John Smith in Jamestown

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John Smith in Jamestown

The leadership strengths and weaknesses of John Smith evoked a profound effect on the Jamestown colony. The fact that Smith actually arrived in the colony as a common prisoner and was able to achieve the leadership role that he gained is amazing. His creativity and knowledge in certain areas actually saved the colonists from attack and starvation in the early days. Some of the rules he enforced as a leader were actually instrumental in saving the colony. His skill in dealing with the natives allowed him to gain their support and continue trade that resulted in the survival of the colony.

Christopher Newport, the admiral that transported John Smith and many of the colonists from England, left the Jamestown colony in the fall of 1607. Immediately all work in the settlement ceased to exist. The colonists had decided to wait on Newport to return with new workers. The plan was for the natives to provide food for them while they waited. When the natives never came with food, Ratcliffe, the current president of the colony, ordered John Smith to visit the neighboring natives and trade tools and metals for corn. The natives had noticed how the English were unable to feed themselves by planting their own crops. The natives refused to trade more than a few handfuls of corn and bread for the hatchets and iron that were offered. Smith realized the reason why the Kecoughtans were not trading more than just those small amounts and created a way to solve the problem. To prove to the natives that the English were not poor, Smith gave free beads and trinkets to the children. This was to show the Kecoughtans that the English were economically strong and possessed more valuable items. Smith used the mentality of “weakness in appearance…was weakness in reality” (Price 57) to justify his travels from village to village, collecting a large of amount of corn, bread, and other foods for the Jamestown colonists. Smith thought the natives would trade more food if they did not realize what a small amount of food stores that the English had actually acquired. If the natives had known what large quantities of food Smith had actually traded for, they would have realized how desperate the state of the colonists. Smith performed his trading sessions this way “’least they should perceive my too great want.’” (Price 57) In this manner, John Smith saved the ent...

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...into believing the English had enough stores of food actually help protect the colonists from attack. It also allowed Smith and the colonists to continue to bring back enough food and supplies to last the settlement through the first winter. By the second winter, John Smith had taken the position of President of the settlement. This put him in a position of power where he could invoke some rules among the colonists. Invoking the “he that will not work shall not eat” rule was a key factor in surviving this winter. During the same season the food supply again became dangerously low. Rats had again infested the main food supply. John cleverly divided the colonists into three groups. Despite the risk of having the settlement devastated by the division, Smith pulled it off and saved the colonists again. John Smith remained committed to the interests of the common man throughout his efforts in Jamestown. This character trait and well as his impulsiveness and temper outbursts weakened him in the eyes of the Virginia Company. Unfortunately, this shortened his time as a leader for the settlers. Despite his flaws, John Smith was a critical player in the success of the Jamestown settlement.
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