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Smith, Captain John

(1580-1631) an English sea captain and colonist, who claimed to have undergone the most grueling experiences that can be imagined without losing your life. He moved to Virginia in 1607, and left various interesting chronicles.

He explored the area generally known as New England (which he named); and during an expedition he was captured by American Indians but was saved by Pocahontas, who he then married.

His wild stories were discredited by the historian Henry Adams (who launched his career on the back of it); but most modern experts think that his stories were true - a "report" of the Battle of Red Mountain Pass (1601 - in what"s now Romania) follows:

"The Tymor and his friends [wrote Smith] fed upon the Pillow, which is boyled rice and Garnancis, with little bits of mutton or buckones, rost bits of Horse, Samboses and Muselbits are great dainties, and yet but round pies full of all sorts of flesh chopped, with varietie of Hearbes. Their best drink is Coffa, made from Graine, called Coava, or the Milke of any Beast, they hold restorative; but all the Comminaltie drinke pure Water. Their bread is made of this Coava, which is a kind of blacke Wheate, and Cuscus a small seed like Millet in Biskany. Our common victuall, was the Intrals and Offal of Horses and Ulgryes; of this cut in small pieces, they will fill a great cauldron; which being boyled, and with Cuscus put in great bowles in the manner of chafing-dishes, they sit on te ground; after they have raked it through as oft they please with their fowle fists, the remainder was for Christian slaves".

His master the "Bassa" "took occasion so to beate, spurne and revile" him, that Smith "forgetting all reason, beate out his braines wit his [threshing] bat" and stealing the master"s clothes and horse, found his way back to England.

And all his stories may have been true!

He also wrote "America"s salmon are larger than those found in Europe" and that "We have more Sturgeon, than could be devoured by Dog and Man". Even as late as 1897, 1.2 million pounds of sturgeon were landed in New York and New Jersey - before a combination of pollution and over-fishing killed them.

Although familiar with potatoes from "home", he noted that Indians ate tockawhoughe "It groweth like a flag in marshes" he wrote. In one day a savage will gather sufficient for a week. These roots are much of the greatness and taste of potatoes" - but whether normal or "sweet" potatoes he doesn"t make clear.

It must be remembered that potatoes were unknown in North America at this time, and probably introduced initially via Bermuda in 1621.

What is generally accepted is that some Irish Presbyterian settlers brought "Irish" potaroes (which became known as "mickeys" or "murphys" into oston in 1719. But in America, as in Europe, potatoes weren"t widely eaten until the start of the 19th century.

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