Now, this one is perhaps going to be best known by American readers, but the first English colonies in the New World was led by a man named John Smith. At first glance, looking at him through history, we don’t know very much about him. The truth? He was his era’s James Bond.
His accomplishments include:
- Fighting for Dutch independence from Spain. As a mercenary.
- Sailing the Mediterranean Sea. As a pirate.
- Knighted by the Prince of Transylvania*. As a mercenary.
- Fighting three Turkish commanders in one-on-one combat. In one sitting.
- Being taken as a slave. Then escaping after wooing his purchaser’s mistress.
- Crossing the Atlantic. (Hey, in the day, that was like climbing Everest)
- Was almost executed for mutiny while crossing the Atlantic.
- Got a reprieve because they arrived, opened their orders, and found out that he was to be one of the leaders.
- Forced a bunch of fellow adventurous guys to actually settle down and farm.
- Survived several times when more than half the population of Jamestown died in hard winters.
- Was taken prisoner by one of the tribes that the settlers believed to be hostile.
- Saved by the chief’s daughter.**
- Affirmed shaky-but-positive relationships between the Powhatan and the settlers.
- Went to return home after basically saving Jamestown a couple times over (not necessarily alone, but he was certainly instrumental), and was captured by pirates.
- Returned to England alive (again, this wasn’t very likely at the time).
- On a subsequent attempt to return, was captured by pirates but escaped.
- Presumably lived out the rest of his life in England with a “Greatest Adventurer Ever” mug custom-ordered.
So yeah, John Smith. Not only the most common name ever, but also one of the most uncommon tales of adventure ever. He was, admittedly, almost certainly arrogant, and he wasn’t one of those guys with an untarnished reputation, but he lived fifty-one years of being one of the most brazen and adventurous Englishmen of his day.
*His coat-of-arms had the Latin motto “To conquer is to live.”, as well as the heads of three Turks, identified by their head-garb.
**This was Pocahontas, though his account is dubious and unverified. Which contrasts, I would like to add, the fact that everything else in his accounts are accepted by historians. Even his “Hey, I was taken prisoner and sold to a guy who gave me to his mistress who fell in love with me.” claim.