Colonialism: John Smith in Context

A coat of arms showing various heraldry, Latin text, and a crown.
Detail of John Smith's Map of Virginia showing the Royal Coat of Arms of England.


Colonialism is defined as the domination of a people or area by a foreign power. Such events have happened many times throughout human history. The modern period of colonialism, however, occurred on a global scale. It began around the year 1500, and its effects are still felt throughout the world today.

During this period, several European nations sought to increase their wealth and power by taking control of trade routes and areas rich in natural resources. The seizure of land and establishment of colonies took place in Asia, Africa, and Australia, as well as the Americas, knowledge of which first became widespread in Europe after Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage.

Captain John Smith's 1608 voyages took place within this colonial context. The primary purpose of his exploration of the Chesapeake was to seek information that would aid in the establishment of English colonies in the Americas. The United States of America, the colonial story tells us, is not the story of one people or one nation. It is an international and intercultural story. In this story, we see human nature at its best and also at its very worst.

Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

Last updated: February 4, 2022