The Debunking of Smith and Pocahontas
In the late 1850s to the late 1860s, the work of John Gorham Palfrey, Charles Deane, and Henry Adams questioned John Smith's credibility as an historian, especially in regard to the discrepancy between accounts of Smith's captivity in the 1608 True Relation (no rescue by Pocahontas) and the 1624 Generall Historie (rescue by Pocahontas). Here, in chronological order, are the documents from the main bibliography in this archive that bear on that evolving controversy (see the main bibliography for, in some cases, fuller annotations to some of these documents).
Fuller, Thomas. The History of the Worthies of England. London, 1662. 179-80. In the Cheshire section. (Ed. John Freeman. London, 1952.) A entry on Smith in what has been called the first attempt at a dictionary of national biography. There is no mention of Pocahontas, and there is a skeptical view of Smith's credibility: "From the Turks in Europe, he passed to the Pagans in America, where towards the latter end of the Raign of Queen Elizabeth, such his Perils, Preservations, Dangers, Deliverances, they seem to most men above belief, to some beyond Truth. Yet have we two witnesses to attest them, the Prose and the Pictures both in his own book, and it soundeth much to the diminution of his deeds, that he alone is the Herauld to publish and proclaime them." Often referenced as the first slur on Smith's credibility as historian, an attack that surfaces big time in the 19th century with Charles Deane and Henry Adams.
Oldmixon, John. The British Empire in America. 1708. 2nd. ed. London, 1741. Vol. 1. 360-67. (New York: Kelley, 1969.) This revised edition contains curious comments about the rescue and Smith's self-aggrandizement, here marked in italics, a century before the skepticism of Charles Deane, Henry Adams, and others: "The manner of his Treatment among the Indians, and his Escape, his Friendship to Nautaquaus the King's Son, and the surprizing Tenderness of Pocahonta, his Daughter, for him, when he was about to be executed, are Incidents equally agreeable and surprizing, but pretty romantick and suspicious, Capt. Smith having never dropt his main Design to make himself the Hero of his History. . . . Capt. Smith's Relation of his Adventures in this Country relates not so much to the Country, Settlement and Trade, as to himself."
"Early Modern History." Chronicles of the North American Savages 1.2 (June 1835): 18-25; 1.3 (July 1835): 33-45. The familiar Smith-Pocahontas story -- prefaced by critical comments about how Europeans justified their rights in Native American territory ("the absurd superstition which disregarded the private rights of infidels"). The author's (editor Isaac Galland?) tone toward the story is a bit strange, almost debunking at least once, indicating that "it is obvious to the common sense of every reader" that Smith "delighted in the marvelous" and took advantage of the fact that he wrote without the possibility of detection or contradiction. Though nothing negative is said specifically about Pocahontas, the author says that "Who but a believer in the supernatural gifts of unknown tongues, can give credit to the story which Smith has related of his 'astronomical lecture'" and the role it played in his release.
Bancroft, George. History of the Colonization of the United
States. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Boston,
1837. 117-58. Prominent statesman (as Secretary of the Navy he
established the Naval Academy),
Bancroft was also
probably the pre-eminent historian of the 19th century. This
history went through many (changing) editions in various forms for
Bancroft's description of the rescue footnotes Smith's Generall
but contains this curious comment as well: "This account is fully
contained in the oldest book printed on Virginia,
in our Cambridge library.
It is a
thin quarto, in black letter, by John Smith, printed in 1608 -- 'A True
Relation . . . .'" But the True Relation, of course, does
contain the Pocahontas rescue. In any event, Bancroft is later moved by
debunking efforts of the 1860s to alter his description of Smith's
See Bancroft 1853, 1866, 1876.
"Captain Smith and Pocahontas." [New York]
The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine 2 (November
236-38. Here is another one of those hints that we've seen two or three
thus far in the archive of the debunking of Smith that will get serious
end of the next decade. The author raises the possibility that the
around Pocahontas is false, only to say truth doesn't matter. Why
believe Captain Smith more than Captain Gulliver? Perhaps he used his
imagination. Perhaps he wanted to puff up his service. Perhaps the
story is an
elaborate allegory of civilization struggling with barbarism. But who
what good would it do to disprove the story? "The story as it stands is
beautiful and touching story; one very worthy of belief; and for the
Pocahontas, I would not have it disproved if I could. . . . let us
story; let it be sacred in our memories and our faith."
