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Mercy of Pocahontas, The

by John Smith

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Though this excerpt is brief, its antiquated language makes it slow going. Students who skim are certain to misunderstand many events described by Smith, and likely will miss the most significant tension created by his actions.

For this reason, educators should caution their students to slow down. This is always good advice—I particularly like the title of James Sire’s book How to Read Slowly—and especially useful here.

Good students will not only research the life of John Smith but also the life of Pocahontas, which is nothing like Disney would have us believe. Though there are no talking raccoons, there’s plenty of drama in the true story—including a Christian conversion.

Be sure to contrast the mindset of Smith with the mindset of men like William Bradford throughout your study of the colonization of America. Smith is best described as an adventurer, concerned primarily with fame and fortune; Bradford is best described as a pilgrim. Alexis de Tocqueville will make much of this distinction in his landmark Democracy in America—as students will read when they begin to study modernity. Remember, not every American founder was a Christian, or lived by Christian principles! We do our students a disservice when we act as though the actions of Smith are as valid as the actions of a man like John Woolman. Just because someone is a part of America’s history does not mean he is a part of the Body of Christ, or that his actions were pleasing to God.

by Jeff Baldwin