Saturday, June 27, 2015

An accident that changed a life

          Like so many things about early Jamestown history, the source of John Smith’s accident remains a mystery. But the accident changed his life forever. Miraculously, he survived the severe injury and did not die of infection. But it is possible that, as a twenty-first-century scholar bluntly put it: the accident “destroyed Smith’s genitals.” David S. Shields, “The Genius of Ancient Britain,” in Mancall, ed., Atlantic World, 489-509, argues that Smith, so severely injured that he was unable to father children, turned to writing instead. 
          There is, however, no evidence of that. But the description of the injury’s location was very specific, and the gunpowder explosion in that area damaged “flesh” as well as skin. Medical evidence suggests that such a wound and its scars could have caused infertility, and/or serious problems with sexual relations. John Smith returned to England, and never returned to Virginia. He did not go to sea again until 1612. He never married. He put his formidable energies into writing about Virginia and New England. Years later, he wrote, "By that acquaintance I have with them [the colonies] I may call them my children, for they have been my wife, my hawks, my hounds, my cards, my dice, and total my best content. . . .”
If the gunpowder accident had been a deliberate attempt on Smith’s life, it had fizzled. Smith’s enemies would have to devise another scheme to get rid of him.
         They would not be long in doing so.

--Virginia Bernhard, A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda (2011), 94-95.

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