around the eastern Mediterranean were fascinating to the English public.
They were the source of great riches and exotic products, and wealthy
English merchants operated in the East to bring these commodities to
an eager clientele. The opulence and magnificence of the Turkish court
had achieved legendary status, and Turkish military might threatened
the eastern fringes of Europe itself. Several Jamestown colonists had
previously traveled to early modern Europe's great cultural other, the
Muslim, Jewish, and Orthodox Christian world of the eastern Mediterranean.
Two near contemporariesGeorge Sandys (born 1578) and John Smith
(born 1580)both spent time in the East before they journeyed to
America, but they had very different experiences. Both men wrote books
about their travels: Sandys's A Relation
of a Journey begun Anno Domini 1610 (1615) and Smith's The
True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captaine John Smith, In
Europe, Asia, Affrica and America, from Anno Domini 1593 to 1629
was the son of a yeoman farmer. Although he had been apprenticed to
a merchant in the town of King's Lynn on England's east coast, the teenaged
Smith left his apprenticeship to sign on as a soldier in an English
regiment in the Netherlands where the Protestant Dutch fought to free
themselves of control by Roman Catholic Spain. He traveled through France
and returned to England intent on training himself to become a gentleman-soldier.
As he contemplated returning to Europe, Smith decided to "trie
his fortune against the Turkes, both lamenting and repenting to have
seene so many Christians slaughter one another" (Smith 3). This
time he signed on with the Roman Catholic Hapsburgs, who were defending
eastern Europe from invading Turkish armies.
Smith told the story in his True Travels,
he was invaluable to the Hapsburg commanders and quickly rose to prominence
in the army. He invented numerous ingenious schemes by which to foil
the Turkish forces. Ultimately, Smith became the champion of the entire
company and killed three of the greatest Turkish warriors in single
combat. Smith was awarded his own coat of arms carrying "three
Turkes heads in a shield" (Smith Sig. C5). With this grant, he
officially became a gentleman.
his efforts, the Hapsburg armies were defeated, and Smith was captured
and taken into Turkey, where he was sent to serve a young woman he knew
as Charatza Tragabigzanda; this name has been translated as "girl
She and Smith conversed in Italian, and she planned a career for him
in the Turkish armies. Charatza Tragabigzanda sent him to her brother
for training, but Smith, finding it brutalizing, rose up and killed
his master and escaped. Despite the "great ringe of iron"
around his neck, he managed to travel across Turkey to Russia (Smith
24). From there he journeyed through much of Europe and into North Africa
on his way back to England.
back in England as the London Virginia Company was planning its initial
colony in 1606, and leaders recognized in his experiences the qualities
they needed for their Jamestown settlement. The twenty-six-year-old
Smith was signed on and made a member of the council. According to his
own account, his contributions were as invaluable in Jamestown as they
had been in Transylvania. He had become a specialist in surviving in
alien lands. Smith wrote about his early adventures only at the end
of his life in 1630. Six years earlier, he had published his masterpiece,
The Generall Historie of Virginia,
New-England and the Summer Isles (1624).
and experiences of George Sandys were very different from Smith's. Sandys's
father was the Archbishop of York, and his older brother Edwin was a
leader of the Virginia Company. Whereas Smith went to the European wars
as a teenager, George Sandys entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford
at age eleven. He went on to London's Middle Temple to study law at
age eighteen. And he did not set out on his travels until 1610, when
he was a married man of thirty-two.
Sandys was extremely well-connected; his account of his travels was
dedicated to Prince Charles, the heir to the throne. He went first to
France, then on to the eastern Mediterranean. He began his real travel
account with his stop in Venice, the gateway to the East. Throughout
his book, his observations on the monuments and customs of the people
in lands he passed or passed through were interspersed with quotations
and stories from classical authors.
embarked by ship from Venice for Turkey, insisting that his party stop
on the way to see the site of ancient Troy. In Constantinople, where
Smith suffered as a slave, Sandys stayed in the house of the English
ambassador, Sir Thomas Glover. He spent
most his time in Constantinople, and here as throughout his voyage,
his description began with the history of the city, then went on to
description of its great buildings. He also included a full description
of the Muslim religion. Sandys next went by ship to Alexandria in Egypt.
His long description of the Nile drew on Leo Africanus as well as ancient
authors such as Herodotus and Pliny. After leaving Cairo, he visited
the Pyramids and the Sphinx. He entered a tomb deep within the Great
Pyramid. Sandys included a long discussion of embalming methods and
actually brought home many small metal figures that had been wrapped
and his fellow travelers then set out on camels for Jerusalem; they
joined with other
camel trains for the journey across the desert. In his history of Palestine,
Sandys included a discussion of Jewish history, both there and in Europe.
He included detailed descriptions of many sacred sites, a subject very
important to the English reading public. He encountered many different
kinds of Christians in Jerusalem for Easter, and Sandys described them
return trip, Sandys went by ship through the Mediterranean islands,
stopping at Malta, and on to Naples. He even spent four days in Rome
(though it was dangerous for a Protestant) then proceeded through Florence,
Bologna, Siena, Ferrara, and back to Venice. Sandys spent several more
months in Venice, acquiring books for his writing. As a result he drew
on a huge battery of sources for his histories and descriptions, including
a lively interest in folk tales and folk ways.
went to Jamestown in 1621 as the Virginia Company's resident treasurer.
He wrote nothing about America comparable to his Relation
of his travels in the East, and little has survived of the reports that
he sent home. Before he embarked, Sandys also published the first installment
of a long-running project, a translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses.
He continued this translation while in Jamestown, and published the
result when he returned.
Relation was a best seller.
Its second edition came out in 1621 just as he was leaving for Virginia,
and went through many later reprintings and editions. Many other authors,
from Francis Bacon to John Milton, drew on it for their own writings.
The English public was fascinated by knowledge from the exotic East.
Several English authors who wrote of their experience in America drew
on that lore in describing Indians. William Wood, for example, writing
in 1634 of his experiences in New England (in New
Englands Prospect), drew on such descriptions of Islam in trying
to describe the Massachusetts' beliefs about the afterlife. He wrote
that "their Indian faith jumps much with the Turkish
Alchoran, holding it to be a kinde of Paradise, wherein they
shall everlastingly abide. . . " (Wood 93).
Suggestions For Further Reading
Barbour, Philip L., ed. The
Complete Works of Captain John Smith. 3 vols. Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 1986.
Davis, Richard Beale. George
Sandys, Poet-Adventurer. New York: Columbia University Press,
Haynes, Jonathan. The
Humanist as Traveler: George Sandys's 'Relation of a Journey begun Anno
Domini 1610.' Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press,
Striker, Laura Polanyi. "Captain John Smith's
Hungary and Transylvania." In Captain
John Smith: His Life and Legend. Edited by Bradford Smith. Philadelphia:
Lippincott, 1953, 311-42.
Vaughan, Alden T. American
Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia. Boston:
Little, Brown, 1975