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Encounter with John Smith
19th century illustration of Pocahontas saving Smith's life.The actual birth date of Pocahontas is unknown but she was thought to have been born around 1595.[6] In May1607, when the English colonists arrived in Virginia and began building settlements, Pocahontas was described by the colonist John Smith as "a child of tenne[sic] years old".[7] She was the daughter ofPowhatan, the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah, an alliance of about thirty Algonquian-speaking Virginia Indians in Tidewater Virginia.[8] Smith later recounted that he was captured by a group ofhunters led by Powhatan's brother Opechancanough and brought to Powhatan's capital at Werowocomoco. He was about to be executed but Pocahontas saved him.[9] In so doing, she earned respect from people ofthe English Settlements.[10]

John Smith's account is the only source for this story. Since the 1860s, historians have increasingly expressed doubts about its veracity and have continued the debateinto the 21st century. Despite having published two earlier books about Virginia, Smith did not write about his rescue by Pocahontas until 1616, years after his own return to England and nearly tenyears after the event. He recounted the story in a letter asking Queen Anne to treat Pocahontas with dignity on her visit to London.[10] Smith may have exaggerated or invented the account to enhancePocahontas's standing. Historian J.A.O. Leo Lemay noted in his 1992 book that, as Smith earlier wrote books that were primarily geographical and ethnographic, he had no reason then to recount the story ofPocahontas.[11]

In True Travels (1630), Smith told a similar story of having been rescued by the intervention of a young girl after having been captured in 1602 by Turks in Hungary. KarenKupperman suggests that he "presented those remembered events from decades earlier" when telling the story of Pocahontas.[12] A different theory suggests that Smith may have misunderstood the event. He may...