Page images
PDF
EPUB

CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH.

CHAPTER I.

His Birth, early Adventures, and brilliant Achievements in the Turkish Wars.

AMONG the adventurous spirits, whom a restless love of enterprise called from the bosom of repose in England to new scenes and untried perils in our Western wilds, there is no one whose name awakens more romantic associations, than CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH. His life is as brilliant and exciting as a Fairy tale; and the remarkable adventures he went through served to develope fully his no less remarkable character. It was his good fortune to live in stirring and eventful times, congenial to his bold and roving disposition, and, luckily for posterity, his adventures have been preserved in a characteristic narrative written by himself, from which the principal facts in the following biographical sketch have been drawn.

He was born in Willoughby in the county of Lincolnshire, in the year 1579, and was de

VOL. II.

12

scended from an ancient family which belonged to the county of Lancashire. His wild spirit of enterprise and dislike to confinement displayed themselves in early boyhood; for, at the age of thirteen, being, as he himself says, "set upon brave adventures," he sold his satchell, books, and whatever other property he had, in order to raise money to furnish him with the means of going privately to sea ; but this hopeful enterprise was frustrated by the death of his parents, who left him a competent estate. His guardians put him apprentice, at the age of fifteen, to Mr. Thomas Sendall of Lynn, "the greatest merchant of all those parts;" but the compting-house desk seems to have been as irksome to him as the school-boy's form. He quitted his master's employment, and, with but ten shillings in his pocket, furnished him by his friends (to use his own words) "to get rid of him," he entered into the train of the second son of the famous Lord Willoughby, who was travelling into France.

On arriving at Orleans, he was furnished with funds sufficient to carry him back to England; but such a step was very far from his intention. He went over into the Low Coun tries, the battle-ground of Europe, where he served for three or four years under the command of Captain Joseph Duxbury. Of the nature of his service he does not inform us;

but he probably belonged to a company of English auxiliaries, who were aiding Prince Maurice in his gallant and successful struggle against the power of Spain, which resulted in the independence of the Netherlands. He met with a Scotch gentleman abroad, whose name was David Hume, who supplied him with money, gave him letters to his friends in Scotland, and assured him of the favor and patronage of King James.

He set sail for Scotland accordingly, and, after having suffered shipwreck and a severe fit of sickness, arrived there, and delivered his letters. By those to whom they were addressed, he was treated with that warmth of hospitality, which seems to have been characteristic of the Scotch nation from the earliest times; but he found no encouragement to enter upon the career of a courtier. He returned to Willoughby in Lincolnshire; and, finding himself thrown among those in whose society he took no pleasure, and being perhaps a little soured by disappointment, he built himself a sylvan lodge of boughs in a wood, and studied military history and tactics. He amused himself at the same time with hunting and horsemanship. He was not, however, a genuine and independent man of the woods; for he kept up an intercourse with the civilized world by means of his servant,

who supplied his woodland retreat with all the comforts of artificial life. Rumor soon spread about the country the tale of a young and accomplished hermit, and brought to his "lonely bower" an Italian gentleman in the service of the Earl of Lincoln, of great skill in horsemanship, who insinuated himself into the favor of Smith, and induced him to return with him into the world.

His military ardor soon revived, and he set out a second time upon his travels, intending to fight against the Turks, whom all good Christians in those days looked upon as natural enemies. The first stage of his journey was the Low Countries, where he met with four French adventurers, who, seeing the youth and inexperience of Smith (being at that time but nineteen years old), formed a plan to rob him. One of them pretended to be a nobleman, and the others personated his attendants. They persuaded him to travel with them into France, and they accordingly embarked together on board of a vessel for that purpose. His treacherous friends found in the captain a kindred spirit in villany, and by his assistance their plans were put into execution. In a dark night they arrived at St. Valery in Picardy; and, by the contrivance of the captain, the four Frenchwere put on shore with the baggage of

men

Smith, he himself remaining on board, in utter ignorance of the disposition which had been made of his property. The boat with the captain returned the next day towards evening, a delay which he alleged to be in consequence of the high sea, but which was in reality to enable the robbers to escape with their booty. His villany was strongly suspected by the passengers, who, indignant at his baseness and strongly sympathizing with Smith in his misfortune, proposed to him to kill the captain and take possession of the vessel and cargo. This offer, so characteristic of the lawlessness of the times, was rejected by Smith, with a promptness worthy of his honorable and high-minded character.

On his being landed, Smith found himself in such straits as to be compelled to sell his cloak to pay for his passage. One of his fellow passengers generously compassionating his forlorn situation, supplied him with money and brought him to Mortain, the place of residence of the villains who had robbed him. He found it impossible to obtain any satisfaction, however, for the injuries he had received at their hands, the word of a friendless and unknown stranger probably not being deemed sufficient evidence of their guilt; and he could not be aided by his generous fellow passenger, who was an outlawed man and obliged to live in the strictest seclusion.

« PreviousContinue »