Captain John Smith (1580-1631) was an English explorer and author best known for leading the first permanent settlement in North America, Jamestown. Originally from Lincoln, England, he grew up and was educated there. He left at the country at the age of sixteen, following the death of his father. After a long and successful career as a mercenary and explorer, he permanently returned to England in 1615. Smith is buried in the Saint-Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church, Holborn viaduct, London. The Church, founded in 1137, is the largest of its kind in London and a stained glass window commemorating Smith sits in the South wall. Smith is deeply entwined with the colonisation of North America. He founded a settlement, led the colony of Virginia and encouraged the continuing colonisation of the continent through his writings and maps. Not only did he do this, but he also made sure that the English would have a firm claim on this part of the New World, going so far as to name the North-Easterly colonies ‘New England’. That is a term still used to describe the States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. During his time as leader of Jamestown, Smith was captured by a Powhatan tribe and taken to meet their chief. Legend has it that the chief was on the verge of executing Smith when his daughter, Pocahontas, begged her father to spare his life. This version of events cannot be confirmed as Smith’s account is the only one. True or not, Pocahontas did end up marrying one of the settlers, a tobacco planter called John Rolfe, and in 1616 travelled with him to London. In England she was treated as something of a celebrity, a symbol of how the savage could become a part of civilised society. Unfortunately, on her way back to America, she died of unknown causes and lies buried in Gravesend, England. Her exact burial place is not known. Smith left Jamestown in 1609 after suffering an injury during a skirmish between the English settlers and a Native American tribe. After making a return voyage in 1614 to map the coast of Massachusetts and Maine, he again returned to England. He attempted to go back twice during 1614-15. The first time his mast broke and he was forced to abort the voyage.On the second attempt he was captured by pirates and only just escaped with his life. Following these failed voyages, he decided to remain in England, and devoted his time to publishing an account of his time in the New world. He entitled the book, A description of New England. Smith died in 1631 in London at the age of 51. Following his death many critics began to question the validity of his extensive writings. They often cited his description of his relationship with the Native Americans as a source of inaccuracy. He often portrayed himself as a figure of good ethics who would deal kindly and in a compromising way with the Native Americans. Much of Smith’s reputation as a hero in modern America rests on such an image and this is an image many wish to continue to convey. It is impossible to confirm some facts concerning Captain John Smith. However it is possible to say that he saved an early expedition with little funding and commanded by inexperienced leaders. During the first winter he ensured that some would survive to run the colony in the spring, something which the doomed settlers at Roanoke where unable to accomplish. And despite his lower position in society than some others on the expedition, he made sure that he had a voice in the counsel and that the leaders would act on his advice. Much of this advice likely saved the settlement from destruction. If it weren’t for Captain John Smith, it is almost certain that Jamestown would have shared the fate of so many other young settlements in the New World.
The closest tube stop to the church is st. Paul's, which lies on the Central Line. However, Chancery Lane is well within walking distance and more convenient for those travelling on the northern line. There are a lot of historical sites in the area, though, so you could make a day out of it.