very formally, their men, women, and children, with dances, songs, fruits, fish, furs, & what they had kindly entertained us, spreading mats for us to sit on, stretching their best abilities to express their loves.

Many hatchets, knives, & pieces of iron, & brass, we see, which they reported to have from the Sasquesahanocks a mighty people, and mortal enemies with the Massawomecks; the Sasquesahanocks inhabit upon the chief spring of these 4 two days' journey higher than our barge could pass for (1) rocks. Yet we prevailed with the interpreter to take with him another interpreter to persuade the Sasquesahanocks to come to visit us, for their languages are different: 3 or 4 days we expected their return then 60 of these giant-like people came down with presents of venison, tobacco pipes, baskets, targets, bowes and arrows, 5 of their Werowances came boldly aboard us, to cross the bay for Tockwogh, leaving their men and canoes, the wind being so violent that they durst not pass.

Our order was, daily to have prayer, with a psalm, at which solemnity the poor savages much wondered: our prayers being done, they were long busied with consultation till they had contrived their business; then they began in most passionate manner to hold up their hands to the sun with a most fearful song, then embracing the Captain, they began to adore him in like manner, though he rebuked them, yet they proceeded till their song was finished, which done with a most strange furious action, and a hellish voice began an oration of their loves; that ended, with a great painted bear's skin they covered our Captain. then one ready with a chain of white beads (weighing at least 6 or 7 pound) hung it about his neck, the others had 18 mantles made of divers sorts of skins sowed together, all these with many other toys, they laid at his feet, stroking their ceremonious hands about his neck for his creation to be their governor, promising their aids, victuals, or what they had to be his, if he would stay with them to defend and revenge them of the Massawomecks; But we left them at Tockwogh, they much sorrowing for our departure, yet we promised the next year again to visit them; many descriptions and discourses they made us of Atquanahuck, Massawomeck, and other people, signifying they inhabit the river of Cannida, and from the French to have their hatchets, and such like tools by trade, these know no more of the territories of Powhatan then his name, and he as little of them. . . .


Captain Smith's Journey to Pamaunke

This company being victualled but for 3 or 4 days lodged the first night at Weraskoyack, where the President took sufficient provision; This kind savage did his best to divert him from seeing Powhatan, but perceiving he could not prevail, he advised in this manner Captain Smith, "you shall find Powhatan to use you kindly, but trust him not, and be sure he have no opportunity to seize on your arms, for he hath sent for you only to cut your throats;" the Captain thanked him for his good counsel, yet the better to try his love, desired guides to Chowanoke, for he would send a present to that king to bind him his friend. To perform this journey, was sent Michael Sicklemore, a very honest, valiant, and painful (2) soldier, with him two guides, and directions how to search for the lost company of Sir Walter Raleigh, and silk grass: then we departed thence, the President assuring the king his perpetual love, and left with him Samuell Collier his page to learn the language. . . .

We sent to Powhatan for provision, who sent us plenty of bread, turkeys, & venison. The next day having feasted us after his ordinary manner, he began to ask, when we would be gone, feigning he sent not for us, neither had he any corn, and his people much less, yet for 40 swords he would procure us 40 bushels. The President showing him the men there present, that brought him the message and conditions, asked him how it chanced he became so forgetful, thereat the king concluded the matter with a merry laughter, asking for our commodities, but none he liked without guns and swords, valuing a basket of corn more precious than a basket of copper, saying he could eat his corn, but not his copper.

Captain Smith seeing the intent of this subtle savage, began to deal with him after this manner, "Powhatan, though I had many courses to have made my provision, yet believing your promises to supply my wants, I neglected all, to satisfy your desire, and to testify my love, I sent you my men for your building, neglecting my own: what your people had you have engrossed, forbidding them our trade, and now you think by consuming the time, we shall consume for want, not having to fulfill your strange demands, as for swords, and guns, I told you long ago, I had none to spare. And you shall know, those I have, can keep me from want, yet steal, or wrong you I will not, nor dissolve that friendship, we have mutually promised, (except you constrain me by your bad usage)."

