Why is Captain John Smith Important?
1) Smith put the Chesapeake on the map—literally. His map of the Chesapeake is unbelievably accurate, especially considering they didn’t even have a sextant or an understanding of longitude yet. There is very little difference when one overlays a satellite map on top of Smith’s map. It is an impressive feat of cartography, but more important it was the first really detailed map of the New World. When published, the map provided the first blueprint for European settlement in the Chesapeake region and ignited the spirit of adventure in the hearts of Europeans.
2) Smith’s voyages provide the baseline for the “State of the Bay” report. His incredibly detailed description of the natural resources of the Bay, and his accounts of the American Indian’s agricultural and foraging practices, allowed historians and scientists to piece together the health of the Bay in the 1600’s. In 2005, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s State of the Bay is scored as a 29 out of 100, with 100 representing the incredibly rich and productive Bay Smith recorded during his voyages.
3) Jamestown would not have survived without Smith. The food staples that he traded for/bartered/stole from the Virginia Indians (who for the most part were extraordinarily generous) ensured the colony's survival. Smith also helped make the Jamestown fort defensible, and set forth the democratic policy that if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat, and applied it to all members of the colony, including the upperclass. Through his sound leadership practices, he helped save the colony when rats ate the winter food stores.
4) John Smith is super cool! He was a soldier, adventurer and President of Jamestown but incredibly, he also explored over 3,000 miles of the Chesapeake in what essentially was a large rowboat (28 ft) with a sail. The majority of his exploring took place on the James and York rivers, but he took off June 2nd, 1608, with 12-14 men and minimal provisions then headed up the Bay looking for the Northwest Passage, gold, and signs of the lost Roanoke Colony.