John Smith

1580 –

Born in Lincolnshire, England, the son of a tenant farmer, John Smith received a grammar school education, was apprenticed briefly to a merchant, then joined a company of soldiers fighting the Spanish in the Low Countries. 

Late in 1606, he joined other colonists bound for Virginia; during the voyage, he was accused of plotting against the expedition's leaders and almost hanged at Nevis, but was later reprieved. Settling in Jamestown, Smith led surveying and supply mission, during one of which he was captured by Powhatan Indians, participated in ceremonies, and made a Powhatan chief. (He would later write he was saved from execution by the intervention of Pocahontas, but he had more probably undergone a Powhatan adoption ritual.) Smith assumed the presidency of the colony’s governing council in 1608, but was forced to leave Virginia in 1609 after he was badly burned in an accident.