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The Loves of John Smith

mtiwnja4njmzotc0mtk1nzi0As we discussed in our previous post on Pocahontas (, explorer John Smith had his life saved by the Native American princess.  Some historians have cast doubt on this story as the only source we have is a letter Smith wrote to Queen Anne describing the event in 1616 when Pocahontas journeyed to England.  Smith’s only journals from that time make no mention of the event and describe the Powhatan people as nothing but friendly.  What is known is Smith had a thing for princesses as another one made a significant impact on his life.

Before his journeys to the New World, John Smith was a bonafide pirate.  As a boy, Sir Francis Drake had been his hero, and in 1596 went to the Continent to join a company of English mercenaries.  He fought in France and in the Netherlands, picking up practical military skills and education.  He learned riding and Italian from Theodore Palaeologus, the riding master to the Earl of Lincoln.  Theodore was also an interesting character and was the last of the Byzantines.  (For more information on Theodore, please see this post:  Along with his knowledge, Theodore also passed on to John a hatred of the Turks.  With a burning desire to strike a blow against the infidel, John found himself back on the Continent in 1600 looking for “brave adventures”.  En route to Hungary to join the Austrian army against Turks, his ship sank.  John made it to an island off Cannes, and was eventually picked up by a Captain La Roche, who made his living plundering ships in the Mediterranean.  This adventure in piracy  made John Smith a wealthy man and allowed him to finally make it to Graz and join the Austrian campaign against the Turks.

With the Austrians, John made a name for himself as a creative and resourceful soldier.  At the battle of Limbach, he was able to use an innovative system of signals to communicate with the besieged garrison in the town.  Then fooled the Turks into thinking the Austrians were attacking to the west by using string, cloth and powder to create the illusion of an army of flintlock muskets.  Then the real army attacked from the east after the Turks repositioned their troops.  At the siege of Alba Regals, he created “fiery dragons”, which were pots filled with gunpowder, covered with pitch, brimstone and turpentine.  Then these were coated with musket bullets.  These were then set on fire and flung into the Turkish lines.  To top this, he defeated three Turkish champions in single combat and won the right to put “three Turkish heads” on his shield.

This is all well and good, I hear you saying, but where is the princess?  Be patient.  I’m getting there.  After the siege of Alba Regals, he was wounded in a minor skirmish with the Tartars and left for dead.  From there, he was captured and taken to the slave market and in John’s words, “we all sold for slaves, like beasts in a market-place; where every merchant, viewing their limbs and wounds, caused other slaves to struggle with them to try their strength.”  He was bought by a Turkish nobleman, who gifted him to his Greek mistress in Constantinople, one Princess Charatza Tragabigzanda.  Charatza became smitten with her new English slave and even made plans to marry him.  She sent him to her brother to “to learne the language, and what it was to be a Turke, till time made her Master of her selfe.”  However, Charatza’s brother had other plans.  Instead of training him as a bureaucrat as he promised, he made John the slave to the Christian slaves, which was the lowest position in the household.  John was abused and mistreated terribly, and began to look for ways to escape.  One day, he was out threshing wheat and the brother came out to inspect his work and began beating him.  John snapped, and beat the brother with the threshing bat killing him.  He then stole his former master’s clothes and horse and got the heck out of Dodge leaving Charatza behind.

After he escaped, John Smith got bit by the colonization bug and headed to Virginia.  Perhaps he thought it was good a place as any to escape any slave hunters.  There he met Pocahontas and then returned home after a spark from a friend’s tobacco pipe ignited Smith’s gunpowder bag as he slept in Jamestown.  The explosion wounded him severely and blew off his genitals.  He barely survived the two month journey home.  He did return to the New World in 1615, and tried to start the first permanent colony in New England.  Unfortunately, his ships were ravaged by pirates and storms and it didn’t stick.  He did try to name a spot near the Isles of Shoals in New Hampshire Tragabigzanda, after Charatza, but that didn’t stick either.  It’s nice to know he didn’t forget her though.