Campbell, Charles. "History of the Colony and Ancient Dominion of Virginia."
Messenger 13.3 (March 1847): 129-44. Anticipating the debunking controversy that will begin in
Palfrey 1858, Campbell
says that "it
is remarkable that [True Relation] contained no allusion
[Smith's] rescue by Pocahontas" (see toward the end of chapter 7).
Bancroft, George. History of the United
States. 15th ed. Vol. 1. Boston,
1853. 117-58. See Bancroft 1837, 1866, and 1876. Bancroft treats the
same here, but he expands the 1837 edition significantly in several
Palfrey, John Gorham. History of New England. Vol. 1. Boston, 1858. 85-97. Perhaps the beginning of the 19th century debunking of Smith as historian. A footnote casts doubt on the veracity of Smith's account of his early life and thus foreshadows the controversy over the Pocahontas episode that Charles Deane and Henry Adams (on Palfrey's influence, see Adams 1861) will soon ignite. "So long a journey within the time specified cannot be called impossible. But it argues marvelous despatch. . . . On the whole, the reader perhaps inclines to the opinion that John Smith was not the sole author of his books, but that they passed, for embellishment, at least, through the hands of some craftsman, who was not perfectly possessed either of Smith's own story, or of the geography or public history to which it related."
Wingfield, Edward Maria. "A Discourse of Virginia." 1608. Ed. Charles Deane. Archaeologica Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society 4 (1860): 67-103; esp. ft. nt. 8, 92-95. The door for debunking of Smith as historian is now open. This account by the first president of the Virginia council, here first printed, mentions Smith's captivity and freedom but not the Pocahontas rescue episode. Deane, a rather prolific editor of early American texts, for instance, determines the rescue an "embellishment" that never happened: "No one can doubt that the earlier narrative [Smith's 1608 True Relation] contains the truer statement" and that the Pocahontas rescue "is one of the few or many embellishments with which Smith, with his strong love of the marvellous, was disposed to garnish the stories of his early adventures." The temptation to bring Pocahontas "on the stage as a heroine in a new character in connection with Smith, always the hero of his chronicles . . . appears to have been too great for him to withstand." "This marvellous story finds no proper place in any other adventure; and the introduction of it into" the Generall Historie "is equivalent to setting aside the whole of the earlier account." "Without designing to impeach the general trustworthiness of Smith's original narrations. . . it must be admitted that the tendency to exaggeration and over-statement in his later publications is evident."
Robertson, Wyndham. "The Marriage of Pocahontas." Southern
Literary Messenger 31.2 (August 1860): 81-91. Robertson,
governor of Virginia
and descendant of Pocahontas, meets the debunkers with a six-point
then, climactically, confronts the question of why Smith didn't
rescue earlier, admittedly "a question easier asked than answered."
The answer, though, may be to avoid exactly the kind of suspicion of
power through an alliance with Pocahontas that King James was in a snit
Rolfe, a commoner, about for marrying a princess and perhaps
Adams, Henry. Letters to John Gorham Palfrey, 1861-1862. J. C. Levenson, et. al., eds., The Letters of Henry Adams. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1982. 258-59, 279-81, 287. The birth of the most famous Smith debunking. Letters of Oct. 23, 1861, Feb. 12 and March 20, 1862, to Palfrey (see 1858) show Adams trying to pick up on Palfrey's intuition of "historic doubts" about the Pocahontas rescue. Adams is skeptical about a "sentimental attachment" to Smith by Pocahontas: "Perhaps it was some wild-Indian semi-lunacy that drove her to it, for I confess I am very skeptical about any pure philanthropy in an Indian child that would drive her through a forest in mid-winter many miles in order to betray her father." "Unless someone else proves luckier than I, we must yield that the chances are in favor of Smith's turning out as powerful a liar as he was seaman. I fully expect that the ghost of John Randolf [Randolph] will haunt you and Mr. Deane [see 1860] and me for this impiety, but it wasn't my fault." "I hardly know whether I ought not to be ashamed of myself for devoting myself to a literary toy like this. . . . perhaps the thing is excusable, especially as it is in some sort a flank, or rather a rear attack, on the Virginia aristocracy. . . . if it weren't for you and Mr. Deane behind me, I hardly think I should dare to attack an article of American religious creed, so vital as this." The ultimate result is Adams' 1867 North American Review article that starts a controversy over the truthfulness of Pocahontas's famous rescue that lasted nearly half a century.
