Smith's First Voyage

Throughout Smith’s voyages of 1608, he and members of his crew kept a written narrative their 2,500-mile expedition. These accounts of the Chesapeake’s natural resources, waterways, and Native inhabitants have fascinated readers for centuries. Smith’s journals still provide historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and environmental scientists with one of the most extensive first-person accounts of the early 17th century Chesapeake. Smith’s narrative is reproduced here in its entirety and as it was first published. Modern place names and captions have been added in parentheses to assist the reader.

The Accidents that hap’ned in the Discovery of the Bay of Chisapeack

The second of June 1608. Smith left the Fort to performe his Discovery with this Company.

Walter Russell, Doctor of Physicke.

Gentlemen. Ralfe Murton. Thomas Momford. William Cantrill. Richard Fetherston. James Burne. Michell Sicklemore.

Souldiers. Jonas Profit. Anas Todkill. Robert Small. James Watkins. John Powell. James Read. Richard Keale.


These being in an open Barge neare three tuns burthen, leaving the Phoenix at Cape Henry, they crossed the Bay to the Easterne shore, and fell with the Isles called Smiths Isles, after our Captaines name. The first people we saw were two grim and stout Salvages upon Cape Charles, with long poles like Javelings, headed with bone, they boldly demanded what we were, and what we would; but after many circumstances they seemed very kinde, and directed us to Accomack, the habitation of their Werowance (chief), where we were kindly intreated.

This King was the comliest, proper, civill Salvage we incountred. His Country is a pleasant fertile clay soyle, some small creekes; good Harbours for small Barks, but not for Ships. He told us of a strange accident lately happened him, and it was, two children being dead; some extreame passions, or dreaming visions, phantasies, or affection moved their parents againe to revisit their dead carkases, whose benummed bodies reflected to the eyes of the beholders such delightfull countenances, as though they had regained their vitall spirits. This as a miracle drew many to behold them, all which being a great part of his people, not long after dyed, and but few escaped. They spake the language of Powhatan, wherein they made such descriptions of the Bay, Isles, and rivers, that often did us exceeding pleasure.


Passing along the coast, searching every inlet, and Bay, fit for harbours and habitations. Seeing many Isles in the midst of the Bay we bore up for them, but ere we could obtaine them, such an extreame gust of wind, rayne, thunder, and lightening happened, that with great danger we escaped the unmercifull raging of that Ocean-like water. The highest land on the mayne, yet it was but low, we called Keales hill, and these uninhabited Isles, Russels Isles (Tangier Island).


The next day searching them for fresh water, we could find none, the defect whereof forced us to follow the next Easterne Channell, which brought us to the river of Wighcocomoco (Pocomoke). The people at first with great fury seemed to assault us, yet at last with songs and daunces and much mirth became very tractable, but searching their habitations for water, we could fill but three barricoes, & that such puddle, that never till then we ever knew the want of good water. We digged and searched in many places, but before two daies were expired, we would have refused two barricoes of gold for one of that puddle water of Wighcocomoco.

Being past these Isles which are many in number, but all naught for habitation, falling with a high land upon the mayne, we found a great Pond of fresh water, but so exceeding hot wee supposed it some bath; that place we called poynt Ployer, in honor of that most honourable House of Mousay in Britaine, that in an extreame extremitie once relieved our Captaine. From Wighcocomoco to this place, all the coast is low broken Isles of Moras, growne a myle or two in breadth, and ten or twelve in length, good to cut for hay in Summer, and to catch fish and foule in Winter: but the Land beyond them is all covered over with wood, as is the rest of the Country.


Their Barge neare sunke in a gust. Cuskarawaock.

