As Smith and Champlain grew older their writing changed.  Until this point the works looked at in this thesis have recorded tales that were still recent and vivid in the explorers’ memories.  However, as Smith and Champlain reached the twilight of their careers their work also became more reflective and argumentative.  This chapter examines how each man recounted the events of his early travels in America: in Virginia for Smith, and New England for Champlain.  By making such a comparison with their earlier works it is possible to not only see how their views and emphasis have changed, but also the merits of each man’s writing style.

In the midst of John Smith’s publishing and re-publishing of New England Trials, a call went out in England for a history of the North American settlements.  In April 1621 another John Smyth (of Nibley) – also an adventurer with the Virginia Company – suggested that the Virginia Company commission a comprehensive history of its endeavours.  By this point both Pocahontas and her father, Powhatan, had died (1617 and 1618 respectively) and Smith’s direct involvement in the Virginia enterprise had long since ended, making this the perfect opportunity for him to regain a stake in the North American project.  Passing the age of forty, however, Smith was entering into the twilight of his life, thus restricting him to reliving the adventures of the past through writing.  Being a colonial promoter was now the closest he could come to involving himself in overseas settlement.  With the encouragement, and perhaps tutelage, of his friend and well-known colonial promoter, Samuel Purchas, Smith’s Generall Historie was born.

Aside from being Smith’s magnum opus, the Generall Historie quickly took on added importance.  Events conspired with chronology to make Smith’s book an important tome for the time.  Just a year after John Smyth of Nibley’s call for a history, and as Smith began to put pen to paper, an aboriginal uprising in Virginia shocked English society, both on the island and in North America.  On Friday, March 22, 1622, Powhatan’s brother Opechancanough – now chief – led a co-ordinated attack on the many plantations outstretched along the banks of the James River.  One-third to one-quarter of the English population perished, prompting Captain Smith, who believed only he could resolve the threat, to try once again to travel to America.  If he had gone, there would have been a significantly different version of his history today.  Although he did not go, the idea of Smith as saviour of Virginia still rings clearly through the Generall Historie.  As if the trouble in Virginia was not enough, the company was also seriously short on funds and plagued by internal division on the other side of the Atlantic.  On May 24, 1624, after much investigation, the Virginia Company folded and the king took direct control of the colony.  Smith rushed his work to press to meet this decision.  Although the death knell for the Virginia Company, these events breathed a life into Smith’s works of which most authors can only dream.[1]

It was a tragedy of a different sort that sparked Champlain to write his lengthy Voyages.  Instead of an aboriginal uprising, Champlain was attacked by France’s more traditional, and more frequent, enemy: the English.  On July 22, 1629, the Kirke brothers, who had unsuccessfully attacked in 1628, raised the English flag over supply-starved Quebec.  Champlain packed his bags for home.  After having repelled the English the previous year, Champlain was in no position to defend his outpost without supplies from France.  Although the horizon did not look good for the French, Quebec’s future was far from being guaranteed to the English.  Compounding the issue was that England and France had made peace nearly three months before Quebec was sacked.  While it was clear in Europe that the English would not keep the outpost, it took three years to return Quebec to the control of Louis XIII.  It was during this time that Champlain finished his own tour de force, which like Smith’s work covered the exploration and colonisation of North America from what they saw as the beginning of their countries’ claims to the ‘new world,’ up to the most recent dispatch from across the Atlantic.[2]

Thus both of these men were in similar situations: they wrote in a climate in which not only their involvement with, but the very existence of, Jamestown and Quebec was in jeopardy.  Hindsight may create the illusion that the existence of these colonies was always secure, but, in the context of a culture of colonial failure, it seems most likely that for Smith and Champlain the future of Jamestown and Quebec was far from certain.  Although never suffering total defeat, like in Quebec, Virginia’s population was also fragile.  Despite the fact that the colony was expanding in the years leading up to 1622, the population at that time was only 1400, a number easily vanquished if England had not sent support from across the Atlantic.[3] The uncertain climate around these places united their works under a common theme.  It is clear that Smith and Champlain were using the Generall Historie and Voyages to demonstrate their key roles in the development of each outpost, and more specifically regarding their dealing with the aboriginal people.  Both texts were tools to advance the prospects and roles of these two men in the settlements that they helped to found.  Today they are considered by many to be the founders of Jamestown and Quebec, but in these documents those reputations were more being sought after than achieved.

Champlain’s Voyages (1632) and Smith’s Generall Historie are both very lengthy tomes, and therefore this chapter deals only with the first three books of the Generall Historie and the first two of Voyages.  Primarily this choice was made in order to examine only the areas of the Generall Historie that Smith knew intimately, and to avoid examining Champlain’s reflections on the two decades he spent at Quebec, an experience Smith never had.  By doing this, the focus of the chapter is on comparable experiences that each man had at the initial stages of North American exploration.

As a consequence, this chapter has a much heavier focus on John Smith.  This is a result of the historiography and Smith’s own editing.  Although both of these works are fundamentally cut and paste editions of their authors’ earlier writings, the quantity of changes in Smith was considerably greater.  This can best be explained by Champlain’s tendency to leave out stories and events; Smith, on the other hand, was equally liberal with the pen as he was with the scissors, inserting stories and sentences that had never appeared in any of his earlier works.  This difference in their editing style also seems to be in keeping with the stylistic differences seen in the first two chapters of this thesis.

Another reason for focusing on Smith is the abundance of secondary material produced on his writings and his life.  Unlike Champlain, Smith has had a significant amount of literature written about his works, ranging from post-colonial discourse to mere summaries of the original text.  If there is any area in Champlain scholarship that requires more attention, and there are many (including his biography), it is the study of his writings.  Until such time as Champlain’s writings have been studied in depth and for their own merit – rather than as a resource for chronology or biography – he will always pale in comparison to other colonial figures, such as Captain Smith.  This does not serve as a bright prospect for this chapter.  However, it is only by conducting such studies that the dearth of analysis pertaining to Champlain’s writings will ever be rectified.

The first two books of Champlain’s Voyages essentially present a brief summary of events from the beginning of French exploration to de Monts’ abandonment of Port Royal in 1607. Book I of the work is basically a summary of French travels from 1504 until his own arrival in Tadoussac in 1603.  Such an overview is basic and goes into little detail; Des Sauvages has been reduced to a cursory chapter, which reveals nothing more than the bare facts of his first visit to North America.  Book II, however, was completely dedicated to his time in Port Royal and more specifically his travels down the New England coast.  Although this chapter draws from both Books I and II, it is the second that provides the foundation for its analysis.  As this chapter will show, the changes that occur in this book, from his earlier Voyages of 1613, reinforce Gordon Sayre’s opinion.  In his study of these two men Sayre wrote: “in his [Champlain’s] 1632 work he presents himself more like Smith, as the man on whom the fate of the colony depended.”[4] The consolidation of facts highlighting Champlain’s credentials that occurs in these books was clearly pointed towards making Champlain the lynch pin of success in Quebec.  Unfortunately for Champlain, the work was not as successful as Smith’s at making an impact among those in power.  Joe Armstrong suspects “that only as a last resort was Champlain brought back into service” in 1632.[5] By the time of the writing of this book the most important parts of Champlain’s career and his influence were behind him.

This was clearly not the case for John Smith, whose Generall Historie took off in popularity after its timely publication.  It was Smith’s most famous work, and perhaps it won his place in history.  Philip Barbour has claimed: “The General History suddenly brought John Smith back into the colonial limelight.  If he was not yet a made man as a promoter, he was certainly no longer a broken, forgotten one, if indeed he had ever really been broken.”[6] The success of the Generall Historie was surprising.  Like the Voyages, Smith’s work was merely an anthology of colonial ventures and in some ways merely represented an addendum to the works of Richard Hakluyt and Samuel Purchas.  Alden Vaughan noted that the most original part of the work was in Book III, which is merely a heavily edited version of the 1612 Proceedings.[7]

It is on this editing that modern scholarship feasts.  In his edition of Smith’s works, Barbour highlighted Smith’s failures: “He was careless with figures, prone to exaggeration, and too self-centred to regard events objectively, yet patently sincere, and passionately dedicated to ‘his’ colonies, Virginia and New England.  In fact the book came into being almost in spite of John Smith.”[8] And yet the book was still a success!  Part of this success came from the climate created by the dissolution of the Virginia Company.  However, adding fuel to its fire was the tradition in which it was written.