Deane, Charles. Letter to John Gorham Palfrey. Henry Adams and His Friends. Ed. Harold Dean Cater. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1947. 11-12. Palfrey had passed on to Deane Adams' letter of October 23, 1861, and Deane replies here on November 17, 1861. Deane, perceiving that Adams is "not yet possessed of all the facts," corrects him in a few matters and is "very glad" that Adams is interested in the matter.
Adams, Henry. Letter to John Gorham Palfrey. Henry Adams and His Friends. Ed. Harold Dean Cater. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1947. 29-30. Letter of July 5, 1866, in which Adams says he is "waiting in some doubt what to do about that ancient liar Smith" in the matter of the veracity of the Pocahontas story.
Smith, John. A True Relation of Virginia.
1608. Ed. Charles Deane. Boston:
24-40, 72-73. See esp. footnote 3, pp. 38-40, for Deane's comments on
discrepancy in Smith's accounts of his captivity: "The most indifferent
reader cannot fail to notice the marked discrepancy between Smith's
account" in True Relation and the one in the Generall
Historie. "I suppose Smith must be held responsible for all
for, although he had probably fallen into the hands of Michael Sparks,
publisher, still the work is issued in his own name." "It is safer, I
think, to follow the simple original narrative, written on the spot" by
this "true knight errant" with no other motives "to embellish it
which were subsequently furnished."
Bancroft, George. History of the United States. 21st ed. Vol. 1. Boston, 1866. 117-58. Cf. Bancroft 1837, 1853, 1876. The description of the rescue is the same here as previously, but, certainly showing knowledge of the debunking controversy, the footnote has changed: "The True Relation, &c., printed in 1608, was published without the knowledge of Smith who was then in Virginia, and was first attributed to Thomas Watson. The rescue of Smith by Pocahontas was told, with authority, in 1617, in Smith's 'Relation to Queen Anne'; Historie 127. It is confirmed in his New England's trials, printed in 1622; and the full narrative is to be found in the Historie, printed in 1624. In 1625, Purchas, who had many manuscripts on Virginia, gives the narrative a place in his Pilgrims, as unquestionably authentic. Compare Deane's note in Wingfield, 81, 32." Bancroft, gamely holding on here to belief in the rescue, capitulates to the debunkers in the 1876 edition.
Adams, Henry. "Captain John Smith." North American Review 104.214 (January 1867): 1-30. (Revised Chapters of Erie, and Other Essays. Boston, 1871.) (Revised again Historical Essays. New York, 1891.) [See Lemay 1992, 107, for omissions from Adams' original manuscript.] Adams calls into question the Pocahontas rescue episode and through it the veracity of the Generall Historie and Southern history founded on it. Putting sections from the True Relation and the Generall Historie side by side, Adams states that "it is still perfectly clear that the statements of the Generall Historie, if proved to be untrue, are falsehoods of an effrontery seldom equaled in modern times" and accuses Smith of manipulating the history to increase his own reputation. This article ignites a debunking controversy that was especially hot in the late 19th century but still the subject of debate much later (see Lemay 1992) and never has quite disappeared from American consciousness.
"Notes." The Nation 4 (January 17, 1867): 44-48. The author, spurred by Adams' recent debunking article, summarizes the argument of Deane, finding that "the silence of all these books leads us inevitably to suppose that no one in Virginia then knew of the noble act of Pocahontas. . . . [and] the reasoning of Mr. Deane seems to show conclusively the falsity of the legend."
