John Smith was born unto a farming family near Willoughby, Lincolnshire, England, in January of 1580. Smith received his early education at the King Edward VI School, a grammar school and academy in the town of Louth, district of East Lindsey, county of Lancashire, that was established in the 13th Century and still operates to this very day. Smith started his seafaring career early on at the age of 16, following the death of his father, and soon thereafter became a mercenary (soldier-for-hire) in the French Army in service to King Henry IV of France. In the Mediterranean, he traded goods (and even pirated them when necessary), and even fought against the Ottomans as a mercenary for the Hapsburgs and the Romanian principality of Wallachia.
After his father's early demise in 1596, Smith left for France where he became a soldier. Then, Smith explored the Mediterranean and continued on into Austria in 1600 to fight the Turks. Smith was more of an adventurer and soldier at this time than an explorer, but these experiences prepared him nonetheless for his later explorations. In 1602, he was in Transylvania fighting for the Prince of Transylvania, Sigismund Bathory, who had Smith knighted for his services to his kingdom. According to Smith, the hardships that he had to go through were many and varied. At one time, he was captured by the Turks and sold as slave. He escaped, and made his way into Russia, then Poland, and all the way to Africa before returning home to England.
As a young man, Smith was already exploring foreign lands, ranging from Western Europe to Hungary to the Mediterranean. It has been said that Smith participated in several dangerous European jaunts and, according to him, he became used to the ways of war. He also often fought while exploring for much of the rest of his life. Returning to England, the Virginia Company of London hired him as member to bolster its newly established colony in North America. In the New World, Smith proved to be an able officer in Jamestown, Virginia Colony. The settlers had a very difficult time in Virginia, for they lacked food and shelter, and were ill-equipped to deal with the hardships inherent to their new environments. Smith, however, adapted to the situations in Virginia quickly, and became the Administrator of Virginia Colony.
After his return to England from fighting in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, Smith was already a hardened soldier and explorer. Although he was most frequently a land explorer, he was comfortable on the open seas nonetheless. To Smith, challenges that would have broken other men likely would have seemed merely part of a day's work to him after all he went through in his career. When asked about the native Indians in Virginia, Smith replied, “The Warres in Europe, Asia, and Affrica,” he later boasted, “taught me how to subdue the wilde Salvages in … America.” The Virginia Company also realized that Smith was the leader they needed in Jamestown, Virginia. He even faced conflicts with the Virginia Company itself at times, such as when they wanted Smith to pay for Christopher Newport's voyage to the colony with large amounts of such commodities as timber, tar, pitch, and soap from Virginia after Newport charged Smith with mutiny and threatened to execute him.
Death and Legacy
Smith did all he could to lobby for British North America in England, calling for English Imperial might to help overpower colonial dissenters and Native Americans in the colonies. He published these suggestions as part of his tracts on seamanship and colonization. In October of 1609, Smith sailed to England to recuperate from a gunpowder explosion accident that had seriously injured him. He spent his last years in England writing his Jamestown and European memoirs. Smith died on June 21st, 1631 in London, England. Historians of his time had doubts about Smith's war accounts and his adventures in Europe, the East, and in Jamestown, Virginia. However, today's historians have verified many of Smith's claims to be true. John Smith had many titles to his name, though he was first and foremost known as the "Admiral of New England". The rest came in handy as well, including English soldier, explorer, and author, and helped him earn wealth, rank, and friends in the highest places of European and Colonial society.