I don’t know if any of you have read much about John Smith. We probably all know a little about him, at least, from his fame in Jamestown in our country’s early history. I wonder how much we know about our early hero, though.
I had over the years just caught a glimpse or two of suggestions that he wasn’t exactly the great hero that we might assume from some of what we hear and read about him in the school books. Now I am reading a biography about him that is far from agreeing with the “Romantic Knight” picture (as the author of this biography would call it) that sometimes surrounds Smith. The author indicates his plain opinion that a large part of that picture was created by Smith himself. Smith wrote his own story, you see, and that is a lot of what we hear and read about him. This author even seems to find it rather likely that the whole Pocahontas incident didn’t even happen at all.
Well, I am no expert on Smith, that is for sure, but hearing these doubts expressed by this author do at least give me some reason to reflect on a few thoughts:
- How much truth do we just assume when we hear someone’s story being told? Do we automatically trust the sources we are reading? Do we have a good healthy dose of cynicism? What is the right approach?
- How much do we really even know about history? I have often thought that we probably don’t know nearly as much as we would like to think about what really happened. I am sure there are plenty of times when we do know a lot of information, but I have also found myself wondering many times if the writers of the books have not actually filled in a lot of “facts” with rather unproven assumptions. I often see them taking one known fact and drawing conclusions from that that they think likely and then using those conclusions as the basis for reconstructing the picture. Many times I have been saying to myself as I read that the whole picture is based on an assumed implication from a fact, and we really don’t know if that is true or not. Often times the basis for the picture is rather a scanty amount of information that at best makes the whole picture possible or even likely, but for from proven. And what if the person is telling his own story, like with Smith? Is there much room given to the likelihood of bias in the recounting of the events?
- How good are our heroes, anyways? I recently read the story of William Bradford, one of the main leaders of the Pilgrim group that settled in Plymouth. There is a lot to be learned from the contrast between Bradford and the Plymouth group and Smith and the whole Jamestown group. It would be worth seeing the difference between them. It looks like the Jamestown group doesn’t come out looking so great through their experiences and tests.
Anybody know much about Smith’s life? Want to share thoughts about history and reading it?