Being thus refreshed in crossing over from the maine to other Isles, we discovered the winde and waters so much increased with thunder, lightning, and raine, that our mast and sayle blew overbord and such mighty waves overracked us in that small barge that with great labour we kept her from sinking by freeing out the water. Two dayes we were inforced to inhabite these uninhabited Isles which for the extremitie of gusts, thunder, raine, stormes, and ill wether we called Limbo. Repairing our saile with our shirts, we set sayle for the maine and fell with a pretty convenient river on the East called Cuskarawaok (Nanticoke), the people ran as amazed in troups from place to place, and divers got into the tops of trees, they were not sparing of their arrowes, nor the greatest passion they could expresse of their anger. Long they shot, we still ryding at an Anchor without there reatch making all the signes of friendship we could. The next day they came unarmed, with every one a basket, dancing in a ring, to draw us on shore: but seeing there was nothing in them but villany, we discharged a volly of muskets charged with pistoll shot, whereat they all lay tumbling on the grownd, creeping some one way, some another into a great cluster of reedes hard by; where there companies lay in Ambuscado.

Towards the evening we wayed, & approaching the shoare, discharging five or six shot among the reedes, we landed where there lay a many of baskets and much bloud, but saw not a Salvage. A smoake appearing on the other side the river, we rowed thither, where we found two or three little houses, in each a fire, there we left some peeces of copper, beads, bells, and looking glasses, and then went into the bay, but when it was darke we came backe againe. Early in the morning foure Salvages came to us in their Canow, whom we used with such courtesie, not knowing what we were, nor had done, having beene in the bay a fishing, bade us stay and ere long they would returne, which they did and some twentie more with them; with whom after a little conference, two or three thousand men women & children came clustring about us, every one presenting us with something, which a little bead would so well requite, that we became such friends they would contend who should fetch us water, stay with us for hostage, conduct our men any whither, and give us the best content. Here doth inhabite the people of Sarapinagh, Nause, Arseek, and Nantaquak the best Marchants of all other Salvages.

They much extolled a great nation called Massawomekes, in search of whom we returned by Limbo: this river but onely at the entrance is very narrow, and the people of small stature as them of Wightcocomoco, the Land but low, yet it may prove very commodious, because it is but a ridge of land betwixt the Bay and the maine Ocean.


Finding this Easterne shore, shallow broken Isles, and for most part without fresh water, we passed by the straites of Limbo (Hooper Straits) for the Westerne shore: so broad is the bay here, we could scarce perceive the great high clifts on the other side: by them we Anchored that night and called them Riccards Cliftes (Calvert Cliffs). 30 leagues we sayled more Northwards not finding any inhabitants, leaving all the Easterne shore, lowe Islandes, but overgrowne with wood, as all the Coast beyond them so farre as wee could see: the Westerne shore by which we sayled we found all along well watered, but very mountanous and barren, the vallies very fertill, but extreame thicke of small wood so well as trees, and much frequented with Wolves, Beares, Deere and other wild beasts.


We passed many shallow creekes, but the first we found Navigable for a ship, we called Bolus (Patapsco), for that the clay in many places under the clifts by the high water marke, did grow up in red and white knots as gum out of trees; and in some places so participated together as though they were all of one nature, excepting the coulour, the rest of the earth on both sides being hard sandy gravell, which made us thinke it Bole-Armoniack and Terra sigillata.


When we first set sayle some of our Gallants doubted nothing but that our Captaine would make too much hast home, but having lien in this small barge not above 12. or 14. dayes, oft tyred at the Oares, our bread spoyled with wet so much that it was rotten (yet so good were their stomacks that they could disgest it) they did with continuall complaints so importune him now to returne, as caused him bespeake them in this manner.

Smiths speech to his souldiers: Gentlemen if you would remember the memorable history of Sir Ralph Layne, how his company importuned him to proceed in the discovery of Moratico, alleadging they had yet a dog, that being boyled with Saxafras leaves, would richly feede them in their returnes; then what a shame would it be for you (that have bin so suspitious of my tendernesse) to force me returne, with so much provision as we have, and scarce able to say where we have beene, nor yet heard of that we were sent to seeke? You cannot say but I have shared with you in the worst which is past; and for what is to come, of lodging, dyet, or whatsoever, I am contented you allot the worst part to my selfe. As for your feares that I will lose my selfe in these unknowne large waters, or be swallowed up in some stormie gust; abandon these childish feares, for worse then is past is not likely to happen: and there is as much danger to returne as to proceede. Regaine therefore your old spirits for returne I will not (if God please) till I have seene the Massawomeks, found Patawomek, or the head of this water you conceit to be endlesse.