No person involved in the settlement enterprises surrounding either the London or Plymouth Companies could avoid the work of both Richard Hakluyts (cousins) and Samuel Purchas.  These men would have been known to anyone in Smith’s position and their successful work would have at least been read, if not emulated, by those writing about the Americas.  Smith had the added benefit of having a friendship with Purchas.  Coincidently, when Smith began to ruminate about writing his Generall Historie Purchas had recently finished a lengthy tome in honour of Hakluyt, which no doubt influenced the content and style of Smith’s works.  “Like Smith’s earlier writing,” wrote Alden Vaughan, “the Generall Historie followed the nationalistic tradition of Hakluyt and Purchas: it sought to inspire all Britons to join cause for the glory of the empire.”[9] Essentially, Smith was writing to save the colonies,[10] but perhaps more importantly, he was also writing to ensure his place in the history of the New World and a role in the decision making for Virginia.

To do this, Smith added the work of others to his own and created a summary of English colonisation from Madoc, Prince of Wales, who supposedly peopled an ‘unknown land’ in 1170, to the foundation of the New England colonies in the early 1620s.  Essentially this work was written in a similar style to that of Champlain.  Book I is a voyage-by-voyage overview of Atlantic endeavours from 1170 to the foundation of Jamestown, followed by a slightly altered reprint of the Map of Virginia (original published in 1612), which is a descriptive (as opposed to chronological) account of Virginia.  Book III is a significantly edited version of the Proceedings, and serves as a narrative companion to Book II.  The rest of the work is made up of reports from North America that were written once Smith had returned to England, with the exception of Book VI, which contains A Description of New England.

Despite the appearance and the title, this is not a work of history recognizable to the modern scholar.  Barbour expanded on this point by emphasizing that “the General History is not a history; it is not even a journalistic narrative.  It is John Smith’s Memoirs, his Apologia, and his defense, rounded out with information from others bearing on what he considered his colonies.”[11] As argued in the previous chapters, the difference between Smith and Champlain was highlighted by Smith’s subjectivity and intimacy.  Where Voyages is only an account of events Champlain experienced, the Generall Historie blurs the line between verifiable fact, secondary accounts, and, as will be suggested in the following pages, fiction.  Although both men can be seen as promoting themselves and their own vision of colonisation, the leeway that Smith took was significantly different from Champlain.  This makes the two works remarkably similar in purpose and overall message, but completely different in content and style.

In separate articles Myra Jehlen and David Read have highlighted a key difference between Champlain and Smith.  Although neither article addresses Champlain, their work on Smith highlights an aspect of the Generall Historie that does not appear in Voyages. Basically, both of these scholars sought to explain internal problems in Smith’s Generall Historie that arise by reading the work through a post-colonial lens.  They have done this by pointing out that in the Generall Historie the voice of the ‘cultural other,’ in this case Powhatan, can be heard resisting English encroachments.  Jehlen explained this by suggesting, “Smith is uncertain about his situation, meaning that he is neither sure what the story unfolding around him is, nor how to tell it, nor even how he wants it to come out.”[12] Read made a similar comment by writing, “Smith’s writing resists our desire to understand the process of colonization as itself a coherent phenomenon.”[13] With these ideas in mind, Jehlen has termed Smith’s work “history before the fact,” as opposed to “history as the past.”[14]

What she meant by “history before the fact” was that Smith’s Generall Historie was not a history (as Barbour noted earlier) but rather it is history in the making, without a clear message or voice to be conveyed to contemporaries.  In other words, it should be seen as a history written without the knowledge of the future, in a climate where many of the major players were still alive, and with a policy towards the native people that was far from cemented.  Rather than being a tool to mine for facts, then, Jehlen believes that this work is a window into the tumultuous days around the dissolution of the Virginia Company, providing more than one perspective.  She explained the idea in this manner: “history before the fact is uncertain, apparently redundant, and contingent; only retrospectively does it take on direction and determination.”[15] When looking at the Generall Historie from a timeline perspective, in which every event has a knowable past and future, Smith’s masterwork appears incoherent and frequently contradictory because too much was still uncertain.  However, if one attempts to understand the work from Smith’s point of view – not knowing the future – the Generall Historie can be seen as truly attempting to verbally capture North America, contradictions and all.

Read has taken this point slightly further by suggesting that Smith was attempting to create a history which accurately portrayed life in the Americas.  He wrote: “The Generall Historie appears weighted heavily toward comprehensive mastery; it is not that the signs of critical mastery disappear altogether but that they are subsumed within Smith’s effort to embrace the whole history of the Virginia enterprise in his writing.”[16] Smith was pragmatic.  His indecision is representative of his desire to return to Virginia.  In the aftermath of the 1622 uprising there were those who wanted to continue to attempt peaceful relations with the native people, and those who did not.  And there were certainly many people still alive who knew the players in Smith’s stories.  Smith had to write in such a way as to please those who controlled the outcome of the Virginia company, and there was no knowing which vision towards the aboriginal would win out: conquest, accommodation, or a continuing of the policy of blending these two.

The work of Jehlen and Read emphasized both the dynamic nature of life in Virginia as well as the humanity in Smith.  By creating a work in which the voice of the ‘cultural other’ can be heard so clearly, Smith has demonstrated how he viewed the aboriginal people.  By giving the aboriginal people a voice, Smith has declared that they were people whose interests were worth considering.  As in New England, where Smith told his readers of both the aboriginal friendship and violence in the same story, this stylistic decision shows that although Smith did not embrace aboriginal culture, it was not a factor that he could neglect.  As with Champlain, there was some leeway in the tales he could recount, but still the Generall Historie had to remain true to the tenor of the North American environment if Smith were to be taken seriously.

This “comprehensive mastery,” “uncertainty,” and general lack of coherence is a feature unique to Smith.  Champlain’s work is not plagued by these problems.  Certainly the reasons for this are numerous, having to do with the types of aboriginal people encountered, the economic make-up of the outpost and the structure of government in the homeland.  However, there are some major differences that can help to explain why two men who had similar experiences and sought to do similar things with their largest works turned out two completely different documents.  First, by 1624 the English colonial enterprise was getting under way.  England had settlements in Virginia, Bermuda, and New England.  France was still focused primarily on Quebec.  By following in Hakluyt’s and Purchas’ footsteps Smith sought to write a history of all the Atlantic settlements instead of the one with which he was intimately familiar.  Having only been in North America for a handful of years, he used second-hand knowledge to build much of the work, perhaps limiting the time he could spend editing that which was already written.  Second, based on the evidence England was fertile ground for writing on colonisation, whereas in France it appeared to be merely the affair of merchants and some noble officials.  Although this meant it was much more profitable for Smith, he also had much more at stake than Champlain.  He needed to offer his readers an account unlike all those that had gone before, and one that would stand up to the scrutiny of those who actually participated in the tales of which he wrote.  Last, Smith primarily dealt with a handful of aboriginal leaders, most importantly Powhatan.  Champlain, on the other hand, never came into the same type of sustained contact with the same individuals in these early years.  In order for Smith to put himself at the centre of his dialogue he was required to emphasize Powhatan and his subordinate chiefs, because the relationship with them was central to the survival of the settlement.  Also the very nature of the Powhatan empire required that they have a voice in such a narrative.  No single aboriginal group wielded as much power further north.

Despite the voice Smith gave to the Virginian Algonquians in the Generall Historie, his word choice became even more restrictive.  In the previous chapter it was noted that Smith was beginning to consolidate his vocabulary towards a heavier use of the word salvage.  This is even clearer in the Generall Historie.  In this work Smith used salvage (or its more modern counterpart, savage) two hundred two times, people seventy-nine times, and indian (which was used most frequently in A True Relation) seven times.  Before judgement is passed on the number of times salvage was employed, the reader must remember that the Generall Historie is significantly longer than both A True Relation and Description of New England.  However, the difference between the Description of New England and the Generall Historie appears to be for every single use of the word indian, Smith employed salvage nineteen times in the Description of New England and twenty-nine times in the Generall Historie. This suggests a significant linguistic shift towards a more homogenous vocabulary; especially considering that in A True Relation Smith only employed the word less than 1/3 of the time for every use of indian.[17]

Smith’s growing fondness for the term salvage is clear but the reason for such a shift is difficult to fully understand.  There are a variety of possibilities that help to clarify the issue.  First, it is important to remember that A True Relation was edited and published while Smith was in Virginia and that the language used therein may be more reflective of editorial decisions in England than Smith’s own usage.  But this does not account for the continuing change between Description of New England and Generall Historie, and therefore cannot stand alone.  Second, in light of the Virginia uprising and the struggles of the colony, it is possible that Smith’s views had hardened towards the aboriginal people.  With the English still in a weak position, Smith may have sought to project a more uncivilized and wild-like manner on the natives than he had previously.  However, this explanation does not account for his clearly-emphasized point deriding many of the English in the colony.  For him, the challenges of this relationship were not entirely a North American problem.  The third possibility reflects this.  Perhaps Smith’s peers in England began to have an increasing amount of influence on him.  Karen Kupperman has observed, “It is only writers who stayed in England who assign the Indians to a place outside the ranks of full humanity.”[18] If most of the more pejorative literature emanated from writers who never traveled to the Americas, it is possible that these types of ideas increasingly influenced Smith once he ceased to have first-hand experiences across the Atlantic.  This would explain why his word choice became more restrictive over time.  However, it is also possible that the changes in Smith’s vocabulary are reflective of a general shift in the vocabulary of all Englishmen.  This is difficult to prove, but were it the case, such changes would reflect little on Smith’s own perceptions of the Powhatan empire.

