The True Role of John Smith?

The True Role of John Smith?

John Smith (1580-1631) was an English soldier, explorer, and author who was instrumental in the founding of the Jamestown colony in 1607. Much of his involvement in the Pocahontas story actually comes from his own personal letters and travel writings, which have been intensely scrutinized and now thought to be exaggerated or even fabricated.

According to the popular Pocahontas legend, while Smith was hunting in December 1607, he was captured by members of the Powhatan tribe and brought to meet their chief at the village of Werowocomoco. There, Chief Powhatan prepared to execute him by striking his head but was stopped at the last moment when his daughter, Pocahontas, threw herself over Smith’s body, saving his life.  Afterward, Smith was returned to Jamestown and there began a powerful alliance between the English settlers and the Powhatan tribe.


A number of studies have since called into question the truth behind John Smith’s story. Smith first presented his version of the Pocahontas story in a letter to Queen Anne, nearly ten years after the incident, possibly in an attempt to enhance Pocahontas’s image before her arrival in England. Others have suggested that the “execution” attempt (if it occurred at all) was in fact a symbolic “death and rebirth” ceremony intended to adopt Smith into the Powhatan tribe. It was also discovered that Smith had written an extremely similar story involving the intervention of a young girl when he was captured by the Turks in Hungary in 1602. Another theory is that Powhatan was in fact offering Smith the leadership of the town of Cappahosic, which was closer to Werowocomoco and therefore allowed Powhatan to keep better watch and control over Smith and the Englishmen. With all these different theories, it is difficult to know the truth behind John Smith’s role in the Pocahontas legend. The possibility also exists that John Smith is, in fact, telling the truth.

Works Cited:

04.01.07, Posted. “John Smith’s Bold Endeavor.” PBS. PBS, 09 Jan. 0000. Web. 22 Feb. 2013.

Huber, Margaret W. “Arrival of the English.” Encyclopedia Virginia:. Encyclopedia of

Virginia, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 Mar. 2013.

Kupperman, Karen O. The Jamestown Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009. 54-

55. Google Books. Web. 2 Mar. 2013.

Smith, John. “John Smith’s 1616 Letter to Queen Anne of Great Britain.” Digital History.

Digital History, University of Houston, n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2013.


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