John Smith became involved with the Virgina Company of London in 1606. The Virgina Company was a joint stock company with the purpose of establishing colonial settlements in North America. On December 1606 approximately 105 men, including Smith, set sail from London in three ships, the Discovery, the Susan Constant, and the Godspeed, headed for Virgina. The men had three goal to accomplish: establish a colony, find gold, and discover a water passage to the Pacific Ocean. In April of 1607 the prospective colonists finally reached Virgina after the four month voyage. Upon reading the sealed list of names of the seven men who were to become the council members whom would govern the new colony, John Smith was one of the names read aloud. On May 13, 1607 the men settled on the area of land that would become the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, and they would call it Jamestown.
Difficulties at Jamestown
The colonists were faced with harsh winters, lack of water, attacks from natives, and disease. Only two weeks after settling at Jamestown 200 Indians attacked, and by September half of of the original 105 settlers were in graves (Smith 48).
The Capture by Powhatan
In December 1607 Smith and some fellow colonists were ambushed by a group of Indians. After killing his fellow colonists the Indians captured Smith and brought him to Powhatan, chief of a confederacy of two dozen tribes and 200 villages spread over much of what is now eastern Virgina (Lord 49). Historians are unsure of exactly what happened between Powhatan and John Smith in the time he was captured. This is because Smith gave two separate, and very different, accounts of what occurred. In the first version, it is said that Powhatan offered Smith to live with him in peace and engage in trade. Smith even wrote about this stating "this request I promised to perform." Then, according to this account, Smith was set free. In his second version of the encounter Smith's head was placed on a stone where it was to be beaten, but "Pocahontas the King's dearest daughter..got his head in her arms and laid her own upon his to save him from death; where at the Emperor was contented he should live." But whatever truly happened, it is known that Powhatan declared Smith a friend and set him free (Lord 48).
The incident with Powhatan and the friendship formed helped Smith to barter for food in order to keep Jamestown and the colonists from going under. Although the colonists were being fed, conflict in Jamestown continued due to laziness, lack of supplies, and attempts of desertion. Due to this, personal conflicts, and disagreements over policies in London, Smith left Jamestown to explore, map, and search for food in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Upon his arrival back to Jamestown, Smith was elected and took over as of president of the local council in September 1608. Smith began making big changes and even stated that "He that will not work shall not eat." He began putting people to work cutting timber and sawing bored for shelters that would help the colony through the harsh winters. Smith also divided the colonists into three groups: one upriver to hunt game, another downriver to catch fish, and the last group went to the Chesapeake shore to collect oysters.
Smith ultimately saved Jamestown from complete chaos buy stepping up and leading the colonists. But although he saved the town, the Virgina Company was still not happy because they had yet to find any gold. Summer of 1609 the Virgina Company ordered a new charter and Smith was demoted to running a remote lookout garrison. Soon after the Company's decision, Smith was badly burned in an accidental gunpowder explosion. He left for England in October of 1609 and never returned to Jamestown.