Among the first people who came from England to live in the New World was a man named Captain John Smith. He and his people called the village which they built Jamestown, in honor of King James of England. This was in Virginia, in the year 1607. There were about one hundred men in the village. They had no families, or, if they had, they left them in England. Most of the men had come to find gold and get rich, and then return to England. Some wanted to see this wonderful new world that everywhere in Europe people were talking about.
About half of the men in this company were so-called “gentlemen.” They were not used to hard work. They did not want to chop wood. They did not know how to cultivate the soil. There were some who could refine gold, and these might have been quite useful if there had been any gold to refine. There was even one man who could make perfume. But these gold seekers did not care for perfume. Fortunately, there were among them a few carpenters, a blacksmith, a mason, a barber, and a tailor.
The first summer in Jamestown was a hard one. Some of the people lived in tents. Some dug caves in the hillside to live in. A few built log cabins. The food they had brought with them from England was soon gone, and the corn they had planted was not ready to be gathered. The men did not know how to take care of themselves, and many of them became sick. By September, half their number had died.
Captain John Smith was then made president of the colony. And he saved it from destruction. How did he do it? He set every man to work. He said, “Those who will not work, shall not eat.” He trained the tender “gentlemen” till they learned how to swing the ax in the forest. He taught them that the surest way to make a fortune is by hard, honest labor. He showed them how to build comfortable log huts for the winter. He made friends among the Indians, and from them he bought corn and other food.
A tribe of Indians, called the Powhatans, were the nearest neighbors of the white men. Usually they were friendly, but not always. Once during the winter, when Captain Smith was among them, they caught him and prepared to kill him. They were going to tie him to a tree to be burned.
All at once, he thought of a little compass that he had in his pocket. He pulled it out, and began to explain it to the Indians. He showed them the trembling needle. He told them it kept him from being lost in the woods. He said it always told him just which way to go to find Jamestown. They wondered how that could be.
Then he told them about the shape of the earth. He talked to them about the motions of the moon and the stars. He explained how the sun and the moon and the stars chase one another. They were so interested and delighted that they forgot to kill him.
At last he promised to give his gun to the one who would take a piece of paper to his people in Jamestown. On this piece of paper they saw him make a few marks, but they did not know what these marks meant. When the Indians who carried the paper to Jamestown found that it told his friends of his misfortune, they were astonished. They could not understand how the white man could make the paper talk. They thought he must be some kind of god, and they did not dare to kill him.
Then Captain Smith gave them some seeds. These they afterwards planted, expecting to reap a harvest for their next year. After that the Indians let the white man go free, and he returned to Jamestown in safety.
A few years later, Captain Smith was so badly burned by an explosion that he had to go to England, where he could have a doctor’s care. Here he stayed during the rest of his life. Captain John Smith will always be remembered as the man who saved from starvation and death the first English settlement in America.
True Education Reader, Fourth Grade, Pacific Press Publishing Association, © 1931, 52–55.
Six years after John Smith’s exploration, the Pilgrims set out for the New World after fleeing persecution for their religious beliefs from the Church of England. They set sail on a long and dangerous voyage across the Atlantic in the leaky, top-heavy Mayflower. Landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Pilgrims befriended the Indians and endured many hardships. After a successful harvest in the New World, they celebrated their first Thanksgiving feast with their Native American friends in the autumn of 1621.