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History of the First American Colonies

The early colonists of America faced many hardships that were documented by two prominent men, John Smith and William Bradford. These historical accounts were Smith’s “The General History of Virginia” and Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation.” Smith describes his experiences of establishing the Jamestown Colony around 1607. Bradford’s account of his settlement in 1620 describes the lives of the people as they travelled to and settled in Massachusetts. As the reader becomes more familiar with these two historical accounts, it is evident that there are many similarities and differences. In “The General History of Virginia,” John Smith discusses his many adventures.

First, he describes their arrival upon the Virginia shore. This section exemplifies how their hardships continued even after their arrival. Smith also writes about their lack of food, extreme heat, and how hard they had to work to make shelter. “With this lodging and diet, our extreme toil in bearing and planting palisades so strained and bruised us, and our continual labor in the extremity of the heat has so weakened us, as were cause sufficient to have made us as miserable in our native country or any other place.” He explains how the limited amount of supplies was due to the fact that the voyage lasted longer than expected and they lost the opportunity of the planting season.

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He also reports how he delegated the jobs of building the commonwealth while leaving the greatest task for himself so others would not complain. Furthermore, he describes his experiences with the Indians. At first Smith wanted to trade with the Indians, so he could get supplies for his men.

Then he realized the danger of dealing with the Indians when his men were killed and he was captured. He used his intelligence to prevent his early death by giving the king a compass. The king stopped John’s death and they eventually became friends. “Then Powhatan more like a devil than man, with some two hundred more as black as himself, came unto him and told him now they were friends…” Even though Smith did not talk of God often he did make it clear that he believed that God was protecting them. This is evident in the following quote; “God, the patron of all good endeavors, in that desperate extremity so changed the hearts of the savages…” While all of these experiences were difficult to face, John Smith handled them effectively. In another historical account, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” William Bradford explains his experiences of settling at Plymouth.

In Bradford’s account, he describes in great detail the difficulties they faced on their voyage. He narrates how they first set sail on two ships, one of which was not seaworthy therefore, everyone had to get on one ship. One hardship he writes about while on the ship was the rough waters and many storms. During one of these storms, a young man was thrown into sea. “John Howland, coming upon some occasion above the gratings was, with a seele of the ship, thrown into sea…” Also, while on the voyage over, the ship started to fall apart. “… one of the main beams in the midships was bowed and cracked, which put them in some fear that the ship could not be able to perform the voyage.”

Bradford’s account of his voyage differs from Smith’s in that Bradford told more about the difficulties of specific people while Smith was very general. Upon Bradford’s arrival, he describes how the other colonists were exhausted and didn’t have any friends or civilization to welcome them. “They had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor.” In contrast to Bradford’s account, Smith does not illustrate the emotional conditions of the colonists. He mainly writes of the physical work that had to be done. A similarity that exists between the two accounts of the arrival is that the trip took longer than expected, so when they landed, the colonists didn’t have as many supplies as they had anticipated. One aspect that is evident in both writings is the interaction with the Indians. When Bradford discusses the Indians he talks of how the colonists were afraid of them. Another encounter with the Indians proved how desperate these people were.

While searching for a place to build the colony, they came upon a small group of Indians. They chased the Indians and found an abandoned house with baskets of corn. These “civilized” people stole the food from the Indians. Bradford’s approach to dealing with the Indians was much different from Smith’s approach. Smith felt that the Indians were going to help the colonists if he approached them in the right way. He put forth the effort to become friendly with the Indians. However, Bradford does not see the importance of the Indians because of the fear the colonists had of them.

In addition, throughout the writings of William Bradford, the reader can see his strong belief in God. In every difficult event that took place, Bradford turned to God for guidance and thanks. “…But though this had been a day and night of much trouble and danger unto them, yet God gave them a morning of comfort and refreshing (as usually, He doth to His children) for the next day was a fair, sun shining day, and they found themselves to be on an island secure from the Indians, where they might dry their stuff, fix their pieces and rest themselves; and gave God thanks for His mercies in their manifold deliverances.” And this being the last day of the week, they prepared there to keep the Sabbath.”

Although it is evident that Bradford’s faith in God was much stronger than Smith’s they both turned to Him for thanks. The historical accounts “The General History of Virginia” and “Of Plymouth Plantation” had many similarities and differences. When one first reads the books, he or she may think they are very similar. However, when the reader takes a closer look at what went on in the accounts, he or she sees that within the similarities there are many differences.

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History of the First American Colonies. (2021, Feb 14). Retrieved July 9, 2021, from