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.
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:
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.
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.
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.