HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: John Smith: Gentleman Adventurer
Author: C. H. Forbes-Lindsay
Cover designer: Mike Fentz
Publisher: Preston-Speed Publications, republished in 2000
ISBN-13: 978-1887159562 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1887159568 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-1887159579 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 1887159576 (Paperback)
Related website: http://www.prestonspeed.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 9-14
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Forbes-Lindsay, C. H. John Smith: Gentleman Adventurer (originally published in 1907 by J. B. Lippincott Company; republished in 2000 by Preston Speed Publications, 51 Ridge Rd., Mill Hall, PA 17751). When we hear the name of Captain John Smith, the first thing that we probably think about is the settlement of Jamestown, VA, and the story of Pocahontas. However, John Smith had a very eventful life long before he set sail for the New World. John Smith was born c. January, 1580, at Willoughby near Alford in Lincolnshire, where his parents rented a farm from Lord Willoughby. After his father died, Smith left home at the age of sixteen and set off to sea. He served as a mercenary in the army of Henry IV of France against the Spaniards, fought for Dutch independence from the Spanish King Phillip II, then went to the Mediterranean Sea, where he engaged in both trade and piracy, and later fought against the Ottoman Turks in the Long War, during which was promoted to captain while fighting for the Austrian Habsburgs in Hungary, in the campaign of Michael the Brave in 1600 and 1601. After the death of Michael the Brave, he fought for Radu Şerban in Wallachia against the Ottoman vassal Ieremia Movilă. Smith is reputed to have defeated, killed and, beheaded Turkish commanders in three duels, for which he was knighted by the Transylvanian Prince Sigismund Báthory and given a horse and coat of Arms showing three Turks’ heads.
However, in 1602 Smith was wounded in a skirmish with the Tatars, captured, and sold as a slave. He then was taken to the Crimea, where he escaped from the Ottoman lands into Muscovy then on to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, before travelling through Europe and Northern Africa, returning to England in 1604. In 1606 the adventurer became involved with the Virginia Company of London, which had been granted a charter by King James, in its plans to colonize Virginia for profit and the establishment of the first permanent English settlement in North America where he was a leader between September 1608 and August 1609. Most everyone knows the story from there, at least until his return to England. It is recorded that Smith was severely injured by an accidental gunpowder explosion in his canoe and sailed to England for treatment in October 1609 and never returned to Virginia. In 1614, Smith returned to the Americas in a voyage to the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts Bay. He named the region “New England,” becoming known as the Admiral of New England. He made two attempts in 1614 and 1615 to return to the same coast. On the first trip, a storm dismasted his ship. In the second attempt, he was captured by French pirates off the coast of the Azores. Smith escaped after weeks of captivity and made his way back to England, where he published an account of his two voyages as A Description of New England. He never left England again. He died in the year 1631 in London at the age of 51.
Smith’s life can be roughly divided into two halves—from birth to 25 during which time his early exploits occurred, and from 25 to 51 which was his American period. Charles Harcourt Forbes-Lindsey wrote this biography of John Smith: Gentleman Adventurer in 1907. Preston Speed republished it in 2000 as part of their “Makers of American History Series.” Covering in great detail Smith’s early deeds and his Jamestown years but omitting his later life, it is a very thrilling account that is very appropriate for young people, and there is nothing objectionable. A few references to drinking ale and wine occur, but no cursing or profanity is found. One may notice that in nearly every situation, Smith always comes across as the hero of the day. Forbes-Lindsey probably based his narrative on Smith’s own writings, and some modern historians have sought to debunk many of Smith’s own claims, although most of them would be difficult to disprove with any absolute certainty. In any event, history has confirmed John Smith’s outstanding contribution to the English effort at Jamestown in its earliest years.