navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History: Early Years
Biographies Unit Biographies

John Smith 1580–1631
Soldier, Colonial Leader, and Author

John Smith is best known as the leader who took command of Jamestown in 1608 and forced the settlers to work. Without him, the settlement might not have survived.

Smith lived a life of adventure. He was born in England and became a soldier in his teens. He fought in France, Italy, the Netherlands, and the Mediterranean region. Smith was captured by Turkish soldiers, but escaped. He made his way through Turkey, Russia, Europe, and Morocco before returning to England.

Smith was chosen for the Jamestown expedition because of his military experience. While in Virginia, Smith did a lot of exploring. On one trip he was captured and brought before the leader of the Powhatan nation. Their meeting ended with the Powhatan leader adopting Smith. Smith also became friends with Pocahontas.

Smith sailed back to England in 1609. He later returned to North America to visit a region he named New England. Smith spent the last years of his life writing. His published work includes maps and descriptions of North America, his autobiography, and a history of the English colonies.

Comprehension Check

Why was Smith chosen to lead the Jamestown expedition?

Critical Thinking

In what ways do you think Smith's experience prepared him for leading the Jamestown colony?