The language that Smith used was not limited, however, to the vocabularies discussed in the previous chapters.  Like Champlain’s growing vocabulary – shown in the previous chapter – Smith too increased his lexicon for the aboriginal people.  Although he seldom deviated from his regular three-fold vocabulary, from time to time he also employed words such as infidel, inhabitant, fiend, and barbarian. Infidel appeared only once and, not surprisingly, in terms of religion.  Smith wrote “that which is most of all, a businesse (most acceptable to God) to bring such poore Infidels to the knowledge of God and his holy Gospell.”[19] This is the same context in which the word was used in A True Relation, and the same context seen in Champlain’s use of the word.  Inhabitant was used thirteen times.  A good example of its use can be seen in phrases such as the “Inhabitants of Warraskoyac.”[20] Fiend appeared twice in a general sense.  On one occasion Smith wrote, “round about him those fiends daunced a pretty while, and then came in three more as ugly as the rest.”[21] The scarcity of the word’s usage suggests that Smith deliberately intended on using the word, but there is little within the text to betray his reasoning behind this decision.  If he thought fiend was a synonym for salvage one would expect it to occur more often.  It seems likely his exact meaning will never be known.  Finally, barbarian was also used twice.  Like in Champlain’s New England travels, barbarian was used in terms of violence and war.  On both occasions Smith used it while being held in captivity by the Powhatans.  The connotations that it holds appeals more to their being enemies than savage.[22]

For the sake of historical accuracy it should be highlighted that the Generall Historie is significantly longer than, and in fact includes much of, the documents examined in the previous chapters of this thesis.  As a result, these occasional digressions from Smith’s status quo may not mark as much of a change as they initially suggest.  Nonetheless, given Smith’s increasing stakes both as author and promoter, these linguistic differences are important, as they represent a growing vocabulary and thus increase the precision of meaning implicit in each word Smith used.  With the addition of fiend and barbarian to his lexicon, one must hesitate to attach these connotations to his use of the word salvage.  Clearly by having employed these words selectively in his text, Smith meant something different from the generic salvage.  If he did not, one would expect to see barbarian and fiend in use much more frequently.  In the grand scheme of things Smith chose to refer to the aboriginal people as salvages hundreds of time in his works, and yet only used these other words sporadically.  Although all of these words may have shared some common connotations, the diversity in Smith’s lexicon requires that scholars not consider these words to have been synonymous.

The word choice in the Generall Historie brings Smith even more in line with Champlain.  Little has changed in Champlain’s vocabulary since writing the Voyages of 1613.  Sauvage still dominated his lexicon, followed by peuple (which is used in the same sense as Smith uses inhabitant), barbare, and habitans. Champlain also added infidel to his word choice, which he used three times in the same context as Smith.  That there is little difference between the Voyages (1632), Des Sauvages and Voyages (1613) is no surprise, as the 1632 publication was mostly a reprint of these two documents.  This once again highlights a key difference between Smith’s and Champlain’s texts.  Where Champlain mainly cut elements out of his previous accounts to create a large but manageable tome, Smith reorganized and rewrote much of his third book.

To emphasize this point more clearly, a word count was done of the Proceedings in order to compare Smith’s word selection in the edited version of Proceedings found in Book III of the Generall Historie.  By comparing the two works it is possible to see how the documents shifted in respect to the aboriginal people.  Book III of the Generall Historie used salvage one hundred sixty-four times, whereas the Proceedings only used the word one hundred seventeen times.  This amounts to the word being used forty-seven more times in the later work.  Likewise, people appeared fourteen times more in the Generall Historie than in the Proceedings, and use of indian remained the same between the two versions.  This contrast reveals little change in Smith’s attitude (especially because of the convoluted authorship of the Proceedings) but it does facilitate an understanding of what he sought to emphasize in the Generall Historie.  This change in the number of references to the aboriginal people represents an increase of approximately forty-three percent in the 1624 work.[23] Further exaggerating this change is that by taking the length of each work in the Barbour anthology, one notices that there is actually a seventeen percent decrease in the overall size of the Proceedings between their original publication and Smith’s Generall Historie.  In other words the number of references to the native people increased while the page count decreased, suggesting that Smith made some significant changes between 1612 and 1624.

There is, however, a significant problem with comparing the Proceedings and the Generall Historie.  In the Proceedings Smith is only a character, rather than the central author.  There is little evidence that he had any control over the writing of the 1612 edition.  In terms of Book III of the Generall Historie, in which it is clear that Smith was the editor, one must question whether Smith influenced the original creation of the ideas, or rather was only influential in perpetuating them.  Most historians (such as Barbour) have met this problem pragmatically and concluded that whether he wrote it or not, Smith had complete control over the content of the Generall Historie and therefore, although some of the ideas might not have been his originally, he has taken on the role of a surrogate parent to them.  As a result of the questionable authorship and uncertainty about Smith’s exact role, it is necessary to make some comments on the changes Smith made to the Proceedings in the Generall Historie.

First, though, there are three things that remained in the Generall Historie from the Proceedings that are quite valuable to understanding how Smith perceived the aboriginal people.  First, the ‘apotheosis’ of Captain Smith; second, a demonstration of how Smith communicated with the aboriginal people; and third, a sentence suggesting that Smith saw the native people as a commodity rather than as people with whom a relationship must be created.

The possible deification of European explorers by aboriginal populations has long been a contentious issue in the secondary literature of this period.  Some, such as Gananath Obeyesekere, say that these stories are fabrications based on European myth.  Others, like Marshall Sahlins, claim that this was an actual experience that many Europeans encountered.  This issue arises thrice in Smith’s Proceedings.  The first occasion occurred after Powhatan had held Smith prisoner.  Smith claimed in the Generall Historie:

So he [Smith] had inchanted these poore soules being their prisoner; and now Newport, whom he called his Father arriving, neare as directly as he foretold, they esteemed him as an Oracle, and had them at that submission he might command them what he listed.  That God that created all things they knew he adored for his God: they would also in their discourses tearme the God of Captain Smith… But the President and Councell so much envied his estimation among the Salvages, (though we all in generall equally participated with him of the good thereof)…[24]

This passage is revealing in that it contains significant support for the words that Smith has written.  By stating that the president and council were envious of Smith, and that everyone participated in the benefits of such deification, the authors were suggesting that the residents of Jamestown were aware of his apotheosis.  Furthermore, neither Proceedings nor Generall Historie were written in a vacuum, and there were plenty of people in England who could have challenged this story.

The next account begins to blur the lines.  It took place after the English had finished worshipping their God.  In this case the reader learns,

they began in a most passionate manner to hold up their hands to the Sunne, with a most fearefull song, then imbracing our Captaine, they began to adore him in like manner: though he rebuked them, yet they proceeded till their song was finished… stroking their ceremonious hands about his necke for his Creation to be their Governour and Protector, promising their aydes, victualls, or what they had to be his, if he would stay with them, to defend and revenge them of the Massawomeks.[25]

Although couched in a naïve parallel story of religion, this type of deification renders the reader much more suspicious of Smith’s motives.  This is accentuated by the claim that Smith was invited to be their leader.  However, there is no way to prove whether this event happened, or whether Smith correctly interpreted it.  Such claims force the sceptical mind into action: one must ask whether Smith used this story as a vignette of reality or instead one of rhetoric.  Given the frequent verbatim voice of historical actors in his writings it seems likely that some elements of this story were fiction.

