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1608

Smith to lead Jamestown

English adventurer John Smith is elected council president of Jamestown, Virginia–the first permanent English settlement in North America. Smith, a colorful figure, had won popularity in the colony because of his organizational abilities and effectiveness in dealing with local Native American groups.

In May 1607, about 100 English colonists settled along the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown. The settlers fared badly because of famine, disease, and Indian attacks, but were aided by the 27-year-old John Smith, who directed survival efforts and mapped the area. While exploring the Chickahominy River in December 1607, Smith and two colonists were captured by Powhatan warriors. At the time, the Powhatan Indian confederacy consisted of around 30 Tidewater-area tribes led by Chief Wahunsonacock, known as Chief Powhatan to the English. Smith’s companions were killed, but he was spared and released (according to a 1624 account by Smith) because of the dramatic intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan’s 13-year-old daughter.

In 1608, Smith became president of the Jamestown colony, but the settlement continued to suffer. An accidental fire destroyed much of the town, and hunger, disease, and Indian attacks continued. During this time, Pocahontas often came to Jamestown as an emissary of her father, sometimes bearing gifts of food to help the hard-pressed settlers. She befriended the settlers and became acquainted with English ways. In 1609, Smith was injured from a fire in his gunpowder bag and was forced to return to England.

John Smith returned to the New World in 1614 to explore the New England coast, carefully mapping the coast from Penobscot Bay to Cape Cod. That April, Pocahontas married the English planter John Rolfe in Jamestown. On another voyage of exploration, in 1615, Smith was captured by pirates but escaped after three months of captivity. He then returned to England, where he died in 1631.

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