Did Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith?

J. A. Leo Lemay


“Lemay has provided the most thorough study to date of the crucial documents concerning Pocahontas’s supposed rescue of John Smith.”
William and Mary Quarterly

“His examination of his sources is quite thorough and illuminates both the time period in which the Smith/Pocahontas episode occurred and the process of nineteenth-century historical debate.”
Southern Historian


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.

Page count: 168 pp.
3 b&w photos
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $23.95

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J. A. Leo Lemay was the H. F. du Pont Winterthur Professor of English at the University of Delaware. He was the author of numerous books, including The Canon of Benjamin Franklin, 1722–1776: New Attributions and Reconsiderations; Robert Bolling Woos Anne Miller: Love and Courtship in Colonial Virginia, 1760; The American Dream of Captain John Smith; and An Early American Reader.