The last example of Smith’s deification happened much later in his account, and it is this story that serves to best clarify the issue:

The poore Salvage in the dungeon was so smoothered with the smoake he had made, and so pittiously burnt, that wee found him dead.  The other most lamentably bewayled his death, and broke forth into such bitter agonies, that the President to quiet him, told him that if hereafter they would not steale, he would make him alive againe: but he little thought he could be recovered.  Yet we doing our best with Aqua vitae and Vinigar, it pleased God to restore him againe to life, but so drunke and affrighted, that he seemed Lunaticke, the which as much tormented and grieved the other, as before to see him dead.  Of which maladie upon promise of their good behaviour, the President promised to recover him: and so caused him to be layd by a fire to sleepe, who in the morning having well slept, had recovered his perfect senses… they went away so well contented, that this was spread among all the Salvages for a miracle, that Captaine Smith could make a man alive that was dead.[26]

This story serves as the most likely explanation for the other instances where Smith was deified as well.  In this story Smith held complete control.  He had the Aqua vitae, he saw a chance to gain loyalty from the natives, and he had nothing to lose if it did not work.  Perhaps Smith had been using these types of sleight of hand in all his experiences with the natives during his time in Jamestown.  If so he would have fit into a long tradition of quasi-magic shows such as the mind reading “magic” of reading and writing, and the magnetized sword used to impress the natives on Waymouth’s voyage along New England in 1605.[27] Although it is clear that we will probably never know whether the natives actually believed Smith was a god, it is obvious that he played an active role in cultivating this idea among the aboriginals he encountered.  Instead of Europeans misinterpreting the aboriginal beliefs, then, it may have been that they tried to cultivate those beliefs through abusing the cultural chasm between each society.  Perhaps even more importantly Smith wanted to ensure that his readers were aware of his exalted standing in the New World.  After all, who better to relate with the aboriginal people than one of their own gods?

But the Generall Historie and the Proceedings are not that simple.  Although the emphasis is placed heavily on Smith’s interaction with the native people, the picture is much more shaded than Smith at first makes it appear.  If Champlain’s Voyages (1613) provided the best insight on the difficulties of communication with the native people for him, it is the Proceedings that do the same for Smith.  The discussion of communication in the Proceedings reveals that Smith’s self-promotion was still regulated by reality.  For example, during one encounter with the Massawomeks, Smith disclosed, “We understood them nothing at all, but by signes, whereby they signified unto us they had beene at warres with the Tockwoghes, the which they confirmed by shewing us their greene wounds, but the night parting us, we imagined they appointed the next morning to meete, but after that we never saw them.”[28] Not only did Smith emphasize the difficulty in communication, but also the passage indicated that he was prone to misinterpretation.  Such a story would not bode well for a man attempting to ‘save’ Virginia.  Given the above statement, just how much Smith knew about the Virginian Algonquians is questionable.  Having only had two years in the colony, he could not have been the expert he claimed to be.

But perhaps Smith did not need to be an expert.  Given some of the statements he made in his Description of New England, it seems that intimate interaction, such as building relationships, may not have been a priority for him.  In New England Smith had a vision for using the aboriginal people that involved subduing and subjecting them.  This idea was also suggested in the Proceedings.  When writing about resource exploitation the reader is informed, “and what other mineralls, rivers, rocks, nations, woods, fishings, fruites, victuall, and what other commodities the land afforded.”[29] By grouping nations with all of these other commodities, Smith was reinforcing the policies he more clearly outlined in Description of New England.  It is clear that Smith’s vision of a colony involved the aboriginal people helping Europeans survive and thrive, whether they wanted to or not.

Although Smith chose to leave these elements in his edited version, much had changed in his Generall Historie.  Some of these changes were minor and amount to Smith placing an increased emphasis on himself, and other changes are quite significant and play a major role in our understanding of Smith and his interaction with the Virginian Algonquians.  Champlain also made a number of similar changes, though his changes were much less significant.  Basically, these alterations to the original texts of both writers amount to a self-aggrandisement of their role in North America by painting a rosy picture of their own encounters with the aboriginal people.

The first area in which this is made clear is in how each man referred to himself when dealing with the native people.  In these edited works their superiors have frequently been omitted, making themselves the focus of attention.  For example, on at least four occasions Champlain has removed de Monts from his narrative; where in 1613 Champlain had written, “Le lendemain le sieur de Mons fut à terre pour veoir leur labourage sur le bort de la riuiere…”[30] he has now written, “Ie fus à terre pour voir leur labourage sur le bord de la riuiere.”[31] It is clear that Champlain intentionally wrote de Monts (who had died in 1628) out of key stories, thus making it appear that he played a greater role than he actually did.

Smith also marginalized his superiors.  Rather than omitting their names, however, Smith would most often place his name first within a list of names.[32] Although this might seem insignificant, the technique would have increased Smith’s reputation by increasing the chances of inattentive readers seeing his name.  On one occasion, however, he went beyond reordering the text and omitted the actions of Captain Christopher Newport, his superior – with whom he did not have good relations.  The Proceedings state that “Upon this Captaine Newport sent his presents by water, which is neare 100 miles; with 50 of the best shot, himselfe went by land which is but 12 miles, where he met with our 3 barges to transport him over.”[33] However, in the edited version Smith recorded, “Upon this the Presents were sent by water which is neare an hundred myles, and the Captains went by land with fiftie good shot.”[34] In the earlier version it is clear that Newport was going to recognize Powhatan as ruler of the Virginian Algonquians.  In the 1624 version of this story, Newport’s name is seldom mentioned, and, although he is shown to be present, it is Smith who played the more important role.

Not only did Smith slightly tweak the narrative in his favour, but he also placed himself as the key intermediary between these two societies.  Just after he had been released from captivity, and just before he claimed the natives made him a god, Smith has inserted: “Captaine Smith. To whom the Salvages, as is sayd, every other day repaired, with such provisions that sufficiently did serve them from hand to mouth: part alwayes they brought him as Presents from their Kings, or Pocahontas; the rest he as their Market Clarke set the price himselfe, how they should sell.”[35] These types of changes by Smith and Champlain serve as some of the strongest evidence that these publications were not solely to serve as general histories or to make money, but they were also to re-open the doors that both men feared had been closed forever.

Captain Smith made even more significant changes.  His text is full of added paragraphs, stories, and opinions about the native people not seen in his earlier works.  The most famous of these additions was the celebrated intervention of Pocahontas.  Although A True Relation and the Proceedings record Smith’s captivity by Powhatan, it is not until Generall Historie that the story begins to revolve around Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas.  The change in the story of Smith’s captivity is dramatic and significant.  In A True Relation Powhatan released Smith after what amounted to a trade negotiation.  Smith recounted the tale with these words:

Hee promised to give me Corne, Venison, or what I wanted to feede us, Hatchets and Copper wee should make him, and none should disturbe us.  This request I promised to performe: and thus having with all the kindnes hee could devise, sought to content me:  hee sent me home with 4. men, one that usually carried my Gowne and Knapsacke after me, two other loded with bread, and one to accompanie me.[36]

This is an interesting selection because it gives the reader a sense of the building of a productive relationship – similar to Champlain’s policies in Quebec.  However, in the Generall Historie any pretence of such a relationship has disappeared.  Not only that, but sixteen years later there does not even appear to have ever been a chance for a productive relationship.  Smith wrote:

Being ready with their clubs, to beate out his braines, Pocahontas the Kings dearest daughter, when no intreaty could prevaile, got his head in her armes, and laid her owne upon his to save him from death: whereat the Emperour was contented he should live to make him hatchets, and her bells, beads, and copper; for they thought him as well of all occupations as themselves.[37]

Which account is true and which is false is anyone’s guess, as there is no way of verifying the story.

Leo Lemay and Karen Kupperman have suggested that the account in the Generall Historie was a ‘ritualistic killing’ in which Smith was “reborn, he was adopted into the tribe, with Pocahontas as his sponsor.  But Smith, of course, did not realize the nature of the initiation ceremony.”[38] To support this idea Lemay appealed to a letter that Smith claimed to have written to Queen Anne regarding Pocahontas. [39] However, at this time, an original has not been found, meaning that the letter only appears in the Generall Historie, thus forming a circular use of evidence. Even if this letter did exist in 1616, the lack of comment does not provide any veracity to the story.  There is no way of knowing whether John Rolfe, Pocahontas, or any of her entourage knew anything about Smith’s letter.

