The story of Pocahontas and John Smith is one of the most famous tales in American history. It has endured for 400 years now and over the years become something of a legend. Since the story first occurred many of the facts have been twisted, confused, or shrouded in mystery. The latest version of the story is Disney’s Pocahontas, in which the story was simplified and altered for entertainment purposes.
In order to understand many parts of the tale of Smith and Pocahontas one must first know the events before the two met. The land where the English
first landed was in the territory of the Algonquian indian tribe which was in the Tidewater region of Virginia. The Algonquians were a large tribe of Native Americans that was split up into smaller groups. Their chief was Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas. The Algonquians had relatively the same way of life for many years up until English settlers came in 1607.
Pocahontas was a princess of the Algonquian tribe. She was the favorite daughter of the powerful indian chief Powhatan. She was born in 1595 to one of Powhatan’s many wives. Her original name was Matoaka but she became known as Pocahontas, which means “Little Wanton”, playful, young girl.
The stories of Pocahontas and John Smith and the Pocahontas movie start with the English arriving at the New World. The English landed and founded the settlement of Jamestown on May 14, 1607. Jamestown was around what is now Tidewater, Virginia. The governor of the settlement was Lord De La Warre. The company was led by him and others such as Captain John Smith. It was made up of 104 men and four boys. They thought to find gold and success as the Spanish did. Instead they found wilderness and conflict with the native people.
If it was not for John Smith, Jamestown may not have succeeded. It is said that he is one of the first American heroes. Smith really was the intrepid adventure he was portrayed as in the Disney movie. The main difference is his looks. Unlike the tall handsome blonde in the movie, he was actually short, with a large, bushy beard. Smith was an experienced soldier and adventurer. He fought in wars all over Europe and was even taken prisoner and sold as a slave and eventually escaped. The only problem is that Smith was a very proud and boastful man so then many of his stories could have been exaggerated.
There are many versions of the story of what happened between John Smith and Pocahontas. The most well-known is the one written by Smith himself. According to Smith in December 1607 Smith and some companions were ambushed by a group of Indians. The indians killed his companions and took Smith back to their chief. Chief Powhatan was impressed by Smith yet he was still sentenced to death. In the middle of the ceremony as they were about to kill Smith, Pocahontas jumped and threw herself on Smith begging her father to spare him. There was definitely no love story between the two as in the Disney movie considering Pocahontas only eleven or twelve years old at the time. Afterwards, he was ritualistically made a subordinate chief of the tribe. Then he was released back to Jamestown in peace after four weeks of captivity. Some of the problems with Smith’s version of the story are much the same as the problems with his other stories. Smith was self-promoting and boastful and liked to tell stories of him getting saved or helped by women.
Many historians now believe that Smith’s story might have been partly true although many things were different. A common theory is that the indians knew Smith to be of importance in the colony and the whole execution and saving scene might have been scripted as an attempt at making some peace with settlers. Others a that Smith was involved in a series of rituals of the indian people and was just confused and constantly fearful for his life and he came out believing that Pocahontas had saved his life. Smith did not record his story until years after when he was in London. So that has led many to believe that the story was entirely fabricated by Smith.
Nevertheless, after Smith was supposedly saved by Pocahontas the two went their separate ways. Smith stayed with the colonists for a few years but was injured and returned to England. He never returned to Jamestown. Years later Pocahontas converted to Christianity and married Englishman John Rolfe. There is one incident of Pocahontas and Smith seeing each other again while the two were in London. Supposedly Pocahontas immediately became upset and angry at Smith. That story is debated and considered mainly to be no more than rumor.
It will never be known for sure what actually happened when Captain John Smith was captured by the Algonquian people. Nevertheless, it will live on as one of the great legends in American history.