John Smith is a handsome, young, English explorer, adventurer and soldier who is shown to already be a legend when he first appears, as Thomas mentions that there are "amazing stories about him." He is well known for his exploits as an explorer, not to mention his success at fighting savages. At the beginning of the film, he initially assumes that the voyage to the New World will be the same as the other voyages he has taken. By the end of the film, though, many of his views about the natives have changed thanks to Pocahontas.
At the beginning of the film, John is shown to have some prejudiced views regarding Native Americans, as he believes them to be savages. Despite these views, he is regarded for his courage and heroism. An encounter with Pocahontas and getting to know her and so much she teaches him changes his opinions, and he comes to believe that the natives can help his people. He is also shown to be selfless, as he was willing to take the blame for Thomas, when Thomas kills Kocoum.
In 1607, the Virginia Company finances a voyage to the New World, so that settlers may found a colony in the new world. Due to his extraordinary reputation in dealing with natives, John Smith is chosen to be the captain. Governor Ratcliffe, who is to be the leader of the new colony, notes that he is depending on John to deal with the natives so that there are no disruptions. During the voyage, one young man, named Thomas, falls overboard. In response, John, with some assistance from Ben and Lon, mounts a risky but successful rescue mission, earning him Ratcliffe's praise. Thomas tells John his plans for the New World, but John notes that he has seen hundreds of new worlds, and that there could be little that would be different about this one.
When they reach the new world, work begins on a colony, which is named Jamestown, Virginia. Upon landing, John is sent out with a crew so that they can tie the ship off. While there, John meets Meeko, but is prevented from seeing a hidden Pocahontas by Flit. Ratcliffe then tasks John with exploring the surrounding area, to scout for natives.
While exploring, John is impressed by the land, deeming it wild and challenging. Meanwhile, he is secretly being followed by Pocahontas. John stops to wash his face at a river, but notices a reflection. Hiding behind a rock, he readies his gun, but when he jumps upon the person, he discovers a beautiful woman. He puts down his gun, and tries to introduce himself at first, just before the woman runs from him, and he quickly follows her. John tries to explain that he won't hurt her, but she doesn't understand him at first. However, he tries telling her it was alright. She takes his hand and sees he's not a threat to her and they take a moment to notice each other. When he asks her name, she tells him that her name is Pocahontas. The two talk for some time, telling each other their different names for things. John unintentionally insults her, though, by talking about how his people have improved the lives of savages everywhere, with things like decent roads and houses. He tries to apologize, and Pocahontas responds by showing him the beauty of nature. However, their time together is cut short when Pocahontas hears the sound of drums and runs off.
A few days later, John sneaks away from camp to find Pocahontas. During their talk, John tells Pocahontas about the reason the settlers are there: to look for gold. Pocahontas has never heard of Gold, and after hearing a description, holds up an ear of corn. John corrects her by showing her a gold piece, which Pocahontas has never seen. John remarks that they came a long way for nothing, and notes that some of the settlers might leave, but that the rest would have to carry out the settlement. Pocahontas asks of he would leave, but John notes he has nothing to go back to in England, as he has never belonged anywhere. Pocahontas chooses to introduce John to Grandmother Willow. The experience shocks him at first, but he grows to like her, especially after she compliments his looks. They are interrupted by Ben and Lon, who have come looking for John. John and Pocahontas hide, and Grandmother Willow spooks the two men away. John decides to go back before they send more people looking for him, but first agrees to meet Pocahontas that night at Grandmother Willow's glade.
When John returns to camp, he is nearly shot at by Thomas. John coaches Thomas on how to aim properly, and is then questioned by Ratcliffe as to where he had been. John uses the excuse that he was scouting. Ratcliffe approves, as the information will be useful for the upcoming battle. John learns that Ratcliffe plans to attack the Indians, in order to get the gold Ratcliffe believes them to be hiding. John protests, much to the surprise of Ratcliffe and the settlers. John relates what he has learned from Pocahontas, though he doesn't reveal her identity, saying only that he met an Indian. John notes the advantages of working with the natives, and also says that there is no gold. The settlers begin to wonder about the lack of gold, but Ratcliffe dismisses the tale as lies. Ratcliffe then proclaims that anyone who looks at an Indian without shooting will be tried for treason and lynched.
Despite Ratcliffe's ruling, John sneaks out of camp that night. However, he is unknowingly spotted by Thomas. Ratcliffe orders Thomas to follow John, as well as to shoot any Indians he sees. Meanwhile, John meets with Pocahontas, and tells her of the impending attack. Pocahontas reveals that her people are also preparing for war, and that if they are to stop this, John must come talk to her father, Chief Powhatan. John initially refuses, citing the matter to be impossible, but eventually acquiesces, after Grandmother Willow compares the situation to ripples, which must be started by someone. John and Pocahontas impulsively share a kiss, which is witnessed by both Thomas and Kocoum, who had followed Pocahontas. Kocoum attacks John in a rage and tries to murder him, and Thomas intervenes kills Kocoum to save John. Kocoum's death makes Pocahontas angry, and John orders Thomas to leave. As soon as he does, warriors from Pocahontas's tribe appear, and capture John, believing him to have killed Kocoum. Meanwhile, Thomas reports John's capture. A plan is set up to rescue him, though Ratcliffe intends to take advantage of the situation and kill the Indians to get the gold he believes they have.