Kupperman went into greater detail explaining her view of this story.  She believes Smith to have been telling the truth because, when it was over, Powhatan attempted to bring Smith into the aboriginal worldview by offering “the Country of Capahowosick” for him to govern as a sub-werowance.[40] Later Kupperman added to this notion by suggesting, “The idea that Smith had gone through something like the black-boy ceremony and had been reborn as a member of Powhatan’s family is supported by Pocahontas’s addressing him as father when they met… in London.”[41] Although this puts greater weight on the veracity of this story, it does not render it authentic.  It is questionable whether Powhatan, who had spent the years prior to the English arrival consolidating his empire, would have offered any territory to the English who were numerically weak.  Secondly, A True Relation reveals that on a number of occasions Smith used the term father to refer to his superiors, such as Christopher Newport.[42] Given the sense in which Smith used the word, it is at least possible that Pocahontas used father because of her past experience with Smith’s own language use.  The evidence that most historians have used to support the Pocahontas story requires many tenuous links and must be taken lightly.

Beyond these explanations there are other issues that cast more doubt on Smith’s tale.  First, Pocahontas would have just become a teenager when she was credited with saving Smith, and it seems unlikely in a society strictly divided by sex that she would have served to sponsor a much older man.[43] Second, Smith occasionally mentioned men who did not have a young heroine like Pocahontas to save them from having their heads beaten in, suggesting this was more than a symbolic ceremony. Further compounding this is that there is no evidence of such a ritual among the Powhatan people at this time in history.

In this light there is no significant evidence to support either story.  A True Relation was heavily edited to produce a positive spin for the Virginia Company, suggesting that it might have included a sanitized version of this tale in order to promote the interests of the colony.  However, Pocahontas was also left out of this story in the Proceedings, thus suggesting that perhaps the editing has greater significance in the Generall Historie. Alden Vaughan explained the difficulties with falling on either side of the debate:

Although Pocahontas had died several years earlier, she had become a legend: the savage princess who converted to Christianity, married an Englishman, visited England and met the royal family.  There was no need then to suppress the story of her aid.  Critics of Smith have seen the matter less generously: with Pocahontas and Powhatan dead, no restraints prevented the captain from inventing an attractive anecdote… The truth lies buried with the captain and his indian captors.[44]

Given that Smith was successful at procuring corn from Powhatan and his werowances, without much actual bloodshed, it seems likely that the first account might be the more truthful.  Although the Generall Historie suggests a harsher relationship, and that Smith did not shy away from violence, the 1622 uprising demonstrates that the Virginia Algonquians had the ability to threaten and attack the English.  The fact that they did not suggests there was at least an uneasy truce.

Based on the tenor of the Generall Historie, it seems most likely that Smith employed the Pocahontas story as a gimmick to increase his readership.  By appealing to the popularity of history’s most famous aboriginal woman, he was hoping that more people would pick up his book.  Contrary to the critics about whom Vaughan wrote, Smith does not seem to have been the sort of man who would have been concerned with what Powhatan or Pocahontas thought about his writings.  Rather, he seems to have written what he pleased – within the approval of the king.  The inclusion of Pocahontas, who had visited England, appealed to the public and no doubt adding her to the narrative would have enhanced Smith’s fortunes.

There is another explanation for the inclusion of Pocahontas in this edition, which is somewhat tangential to the overall purpose of this thesis, but significant nonetheless, and that is the role of gender.  It is possible that the story was included for the sake of its greatest financial supporter, for it was one of the most important women in England who financed the first edition of the book.  Lady Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, was most likely introduced to Smith through her first husband the Earl of Hertford – an earlier supporter of Smith from about 1609.  By the time Smith began to think about writing the Generall Historie Frances had remarried to Ludovic Stuart, Duke of Lennox and Richmond, to become England’s highest-ranking noblewoman.[45] Following from her late husband’s previous support she financed the printing of Generall Historie. In his dedication to her at the beginning of the work Smith ranks her with his many other female saviours:

Yet my comfort is, that heretofore honorable and vertuous Ladies, and comparable but amongst themselves, have offred me rescue and protection in my greatest dangers: even in forraine parts, I have felt reliefe from that sex.  The beauteous Lady Tragabigzanda, when I was a slave to the Turkes, did all she could to secure me.  When I overcame the Bashaw of Nalbrits in Tartaria, the charitable Lady Callamata supplyed my necessities.  In the utmost of many extremities, that blessed Pokahontas, the great Kings daughter of Virginia, oft saved my life.  When I escaped the crueltie of Pirats and most furious stormes, a long time alone in a small Boat at Sea, and driven ashore in France, the good Lady Madam Chanoyes, bountifully assisted me.[46]

Whether all these women played the role attributed to them, or even whether they existed, is questionable.  However, the important role that Smith ascribes to these women in this passage suggests that he was appealing to Lady Frances’ sex.  Perhaps the story of Pocahontas was added to Smith’s text to ascribe agency to the Powhatan women in honour of his grand patroness; and if there actually was a 1616 letter to Queen Anne that also may have been shaped by an appeal to the sex of those in powerful positions.

In terms of Smith’s perception of the aboriginal people, this paragraph is also interesting because it treats all of these women as equals.  Regardless of creed, ethnicity, politics, or technological advancement Smith considered them all honourable and virtuous.  It is clear that Smith had at least some conception of equality both in terms of gender and ethnicity.  A Turk, a North American, a Muslim, a French woman, and England’s highest ranking noblewoman were all seen as equals for Smith, suggesting that the same can be said for the people they represent.  This helps to reinforce Kupperman’s idea that early English perception of the aboriginal people had more to do with status than race.[47]

The inclusion of the Pocahontas story is just one example of additions Smith has made to his text.  There are two others that are less important in terms of the overall understanding of the Generall Historie, but take on greater importance when examining Smith’s changing perceptions of the native people.  In A True Relation Smith observed that a feast he attended during his captivity was conducted “with such a Majestie as I cannot expresse, nor yet have often seene, either in Pagan or Christian; with a kinde countenance hee bad mee welcome, and caused a place to bee made by himselfe to sit.”[48] In the Generall Historie, however, Smith’s tone changed completely.  Powhatan, who in 1608 had a “Majesticall countenance”, [49] was now considered by his people “as he had beene a monster.”[50] The feast in which he participated had also downgraded from an occasion where the Powhatan’s “feasted him after their best barbarous manner they could…”[51] The difference in narrative does not need great explanation here because all of this forms the lead-up to Pocahontas’ interjection discussed earlier in the paper, and is fitting with the changes discussed earlier.  However, Smith’s change of heart is interesting in terms of the discussion in chapter one.  Smith’s new perspective corresponds more with Champlain’s interpretation in Des Sauvages, where he wrote: “ils mangent fort sallement: car quand ils ont les mains grasses, ils les frotent à leurs cheueux, ou bien au poil de leurs chiens…”[52] The two men’s views have fallen in line with each other, in that they found the native eating habits revolting.  In light of the difficulty in knowing which account is true, this change of heart seen in Generall Historie brings Smith’s and Champlain’s initial impressions of aboriginal cultures much closer together.

Smith parts company with A True Relation in another way as well.  During Smith’s captivity he was well fed.  It seems that his captors continued bringing him food to the point where he could not keep up with their service.  This theme is present in both narratives.  However, in A True Relation he revealed that he feared he would be sacrificed.  Smith wrote: “so fat they fed mee, that I much doubted they intended to have sacrificed mee to the Quiyoughquosicke, which is a superiour power they worship; a more uglier thing cannot be described: one they have for chief sacrifices, which also they call Quiyoughquosick.[53] Although this earlier fear of sacrifice was extinguished, Smith rekindled the flame in the Generall Historie by suggesting that he was being fattened for the purpose of being eaten.  “They brought him as much more,” Smith wrote, “and then did they eate all the old, and reserved the new as they had done the other, which made him thinke they would fat him to eat him.”[54] There is little to account for what prompted Smith to include this in his lengthy tome, as there is no evidence that the Virginian Algonquians were ever cannibals.  It seems that this change of heart had much more to do with a private decision Smith made than any fact that Smith may have come across.  It is possible, although still highly questionable, that Smith included cannibalism as a way of justifying the ‘civil’ English presence in North America.  His true motives will never be known.

If Smith had really wanted to write a masterwork solely justifying the Virginia experience, its shape would have been significantly different from the Generall Historie.  As Read and Jehlen have shown, there is a plurality of voices in Smith’s work which is completely absent in Champlain’s writing.  One of the strongest voices other than Smith’s in the Generall Historie was that of Powhatan.  One explanation for this voice of resistance can be found in Kupperman’s, Settling with the Indians: “English colonists assumed that Indians were racially similar to themselves and that savagery was a temporary condition which the Indians would quickly lose.  The really important category was status.”[55] Smith saw Powhatan as an equal.  There is much to support this.  On one occasion Smith wrote, “Now all their plots Smith so well understood, they were his best advantages to secure us from any trechery, could be done by them [Dutchmen living with Powhatan] or the Salvages: which with facility he could revenge when he would, because all those countryes more feared him then Powhatan…”[56] Although this passage suggests that Smith wished to bring the natives into subjection by fear and that he felt they could not be trusted, he demonstrated that Powhatan was the main challenge to his success.  This passage also shows that though many of the aboriginal people bowed to Smith’s demands, Powhatan’s loyalty remained beyond his grasp, a fact Smith could have easily disregarded.