"Pocahontas and Capt. Smith--A Romance Rudely Dispelled." New York Times 19 January 1867: 4. News story picks up on the Adams debunking, noting "the remorselessness with which modern criticism is sweeping away some of the most popular historical traditions." Ends quoting Strachey's description of Pocahontas as a "wanton young girl" as unfamiliar to the public and "not the attitude which has generally been selected by the artists who have employed their genius in illustrating her history and character."
Adams, Henry. Letter to Charles Francis Adams, Jr., February 23, 1867. J. C. Levenson, et. al., eds., The Letters of Henry Adams. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1982. 520-21. In a letter of February 23, 1867, Adams relates that his debunking article on Smith-Pocahontas has received a notice in the Pall Mall Gazette. "I shall have made my mark on London as Sam Weller said when Mr. Pickwick threw the inkstand at the wall."
"Pocahontas." [Prescott] Arizona Weekly Journal [published as Arizona Miner] 23 March 1867: 2. Another response to the Adams debunking, which "undertakes to prove [Smith] to be a sort of Munchausenish adventurer." Like the New York Times, this article also quotes Strachey, finding that his "wanton young girle" description "knocks all the poetry out of the Capt. Smith and Pocahontas romance, but for what we in Arizona know of the Indian maiden as she is, lewd, lousy and lazy, we are disposed to believe it . . . as a truthful, if to many a novel and unpalateable statement. Pocahontas was probably one of Poston's 'dusky maidens,' such as hang about the store at Mojave, La Paz and Arizona City, and earn a livelihood -- well, we won't say how."
"Pocahontas and Captain John Smith." [Prescott] Arizona Weekly Journal [published as Arizona Miner 15 June 1867: 1.
Neill, Edward D. History of the Virginia Company of London.
Albany, 1869. 83-105, 211.
debunking of Smith as historian as we've seen in Palfrey, Deane, Adams.
William Wirt Henry calls Neill, founder and first President of
College, "the bitterest assailant": "[Smith's] writings are
those of a gascon and beggar. He seemed to be always in the attitude of
craving recognition or remuneration for alleged services, and Fuller's
description of his writings and character in the Worthies of
is probably not far from the truth."
Review of A Discourse of Virginia by Edward Maria Wingfield and A True Relation of Virginia by Capt. John Smith. Southern Review 6 (July 1869): 160-81. The two debunking editions by Charles Deane are attacked here, though not in very specific terms. The story of Pocahontas is made "merely fabulous. . . . Her critics wield their most deadly blades, dipped in poison. . . . she is so changed by omissions and insinuations, that what was once accepted as the rarest and most beautiful specimen of Indian womanhood, an honor to her race and to her sex, becomes a mere myth." Editor Deane's researches have been accomplished with "great cold-heartedness and unfairness," and the Wingfield whom he holds up as an authority for Virginia history over Smith was a "pampered poltroon."
"True Story of Pocahontas Romantic Legend of the Virginian Princess -- The Illusion Dispelled." [San Francisco] Daily Evening Bulletin 29 December 1869. Stimulated by the debunking work of Edward Neill. "It is the habit of the English people . . . to forget the very names of the races whom, in the course of their destiny as God Almighty's plowshare, they plow up into the soil," but "a sort of legendary halo has, however, preserved the word 'Pocahontas.'" But Neill is putting an end to the illusions surrounding her name. She was "just a savage of the ordinary kind, the effort to exult her was a "well-planned fraud" against the government, and Rolfe was a man of "some ambition and few scruples," who used her for financial purposes. "No trace whatever of her conversation or her character can be recovered, nor is there any evidence that she was regarded in any other light than a converted Tasmanian or Maori would now be, that is, as a subject of intellectual curiosity, but little admiration.
Adams, Henry. "Captain John Smith." Chapters of Erie
and Other Essays. Boston,
"Neill, Edward D. "Pocahontas and Her Companions." The English Colonization of America during the Seventeenth Century. London, 1871. 68-89.
