Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain John Smith

Object Number: 
ca. 1836-1840
Oil on canvas
canvas: 21 x 26 in. ( 53.3 x 66 cm ) frame: 24 1/2 x 29 x 2 1/2 in. (24 1/2 x 29 x 2 1/2 in.)
This painting illustrates how the Native American princess, Pocahantas, pleads for and saves the life of the colonist, Captain John Smith; Pochantas stands over Captain John Smith with her body over his; Captain Smith's body is twisted and is being stepped on by a Native American; his hat and sword are on the bottom left on the composition; the Native American to the left yields an ax and is stepping on Smith's thigh; the one to the right yields a bludgeoning object; Pocahantas's father, Powhatan stands in the background with a crowd of onlookers; a thick cloud of smoke separates Powhatan and the onlookers from Pochantas, Smith, and the attackers.
Gallery Label: 
The Pocahontas theme and Indian subjects illustrating the colonization of Virginia were favorites of Chapman. In 1836 he exhibited his "Coronation of Powhatan" and "The Warning of Pocahontas" and in 1837 "The First Ship" at the National Academy of Design. In the latter year he was awarded the commission for a mural of the baptism of Pocahontas; it was installed in the rotunda of the Capitol in 1840. His "Landing at Jamestown," engraved by M. I. Danforth, was published in the New-York Mirror on October 19, 1839. These works suggest possible dates of execution of the Society's study. The incident depicted allegedly occurred in 1608 after the capture of Captain John Smith of the Virginia colony by Powhatan's Indians. According to Smith's statement in his Generall Historie of Virginia, printed in 1624, he would have been killed had it not been for the intervention of Powhatan's young daughter, Pocahontas (ca. 1595-1617), who laid her head on his own to save him from being clubbed to death.
Chapman, J.G., The Picture of the Baptism of Pocahontas. Painted by Order of Congress, for the Rotundo of the Capitol, Washington: Peter Force¸ 1840, pp. 1-22. Bedford, Faith Andrews, "The Baptism of Pocahontas," Antiques, January 2009. pp. 138-45. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. III, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 167-9.
Credit Line: 
Gift of George A. Zabriskie
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group