At the village, Powhatan sentences John to death at sunrise, as the first casualty in the upcoming war. That night, Pocahontas comes and apologizes for getting him in trouble. John refuses to accept, stating that he was a better person for having met her, and that he would be with her forever. Pocahontas leaves, and soon John is forcefully taken to a cliff, near where the battle is to take place. Just then the English settlers arrive for the battle, Powhatan prepares to execute John. Before he can do so, Pocahontas intervenes, throwing her body over John's, with a proclamation that Powhatan will have to kill her along with John. Pocahontas proclaims her love for John, and rebukes everyone for following the path of hatred and discrimination. Powhatan, seeing the truth, chooses to release John, and calls off his warriors. The settlers are content to let the fight go, as John has been released. Ratcliffe tries to shoot Powhatan, but John takes the shot saving his life.
John initially survives, but is forced to return to England for medical treatment, otherwise he would die. Pocahontas arrives, bringing food, and says goodbye to John. John invites her to come with him, but Pocahontas initially refuses, stating that she's needed with her tribe. John wants to stay, but Pocahontas tells he has to go, because she would be with him forever no matter what. Powhatan comes, and thanks John for saving his life earlier, stating that he is always welcome among their people. John is soon loaded onto the ship, and he is able to wave goodbye to Pocahontas as the ship sails out to sea.
In beginning of the second film, John, still in England and having recovered from his injury, is attacked by guards, who attempt to arrest him for treason in Jamestown. Ratcliffe arrives, revealing that he has framed John, and attacks John. John is forced onto the roof of a house, and falls off into the river below. He is presumed dead by Ratcliffe, who informs the king. Soon, word reaches Pocahontas in Virginia and she chooses to move on with her life.
Near the end of the film, a hooded figure overhears a sailor talk about the upcoming execution of Pocahontas. Pocahontas had been sent to England as an emissary for her tribe, but had offended the king after witnessing a bear-baiting. The man is shown to be disturbed and he rides off. The man meets with John Rolfe, and together they plan to free Pocahontas. The plan is pulled off, and in the safety of a secluded cabin, the mysterious man reveals himself to be John Smith. John had disguised himself to avoid being arrested for treason.
John Smith obviously wants to resume his romantic relationship with Pocahontas. But all Pocahontas can think of is the threatened attack on her tribe. Smith, knowing that her people need to live, wants her to stay hidden to prevent her from being hanged, but Rolfe wants Pocahontas to listen to her heart. The two men start to argue. Upset by her friends' fighting, Pocahontas runs off. Then Smith realizes Rolfe also is smitten with Pocahontas.
The group decides to confront the king. Pocahontas is able to convince the queen to halt the attack, but the King, whom Ratcliffe is personal friends with, is reluctant to believe her. John then chooses to reveal himself, in turn revealing that Ratcliffe has lied to the King and Queen and their court about virtually everything. The King finally agrees to stop the attack, but realizes that the Armada has already set sail. Smith, Rolfe, and Pocahontas race to stop the armada. John engages in battle with Ratcliffe, which results in the governor being thrown overboard--Ratcliffe's caught by the King and his men and presumably hanged as a result of his crimes.
The next day, John reveals that he has been awarded his own ship, and invites Pocahontas to travel the world with him. Pocahontas politely declines the offer, admitting that while she still cares about him as a friend, at this point in time, they've grown too far apart to make a compatible couple. After hearing this, John accepts it and he and Pocahontas wish each other happiness in their futures.
John Smith made a couple of rare cameo appearances in this series. His most notable cameo occurs in the episode "House of Turkey", where he is seen walking through the club's lobby alongside Pocahontas as Donald Duck greets them. The colors of the wind also blow past Donald. Daisy Duck, at her desk, checks the guest list and says "Pocahontas, John Smith and the Colors of the Wind. Check."
John Smith is a very elusive character in the American parks. Still, he can sometimes be found for meet & greets at Disneyland Paris around Cowboy Cookout BBQ.
- In real life, Smith returned to England due to a gunpowder injury in September of 1609. This event was two years after Pocahontas rescued him by preventing his execution. It did not involve Ratcliffe shooting him like in the film.
- The real John Smith is one of the famous previous students of King Edward VI Grammar School in Louth.
- In real life, before settling in Jamestown John Smith became a mercenary in the army of King Henry IV of France at the young age of sixteen to fight against Spain for Dutch Independence.
- Smith is the first Disney Prince to wear a hooded cape.
- The real John Smith did not meet Pocahontas for the first time until she rescued him by preventing his execution. There were no other English colonists watching this incident like in the film.
- His uniform appeared as all-blue in the original film and it's sequel, but in merchandise, his long-sleeved shirt is white, his armor breastplate is silver, his pants are blue and his boots are black.
- He wears an armor breastplate and helmet which looks like a Spanish conquistador. This could be an allusion to how the English settlers in the 17th century feared that the Spanish might overtake them in establishing the American colonies.
- In real life, John Smith and Thomas did not arrive in Virginia together. Smith came to America in May of 1607. Thomas whose surname was Savage came to America on January 8, 1608.
- Despite the events of the sequel, John Smith is still Pocahontas' official love interest, since most media, including the Disney Princess franchise, keep Pocahontas and John Smith as an official couple, completely ignoring John Rolfe.
- The real John Smith did make friends with Pocahontas, but never had a romantic relationship with her because he was years older than the real Pocahontas who was only ten to thirteen at that time.
- His voice actor, Mel Gibson, also starred in and directed Braveheart the same year as Pocahontas.
- In real life John Smith was considered a womanizer by many Englishmen, besides that he had affairs with other women, so his claim that Pocahontas saved his life is proven false by historians. Besides that fact, he published the event 17 years later when he was still traveling to many different places.