There seems to have been an inherent respect between Smith and Powhatan, despite their vying for the loyalty of the same groups of people.  Later in the text, when Powhatan was dealing with Dutch workers, whose loyalty frequently shifted between the settlement and the natives, Smith further emphasized the parallels between the two leaders: “But the King [Powhatan] seeing they would be gone, replyed; You that would have betrayed Captaine Smith to mee, will certainely betray me to this great Lord for your peace: so caused his men to beat out their braines.”[57] Regardless of whether Powhatan actually wanted Smith betrayed, this statement makes it clear that in Smith’s eyes Powhatan stood above those who would be so treacherous.  Although Smith saw many native people and groups as being treacherous, Powhatan would not stoop so low.  Furthermore, this passage shows that Powhatan may have actually refused their betrayal of Smith, adding an interesting subtext to the two leaders’ complex relationship.

This parallel between Smith and Powhatan runs clearly throughout the whole text and again raises questions about the veracity of some events.  Sayre has observed, “every quality of civil and military life that he ascribed to and admired in Powhatan and his people – bravery, cunning, obedience – Smith prized in himself and expected from his subordinates.”[58] Given the parallels between these two men one must question the extent to which the Generall Historie is factually-based.  As demonstrated in the discussion of Pocahontas, the issue is not clear.  However, through reading the text, Smith and Powhatan appear in an archetypal relationship of protagonist and antagonist – both being essential to a good story.  Essentially in Powhatan Smith may have emphasized certain characteristics, while downplaying others in order to portray himself as Powhatan’s greatest adversary.  This interpretation of Smith’s relationship with Powhatan fits with other tales in the Generall Historie as well.  For example, five women had rescued Smith, yet never a man; he happened to enter a world in which the leading aboriginal leader shared a similar worldview as himself, and in every case he overcame adversity by using his own skill and muscle.  These happy coincidences, and other differences between A True Relation and Generall Historie, make for a good story, and this factor must always remain at the back of the reader’s mind.

These fictive elements may reveal more about Smith’s perceptions of the aboriginal people than his own substantiated observations.  By paralleling himself with Powhatan, Smith was ascribing agency to him, and demonstrating that there was resistance to the English presence in Jamestown.  Although it is not clear whether the above events occurred or not, Smith did provide a number of occasions in which it is clear that he was using fiction to spread a message.  Throughout the Proceedings and the Generall Historie Smith recorded conversations with various historical actors verbatim.  Given the difficulties with language and the time that had lapsed between the events and their transcription, it is clear that these speeches could not have occurred as recorded, though this does not discount the general tenor of the dialogues.

It was in these speeches that Smith most often provided the voice of resistance examined by Read and Jehlen earlier in this chapter.  For example, Smith quoted a Mannahoack warrior as telling him, “they heard we were a people come from under the world, to take their world from them.”[59] In retrospect, this was fairly close to what was happening in North America.  That Smith would include such a comment by an aboriginal person raises significant questions about his own motives, and how he felt towards these people.  Myra Jehlen has called these instances in Smith’s narrative “textual ruptures” in which the recent post-colonial interpretations of oppression and cultural naivety in colonial writing are ripped open by the clear voice of the subaltern.[60] This historiography was noted earlier in this chapter.  However, it is mentioned here to demonstrate that Smith clearly did understand many of the aboriginal events taking place around him.

Some historians, such as Leo Lemay and Francis Jennings, do not subscribe to this interpretation of ‘textual ruptures.’  Perhaps this is because Smith could not have recorded some of the contents of the Generall Historie with complete accuracy. The speeches that Smith recorded verbatim are a good example of this.  As a result, historians such as Jennings have accused Smith of being utterly clueless, claiming that he “took the same eyes to the holy war against the Turks and the invasion of America.  In Virginia Smith unsurprisingly found native religion to be devil worship.  With his preconceptions and utter lack of self-doubt, he described an initiation ceremony for adolescent boys by turning it into a ‘solemn sacrifice of children’ and portrayed other Indian rituals with more contempt than confirmability.”[61] Given Read and Jehlen’s argument about the Generall Historie being “comprehensive” and “uncertain” this statement of Jennings’ must be addressed, especially given the strong voice of resistance running between the lines in Smith’s text.

Jennings, whose Invasion of America is known for its “moral style,” has allowed his “strong, even angry” approach to European-Aboriginal relations to snowball out of control in his critique of Smith.[62] Laying blame on historical actors for considering the native people to be devil worshipers vastly simplifies the European context.  The historian of ethnic relations must always remember that for a devout Protestant of Smith’s time, devil worshipers, or infidels, also consisted of Catholics, Muslims, other sects of Protestantism and many other religious groups.  Modern scholars cannot blame Smith and Champlain for not embracing the religious pluralism of the late twentieth century.  However, if those beliefs were so dogmatic that they were blinded to other aspects of aboriginal society, such sentiment must be factored into the analysis.  The current discussion hopes to show that this was not the case for either Champlain or Smith.

In terms of Jennings’ perception on Smith’s ‘solemn sacrifice of children’ it seems that Jennings may have interpreted events in a similar manner as his own accusations of Smith, letting his preconceptions interfere with his interpretation.  A comparison with recent ethnohistorical work demonstrates that Smith’s interpretation is not very different from modern scholars’ conceptions of the ceremony.  According to Smith, this ceremony began with children being tied to a tree and guarded by a group of men, then a gauntlet was formed in which five men rescued the children; all the while the women mourned their losses.  Smith continues by writing:

What els was done with the children, was not seene, but they were all cast on a heape, in a valley as dead, where they made a great feast for all the company.  The Werowance being demanded the meaning of this sacrifice, answered that the children were not all dead, but that the Okee or Divell did sucke the bloud from their left breast, who chanced to be his by lot, till they were dead, but the rest were kept in the wildernesse by the young men till nine moneths were expired…[63]

Now, bearing this story in mind, read ethnohistorian Helen Rountree’s explanation of this annual event:  “Some time before puberty, boys were expected to go through a harrowing ordeal of several months’ duration called the huskanaw, in which they were ceremonially ‘killed,’ isolated, and fed a ‘decoction’ that sent them mad and gave them amnesia, and then were ‘reborn’ and retrained by men, away from women’s influence.  Some boys did not survive.”[64] Smith was only one of many sources that Rountree used to explain this rite of passage.  In the light Rountree shed on this ceremony it seems that it actually was a sort of ‘solemn sacrifice of children.’  Whether the children were actually sacrificed or not, the meaning for the Virginian Algonquians was that the children had symbolically died in order to be ‘reborn.’  Although Smith may not have accurately perceived everything that took place, nor was he there long enough to do so, it appears that he understood the basic elements of the ceremony.  With the help of more recent scholarship it appears that his account was not as naïve as Jennings suggests.  Although Smith was far from a perfect ethnographer of Powhatan society, he was not as blind to the events he witnessed as Jennings and other scholars have suggested.

Many historians like Jennings have developed their perception of Smith from his harsh policies towards the aboriginal people.  It is clear that both Smith and Champlain did advocate the use of violence and subjection against the native people to secure their tenuous hold on North America; however, this does not necessarily mean that their views of the aboriginal people fell into a set of preconceived biases, or were excessively negative.  In terms of Smith’s oft-repeated statements about aboriginal treachery, Kupperman told her readers that these were “deeply rooted in the English view of human relations,” regardless of which side of the Atlantic one lived.[65] Nothing emphasizes this point more than the tumultuous relationship between Smith and some of the leadership at Jamestown.  This ragtag band of gentlemen and idlers often provided a stark contrast to the Virginia Algonquians in Smith’s writing.  At one point in his work he took a shot at the settlers by claiming “there was more hope to make better Christians and good subjects, then the one halfe of those that counterfeiter themselves both.”[66] “Like Prospero,” Andrew Fitzmaurice explained, “Smith is between two Tacitean worlds; he can trust neither the ‘savages’ nor his European rivals for power, each reflects on the other.”[67] The harshness of these policies ought not to be seen as an attack on the original inhabitants of North America based on race or ethnicity, rather they must be seen in a broader light that encompasses both the situation in North America and in Europe.

