J. Kelly Robison


John Smith: Description of Virginia


"Description of Virginia" was written by John Smith who lived from 1580 to 1631. He was one of the original settlers of Jamestown and was famous for his many adventures and travels to different lands. He is a legend, but most historians doubt the many stories about him.

John Smith's document begins by telling of the greatness of Virginia. The fertile soil, rivers, ability to raise many different kinds of livestock, and abundance of safe harbors for ship transportation and fishing are all attempts to lure people to the new world. He also describes the many natural resources available in the new land, and how there is more there than anywhere else in the world if there were only more men to produce the products to further his attempt to entice.

He then speaks of the Native Americans in Virginia. He goes into great detail to describe their physical appearance. He describes them as very strong and agile, yet classifies them all as savages. He then tells of the Indians' clothes of animal skins and feathers. Smith also describes the Indians' jewelry of beads and copper. He further speaks of their jewelry by reporting on the pictures the Natives had painted all over their bodies and the ornaments they dangle from the three holes in their ears.

At the time when Smith wrote this document, Virginia was not nearly as glorious as he described it to be. Many settlers of Jamestown died from malaria and other diseases of the new land that they had no prior exposure to. In addition, many others died of starvation and local Indian attacks. In Virginia's first seventeen years, only 1,300 settlers survived out of 8,500 who immigrated.

To promote colonization, the Virginia Company established the Headright system. Each headright was a fifty-acre land grant that each new colonist would receive for every member of their family. They could then grow tobacco, a very profitable cash crop, on this land. To attract settlers through the headrights so that the settlement would not fail and the Virginia Company would not lose money, the conditions in the New World were glorified by people such as Smith.


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