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As we have seen, too, Captain Smith had much to contend against in the characters of many of the settlers themselves, whom the old world seems to have shaken off, as being too worthless and desperate to be any longer tolerated at home. They were continually irritating him by their surly opposition, and infecting the welldisposed by their ill example; for labors and hardships are much lightened when they are shared by all. Instead of receiving aid from the council at home, they were to him a source of unmixed vexation and disappointment.
Chagrined by the failure of their visionary hopes, with a truly consistent selfishness they abandoned to unwarrantable neglect the settlers, whom they had sent into a howling wilderness, taking no pains to provide for their wants, and, by their absurd exactions, making the expeditions they sent out to them a tax and a burden. Captain Smith they honored with peculiar dislike, because he preferred the interests of the colony to their own; believing all that his enemies could say of him, giving him reproof where honor was due, and finally depriving him of his command, at the very moment, when, by his extraordinary exertions, he had established the colony upon a firm basis, and could look confidently forward to its steady increase and continued prosperity.
It is hardly possible for Captain Smith's services to the colony to be exaggerated. Nothing but the force of his character could have conducted it through so many difficulties and dangers. Upon his single life its existence hung, and without him the enterprise would have been relinquished again and again, as in the case of the settlements on the coast of North Carolina, and the establishment of a permanent colony in America would have been delayed to an indefinite period, since every unsuccessful attempt would have been a fresh discouragement to such an undertaking. It is easy to be seen that he embraced the interests of the colony with the whole force of his fervid and enthusiastic character. He was its right eye and its right arm. In its service he displayed a perseverance, which no obstacles could dishearten, a courage, which bordered upon rashness, and a fertility of resources, which never left him at a loss for remedies against every disaster, and for the means of extricating himself from every difficulty and embarrass
It is curious to observe that he seemed not only to superintend, but to do every thing. His official dignity never encumbered him when any thing was to be done. We find him, at one time, cutting down trees with his own hands; at another, heading an exploring expedition, venturing, with a
few timid followers in an open bark, into unknown regions densely peopled with savage tribes; and at another, marching with a few soldiers to procure provisions, and sleeping on the bare ground in the depth of winter. He had the advantage of possessing an iron frame and a constitution which was proof against sickness and exposure; so that, while others were faint, drooping, and weary, he was vigorous, unexhausted, ready to grapple with danger, and contemplating every enterprise with cheerful confidence in the result.
In the government of his colony he was rigidly impartial, just, and, as might be expected from one who had so long been a soldier, strict even to severity. This was indeed one of the objections made to his administration by the council in England, and it without doubt created him many enemies in Jamestown. But the intelligent reader will find for him a sufficient apology in the desperate character of many of the settlers, and in the absolute necessity of implicit subordination, which their situation required.
The whole power was centred in his own person, and a refusal to obey him was a refusal to obey the laws, upon which their safety and even existence depended. His severity arose from a sense of duty, and no one ever accused him of being wantonly cruel or revengeful. No man was more ready to forgive offences, aimed
at himself personally; a striking proof of which is, that we hear of no punishments being inflicted on the dastardly wretches who attempted to assassinate him, as he was lying helpless from his wounds, during the last days of his administration.
His conduct to the Indians, though not always dictated by a spirit of Christian justice or brotherhood, will be found very honorable to him, if tried by the standard of the opinions of his day. Here, too, his apology must be found in the peculiar circumstances in which he was placed. He was not the head of a powerful body, meeting and trading with the Indians on terms of equality, but of a feeble band, whom they, if they had known their own strength, might have crushed in a moment. The passion of fear is the parent of cruelty and of treachery. It was necessary (or at least it was deemed so) to overawe the Indians, to strike terror into them; and, if the means resorted to for accomplishing these ends were not strictly justifiable, there was at least an excuse for them.
The English were also more than once threatened with famine, while their Indian neighbors were generally well supplied with provisions; and reason and experience tell us that starving men will not be very nice in their expedients to obtain food, or coolly examine into the right and wrong of measures, when a fierce animal instinct is goading
them on. Captain Smith, by his prudence and firmness, established a most harmonious feeling between the two races.
The respect of the Indians for him hardly stopped short of idolatry. His great qualities were evident to these untutored children of nature, and their reverence was the instinctive homage which is paid to innate superiority. This is alone sufficient to prove that he never treated the Indians, even as they thought, with injustice, cruelty, or caprice; had it been so, he never would have been so admired and honored by a race of men who are proverbial for never forgetting an injury.
The genuine merits of Captain Smith, as a presiding officer, can only be fairly estimated by comparing him with others. We have seen that whenever he departs from Jamestown every thing is thrown into confusion, and that, as soon as he returns, order is restored and the jarring notes of discord cease to be heard. As none but himself could bend the bow of Ulysses, so no one was capable of sustaining the office of President for a single day but Captain Smith. We have seen in what difficulties and embarrassments Captain Martin at Nansemond and Captain West at the Falls severally involved themselves; and from this specimen we may draw "ominous conjecture" of what would have been the fate of the whole colony, had either of these gentlemen been at its head.