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Home > About the Chesapeake > Exploring the Bay > Captain John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages > Captain John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages: About John Smith
Captain John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages: About John Smith

Only 27 when he explored Chesapeake Bay, John Smith proved himself an energetic and resourceful leader. Confident and quick to speak his mind, Smith also gained a reputation for being conceited and boastful.

Born in 1580 in Willoughby, England, at age 16 Smith left his position as a merchant's apprentice and sought a military career, fighting in the Dutch war of independence from Spain before joining an Austrian “crusade” against Turkish forces. Captured by the Turks, Smith was sold into slavery, made a daring escape, and by 1604 was back in England. There he signed on with the Virginia Company, a group of London investors aiming to establish a profitable American colony. Arriving in Virginia in 1607, Smith searched the Chesapeake region for gold, silver and the long-sought Northwest Passage to the Pacific and China. He also mapped the area and wrote his famous 1608 account of its lush resources and his encounters with Native peoples, including the overlord Powhatan and his daughter Pocahontas. Elected president of the Jamestown colony, Smith later lost the position after rivals agitated for his removal. In 1609 he returned to England after suffering agonizing burns when his gunpowder bag exploded as he slept.

Convinced that a carefully planned colonial venture could avoid problems that plagued Jamestown during its early years, in 1615 Smith explored the coast of modern-day Maine and Massachusetts, naming the region New England. His hopes of establishing a colony there were dashed when mishaps at sea all but destroyed the initial supply ships. Unable to raise more funds for the project, Smith spent the rest of his life writing sensationalized accounts of his exploits. He died in 1631 at age 51.


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