The king having attentively listened to this discourse; promised, that both he and his country would spare him what they could, the which within 2 days, they should receive, "yet Captain Smith," (saith the king) "some doubt I have of your coming hither, that makes me not so kindly seek to relieve you as I would; for many do inform me, your coming is not for trade, but to invade my people and possess my country, who dare not come to bring you corn, seeing you thus armed with your men. To clear us of this fear, leave aboard your weapons, for here they are needless we being all friends and for ever Powhatan's."

With many such discourses they spent the day, quartering that night in the king's houses, the next day he reviewed his building, which he little intended should proceed; for the Dutchmen finding his plenty, and knowing our want, and perceived his preparation to surprise us, little thinking we could escape, both him and famine. . . .

Many other discourses they had, till at last they began to trade, but the king seeing his will would not be admitted as a law, our guard dispersed, nor our men disarmed, he (sighing) breathed his mind, once more in this manner.

"Captain Smith, I never used any of Werowances, so kindly as your self; yet from you I receive the least kindness of any. Captain Newport gave me swords, copper, cloths, a bed, tools, or what I desired, ever taking what I offered him, and would send away his guns when I entreated him: none doth deny to lay at my feet (or do) what I desire, but only you, of whom I can have nothing, but what you regard not, and yet you will have whatsoever you demand. Captain Newport you call father, and so you call me, but I see for all us both, you will do what you list, and we must both seek to content you: but if you intend so friendly as you say, send hence your arms that I may believe you, for you see the love I bear you, doth cause me thus nakedly forget my self."

Smith seeing this savage but trifled the time to cut his throat: procured the savages to break the ice, (that his boat might come to fetch both him and his corn) and gave order for his men to come ashore, to have surprised the king, with whom also he but trifled the time till his men landed, and to keep him from suspicion, entertained the time with this reply.

"Powhatan, you must know as I have but one God, I honor but one king; and I live not here as your subject, but as your friend, to pleasure you with what I can; by the gifts you bestow on me, you gain more than by trade; yet would you visit me as I do you, you should know it is not our custom to sell our courtesy as a vendible commodity. Bring all your country with you for your guard, I will not dislike of it as being over-jealous. But to content you, tomorrow I will leave my arms, and trust to your promise. I call you father indeed, and as a father you shall see I will love you, but the small care you had of such a child, caused my men persuade me to shift for my self."

By this time Powhatan having knowledge, his men were ready: whilst the ice was breaking, his luggage women, and children fled, and to avoid suspicion, left 2 or 3 of his women talking with the Captain, whilst he secretly fled, and his men as secretly beset the house, which being at the instant discovered to Captain Smith, with his pistol, sword & target, he made such a passage amongst those naked devils, that they fled before him some one way some another, so that without hurt he obtained the corps du guard; (3) when they perceived him so well escaped, and with his 8 men (for he had no more with him). To the uttermost of their skill, they sought by excuses to dissemble the matter, and Powhatan to excuse his flight, and the sudden coming of this multitude, sent our Captain a great bracelet, and a chain of pearl, by an ancient orator that bespoke us to this purpose, (perceiving then from our Pinnace, a barge and men departing & coming unto us) "Captain Smith, our Werowans is fled, fearing your guns, & knowing when the ice was broken there would come more men, sent those of his to guard his corn from the pilfery, that might happen without your knowledge: now though some be hurt by your misprision, (4) yet he is your friend, and so will continue: and since the ice is open he would have you send away your corn, and if you would have his company send also your arms, which so affrighteth this people, that they dare not come to you, as he hath promised they should:" now having provided baskets for our men to carry the corn, they kindly offered their service to guard our arms, that none should steal them. A great many they were, of goodly well-appointed fellows as grim as devils; yet the very sight of cocking our matches against them, and few words, caused them to leave their bows & arrows to our guard, and bear down our corn on their own backs; we needed not importune them to make quick dispatch. But our own barge being left by the ebb, caused us to stay, till the midnight tide carried us safe aboard, having spent that half night with such mirth, as though we never had suspected or intended any thing, we left the Dutchmen to build, Brinton to kill fowl for Powhatan (as by his messengers he importunately desired) and left directions with our men to give Powhatan all the content they could, that we might enjoy his company at our return from Pamaunke.


(1) Because of.

(2) Painstaking, conscientious.

(3) Reached the bodyguard.

(4) Misunderstanding.


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