*Based on an excerpt of the entire text
John Smith was an adventurous yet shrewd captain much like many other European explorers. He organized the first successful English colony in North America, having been sent to Jamestown, Virginia and wrote ‘Description of New England’ based on his findings and interest in ‘the new land’.
Before diving into the text, a distinction between a colonist and coloniser needs to be elucidated. A coloniser is someone who has been sent by the empire to set up imperial law and set up administration in various foreign territories while a colonist is anyone settling in the colonised country of their own free will.
He uses rhetorical questions steeping in sarcasm, meant to attack the entire spirit of colonising and the mindset of colonisers themselves, to illustrate the capitalistic greed the British are inborn with. He asks what more they want since they already have power and a glorified reputation that comes with the act of colonising a territory. Colonisers would come to a new land and establish themselves in a powerful position with no one to answer to and this results in abuse of this power. In a way, colonisers can be compared to viruses ready to infect a healthy body, entering and then rapidly multiplying to bring down the system.
He also puts forth the question of whether or not one should advance on his own merits or demand great things from limited resources which is precisely what happened during colonisation. Colonisers would accumulate wealth off of the natural resources of the colony, not truly working to earn that wealth which Smith points out is not a fruitful or honourable thing to do.
The direct attack of Smith’s words is seen when he questions, ” What so truly suits with honor and honesty, as discovering things unknown, erecting towns, peopling countries, informing the ignorant, reforming things unjust, teaching virtue?” He refutes the high and mighty air that colonisers seem to possess, thinking they are civil people who must educate the Native Americans who they refer to as godless savages merely because their way of life is different to their own. The line is also essential in highlighting how the English perceive anyone different than them and the expansionist employs of those sent by the Empire.
Smith bashes the idea of teaching the Native Americans about western civilization and Christianity by saying that anyone with a grain of faith or seal in religion would not resort to harming others or enforcing their ideas upon them like they were doing. They also thought the Native Americans were ‘idle’ because their society was not structured based on class nor were their set professions like tailors, doctors and the like. Unable to comprehend the nature of their culture, the British deemed them as idle beings which Smith opposes. Hence he’s defending the ways of the Native Americans.
After an entire paragraph riddled with sarcastic questions meant to make colonisers feel ashamed of themselves and their greed, Smith skilfully moves on to compare and contrast the culture of the British and the Native Americans.
In America, nature and liberty provides resources for free and which you’d have to pay a great deal for in England. Industrialisation in England resulted in people being ripped away from their roots which Matthew Arnold expressed in his poem Dover Beach and similarly reflected in God’s Grandeur by Hopkins. Living in America, they are reminded of what it is like to rely on Mother Nature’s bounty.
Smith says there is no greater pleasure than recreating oneself by fishing claiming it to be a humbling and peaceful past time through which one could sustain man, woman and child and could live off of one’s own boat. In England, fishermen are preoccupied with selling their haul for money rather than using it to sustain themselves like what the Native Americans do. Carpenters, Masons, Tailors and many others could make fishing a recreational activity if they should so choose. A mere hour could provide enough food for a week. One may also find pleasure, profit and content in the art of fishing, going from isle to isle, minding one’s own business and not harming others.
Smith seems to be interested in the barter system still in effect in Native American society when he speaks about what one can do with excess fish if caught saying, “Or if they will not eat it, because there is so much better choice, yet sell it, or change it fishermen or merchants for any thing they want.” Essentially the motto here is waste not, want not. The line “If a man work but three days in seven, he may get more than he can spend unless he will be excessive.” points out how one can live a simple life.
After discussing the benefits of fishing, Smith effectively establishes the fact that both sides can benefit from one another, something he truly wished to propagate among the English still living in England so as to impress upon them a new outlook on the potential of their American colonies. Equality is highly stressed here when Smith promotes mutual benefit, saying that both cultures can learn from one another. He believes the Commonwealth (otherwise known as colonisers across the globe) could learn the art of being one with Mother Nature and develop less capitalistic and expansionist thought.
Rather than hunting and hawking which are destructive activities, fishing and fowling are more peaceful in nature. Instead of shooting a hawk in the sky, if you allowed yourself to take the time to watch the hawk stoop for a few hours, you will find a certain pleasure that cannot be gained in any other way. Animals ought to be treated with respect, a value that Native Americans uphold, for their bodies not only provide meat but their skin is so rich that it would recompense the labour that goes into hunting it, as much as a Captain’s pay. Native Americans used most parts of the animals they hunted for various purposes and the English could learn to do the same instead of wasting it. Also, by referring to a captain’s pay, the text becomes more relatable to the English reader at the time for captains were paid well and held a worthy position in society.
Then Smith comments on how the Native Americans had to pay 30, 40 or 50 shillings to the colonisers so that they could grow their crops on an acre of ground and good land once used to only cost them labour and they were never considered poor people. He also remarks that the land in itself is not poor at all since it is so rich in natural resources.
Finally he assuages readers by saying he is not trying to persuade people to leave their homes and families to settle down in America but to learn the lesson that one can become wealthy by doing simple work and colonisers learn that they do not need to dominate the natives but rather train them in certain skills. In this manner, the whole society may benefit.