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Dorchester History Lesson: John Smith

While everyone is (hopefully) practicing social distancing and is staying home, a lot of you are watching TV. A lot of TV! If you have kids, and Disney+, you may have rewatched Pocahontas recently, a movie that according to Rotten Tomatoes is the third worst Disney movie of the 1990s (yikes!); “many critics disliked the way the film distorted actual history and sugarcoated the conflict between Native Americans and early English settlers.”

You might be thinking to yourself, “Anna has gone off the deep-end. What does Pocahontas have to do with Dorchester? Being stuck in 1000 square feet with 3 kids and a husband attempting to work from the basement must have done it.” But, no, Pocahontas’  movie love interest, John Smith is relevant to Dorchester and is the subject of this Caught in Dot History Lesson!

John Smith had quite the life before he ever reached the shores of North America. He is believed to have been born around 1580 in Lincolnshire in England. He apprenticed for a while to a merchant but decided that wasn’t the life for him and became a soldier at age 16. He fought all over Europe and was eventually captured and sold into slavery. He escaped by killing his master and went back to England.

Back in England he joined the Virginia Company’s expedition to Virginia, arriving there in 1607. He spent most of the voyage locked up, accused of mutiny, but once there a sealed box of orders were opened. Those orders named him one of the leaders of the Jamestown Colony. The 17th century was an interesting time, wasn’t it?!

It was during this trip to North American that Smith met Pocahontas and it was during this time period that the Disney movie is set. What does this have to do with Dorchester? Nothing! But Smith’s next voyage to North America does.

In 1614 or 1615 John Smith, who had been back living in England for a few years, undertook another voyage to North America this time to explore the Northeast.  Smith was the first to call the area New England and he made maps of the area. According to Smithsonian magazine, “He and his foolhardy band of sailors…covered 350 miles, from the Bay of Fundy down to Cape Cod, in an open boat probably no more than 30 feet long. And, with a humble set of surveying tools—a crude compass, astrolabe, sextant, a lead line to measure depth, a quill pen and paper—they gathered notes for their very own map of what Smith named “New England.” The official map was published alongside Smith’s book, A Description of New England, in 1616.”

Smith travelled through Dorchester (yes, our Dorchester!) and traded furs with the Neponset people before continuing on to Cape Cod. So just think, while you are out on a walk in the neighborhood, you could be retracing the steps of John Smith!  You can check out the map here. 

Hope you enjoyed this History Lesson – now go wash your hands.

Here’s another Dorchester History Lesson

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About the Author

Anna White

Lower End homeowner since 2005. Mom of three BPS kids. Friend to all except those who don’t clean up after their dogs and/or who put their trash out in kitchen bags (seriously, people, it’s not that hard to use a barrel). Queen of the Nerds (okay that one is only in my dreams).