Just how harsh were some of the policies Smith and Champlain inserted into the Voyages and the Generall Historie?  Smith told his readers that he used threats of utter ruin to procure corn from the Powhatan villages, and Champlain advocated ‘just war’ as a form of conversion.  At first glance these appear to have been policies more closely resembling the Spanish conquest than either French or English forms of settlement.  But although they were neither light policy nor humane, both men made it clear they would have been conducted against Europeans in similar circumstances.  Smith explained, “peace we told them we would accept, would they bring us their Kings bowes and arrowes, with a chayne of pearle; and when we came againe give us foure hundred baskets full of Corne, otherwise we would breake all their boats, and burne their houses, and corne, and all they had.”[68] A similar statement is made on page 144 of the work.  These types of statements, however, do not necessarily reflect Smith’s actual perceptions of the aboriginal people as much as they represent the dire straits in Jamestown.  Cast in a volatile leadership role, Smith had to procure food for the settlement, whose sloth and inexperience prevented them from doing it themselves.  This does not mean that scholars should ignore the occasions when Smith undertook such policies, but rather that balance must be taken when one reads such accounts.  Barbour emphasized this point by highlighting that “nowhere does Smith mention exterminating the Indians.”[69] Although he took a harder approach than some of his contemporaries it is still clear in Generall Historie that Smith needed Powhatan and his comrades to survive on the fringes of the North American world.

Champlain on the other hand revealed a considerably more severe program, which may be taken as suggesting violent annihilation.  However, his comments are far from clear and leave room for much interpretation.  The second chapter of the first book opens with:

Ce qu’ils ne peuuent faire plus vtilement, qu’en attirant par leur trauail & pieté vn nombre infiny d’ames sauuages (qui viuent sans foy, sans loy, ny cognoissance du vray Dieu) à la profession de la Religion Catholique, Apostolique & Romaine.  Car la prise des forteresses, ny le gain des batailles, ny la conqueste des pays, ne sont rien en cōparaison ny au prix de celles qui se preparent des coronnes au ciel, si ce n’est contre les Infideles, où la guerre est non seulement necessaire, mais iuste & saincte, en ce qu’il y va du salut de la Chrestienté, de la gloire de Dieu, & de la defense de la foy…[70]

Champlain wrote this passage when his time in Quebec was over.  At no point in his thirty years in North America did he employ “just and holy” war against the aboriginal people.  The only type of religious warfare for which Champlain was responsible was spiritual warfare, and this was being fought by the Jesuits among the Innu and in the Huron villages in the Pays en haut.  There was no Spanish-style conquest in New France, no matter how similar Champlain’s statements.  As the study of history is never perfect, there is the possibility of this passage referring to a ‘just and holy’ war with France’s enemies the Iroquois.  However, there is no evidence to support this conclusion, and it should be remembered that France’s alliances with the Huron, Innu, and Algonquin were what mainly sparked France’s turbulent relationship with the Iroquois.

The most likely explanation is that Champlain has projected the political-religious climate of France onto New France.  When Louis XIII took the throne from his regent, Marie de Medici, France began to swing back towards the dogmatic grounds of the religious wars.  In 1624 the young king appointed a strict anti-Huguenot, Cardinal Richelieu, as first minister.  Two years later the Protestant stronghold of La Rochelle was under siege, and the city surrendered two years after that.  Although Protestants still had privileges provided under the Edict of Nantes, the siege at La Rochelle began a regression of those liberties until 1685, when the Edict was revoked.  When Champlain returned from Quebec in 1630, then, he was entering a kingdom that was once again toying with the notion of ‘just and holy’ war against the ‘infidel’ Protestant population.  This explanation is even more likely when one considers that the Voyages of 1632 are dedicated to the dévot first minister.  It seems most probable that this whole passage served as rhetoric to persuade the Cardinal of the benefits of settlement, and to bring Champlain into the Cardinal’s favour, rather than as an aggressive policy of conversion to be manifest in New France.

To further emphasize the benefits of settlement, and his role in such endeavours, Champlain, like Smith, edited his earlier works.  For the most part this editing involved the removal of certain parts of his earlier narratives.  These editorial decisions help to show the changing role of his writings.  The best example of this is in the account of his last voyage down the New England coast.  During the retelling of this voyage Champlain removed two important stories.  In both cases the aboriginal people had killed Frenchmen; on the first occasion a man was killed filling up a kettle, and on the other a number of Champlain’s companions were ambushed while baking bread.  The first story is not mentioned at all in the 1632 publication and the second is relegated to one sentence: “Il fut nommé le port Fortuné, pour quelque accident qui y arriua.”[71] Such an editorial decision is understandable if Champlain was trying to attract colonists. But this does not seem to have been the case, because Champlain did not sanitize every detail, complicating the matter considerably.  One occasion that he did not sanitize took place on their return to France. On that trip Champlain recorded the name of some islands off the coast: “qu’auons nommées les Martyres, pour y auoir eu des François autrefois tuez par les Sauuages.”[72] Why, one must ask, would he pacify his trip to New England but mention that the aboriginal people had killed Frenchmen only a few pages later.  There is no simple answer, but it seems likely that this is another example of Champlain emphasizing the importance of his own role.  By removing the two violent encounters that occurred during the New England voyage it appears to the reader that Champlain did not have any negative encounters with the native people between 1604 and 1607, therefore increasing his reputation as an intermediary between Europe and North America.

John Smith did exactly the same thing.  In contrast to Champlain, however, Smith’s whitewashing could not have been nearly as successful.  This is because Smith chose to whitewash his harsher treatment by linguistics rather than cut and paste.  On numerous occasions in Smith’s narrative he mentioned that he and the Virginian Algonquians were friends.  The problem with this is that such statements often follow harsh action from the English.  Take his relationship with the people at Chickahamania for example:

But arriving at Chickahamania, that dogged Nation was too well acquainted with our wants, refusing to trade, with as much scorne and insolency as they could expresse.  The President perceiving it was Powhatans policy to starve us, told them he came not so much for their Corne, as to revenge his imprisonment, and the death of his men murthered by them, and so landing his men and readie to charge them, they immediately fled: and presently after sent their Ambassadors with corne, fish, foule, and what they had to make their peace, (their Corne being that yeare but bad) they complained extreamely of their owne wants, yet fraughted our Boats with an hundred Bushels of Corne, and in like manner Lieutenant Percies, that not long after arrived, and having done the best they could to content us, we parted good friends…[73]

The statement “we parted good friends” appears, in a similar fashion as here, at least four times where it did not in the Proceedings.  It is difficult to take Smith at face value that they parted as “good friends” when it appears that he had forced the natives into supplying the settlement.  Like Champlain it seems that Smith was trying to blunt the impact of some of his statements.  He was caught in a paradox, however.  In Virginia Smith had to be harsh at times – such was the nature of dealing with an emperor who had successfully consolidated the tribes around him – but he could not be too harsh for fear of the opinion of those in England.  The Spanish style of conquest might have gained support in some circles, but in many others it would only invite criticism.

This paradox between good and bad, fair and unfair, is how most scholars see the overall treatment of the aboriginal people in the Generall Historie.  David Read has written: “Smith’s account of Jamestown in the Generall Historie suggests that the advance of colonization on this continent, with all its attendant and enduring agonies, is less a matter of the ‘evil’ in people’s hearts than of the confusion in their minds.”[74] Smith was stuck between needing the aboriginal people’s support to make Jamestown a viable colonial outpost, and on the other hand avoiding making the English the most recent acquisition to Powhatan’s growing empire.

This made his job much more complex than Champlain’s.  For the most part Champlain was attempting a cloak and dagger trick with his 1632 Voyages by trying to take credit for some of the policies founded by his predecessors, such as de Monts; whereas Smith was frequently the odd man out of the Jamestown leadership – most of whom wanted to meet as many of the aboriginal people’s desires as possible.  Smith felt the English needed to be respected and had to retain their autonomy.  He encapsulated this vision when he wrote, “Newport seeking to please the unsatiable desire of the Salvage, Smith to cause the Salvage to please him.”[75] This was not an issue with Champlain.  At no point in Champlain’s experience did either the French or the aboriginal people appear subservient to the other.

Smith and Champlain set out to do very similar things and yet they ended with considerably different results.  This was partly reflective of how the French and English approached the original inhabitants who surrounded their outposts.  The French entered North America with a long tradition of seasonal relationships and a clear cut plan, which went back at least to de Monts and perhaps even earlier.  The English, on the other hand, had a variety of ideas on how to deal with the native population, from Spanish-style conquest to the French style of alliance-building, and were therefore much more divided.  There was no stable policy towards the native people in the early years of Jamestown.  Smith had many options from which to choose, whereas Champlain had little choice.