Henry, William Wirt. "The Rescue of Captain John Smith by Pocahontas." Potter's American Monthly 4 (1875): 523-28, 591-97. William Wirt Henry, who was later president of the American Historical Association and the Virginia Historical Society, was a consistent defender of Smith and the Pocahontas rescue from the debunkers. Here he takes on Adams (Henry mentions both the North American Review and Chapters of Erie versions) in point-by-point fashion: arguing the possibility of omissions in the publication of the True Relation as well as reasons for silences; examining other works from Wingfield to Purchas; confronting seeming inconsistencies within Smith's accounts; and adducing the reliability of external evidence. Henry recognizes the seriousness of the attack: "If [Adams's] side be triumphant, then indeed we must blot out from the page of Virginia history this most beautiful instance of female devotion, doubly interesting because it was the act of a savage girl, who in thus saving the life of the master spirit of the Colony, at the risk of her own, saved the Colony." His conclusion: "It may be confidently claimed that the world will hereafter, as in the age he lived, recognize in Captain John Smith a hero, distinguished alike for valor and for virtue."
[Bryant, William Cullen, and Sydney Howard Gay.] "The True Pocahontas." Scribner's Monthly 12 (1876): 7-13. Excerpt from their new United States history accepting the debunking of Smith, with this editorial introduction: "But there is a process which every conspicuous passage of history encounters in due course: it is often mourned over as the image-breaking tendency of modern criticism; but, in reality, it is only the correcting and clarifying influence of time. . . . We may mourn the loss of a sentiment, but, as a rule, we have gained in better knowledge, where broad scholars and not men with hobbies have done the work."
Bancroft, George. History of the United
States of America. Thoroughly
Edition. Vol. 1. Boston,
93-125. Cf. Bancroft 1837, 1853, and 1866. Bancroft by this time has
the debunkers. The account of Smith's captivity finds Smith treated
words, fine food, and assurances of a "speedy restoration to
liberty." But Bancroft craftily brings Pocahontas in at this point by
quoting the "nonpariel" description of her from True Relation
and calling her "the child, to whom in later days [Smith] attributed
rescue from death," and who brought food to Jamestown.
Bryant, William Cullen, and Sydney Howard Gay. A Popular
the United States.
Vol. 1. New York, 1876.
Expansively told account of early Virginia
continues the debunking of Smith, pitting his version of the events
"other side," especially Wingfield: "It is difficult to
reconcile such discrepancies in any other way than to suppose a
. . to justify Smith and to magnify his services." In regard to
Pocahontas, "the authority for this romantic story" has been Smith:
"Obscurer authors were either not consulted or were unknown . . . . But
Wingfield, who records with such accuracy all the essential facts of
capture . . . says nothing of Pocahontas." Nor does Strachey in this
Neill, Edward. "Captain John Smith, President of Virginia Council A. D. 1608-9." Richmond Daily Dispatch 13 July 1877: 12. Neill, champion debunker of Smith, calls him "notoriously untruthful," and part of his strategy is to pose excerpts from True Relation and Generall Historie side by side to show the discrepancies.
Henry, William Wirt. "Reply to Mr. Neill's Account of Captain John Smith: Showing the Great Injustice Done to Our Virginia Hero." Richmond Daily Dispatch 18 July 1877. "Mr. Neill's fault is not lack of Industry or material, but a lack of impartiality, and that to such a degree that he can never be safely followed when he attempts history." In regard to discrepancies in Smith's accounts, Henry finds Neill's attempt "equally unjustifiable" and poses his own side by side comparison.
Neill, Edward. "Rev. Edward D. Neill's Farewell to W. W. H. and Captain John Smith." Richmond Daily Dispatch 27 August 1877. Neill responds to Henry's response to his earlier article, giving more side by side comparisons, then bidding "Farewell to John Smith and his surviving friends."
"Pocahontas Attacked." New York Times 12 September 1881: 2. An example of debunking now going wild. "History has, indeed, been rather hard on the conventional heroines of romance. . . . The first American romancer has not even been spared evisceration. . . . . It now turns out that so far from being the innocent young barbarian of the novelist, [Pocahontas] was an impish and not very well-behaved little squaw." Smith barely knew her in Virginia and never saw here in England. The story was trumped up by "penniless" Smith. Rolfe was a bigamist, "more rogue than fool." "There threatens to be no end to this cruel awakening from the dreams of our youth."
