The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 2. His Veracity
Two serious charges of falsfication have been brought against Smith, one in connection with the Pocahontas incident, and the other in reference to his True Travels. Late in 1607 he made a trading expedition among the Indians and was captured and carried before Powhatan. In the True Relation he says he was well treated by the great chief and sent back to Jamestown with all kindness. In the Generall Historie, he says that he was about to be slain by the order of Powhatan, when Pocahontas, the chieftain’s daughter, threw her arms over his prostrate body and begged for his life so effectively that he was set free. The case is unpleasant for Smith. Not only is the matter omitted from his early works, but it is not mentioned by any other writer of the comparatively large group of contemporary historians of Virginia. Even Hamor, who has much to say about Pocahontas, says nothing about a rescue of Captain Smith. It is conceivable that Smith may have omitted the story from the True Relation, lest it should produce a bad effect in England, but he could hardly have kept it from the other settlers at Jamestown, and if the story was once current there, where Pocahontas was well known, it must have been repeated by one of the other writers. By every canon of good criticism we must reject the story. Smith has also been accused of inventing most of the incidents which reflect his glory in the True Travels. The charge rests on an alleged misuse of geographical names and on the alleged impossible form of a grant of a coat of arms which Smith said was given him by Sigismund of Transylvania and which was accepted as genuine at the Heralds’ College in London. The criticism is very sweeping. If it is well taken our historian degenerated in the latter part of his career to a literary mountebank, but the matter may still await a more judicious investigation than it has yet received.