Editor’s note: Doug Phillips is writing a series of columns for WND about the quadricentennial of the settlement of Jamestown, Va., being celebrated in June. See his previous commentaries.
The most politically incorrect monument to an American Founding Father lies in disrepair on a remote location off the coast of New Hampshire. For those few intrepid tourists who care to journey to Star Island, and then take the rocky and somewhat treacherous path to the Captain John Smith Memorial, little awaits them but a weather-beaten stone, a seagull-soiled marker and crumbled remains.
But once upon a time, the Captain John Smith Monument boasted a magnificent pillar crowned with the severed heads of three Muslim soldiers.
It was 1864 when the Rev. George Beebe determined that America needed a monument to the Christian warrior who first named that stern and rock-bound coast “New England.” The warrior was the former president of the Jamestown colony. The decapitation incident celebrated by the three stone Muslim heads was just one of hundreds of vignettes from the life of a man who, like the Star Island monument itself, represents all that the political correctness police of the 21st century find so unacceptable: cool headed, firm resolve and manly confidence in the advance of Christendom.
The specific incident in question involved an episode in Smith’s life where he found himself in Romania fighting the Ottoman Turks. When Lord Turbishaw, the Muslim commander, announced that he would battle any single Christian in mounted one-on-one combat, John Smith accepted the challenge. Before thousands of onlookers, a 22-year-old Smith lanced Turbishaw and then lopped off his head in David-over-Goliath-like triumph. Smith proceeded to do essentially the same to a ferocious warrior named Grualgo, and then again, to another Turk named Mulgro. For his heroic deeds, Smith received an insignia bearing three Turkish heads.
Smith would play many roles in his life, including faithful son, slave, death-row prisoner, governor, captain, explorer, soldier, author, cartographer, ethnographer, sailor, admiral, autobiographer, explorer – and president. Over the course of his life he would battle thieves, Muslims, savages and unruly Englishmen. He was once loved by an Islamic princess, thrown overboard by a Roman Catholic ship crew for being a Protestant and even rewarded with treasure for rescuing a boat from pirates on the high seas.
At five foot three inches, this red bearded man was simply indomitable. When attacked by a stingray during an exploratory voyage in Virginia, Smith became ill, dug his own grave, prepared to die, overcame the effects of the poison and then ate the stingray in an act of triumph over the creature.
His life was full of hairbreadth escapes, of opportunities gained and opportunities lost. Like many great men, Smith found himself either unappreciated and despised, or in demand as a problem-solver. As Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, authors of “Captain John Smith: Jamestown and the Birth of the American Dream,” observe, “It is one of history’s ironies that the person who guaranteed the success of English settlement in America first arrived as a prisoner under sentence of death.”
But this man whose motto was vincere est vivere (“to conquer is to live”) would prove that simple faith in God and commitment to biblical principles were the stuff of leadership when it comes to birthing a nation. As Stephen McDowell observes: “Smith is called the ‘Father of Virginia’ due to his significant contributions in the establishment and survival of Jamestown. After he was chosen as leader in September 1608, one of the things that he required of everyone was to go to church. Rev. Hunt had died in July of that year and the church had fallen into disrepair. Smith had it restored and said that “we had daily common prayer … and surely God did most mercifully hear.”
It was the simple, orthodox, manly faith of this gentleman adventurer for Christ that ultimately made him just the right type of leader Jamestown needed and earned him the name “Founding Father.” Like George Washington, Smith was the right man for the right time. It is interesting to note that despite some notable differences between George Washington and John Smith, several important similarities ring true:
Both men were boys when they lost their fathers. Both men enjoyed some schooling, but were largely self-taught. Both men distinguished themselves during their early 20s for bravery as military men. Both men were accomplished equestrians. Both were engaged in forms of mapmaking. Both men served the Americans people in the highest office of their day. Both men had detractors, conspirators and traitors who attempted to undermine their leadership. Both men used their office to curb moral evil and to call upon the men of their day to worship God. Both men emerged at a critical moment in history as the “one man” capable of leading a liberty-loving American people from potential extinction to survival. Both men suffered staggering losses and difficulties, but both men distinguished themselves by their indefatigable and persevering spirit. Both men can be described as a “father” of their people, but neither left a child to supersede him.
There is one more similarity worthy of note. Both men have been subject to character assassination and historical revisionism from individuals who cannot reconcile their hearty manhood with their somewhat private, but nonetheless, orthodox faith in Jesus Christ – a faith that is evidenced in their correspondences, written records and formal acts as military and political leaders of the American people.
Smith spoke with reverence of the Lord. He required that biblical law be honored to bring stability to the colony. One example was his insistence that “if a man does not work, neither shall he eat.” He urged attendance at pray and worship. In his writings, it is clear that he interpreted the events of the colony in terms of God’s providential favor, His disfavor or blessing. Smith wrote:
“God (being angry with us) plagued us with such famine and sickness.”
“God (the absolute disposer of all hearts) altered their conceits.”
“But in the midst of my miseries, it pleased God to send Captain Nuport.”
“… by God’s gracious assistance … no doubt pleasing to almighty God.”
Note the personal faith of Smith as expressed in his Last Will and Testament:
“First I commend my soule into the handes of Allmightie God my maker hoping through the merites of Christ Jesus my Redeemer to receave full remission of all my sinnes, and to inherit a place in the everlasting kingdome.”
Over the years, the record of John Smith has been vindicated. But this does not stop those critics who view him as an intolerant, insensitive, European elitist. In almost every case, however, the heart of the opposition to Smith is his robust spirit and 17th century Christian worldview, which knew nothing of focus groups and decision-making by Gallup polls.
Here is my recommendation: On this 400th anniversary of America’s birth at Jamestown, it is proper that we remember that it was hearty, manly Christianity that won the day for our ancestors, and only this kind of Christianity will win the day now.
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