By the mid-nineteenth century, Captain John Smith, the early colonial explorer and settler, was a well-known figure in American history. The story of how, in 1607, the Powhatan princess Pocahontas saved him from execution by her tribe appeared in all the standard American histories. Numerous plays, novels, and poems were devoted to the episode. Starting in the 1860s, however, scholars began to question Smith’s published accounts of the Pocahontas incident, and a controversy ensued, with Henry Adams becoming Smith’s most famous detractor. Today many scholars continue to regard Smith as a vainglorious braggart who lied about his rescue.
J. A. Leo Lemay offers the first full analysis of the historiography of this debate. Examining all of the primary and secondary evidence, he persuasively demonstrates that the incident did in fact occur. A tightly argued study, Did Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith? not only refutes the outright skeptics; it effectively reverses the prevailing judgment that the truth will never be known.