Captain John Smith, soldier, adventurer and President of Jamestown, also explored over 3,000 miles of the Chesapeake in what essentially was a large rowboat (28ft) with a sail. The majority of his exploring took place on the James and York Rivers but he took off June 2nd, 1608 with 14 men with minimal provisions and headed up the Bay looking for the Northwest Passage, gold, and signs of the lost Roanoke Colony.
Smith left Jamestown on June 2nd, 1608 and headed out the James River, crossed the Bay and explores a little bit up the ocean coast, probably getting a lay of the land and looking for the lost Roanoke Colony. They returned to the Bay and meet with the Accomacks near what today is Port Charles and continued up the eastern shore.
They were entirely dependent on their surroundings for supplies. Two days into the voyage they ran out of food and water. After almost capsizing and sinking in Tangier Sound, they sewed a new sail from their shirts and continued onward. They then nearly died of thirst in the salt marshes of the lower Bay. After exploring the Pocomoke and Nanticoke Rivers, partially to search for water, they then had a wild ride up the Bay to the Patapsco (near Baltimore, MD) where the crew threatened mutiny. Smith convinced the men to continue on, but a steady Northwest wind caused Smith to turn back south where they discovered and explored the Potomac River up to the fall line (above Washington D.C.).
Smith convinces one of the Potomac Indian leaders to show him their silver mine, (in Stafford County, VA) which he has heard about. Unfortunately, the mine turns out not to be silver, but Smith is very impressed by the abundant natural resources, including furs, timber, and fish of the Potomac River. Turning south again, Smith almost died from being stabbed by a stingray at the mouth of the Rappahannock. However, Smith once more survives and ate the stingray as revenge! Smith returns to Jamestown where he is nominally elected President of the Colony.
However, Smith decides to keep exploring and three days later heads back up the Bay, this time all the way to the mouth of the Susquehanna River, where he discovers there is no Northwest passage. He does explore the Gunpowder, Bush, Susquehanna, Northeast, Elk and Sassafras rivers in the process. On the way back down the Bay, Smith explores all the way up the Patuxent and the Piankatank rivers. Their last night before returning to the James River was exciting. They anchored south of the York River off of Poquoson, but a storm caused their anchor to drag and they were blown out to the Bay. They sailed south into the James River navigating solely by the flashes of lightening. Smith and his crew arrived back at Jamestown fully loaded with provisions from the Nansemond tribe on September 7, 1608. Surprisingly, only one crewman died during these explorations, and from natural causes. Richard Featherstone had a sea burial below Horse Head bend on the Rappahannock.
During both trips, Smith has many encounters with American Indians, some involved peaceful trading, while others had a high degree of hostility. For instance, Smith did manage to obtain provisions from the often hostile Nanesmond tribe, but only after threatening to set fire to their canoes. Smith often took an Indian child hostage before openly approaching a new tribe. On the other hand, several Indian tribes attempted ambushes. At the fall line of the Rappahannock, the Indians ambushed Smith and followed Smith’s boat for 12 miles shooting arrows at them from trees. While at first glance, a lot of these interactions seem very black and white, but as one digs deeper into the historical records, the more grey appears.
At one point on the Susquehanna flats, most of the crew fell sick and Smith faced down several large war canoes filled with Indian warriors by putting hats on top of sticks to appear stronger then they were in reality. At the top of the Bay, there was a wonderful exchange of religious customs between Smith and the Susquesahannocks, where both sides seemed equally impressed and confused!
One persistent myth involves Smith and Pocahontas. There is no historical evidence that there was a romantic relationship between Smith and Pocahontas, who was eleven or twelve at the time. Pocahontas did save Smith’s life, but she also saved other colonist’s lives as well. She eventually married John Rolfe, an early tobacco baron. Smith’s references to Pocahontas. For more information, see: Pocahontas