Even though their experiences and works later in life were considerably different, common themes still emerged.  For example, both men clearly saw their approach to building a relationship as the most realistic way to accomplish their goals, and secondly, both felt that they were the people to continue that relationship.  As a result of this type of thinking both firmly believed that European and Aboriginal could live side by side in America.  Aside from conversion to Christianity, neither man called for the aboriginal people to assimilate into the European population.  In fact, both models put forward by these men required that the aboriginal way of life be maintained.  For Smith this lifestyle provided food for settlers in times of want, and for Champlain the native people were essential to supplying the fur trade.  What is most clear is that by 1624 and 1632 Smith and Champlain as individuals paralleled the colonies to which they dedicated their lives; first and foremost, Generall Historie and Voyages are treatises written to promote the continuation of settlement at Jamestown and Quebec, with Smith and Champlain as their respective champions.  In this sense they were both successful.


[1] Philip L. Barbour, The Three Worlds of Captain John Smith, (London, MacMillan, 1964), 350-369.

[2] Joe Armstrong, Champlain, (Toronto: Macmillan, 1987), 226-256.

[3] National Park Service, “Growth and Settlement Beyond Jamestown,” Jamestown Historic Briefs, http://www.nps.gov/colo/Jthanout/GrowthJt.html. (June 28, 2004)

[4] Gordon Sayre, Les Sauvages Américains: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 62.

[5] Armstrong, 259.

[6] Barbour, Three Worlds, 370.  Barbour has edited Smith’s title to fit with modern spelling.

[7] Alden T. Vaughan, American Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia, (Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1975), 179.

[8] Barbour (ed.), The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), vol. II, (Chapel Hill, 1986), 30.

[9] Vaughan, 177.  The term empire is somewhat misleading, as it does not appear in any of Smith’s writings, and may not have been used at all in this sense during this period.

[10] Karen O. Kupperman, “‘Brasse without but golde within:’ the writings of Captain John Smith,” Virginia Cavalcade, vol. 38 no. 2, (Autumn 1988), 68.

[11] Barbour, Three Worlds, 368.  Emphasis is Barbour’s.

[12] Myra Jehlen, “History before the Fact; or, Captain John Smith’s Unfinished Symphony,” Critical Inquiry, vol. 19, (Summer 1993), 688.

[13] David Read, “Colonialism and Coherence: The Case of Captain John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia,” Modern Philology, vol. 91 no. 4, (May 1994), 429.

[14] Jehlen, 690.

[15] Jehlen, 690.

[16] Read, 441.

[17] Word count was done on: John Smith, “The Generall Historie of Virginia,” American Memory, site managed by the Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/lhbcb:@field(DOCID+@lit(lhbcb0262a)): (June 28, 2004)

[18] Kupperman, Settling with the Indians, (Totowa, N.J., 1980), 106.

[19] John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles with the names of the Adventurers, Planters, and Governours from their first beginning An: 1584 to this present 1624, in Barbour (ed.), The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, vol. II, 114.

[20] Smith, Generall Historie, 103.

[21] Smith, Generall Historie, 149.

[22] Smith, Generall Historie, 146 and 152.

[23] This assumption is based on the fact that the use of the word salvage increased by forty percent and people forty-seven percent.  This averages out to approximately forty-three percent.

[24] Smith, Generall Historie, 154. also The Proceedings of the English Colony of Virginia, taken faithfully out of the writings of Thomas Studley Cape-marchant, Anas Todkill, Doctor Russell, Nathaniel Powell, William Phetiplace, and Richard Pot, with the laboures of other discreet observers, during their residences, in Barbour (ed.), The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, vol. I, 215.

[25] Smith, Generall Historie, 171-172. also Proceedings, 232.

[26] Smith, Generall Historie, 211. also Proceedings, 262.

[27] James Axtell, Beyond 1492, (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992), 91.

[28] Smith, Generall Historie, 171. also Proceedings, 231.

[29] Smith, Generall Historie, 168. also Proceedings, 227-228. The emphasis on nations is my own, not Smith’s nor the original authors’ (if there was one)

[30] Samuel de Champlain, Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain xaintongeois, capitaine ordinaire pour le Roy, en la marine, in H.P. Biggar (ed.), The Works of Samuel de Champlain, vol. I, 327. My Translation: “The next day Sieur de Monts went on shore to see their labour along the river bank.”

[31] Champlain, Les Voyages de La Nouvelle France Occidentale, dicte Canada, faits par le Sr de Champlain Xainctongeois, Capitaine pour le Roy en la Marine du Ponant, & toutes les Descouvertes qu’il a faites en ce païs depuis l’an 1603. jusques en l’an 1629, in H.P. Biggar (ed.), The Works of Samuel de Champlain, vol. III, 374.  My Translation: “I went on shore to see their labour along the river bank.”

[32] For examples see Smith, Generall Historie, 137 and 138.

[33] Smith, Proceedings, 237.  The context of this quotation suggests that “himselfe” is referring to Smith rather than Newport.  This makes sense seeing as Newport was a ship’s captain.

[34] Smith, Generall Historie, 184.

[35] Smith, Generall Historie, 154.

[36] Smith, A True Relation, vol. I, 57.

[37] Smith, General Historie, vol. II, 151.

[38] Leo Lemay, The American Dream of Captain John Smith, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991), 52.  Kupperman makes a similar point in Indians and English, (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University, 2000), 114.

[39] The letter may be found in Smith, Generall Historie, 258.

[40] Smith, Generall Historie, 151.

[41] Kupperman, Indians and English, 114.

[42] For example see Smith, A True Relation, 55.  There are a handful of other instances scattered throughout the text.

[43] However, if this interpretation is true it serves as an interesting parallel with Champlain who married the twelve year old Hélène Boullé in 1610.

[44] Vaughan, 37.

[45] Barbour, Three Worlds, 362.

[46] Smith, Generall Historie, 41-42.

[47] Kupperman, Settling with the Indians, 2.

[48] Smith, A True Relation, 65. see chapter 1 for greater discussion.

[49] Smith, A True Relation, 53. The square brackets are Barbour’s.  Also, a footnote immediately following this passage reads, “The jerky style of writing here suggests cutting.” (ft. 125)

[50] Smith, Generall Historie, 150.

[51] Smith, Generall Historie, 151.

[52] Champlain, Des Sauvages, in H.P. Biggar (ed.), The Works of Samuel de Champlain, vol. I, 102. My Translation: “they are very dirty eaters: because when they have greasy hands they rub them on their hair, or else on the fur of their dogs.”

[53] Smith, A True Relation, 59.

[54] Smith, Generall Historie, 148 and Proceedings, 219.

[55] Kupperman, Settling with the Indians, 2.

[56] Smith, Generall Historie, 217.

[57] Smith, Generall Historie, 226.

[58] Sayre, 73.

[59] Smith, Generall Historie, 175.

[60] Jehlen, 687.

[61] Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest, (Chapel Hill, N.C. 1975), 46.

[62] The quotations are from Axtell, After Columbus, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 26-27.

[63] Smith, Generall Historie, 124-125.

[64] Helen Rountree, Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries, (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1990), 12.

[65] Kupperman, Settling with the Indians, 128.

[66] Smith, Generall Historie, 215 and Proceedings, 265.

[67] Andrew Fitzmaurice, Humanism and America, (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2003), 179.

[68] Smith, Generall Historie, 179.

[69] Barbour, Three Worlds, 353.  The emphasis is his own.

[70] Champlain, Voyages, vol. III, 258-259.  My Translation: “This cannot be more usefully accomplished than by attracting by their work and piety an infinite number of aboriginal souls (who live without faith, without law, and without awareness of the true God) to the profession of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion.  For neither the taking of fortresses, nor the winning of battles, nor the conquest of countries, have anything in comparison, or price, of those that prepare crowns in heaven, if it is against the Infidels, where war is not only necessary, but also just and holy, in that here it is about the salvation of Christianity, for the glory of God, and the defense of the faith…”

[71] Champlain, Voyages, vol. III, 409.  My Translation: “It was called Port Misfortune, for some accident that happened there.”

[72] Champlain, Voyages, vol. III, 412.  My Translation: “which we named the Martyrs, for there Frenchmen had been killed by the natives sometime ago.”

[73] Smith, Generall Historie, 186.  For another example see 179 which is part of the story found in footnote 63.

[74] Read, 448.

[75] Smith, Generall Historie, 156.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s