What was John Smith’s life like prior to his adventures in the new world?

After reading the two excerpts assigned from Ethology, “From New England’s Trials” and the “Biography of Captain John Smith, “one question enthralled me most. What were Captain John Smith’s prior experiences to coming to the new world which led him to be such a heroic Icon? In the excerpts Captain Smith always seems to get out of trouble, fight through adversity, and ultimately succeed. This leads me to believe that he must have had some very interesting prior influences and experiences before he came to Virginia. I’ve decided to research the earlier life of Captain John Smith before the settlement of Jamestown.

“Tough, romantic and arrogant, Smith was the original American rebel, which is much of the reason he looms so large in both the making of American mythology and the making of American history.” http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&sid=c4b96080-13c4-439d-a1c3-d01758f4d3c5%40sessionmgr114&hid=112&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=mih&AN=24882922

A short summary of Captain John Smith’s early life can be found at http://apva.org/rediscovery/page.php?page_id=25 . From this I discovered that John Smith was born in Willoughby, England in 1580. He left home at a mere 16 after his father’s passing and started his adventures by joining volunteers in France to fight for Dutch independence from Spain. Two years after this he worked on a merchant ship in the Mediterranean Sea. Smith joined Austrian forces to fight against the Turks in the “Long War” in 1600. He was a very honorable and courageous soldier made evident in that he was promoted to the rank of Captain while fighting in Hungary. In 1602 he was again fighting, this time in Transylvania. While there Smith was wounded in battle, and taken and sold into slavery to a Turk. The Turk sent Smith as a gift to his lover in Istanbul. From the view of Smith, this lady fell in love with him and sent him to her brother to be trained for Turkish imperial service. Smith supposedly escaped from the girl’s brother by murdering him and returning to Transylvania after fleeing through Russia and Poland. Here he was released from service and received a large reward. Captain Smith traveled throughout Europe and Northern Africa. He returned to England the winter of 1604-05.

Map of Europe and North Africa


The following source,in grim and greater detail, elicits the story of John Smith while he was enslaved. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&sid=c4b96080-13c4-439d-a1c3-d01758f4d3c5%40sessionmgr114&hid=112&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=mih&AN=24882922
He was an expert swordsman whom excelled in hand-to-hand combat and was also familiar with the making of bombs out of clay pots, gunpowder and tar, Smith served as a volunteer in wars abroad France, the Netherlands and southeast Europe to the edge of the Ottoman Empire. Smith was Captured then sold into slavery and eventually ended up at a desolate Black Sea military outpost. Here a Turkish officer shaved John Smith’s head and placed an iron ring about his neck. “A dog could hardly have lived to endure” the constant beatings and pitiful rations that were administered, Smith wrote in his amusing autobiography. According to Smith, he was working at a grain field one day by himself when his Turkish master came by alone, ready to carry out his routine beatings. Smith bashed in his skull with a bat, took his clothes, hid the dead body in a haystack and fled on top of the dead former master’s horse. He traveled back to Europe by following the ancient Silk Road.

Knowing a little bit about Captain John Smith’s experiences before he came to America was one of my primary interests. Although this information was not easily found, I feel like I did find some interesting information. There are endless amounts of information during his time in the new world, but very little of the time before, and most information on this is very vague and summarized. I now better understand his character and why he was such an admirable yet tough leader whom was capable of overcoming almost anything. I hope my findings interest others also and help rear a better understanding of the background of Captain John Smith.

Picture of Captain John Smith