- Historic Sites
Was John Smith A Liar?
One lady, he said, saved his head from the block; now another is rescuing his reputation
October 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 6
No one can claim that clearing Smith’s name in southeastern Europe necessarily validates all he wrote about Virginia. But at least the reverse logic used so frequently by his detractors—If he lied so outlandishly about Hungary, how could he be trusted elsewhere?—applies. If he was so accurate and trustworthy in Hungary, isn’t there reason to trust him in Virginia?
Quick to anger but quicker to forgive, bushy-bearded Captain Jack must be accepted for what he was—the last of the knights errant. Possessing no crafty, subtle mind, he acted first and pondered afterwards. If he had any philosophy, it was to meet problems as they came and make the most of every opportunity. This stepchild of Ulysses was never plagued with indecision or soul-searching. He never doubted, up to his dying day, that he could accomplish the impossible- perhaps because, on some occasions, he did. His pageantry and pretense were so incongruous in the vast wilderness that there is a Don Quixote-like pathos about his story. If he had been fighting windmills and not Indians, we might find the whole thing quite amusing. John Gould Fletcher writes:
“He had displayed brilliant courage, but not deep wisdom; grappled for power, but not for the power that comes through a deep understanding of human limitations; seen strange seas, talked with strange people, and lived through an epic.”
Americans who know nothing else about early American history can recount the dramatic tale of Smith’s rescue on the block by the beautiful Indian princess Pocahontas. Whether or not Pocahontas really saved the gallant Captain at the execution block, and whether or not they were strongly attracted to each other, Pocahontas frequently visited Jamestown while Smith was there and stopped these visits after he had departed. We will never know just what the Captain meant when he called her the “nonpareil of Virginia.” If he did not owe his life to her on that day in the forest, he did—in a historical sense—once he wrote about her years later.