American Character: Capt. John Smith

Smith Saved Jamestown

Smith Saved Jamestown

I spent a few days posting on the principle of Christian character. Throughout American history, there have been individuals who have exhibited certain of those traits and, by them, have contributed greatly to our history. Some of those people may not have been Christians themselves, except in the cultural sense, but they still exemplify the qualities that are essential for a society to work.

One such man was Capt. John Smith—soldier, adventurer, mapmaker of the New World. One of Smith’s least admirable qualities seems to have been a penchant to tell others how to do things, even when they didn’t want his advice. That quality almost led to his hanging on the trip to the New World.

Once here, though, his character began to show in ways that allowed the young colony to survive. He successfully traded with the natives, who respected him because of his strong words and actions. His efforts to map the Chesapeake region helped not only Jamestown but others who followed after.

Most importantly, however, when Jamestown was at its lowest ebb, he was selected to be the president of the struggling colony. Under his leadership, the gentlemen, who until this time had declined to partake of physical labor, were forced to do so. Smith realized that he had to turn them away from fortune-hunting to planting. The future depended on it.

He also instilled military discipline into the settlers, drilling and training them for self-defense. The natives were watching these exercises, as Smith wanted them to. The military bearing served as a deterrent to attacks, an approach used throughout the ages to keep potential enemies from taking advantage.

It can be said with confidence that Smith saved Jamestown from disaster. The later history, which included a starving time and martial law without personal liberties, were not Smith’s doing. Severely injured after a gunpowder accident, Smith had to return to England, where he fought a different battle—for his reputation. Some were trying to blame him for the Jamestown failures. Scapegoating has been common in all eras. Yet Smith successfully defended his actions.

John Smiths are just as needed today. Practical leadership skills and the foresight to prepare for possible adversity are qualities we should seek in those who want political power. Sometimes, we don’t choose wisely.