The sea-mans grammar and dictionary
by Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith was one of the first American heroes

Born in 1580 in Willoughby, England, John Smith left home at age 16 after his father died. He began his travels by joining volunteers in France who were fighting for Dutch independence from Spain. Two years later, he set off for the Mediterranean Sea, working on a merchant ship. In 1600 he joined Austrian forces to fight the Turks in the "Long War." A valiant soldier, he was promoted to Captain while fighting in Hungary. He was fighting in Transylvania two years later in 1602. There he was wounded in battle, captured, and sold as a slave to a Turk. Smith reportedly escaped by murdering the brother and returned to Transylvania by fleeing through Russia and Poland. After being released from service and receiving a large reward, he traveled all through Europe and Northern Africa. He returned to England in the winter of 1604-05.

Apparently restless in England, Smith became actively involved with plans to colonize Virginia for profit by the Virginia Company, which had been granted a charter from King James I. After setting sail on December 20, 1606, this famous expedition finally reached Virginia in April 1607 after enduring a lengthy voyage of over four months in three tiny ships. When the sealed box that listed the names of the seven council members who were to govern the colony was opened, Smith's name was on the list. On May 13, 1607 the settlers landed at Jamestown ready to begin the task of surviving in a new environment. Due to bad government and near chaos, Smith was eventually elected president of the local council in September 1608. He instituted a policy of rigid discipline, strengthened defenses, and encouraged farming with this admonishment: "He who does not work, will not eat." Because of his strong leadership, the settlement survived and grew during the next year. Unfortunately, Smith was accidentally injured by a gunpowder burn and had to return to England for treatment in October 1609, never to return to Virginia again.

When he returned to England in August, he sought out Sir Ferdinando Gorges, leader of the Plymouth Company, which held rights to that part of America. Smith named the region New England and received the title of admiral of New England. In 1615, accompanied by a small party, he undertook two further voyages, both of which were unsuccessful and on the second of which he fell into the hands of French privateers.

A Description of New England (1616) was written on board the privateer and based on his 1614 voyage. In a series of pamphlets, books, and revisions to earlier works he not only became England's foremost advocate of colonization, but sought to develop a coherent theory of colonization with religion at its core. New England Trials was published in 1620 and a revised version appeared two years later. Smith's major work, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles was published in 1624.

Less well known are Smith's seafaring publications, which drew on his maritime experience. He produced a pioneering manual for seamen—An Accidence, or the Path-Way to Experience, Necessary for All Young Seamen—in 1626, calling himself Captain John Smith, ‘sometime Governor of Virginia, and Admiral of New England’. It was revised and republished one year later as A Sea Grammar (1627). His second major work, The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine John Smith, two-thirds autobiography and one-third a continuation of The Generall Historie, appeared in 1630. His final work, Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England, or any where, was published in London in 1631, the year of his death.

He died between 21 and 30 June 1631, and was buried in London. He never married.

sources: DNB,

Here is the 1691 edition: download (7.1 Mb)


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