John Smith was born about 1580 the son of a yeoman farmer of modest means. As a young man he traveled throughout Europe and fought as a soldier in the Netherlands and in Hungary. There he was captured, taken to Turkey and sold into slavery in Russia. He murdered his master, escaped and journeyed back to Hungary to collect a promised reward of money and a coat-of-arms. He returned to England in time to participate in the settlement of Virginia.
He was an arrogant and boastful man, often tactless and sometimes brutal. Physically strong and worldly wise, he made an excellent settler. However, his personality, his obvious qualifications and his low social position infuriated many of the colony's leaders and settlers. Despite this, he was named to the first Council in May, 1607. He learned the Indians' language and became the colony's principal Indian trader. During the summer of 1608 he led a 3,000 mile expedition in an open boat to explore and map Chesapeake Bay and its principal rivers. On September 10, 1608 the Council elected him Governor of Virginia for a one-year term. He was an able leader who understood both the Indians and the settlers' needs and the colony prospered.
Captain Smith returned to England in October, 1609 following an accidental gunpowder burn and became Virginia's most effective propagandist and historian. His True Relation of Virginia (1608), Map of Virginia (1612) and General History of Virginia (1624) presented the colony as Smith understood it. In 1614 he made a short voyage to New England where he explored and mapped the coast from Cape Cod to Maine. Smith returned to England and never visited Virginia again, never married and never received the recognition he thought he deserved. He died June 21, 1631 and was buried in St. Sepulchre's Church in London.
The statue by William Couper was erected in 1909.