"Pocahontas Attacked." St. Louis Globe-Democrat 15 September 1881: 10.
Belden, Emanuel. "The Story of Pocahontas." (Chicago) The Daily Inter Ocean 24 December 1881: 11.
Warner, Charles Dudley. Captain John Smith: A Study of His
Writings. New York,
100-246 passim, 265, 285-88.
Henry, William Wirt. "The Settlement at Jamestown, with Particular Reference to the Late Attacks upon Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe." Proceedings of the Virginia Historical Society (February 24, 1882): 10-63. This speech expands on the material in his 1875 article aimed specifically at the debunking of Deane and Adams but adds rebuttals to the subsequent attacks by Neill ("the bitterest of the assailants"), as well as citing the attacks by Bryant and Gay and Warner.
Cooke, John Esten. "Did Pocahontas Really Rescue Captain Smith?" Magazine of American History 13 (April 1885): 398-403. Cooke takes an interesting approach to the debunking controversy, purporting to proceed not by argument but by presenting, more objectively, a series of more or less ascertained statements (38 of them) on both sides of the issue, to present the pros and cons "as candidly as possible." Though we might recognize that he is not exactly non-partisan (see Cooke 1861 in the main bibliography), his reasoned conclusion, "after a full and careful study," is that the objections to Smith's account are "untenable": "Laying aside all other arguments, there is the moral argument which is irresistible -- that the account in the 'General Historie' bears on its face every mark of truthfulness." Smith "was a very great man; and probably nothing would have more surprised him than to have been told that he had never been 'rescued'!"
Poole, W. F. "The Pocahontas Story." The Dial; a Semi-monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information 5.60 (April 1885): 318-22. Poole, eminent librarian and president of the American Historical Association, contributes to the debunking controversy while reviewing Cooke's book and magazine article of this year. Both quite negatively, but with a surprising twist. The Smith-Pocahontas rescue "is the only romantic incident in the dark and disgraceful record of early Virginia," but though it has been shown to be a myth, Virginians "perpetuate in fiction and art, as well as in sober history, this most precious incident." Smith's writings "in the main, were truthful" according to the (lax) standard of his day, in which everybody lied and expanded, "provided no one else was seriously injured." "The Pocahontas story was as innocuous as one of Mother Goose's legends," injured no one, and has been the occasion of Virginia pride. So, in effect, Poole says, instead of stretching to prove its truth as Cooke does, let's just accept that Smith's character was boastful and not "censure the gallant Captain for indulging in this harmless way his personal vanity, and conforming to a custom of his day."
Deane, Charles. "Pocahontus [sic] and Captain Smith: A Reminiscence." Magazine of American History 13 (May 1885): 492-94. Deane reflects on the debunking controversy that he helped start twenty-five years ago, quoting some of the Southern abuse he's taken ("Will he not rest until he has rifled our very history of its choicest traditions?") and answering some of the arguments put forth. Contrary to an episode of Indian savagery in the True Relation hurting the image of the colony, the rescue "would have been the richest incident to be made public for promoting colonization. All the idle and romantic young men about London would have rushed for the colony. Shakespeare would have had a new plot for a drama more fascinating than the play of the Tempest." But the True Relation itself proves that the rescue was not originally present but edited out, for if the story had been in the earlier part of the book, the elaborate description of Pocahontas in the latter part "would have been as unnecessary as it would have been unnatural to the most unpracticed writer."
"In this day of doubt." [Raleigh] The News and Observer 28 May 1885. On the take on the rescue controversy by Cooke.
Kropf, Lewis L. Notes and Queries 7th series, (January-June, 1890): 1-2, 41-43, 102-4, 161-62, 223-24, 281-82. Not focused on Pocahontas, but debunking of Smith's version of his pre-Virginia life provides more evidence not to trust him as an historian there as well.
