Saturday, April 18, 2015

What was John Smith’s crime?

         From December 19, 1606, to April 26, 1607. the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery, with 105 passengers and about 30 or more crew members, wallowed their way across the wide Atlantic, stopping briefly on islands on the way. By February 17, when they reached the Canary Islands, John Smith was in chains.
         What had he said or done? The only account we have is the one Smith wrote years later, in his 1624 Generall Historie of Virginiq: Because of the “scandalous suggestions of some of the chiefe [gentlemen] (envying his repute) who fained he intended to usurpe the government, murder the Councell, and make himself King, that his confederates were dispersed in all the three ships, and that diverse of his confederates that revealed it would affirm it, and for this he was committed as a prisoner.”
         This tantalizing report gives us no details.
         By the time they reached the island of Nevis in the Caribbean, Smith’s enemies were ready to hang him. They built a gallows--but Captain Christopher Newport declared there was not enough evidence for a hanging.
         Mutiny was (and is) a crime punishable by execution.
         In the 1600s under English law, so were theft, murder, and--buggery. described in the 1533 law as an “unnatural sexual act against the will of God and man.”

         What had John Smith done?

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