Two or 3. dayes we expected winde & wether, whose adverse extremities added such discouragement, that three or foure fell sicke, whose pittifull complaints caused us to returne, leaving the bay some nine miles broad, at nine and ten fadome water.

Ambuscadoes of Salvages.

The 16. of June we fell with the river Patowomek (Potomac): feare being gone, and our men recovered, we were all content to take some paines, to know the name of that seven mile broad river: for thirtie myles sayle, we could see no inhabitants: then we were conducted by two Savages up a little bayed creeke, towards Onawmanient, where all the woods were layd with ambuscado's to the number of three or foure thousand Salvages, so strangely paynted, grimed and disguised, shouting, yelling and crying as so many spirits from hell could not have shewed more terrible. Many bravado's they made, but to appease their fury, our Captaine prepared with as seeming a willingnesse (as they) to incounter them. But the grazing of our bullets upon the water (many being shot on purpose they might see them) with the Ecco of the woods so amazed them, as downe went their bowes and arrowes; (and exchanging hostage) James Watkins was sent six myles up the woods to their Kings habitation. We were kindly used of those Salvages, of whom we understood, they were commanded to betray us, by the direction of Powhatan, and he so directed from the discontents at James towne, because our Captaine did cause them stay in their country against their wills.


A trecherous project.

The like incounters we found at Patowomek, Cecocawonee and divers other places: but at Moyaones, Nacotchtant and Toags the people did their best to content us. Having gone so high as we could with the bote, we met divers Salvages in Canowes, well loaden with the flesh of Beares, Deere and other beasts, whereof we had part, here we found mighty Rocks, growing in some places above the grownd as high as the shrubby trees, and divers other solid quarries of divers tinctures: and divers places where the waters had falne from the high mountaines they had left a tinctured sprangled skurfe, that made many bare places seeme as guilded. Digging the grownde above in the highest clifts of rocks, we saw it was a claie sand so mingled with yeallow spangles as if it had beene halfe pin-dust. In our returne inquiring still for this Matchqueon, the king of Patawomeke gave us guides to conduct us up a little river called Quiyough, up which we rowed so high as we could. Leaving the bote, with six shot, and divers Salvages, he marched seven or eight myle before they came to the mine: leading his hostages in a small chaine they were to have for their paines, being proud so richly to be adorned. The mine is a great Rocky mountaine like Antimony; wherein they digged a great hole with shells & hatchets: and hard by it, runneth a fayre brooke of Christal-like water, where they wash away the drosse and keepe the remainder, which they put in little baggs and sell it all over the country to paint there bodyes, faces, or Idols; which makes them looke like Blackmores dusted over with silver. With so much as we could carry we returned to our bote, kindly requiting this kinde king and all his kinde people.


The cause of this discovery was to search this mine, of which Newport did assure us that those small baggs (we had given him) in England he had tryed to hold halfe silver; but all we got proved of no value: also to search what furrs, the best whereof is at Cuscarawaoke, where is made so much Rawranoke or white beads that occasion as much dissention among the Salvages, as gold and silver amongst Christians; and what other mineralls, rivers, rocks, nations, woods, fishings, fruites, victuall, and what other commodities the land afforded: and whether the bay were endlesse or how farre it extended: of mines we were all ignorant, but a few Bevers, Otters, Beares, Martins and minkes we found, and in divers places that aboundance of fish, lying so thicke with their heads above the water, as for want of nets (our barge driving amongst them) we attempted to catch them with a frying pan: but we found it a bad instrument to catch fish with: neither better fish, more plenty, nor more variety for smal fish, had any of us ever seene in any place so swimming in the water, but they are not to be caught with frying pans: some small codd also we did see swim close by the shore by Smiths Iles, and some as high as Riccards Clifts (Calvert Cliffs). And some we have found dead upon the shore.