Brown, Alexander. The Genesis of the United States. Vol. 2. Boston, 1890. 1006-10. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1964.) A further Smith debunking. His short biography of Pocahontas doesn't mention the rescue or any active involvement with Smith. The longer sketch of Smith is remarkable for its negative slant. Smith was probably released by the Indians to serve as a decoy to make later invaders more vulnerable; he was a failure as a leader of the colony; his positive image in the Map and the Proceedings gained him favor among those who "knew no better." Smith was "vain," and "we can easily forgive him for compiling a romance, with himself as his hero, without accepting his story as a trustworthy history." Smith was "a mere adventurer," in no way qualified to write a "disinterested and accurate history; in fact, his "history is not a history at all; but chiefly an eulogy of Smith and a lampoon of his peers."
Henry, William Wirt. "A Defense of Captain John Smith." Magazine of American History 25 (1891): 300-13. Ever diligent in his anti-debunking duty, Henry returns to the lists supporting Smith as an historian for the third time, now confronting Brown with a sledgehammer rebuttal, even ending with a testimonial to the truth of Smith's work by an ancestor of Brown!
Poindexter, Charles. Captain John Smith and His Critics.
1893. Finally Henry gets some help in the anti-debunking business. But
in a strange
way. Poindexter sees the True Relation as the problem,
reverse of the debunkers. It is "fradulent," "a stock jobbing
trick to boom the Virginia Company's shares" -- and may not even be by
Smith. The Indians would never have treated a captive the way Smith
in the True Relation. So how was he freed: "A woman's
Was it a savage girl's love? We do not say, but if so, it was a love
dishonoring her and not dishonored by him. She had never before seen
man, of Godlike power, armed with the thunder and lightning of heaven,
Indians believed, and of the prowess and bearing that more than
barbarian ideal of heroism." In the final analysis, though, the
is a type of ad hominem: "men like Smith do not lie. They
have a streak of vanity, or what looks like it, and may be so
convictions as to incur charges of being conceited, but they do not
Brown, Alexander. The First
"Captain John Smith; Alexander Brown's Attack Upon Him -- Pocahontas, Rolfe, and Tobacco." New York Times 18 June 1898: BR398. The "decidedly vindictive" Brown is engaging in a debunking "onslaught." "That industrious person, the historical iconoclast, is still at work. . . . demolishing the memory and fame of Capt. John Smith." "Are we really to abandon under Mr. Brown's influence that most charming and romantic story of the princess Pocahontas?" "The story of Capt. Smith and Pocahontas rests upon the imperishable pillars of a romance that appeals to all time, and so long as 'human hearts are human,' the story of Pocahontas will remain indissolubly interwoven with the earliest history of the United States."
Henry, William Wirt. Review of The First Republic in America by Alexander Brown. Virginia Historical Magazine (1898): 209-22. Blisteringly long and negative review of the debunking Brown: "He displays an intense hatred to Smith, whose character as a man and a writer he endeavors to destroy." Brown never mentions Smith but to sneer at him and alludes to him contemptuously as "the Historian." Not much specifically about Pocahontas here, but this essay speaks in general to the controversy over Smith's accuracy. As a historian, Brown "is a lamentable failure."
Morse, Jarvis M. "John Smith and His Critics: A Chapter in Colonial Historiography." Journal of Southern History 1.2 (1935): 123-37. Very useful survey of 15 or so of the participants in the debunking controversy started back with Palfrey, Deane, and Adams. "Too much effort," Morse says, " has been expended trying to prove whether the Pocahontas incident did or did not occur," but "whatever mental reservations one may have as to the probability of the incident, by no sound application of the laws of historical testimony can it be disproved, save by the appearance of contrary evidence yet undiscovered."
"WPA Bars 'Debunking' of American Legends." New York Times 22 February 1936: 17. An assistant Works Progress Administration official in charge of writing a multi-million dollar national guide book said his writers "would not seek to 'debunk' cherished American legends in the manner of recent popular histories." This in response to discoveries by some of his "zealous historians" that "Pocahontas may have saved the hero but was not in love with him." "Such legends have a special interest to travelers."
