Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith > The Voyages

Smith's Voyages

During Captain John Smith’s three years in Virginia he traveled thousands of miles, exploring areas previously unknown to Europeans. His two remarkable voyages of the Chesapeake in 1608 revealed the rich natural wonders of the region as well as the complex social world of the Chesapeake area Indians. His map, journals, and claim that “Heaven and Earth never agreed better to frame a place for Man’s habitation” lured many English colonists to America and marked the start of a lasting English presence on the continent.

Mission of the Explorations

Captain John Smith’s explorations were not a personal quest for adventure but a fundamental goal of the Jamestown colony. At the time, Europeans had no idea how big North America was or what was inland. The colonists were instructed by England to:

  • Find a route to the Pacific.
  • Uncover gold, silver and mineral wealth.
  • Trade with the Indians.
  • Map the area.
  • Claim land for the Crown.

1607 Explorations

In June 1607, Captain Christopher Newport led 23 men, including Captain John Smith, on an exploration of the James River until they reached waterfalls blocking further navigation.

Later that fall, Captain John Smith tried to find another route to the Pacific along the Chickahominy River. He was captured and taken to the headquarters of Powhatan, a paramount chief of several area tribes. Accounts of his captivity and his interactions with Powhatan remain controversial. But by the time he was released, Captain John Smith had learned a great deal about the customs, language, and politics of the native people and had formed a strategic alliance with Powhatan.

1608 Chesapeake Voyages

Captain John Smith led two major voyages of exploration in the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. Traveling by shallop, he and his men headed into unknown waters for three months of discovery, hardship, and history-making encounters with the people and places of the region.

1609 Voyage

In 1609, Smith set out to visit an outpost on the James River but was severely burned in a suspicious fire when a bag of gunpowder exploded. He returned to England and never saw the Chesapeake again.

Learn more about Smith's Voyages:

  • Read about the voyage in the words of John Smith and his crew. First voyage | Second voyage
  • Watch a video of John Smith's Voyage of Discovery.
  • Play a game about John Smith's adventure.

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