How to deale with the Salvages.

To express all our quarrels, trecheries and encounters amongst those Salvages I should be too tedious: but in breefe, at all times we so incountred them, and curbed their insolencies, that they concluded with presents to purchase peace; yet we lost not a man: at our first meeting our Captaine ever observed this order to demand their bowes and arrowes, swordes, mantells and furrs, with some childe or two for hostage, whereby we could quickly perceive, when they intended any villany.


Having finished this discovery (though our victuall was neere spent) he intended to see his imprisonment-acquaintances upon the river of Rapahanock, by many called Toppahanock, but our bote by reason of the ebbe, chansing to grownd upon a many shoules lying in the entrances, we spyed many fishes lurking in the reedes: our Captaine sporting himselfe by nayling them to the grownd with his sword, set us all a fishing in that manner: thus we tooke more in one houre then we could eate in a day. But it chansed our Captaine taking a fish from his sword (not knowing her condition) being much of the fashion of a Thornback, but a long tayle like a ryding rodde, whereon the middest is a most poysoned sting, of two or three inches long, bearded like a saw on each side, which she strucke into the wrest of his arme neere an inch and a halfe: no bloud nor wound was seene, but a little blew spot, but the torment was instantly so extreame, that in foure houres had so swolen his hand, arme and shoulder, we all with much sorrow concluded his funerall, and prepared his grave in an Island by, as himselfe directed: yet it pleased God by a precious oyle Docter Russell at the first applyed to it when he sounded it with probe (ere night) his tormenting paine was so well asswaged that he eate of the fish to his supper, which gave no lesse joy and content to us then ease to himselfe, for which we called the Island Stingray Isle after the name of the fish.


The Salvages affrighted with their owne suspition. Having neither Chirurgian, nor Chirurgery, but that preservative oyle we presently set sayles for James towne, passing the mouthes of the rivers of Payankatank (Piankatank), & Pamaunkee (Pamunkey), the next day we safely arrived at Kecougtan. The simple Salvages seeing our Captaine hurt, and an other bloudy by breaking his shinne, our numbers of bowes, arrowes, swords, mantles, and furrs, would needes imagine we had beene at warres (the truth of these accidents would not satisfie them) but impatiently importuned us to know with whom. Finding their aptnesse to beleeve we fayled not (as a great secret) to tell them any thing that might affright them, what spoyle we had got and made of the Massawomeks. This rumor went faster up the river then our Barge, that arrived at Waraskoyack the 20 of July; where trimming her with painted streamers, and such devises as we could, we made them at James towne jealous of a Spanish Frigot, where we all God be thanked safely arrived the 21 of July. There we found the last Supply were all sicke, the rest some lame, some bruised, all unable to doe any thing but complaine of the pride and unreasonable needlesse crueltie of the silly President, that had riotously consumed the store: and to fulfill his follies about building him an unnecessary building for his pleasure in the woods, had brought them all to that misery; that had we not arrived, they had as strangely tormented him with revenge: but the good newes of our Discovery, and the good hope we had by the Salvages relation, that our Bay had stretched into the South Sea, or somewhat neare it, appeased their fury; but conditionally that Ratliffe should be deposed, and that Captaine Smith would take upon him the government, as by course it did belong. Their request being effected, he substituted Mr. Scrivener his deare friend in the Presidency, equally distributing those private provisions the other had ingrossed, appointing more honest officers to assist master Scrivener (who then lay exceeding sicke of a Callenture) and in regard of the weaknesse of the company, and heate of the yeare, they being unable to worke, he left them to live at ease, to recover their healths, but imbarked himselfe to finish his Discovery.

-Written by Walter Russell, Anas Todkill, and Thomas Momford.


Read Smith's Journal from his Second Voyage.