Cabell, James Branch. "Myths of the Old Dominion." Let Me Lie: Being in the Main an Ethnological Account of the Remarkable Commonwealth of Virginia and the Making of Its History. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Company, 1947. 45-76.
Smith, Bradford. Captain John Smith: His Life and Legend. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1953. 98-113, 217-33. Well respected modern biography of Smith, and one written at every step with the debunking criticism in full view: "No figure in American history has raised such a ruckus among scholars as Captain John Smith." The "Man or Myth" chapter, in fact, usefully surveys the main creators and debunkings of Smith. Smith comes down on the side of Smith. He's an American hero, and we need the Pocahontas story: "Do we need Pocahontas to ease our consciences? Is she the proof that our treatment of the Indian could not have been altogether bad?" In any event, "American history without Smith and Pocahontas is hard to imagine. If the void were there, something else -- yet something similar -- would have to fill it."
Striker, Laura Polyani. "The Hungarian Historian, Lewis L. Kropf, On Captain John Smith's True Travels: A Reappraisal." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 66 (January 1958): 22-43. Striker dissects and destroys the work of Kropf, perhaps the man most responsible along with Henry Adams, for questioning and virtually destroying Smith's credibility as an historian.
Fishwick, Marshall. "Was John Smith a Liar?" American Heritage 9.6 (1958): 28-33, 110. Fishwick provides a history of the Smith debunking, ending with a summary of the recent findings by Striker that clear up questions about his version of his pre-Virginia life raised by Kropf. "No one can claim that clearing Smith's name in southeastern Europe necessarily validates all he wrote about Virginia," but at least now that writing cannot be used to discredit the Virginia accounts." "Americans who know nothing else about early American history can recount the dramatic tale of Smith's rescue by the beautiful Indian princess Pocahontas. . . . 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."
Rule, Henry B. "Henry Adams's Attack on Two Heroes of the Old South." American Quarterly 14.2 (1962): 174-84.
Barbour, Philip L. "Captain John Smith's True Travels." Bulletin of the New York Public Library 67 (1963): 517-28. (Rpt. as "Fact and Fiction in Captain John Smith's True Travels. Literature as a Mode of Travel. Ed. Warner Rice. New York: New York Public Library, 1963. 101-14.) Not specifically about the Pocahontas element, but clears doubt about Smith's veracity in regard to accounts of his early life that have been criticized on the same basis.
Mossiker, Frances. Pocahontas: The Life and the Legend. New York: Knopf, 1976. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.)
Lemay, J. A. Leo. Did Pocahontas Save
John Smith? Athens:
Georgia P, 1992. The place to go for a comprehensive analysis of the
controversy. Lemay hopes to end what Bradford Smith called the "Great
Debate" over the Smith-Pocahontas rescue by thoroughly studying all the
references Smith made to Pocahontas; considerations bearing on the
as evidence from the Indians, Purchas, and other "old Virginia
hands"; the arguments by Deane, Adams, and Henry; and surveying views
modern scholars. He holds the rescue did happen, affirming and adding
conclusion of Henry. For instance, "Anyone who thinks that the
episode did not happen must believe that Smith's enemies, as well as
friends and acquaintances and others whom he did not know, all
him in keeping the truth of the Pocahontas episode a secret."
Custalow, Dr. Linwood "Little Bear," and Angela L. "Silver Star" Daniel. The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History. Golden: Fulcrum Publishing, 2007. This, we might say, is the ultimate debunking of the Pocahontas mythology. It's the oral history of Pocahontas "passed down generation by generation within the Mattaponi tribe." It is "vastly different" and was "hidden for nearly 400 years . . . out of fear of violent retribution if it were told publicly." Smith's life was never in danger; he was in the process of being made a werowance; Pocahontas would not have been allowed at the ceremony. Argall's men killed Kocoum, Pocahontas's husband, but their son lived. Pocahontas was deeply depressed at Jamestown and suffered a nervous breakdown. In addition, she was raped, possibly by more than one person and repeatedly. Her child was born before her marriage, father unknown, possibly Governor Dale. It is doubtful she loved Rolfe; she married because she had a child. Pocahontas was murdered in England, perhaps by poison.